So, I don’t get very personal here, but my whole life is changing rapidly and I feel like it’s worth mentioning.
Since most of you wouldn’t know, I’ll start with where I’m coming from. I’ve been living in Cincinnati, near family and where I grew up for the last 5 years. (I don't like living in Cincinnati, but I also don't mind it at all) I moved back here to help build and run a restaurant, a continuation of the job that got me to move from Los Angeles (loved it, but that time in my life has probably passed for good, sadly) to Charlotte (that's a place I didn't like living). I say ‘job’ but I had invested in the restaurant group we were starting and frequently worked a lot for little to no return, perks of being a “minority owner” rather than employee.
After getting back to Cincinnati in 2017 with no home, a mostly broken 1989 Milano and my Dad’s old Lexus, I rapidly expanded to owning a house, 2.5 Milanos, the Lexus and my Cadillac ELR by end of summer 2018. Despite all that, I was miserably depressed, very lonely, and always one bad day away from quitting my “job” whether or not I had a plan for what was next. In fact, Somewhere around September I did manage to quit, with a pretty great exit package, to be honest. I was able to sell my shares to a family member for close to what I had invested, pay off the house and car, and be debt free.
Of course debt free alone isn’t going to pay the recurring bills, so I was even more fortunate to pick up a job with a non-profit family members had started. It was only for 2019, but it was the best “job” ever, as I got paid spending money, got health insurance, and rarely was given much to do!
I entered 2019 a broken person, depressed, without any plans or motivations, just not a great place to be. But I was working to change things! I had been invited to spend time with an Aunt up in Wisconsin, she had purchased a couple duplexes in her village and had started running them as furnished rentals, first for corporate relocations then for AirBnB. I came up to get away from the depression and help shovel/snow blow the 3 driveways and sidewalks she was responsible for.
After spending December 2018 in Wisconsin, I had the energy to start looking for new passions. I started talking to people online, and planned to meet up with an old friend as well as hopefully meet a new one on a January ski trip to Lake Tahoe (my lifelong favorite place in the world!) The ski trip was great, and the best part was my new friend. We were instantly interested in being more than friends and managed to find ways to see each other every day I was in Nevada, despite blizzards, distance (30 miles and a major mountain pass separated her place and my family’s ski cabin), commitments to other people, etc. Suddenly I knew how I wanted to spend my year with the easy Non-profit job! In fact, by mid February 2019, the only real stress in my life, is that working a few hours a week was something I knew was only possible for 10 more months, maximum, and I no longer just expected to die or disappear before that deadline. I had something to live for!
I spent the first 8 months of 2019 living the best life. Diving deep into a great new relationship. Skiing 30+ days in Tahoe despite officially living and working in Ohio. Making real progress on my Project cars for once. Inheriting a custom 1988 Mercedes 300CE. Traveling to the Philippines and Norway to meet friends and family. Just all around a great time! I even figured out what to do next for work!
Since fall 2017, I had been in touch with a Cincinnati neighbor who wanted to found yet another brewery, and had been considering partnering with me to handle the construction and operation of the foodservice part of the venture. I finally signed on officially in early spring, with the plan to be open around Memorial day. I was able to hire away a great young manager from my previous restaurant ownership stint, refinance my house to buy equipment for the kitchen, and have everything ready to go with a rather tiny amount of actual effort.
Of course, Memorial day opening turned into Labor day opening, but that’s to be expected and was in the budget. In the summer I asked my Nevada-based girlfriend to move to Ohio with me since i knew I couldn’t visit her much while getting the store up and running. She said yes, which was great, though turned out plenty stressful too. Living together is a lot of work! Plus, since she had always lived with family there were a few unexpected surprises in adjusting to our shared habits and budgets. But overall, being together full time was a great thing and only made us closer.
The store opened to lines out the door, and our biggest problem the first few months was keeping up with demand! At least I thought so from the kitchen side. The Brewery side was run by people who couldn’t stop spending money and always wanted to increase sales, so despite healthy top line revenue managed to lose money constantly. Luckily I was running the kitchen as a separate business and had created a second income stream for myself with a few months to spare!
From September 2019 to March 2020, life was pretty damn good. My busienss was booming, and as we got the staff trained up, my time at work was dropping rapidly. I was paying down my mortgage fast as well as restocking savings while I had two incomes, and ready for the great things coming in 2020, a May trip to Europe, spending the summer in Tahoe, finally finishing up the restoration of my ’89 Milano Platinum, even expanding the business!
Of course, the world had ways to make sure no one’s 2020 went according to plan! I was quite well set up for the pandemic, as my business paid percentage rent to the brewery and had very few fixed costs if we weren’t selling any food. Plus, we had been stockpiling cash ever since we opened. I even signed a lease with a second brewery right at the start of march. COVID made things a little complicated, I ended up working as a pizza delivery driver for my own restaurant for a couple months, but we were getting quite a lot of financial assistance and keeping our costs low, so I really wasn’t worried about the money side of things, just staying healthy and trying to get my time back.
By May, Ohio had reopened some dining capacity, and the first brewery I was working with had converted a large portion of their parking lot into a huge outdoor drinking and concert venue that technically met all COVID requirements. Plus my second brewery kitchen got to open up by the end of the month. Not only was I still collecting bailout funds, I was also profitable again! But it wouldn’t last.
For a lot of reasons, I was uncomfortable with the long term health of my first brewery partner’s business as well as my treatment by them (they'd regularly breach the terms of our lease in larger and larger ways). So I started looking for a third location to make up for the business I was expecting to lose when things truly went south at store #1. On top of that, #2 was proving to very slow to come back to life after re-opening. Undeterred, I found a third promising location by the end of July and had that store open by October.
Worst decsion of my life. The third store was instantly a massive time and money suck. Rather than the hoped for savior that would allow me to terminate my partnership at store 1, I now needed every penny from store 1 to cover the losses at #3. And the staff we had for #3 was proving to be far less capable than needed to execute the menu, but also far more expensive than we could afford based on our sales. I didn’t see a way out. But there was still bailout money, and Spring 2021 was definitely going to be a return to “normal” dining habits, right?
Wrong! By spring 2021 I was working 60+ hours a week in the kitchen of store 3 with only a few high school kids to help and still losing thousands a week. Meanwhile, store 2 was still miserably slow and barely breaking even and store 1’s sales were dropping along with the brewery’s (as I had predicted they would, long story but it anyone could have seen it coming) while costs were rising.
This paying to work thing was getting really old, really fast. And the bailout money wasn't going to cover the gap forever. Not a good situation! At least I had refinanced my home to get an even better rate on a longer term loan, so a much decreased payment. And it’s not like we were spending money on travel or my cars as both hobbies require time I just didn’t have, but it wasn’t looking good. A late hail-mary of getting one of the last RRF grants and a bit of money from Ohio made sure we could keep the doors open to the end of the year, but without a dramatic change, there was no money or energy for 2022.
In a shocking twist, there was no dramatic change. I looked at the numbers and took stock of myself in December 2021 and decided the only decision was to shut everything down. I spoke to family and mentors about this and came up with a plan to slowly close down so as to minimize the potential harm to my Brewery partners. This was made possible by some infusions of family money, drawing down on a future inheritance, which didn’t feel like a great option, but neither did just shutting out the lights with no notice.
At the same time my girlfriend was finally ready to pursue her dreams and go back to school to launch her career. Not a great time in my life for her to be exchanging a job for tuition, and no school in Cincinnati teaches what she was studying, so we also had to plan for and pay for at least her to move. But she was right, it was the right time for her to go for it, and I was sure I could figure things out from my end. Slow closing of the business with notice in January meant I’d be all the way out by March or April, right?
Wrong again! My last store finally closes next Friday, the 21st of October. I still own a home in Cincinnati, which still has 4 project cars and my daily driver parked in and around its garage. Luckily I reached an agreement to sell it to my brother and his partner who are beyond ready to leave apartment life behind. Unfortunately this means I need to clear everything out of the house this month and out of the garage before December. So that’s a nightmare. One of my cars has its engine and interior removed. Another is a parts car with that will likely never run again. And despite looking for months, I’ve yet to find a realistic garage to move them to.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend lives in Chicago in a condo we convinced family to help buy and rent back to us. With one outdoor parking spot she uses and nothing like the garage, shed and basement I'm giving up. She’s doing amazing in school and already finding better job opportunities than she’d ever find in Cincinnati though. And other than the space limitations, I really like being in Chicago, even as we start to brace for winter.
I’ve slowly been moving things up to her one minivan at a time, but even though we only took half our furniture and I haven’t even started to deal with the basement, or garage, the condo is already FULL. I’m also desperately searching for at least a two car garage in walking distance, but having no luck. Even if I find that, it would only store my '88 Mercedes and either extra junk or a future daily driver, so I need to find yet another spot for my project cars, somewhere close enough to commute to in >15 minutes, that doesn't mind me moving in non-operational vehicles and working there, and that doesn't cost more than our condo. Really makes me want to give up owning the Milanos, something I'm honestly ready to do if I thought finding a buyer for something like 10,000 lbs of of mostly non-mobile, 35 year old Italian cars and parts would be any easier than finding a home for all that junk.
Plus, I have already accepted that I need to sell the ELR before my birthday, November 10th. Likely to whatever website gives the best offer, I just don’t think I have the time to find a private buyer. It's been a great car for 4 years, but just doesn't fit my life anymore. Plus, it's not like it's a long term dream car. From day one it's been a quirky curiosity and a passable daily driver, but nothing more. I'll miss the way it turns heads and confuses people, I won't miss hauling around a useless gas motor or trying to make the stupid corvette style push button door releases work.
I'm also ready to let go of my best Milano, as soon as it gets a once over from a specialist shop to hopefully fix a couple issues a new buyer might not tolerate the way I did. I don’t really want to sell it after all the work I put in, but it has a sunroof my head is too tall for and is slightly rustier (though still not rusty by any real measure) than the red Milano I’ve been meaning to build up into something great for years.
Even letting go of two cars leaves me realistically needing to find a 4 car garage that doesn't mind me doing serious work within a 15 minute walk/bike ride. So that's not gonna happen. Which means renting a place in Ohio and spending at least a few hundred bucks a month to store decaying junk in a garage 300 miles from my home and putting off a project I've been trying to get started since 2017 for at least a few more years. So that's not an option either. So I'm just fucked and might as well just die rather than deal with this hopelessness.
Sad thing is, I really wanted to move back to a big city. I just always imagined I'd to it by buying an old warehouse and building in a small loft living area next to my garage. I know it's not realistic, but it's how I've always wanted to live. 80% of my square footage should be for tools and cars and other toys like that. I just need a functional kitchen, clean bathroom and warm bed!
Oh, and top of all the moving stress, there’s also the huge matter that I’m once again out of work and this time with a much less generous parachute. After selling my house, my businesses, and the ELR, then repaying loans, savings accounts, and family members, I hope to have enough cash for ~3 months before I need to find a 75k+/yr job. But I just have no idea what I’m capable of or how to get hired. I feel defeated, chewed up and worn out. I just want to sleep away a few months, then spend the winter getting fit again by skiing full time, then tour the world the rest of the year, burning all the travel points and miles I stocked up using credit cards for my business expenses. But even with points and miles, I have to pay for the condo, and insurance, and food, and whatever else. So I need some income. But doing what?
I’ve been miserable and quit every full time job I’ve tried. Never found anything I'm able to do day in and day out for more than a few months without becoming suicidally stressed. Not an exaggeration. I'll try to die just to get out of a job after a few months and I've got the hospital records to prove it. I'm more of a "learner," "explorer," or tryer" than someone who can be an "expert" in anything. I love to try new stuff, but as soon as things become routine, the idea of stagnation feels like death and I listen to that deathly feeling. Ideally I want a job that feels like something new every few months (or weeks/days/hours, change is the only way to survive).
And no matter how fun and fulfilling starting, running and/or owning a business can be, I really don’t have much to show for it. In fact, I was definitely multiple times wealthier in 2015 when I first invested in a restaurant group than I am now. Plus, even if I had the resources to start my own thing again, I don’t have the energy. I’m in the worst shape of my life, and not getting any younger. I can’t do that to my body again if I want to see the second half of my lifespan. I have a lot of passions, and I like working hard, even for no reward, but I need to find something that can inspire me day in and day out or I go to a very dark place very fast. Doesn't help that I have no idea how to interview for a job, and no idea how to apply either. I've looked around and I can't imagine anything I'm the best choice for. Anyone dumb enough to hire me is too dumb to work for, you know? My only strength is in the opening stages of something. I know how to develop the menu, not cook it every night. To source products, not do inventory and order them every week. To design and build the kitchen, not deep clean the ovens and fridges after every shift.
Honestly, being part of the buildout/opening team for a restaurant group would be a great fit. But is that even really a thing? And I say it'd be great, but I'd find a way to get annoyed and either quit or kill myself doing that too. I've also got this kick ass juice bar idea I'd love to try. But without someone to run it after I build it, that's a recipe for death too. Oh, there are some great non-profits I want to give more time to. But they're in Ohio where I'm not and they don't pay anything for volunteering anyway. What about film and photography? I love those, but I have none of the meantality you need to put yourself out there and find clients or gigs. Fixing/restoring classic cars? Maybe, but I've never gotten hired when I apply for that sort of job. EV conversions of classic cars? I'd love to. But where do you find that job? And really, I'd prefer to do that as my own busienss, but I don't have any of the skills or resources for that. I never thought I'd say it, but I miss school. It was miserable too, but at least someone told me what to do to succeed. In a decade in "real life" I've never figured out what the expectations are, let alone how to meet them. I've just found a lot of ways to be depressed and feel like a failure.
The only saving grace at the moment is that I do have a loving and supportive family. I'm not going to end up on the street if we can't pay the condo rent, or starve if I don't find any work at all. So there's no life or death pressure there, just the pressure of feeling as clueless and useless in my 30s as I did in middle school and having nothing but financial losses, physical deterioration, and a literal pile of junk to show for my lifetime of searching for the "anything" in "you can do anything you put your mind to." Guess I'm really just a waste of space and resources on a dying, overcrowded planet. People who care about me should probably invest in someone with a future. I'm not going to hurt myself but I feel like saying goodbye for good to everyone I know everyday lately and I'm out of techniques to turn that around.
TL;DR (I don’t blame you!) I’m moving from owning a house and being a business owner in Ohio to being unemployed and renting a condo in Chicago, send help? No, please send help. I really don’t know how I’m going to figure this one out. I won’t starve or end up on the street, I have a supportive family, but I may end up hanging from a rafter if I don’t find some sort of light in this tunnel soon.