FROM THE OUTSIDE, it doesn’t look like much. The sign is a bit tarnished. The brick façade is slightly crumbling. And the large picture window is coated in soot.
Still, I am sure beauty is hiding beneath all the dirt and dust.
Opening the old heavy door, I step inside and try to ignore the musty smell. As I glance around, I begin to imagine the possibilities.
Each click of my high heels echoes as I walk. Slowly, I move through the large, open space examining every square inch.
Pristine white walls.
Old dark wooden floors.
Looking up, I flinch at the chaos of the recessed lighting and black painted ceiling. Tapping my chin, I consider my options. Perhaps I will hang a crystal chandelier from one of those wooden beams some day soon, but if I do, it will only be because I want it.
However, there absolutely will never be Chateaubriand or Cognac served here. There will be no JACKETS REQUIRED sign posted on the front door, either. And there absolutely will not be a star chef, whose name appears on the awning, cooking in a gourmet-style kitchen, barking orders and demanding attention.
Even though I’m more than uncertain this is the right place, I know it has to be. It is the one that can work. No, it is the one I have to make work. Truth be told, it is the only one left on the market in this area I can afford.
Armed with this potent knowledge, I glance around once again. This time as my eyes access the imperfect condition of the property with displeasure, I know I have to clear the current state from my mind.
So there are a few cracks in the walls. Uneven floors. And water spots on the ceiling.
Those can all be fixed.
With a little of my own persuasion, I reassure myself it doesn’t matter that this isn’t a posh landmark Park Avenue building in New York City. It doesn’t matter that there will not be valet parking. Or a wait staff. Or reservations. All that matters is that this old accounting office on West Kinzie Street in Chicago will be mine.
And mine alone.
The space isn’t big enough for a state-of-the-art kitchen. However, there is plenty of room for the finest of espresso machines, a stove, an oven, and a glistening pastry case. The case can display chocolate croissants, muffins, miniature pastel meringues, and maybe even madeleines—that is if I can find a baker who knows how to make them.
The café can also serve savory offerings like roasted butternut squash soup and a pork club sandwich with pickled eggs, tomatoes, and spicy mayo on sourdough. Hopefully this will encourage the morning crowd to come back for lunch.
There will be no liquor license granted, that I already know because of the location. Although, the realtor tells me I might be able to swing a wine and beer permit. Selling organic wines and craft beers with large molasses cookies in the evening could be fun.
There will be no fine linens or candlelit dinners, but that doesn’t mean the place isn’t going to be romantic in its own way.
Still, it will never be restaurant royalty.
It will never earn a Michelin star.
It will never be Gaspard—the restaurant I had helped build from the ground up.
And Ansel Gaspard will not be a part of it, nor will he be a part of my life any longer.
And I am okay with that.
One hundred and one days after it all came crashing down, I am finally okay with that.
More than okay with that.
This will be mine.
Who knows, maybe someday I’ll even offer live music in the evenings. Kind of a Central Perk-like place from the television show Friends.
The figure moving behind me jolts me out of my daze. My realtor has walked over to where I had stopped to look out the window. “Do you have any questions, Miss Winters?” he asks.
I glance over my shoulder at him and slide my cold hands into my coat pockets. “It’s Tess,” I say with a smile as I turn. “And I have just one.”
Derrick Williams, the realtor, who is a friend of a friend of a friend, beams at me. “What is it?”
“How soon can you write up the paperwork?”
His brows lift in surprise. “Just like that?”
“Yes, just like that. When can I take occupancy?”
Derrick rushes to pull his iPhone from his breast pocket. “Give me just a minute.”
After tapping a few buttons, he looks up. “My client can meet you here the day after tomorrow with the lease. I just need to gather some information, if that’s all right.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Great,” he says and then exchanges his iPhone for a small notebook. “Will you be using this location as office space or for retail?”
“Neither. I am going to open a gourmet café.”
Derrick puckers his lips as if uncertain of my answer. “When you asked about the wine and beer, I just assumed you were looking to open some sort of food store.”
“Is a café a problem?” I ask.
“No, no, it shouldn’t be.”
I furrow my brows. “Shouldn’t be?”
“I mean no, not that I am aware of,” he responds.
“Okay,” I answer skeptically.
He asks me a few more questions, and then finally puts his notebook away. “I just need your driver’s license number for the background check.”
“Not a problem, but it’s from New York.”
“That’s fine, and if you can provide the first and last months rent at the time of the lease signing, you can take occupancy as soon as March first,” he adds.
That is so much sooner than I had expected.
That is less than three days from now, not the more than three weeks or three months I had anticipated. I have so much to do. Planning. Permits. Equipment. Fixtures. Contractors. Furniture. Suppliers. Vendors. Décor. Staff. Menus. My mind feels like it’s flying.
“Miss Winters? Is everything okay?” Derrick asks.
Taking my hands from my pockets to fish my wallet from my purse, I put a giant smile on my face. “Everything is perfect.”
More than perfect.