A conversation with a restaurant manager in L’viv

I love new businesses and the energy of entrepreneurs. It’s exhilarating, and I’ve only been able to appreciate it since fairly recently — since deprogramming myself from all the socialist garbage I picked up in school.

Before I ever met this young manager, I was already a great appreciator of her restaurant. It was clean, simple, fun, tasty, innovative, inexpensive and had great customer service. I’m not going to name it because I want everything to remain anonymous.

It was fun listening to the back story over beers:

The owners are two guys both of whose fathers are politicians. (This part of the story is depressing to me. I want at least some sectors of the economy to be opened to the aristocratic competition of the free market: may the best restauranteur win.) So they probably have some cover from L’viv’s famously predatory bureaucrats and tax collectors. Typical of the political class, they do little work beyond making harsh demands on their underlings.

I think the reason I heard so much of the story was because this young lady suffered from months of pent-up frustration.

She unleashed a flood of evidence, making the case for her deserving better.

I agree with her, of course, but mostly I felt impressed and delighted to see her competence and the run-away success of a fairly new restaurant.

She told me about waking up at 6am and scouring supermarkets because she realized they were out of lettuce, about teaching employees to smile and greet customers, about choosing the design for the restaurant, about the amazingly small initial investment (less than $30k!), about their stunning profitability, about preparing documents, about late night phone calls from the owners, about begging for vacation time, about her salary (about $500 a month), about doing what I had assumed was lawyer-work — preparing franchising documents, about miraculously locating Ukrainian suppliers for things previously shipped from America, about receiving no appreciation, about her desire to switch to a government job (I hope she fails).

Of course there was some frustration, but this isn’t a sad story. It’s a glorious one. For her talents, dedication, and knowledge, I think she’ll eventually earn the money she deserves.

It’s also the story of entrepreneurial success. Yes, from her perspective, the owners have flaws, we may feel they don’t deserve their success, but L’viv’s restaurant business is at least a partially free market. I know an American who doesn’t even speak English whose year-old restaurant is fast becoming a L’viv icon (TexMexBBQ). He succeeded presumably without a relative in politics.

So their flaws aside, these two young men took a risk and are delivering fantastic food and service to thousands of Ukrainians and tourists.

God bless capitalism. May it not perish from the Earth.

Half-joking, I asked whether she’d be able to turn $20,000 into $40,000 in a year. She didn’t understand the question. I repeated: “If I give you $20,000, can you turn it into $40,000 in a year.” She was full of doubts and questions and qualifications. It’s clear that a personality capable of stunning coordination and discipline and management isn’t always a personality capable of taking a large sum of money, choosing a direction and saying to other people “follow me.” She needed the two owners (at least initially) just as much as they need her.