I received terrible news this morning. My beloved Doughbot will be closing in August.
Unlike most restaurant closings however, this isn’t due to lack of business, or lawsuits, or partnership disputes, or any of the myriad ways small businesses, especially restaurants, can be struck by struck by figurative lightning (including literal lightning). No, per their Facebook posting today, Doughbot is closing because they have too much business, and catering to all that business is hard work. Too hard to keep doing it.
Do not, I repeat, do not take this post as some type of belittling of the amount of work it takes to keep a small food-service business going. I’m totally on board with Doughbot’s owners in that busting ass is hard, burnout is real, and they do not owe the community their sweat simply because we’ve spent money at their shop.
But, I think it speaks to a bigger problem in our community’s rediscovery of the high-touch, artisinal-made, craft quality product. Making said product is a lot of goddamned work. And a product that needs to be remade every day, pre-dawn, is either a labor of love or a sisyphean enterprise bound for failure. Hell, even if it is a labor of love, back-breaking hard work can suck the love out pretty damned fast.
This is not the first instance of local businesses closing due to too much business. Remember Bonne Soupe? The Real Pie Company? Gatsby’s?
None of these places shuttered their storefronts because of too much downtime. It was, in fact, the opposite. The cruel fact is that maybe we’ve made it too hard to run a small eatery whose focus is on handmade, old-fashioned product. Or maybe it’s not that we’ve made it too hard, but that we’ve made it too unrewarding. If any of these business owners could have made enough to pay staff to take over most of the routine operations, then we might have seen a different outcome. Or maybe, the dictates of craft are such that the owner/creator must keep his/her hands on the product for it to be authentic. To let others’ hands craft the thing makes it a secondary product, and why not then just buy a pre made sandwich at the gas station?
Do we put too low a price on the “authentic”? Should a thoughtfully made doughnut with organic ingredients, precisely sourced toppings, and hand crafted fillings cost more than a Twinkie? How much more? How much will you pay for a hand-formed burger patty? Does it cover the cost of rent, licenses, health insurance, business insurance, ingredients, fixtures, electricity, gas, certifications, college loan debt, and still leave enough for a decent wage?
Once again, I repeat, this is not about looking down our noses and saying, “Kids these days don’t want to work hard.” Instead, it’s a conversation that should look at those who truly want to create something better, something unique and worth savoring, and ask, “Is it worth it?”