Worth the wait

About forty years ago, give or take a few, the biggest smallest city in the world decided to open a restaurant. Now there were a few good places here and there, full of young talent, but this particular group wanted to compete with other cities (regardless of their size). After some research and scraping together some money, they opened for business in a temporary place. Back then the restaurant was a novelty and opening day turned out very well. It seemed as though the restaurant would get a five-star rating in no time.

There were high hopes and lofty expectations. The owners of the restaurant thought that immediate success was assured. After all, the biggest smallest city practically put its particular brand of cuisine on the map. Unfortunately, back then, the other cities had a different palate and their patrons ate high on the hog for years. Other cities wouldn't look in the biggest smallest city's direction, let alone the restaurant. Still, the restaurant had a good local following and felt it may take a couple of years to show a profit and be awarded five-star status.

Year after year the restaurant staff worked on the menu. A couple of dishes were great standouts, but the kitchen always ran out when people expected them to be on the menu. Sometimes the food came to the table cold or unappetizing. Patrons wanted what was promised to them, but they were told that the restaurant would hire better people and fix the problems with the menu. But instead of working on this, the restaurant owners focused on a new location.

After several years, the restaurant finally relocated to their permanent place and expectations were high. It had new kitchen equipment and the owners bragged to fill every seat in the restaurant and provide the patrons what they expected: a five-star meal.

Unfortunately, the patrons discovered that a new facility doesn't make much of a difference if the food is lousy. Despite the new surroundings, the restaurant earned a bad reputation for terrible food. Every once in awhile, a staff member got the order right, but this was rare. Other cities thought the restaurant would never amount to anything. Some patrons still ate at the restaurant, but they wore masks and carried antacid with them at all times.

There were signs in the windows of the restaurant over the years: "help wanted", "under new management", "two for one", "hey, we're practically giving it away!" There was a high turnover rate. Good staff members went to the other cities to perform. Those that stayed tried to work the kinks out of the menu. They had great recipes, but they never came out the same way every time. A few head chefs were let go after many promises of change, only to either try weird fusion cuisine (which never works) or tried to play it safe by blaming the decor of the restaurant for their failures. The patrons, who continued to eat there, ate half-heartedly. They didn't want to change restaurants; they wanted their restaurant to change...for the better. If the restaurant couldn't be big in the biggest smallest city, how could it possibly be big anywhere else?

One year there was a storm and the patrons fled. When they returned, the restaurant was damaged. There was talk that the staff would relocate and the restaurant would be closed forever. True, the restaurant didn't do as well as others in other cities, but the patrons felt it was their restaurant that served the food they liked. Patrons had been deprived for a long time and they craved it. They starved and wanted it back. The owner of the restaurant hired a new staff, a new head chef, and made preparations to prepare for the grand reopening.

The head chef wasn't as flashy as previous chefs who worked in the restaurant, yet he seemed more consistent than the ones in the past. Patrons returned with guarded optimism. Dishes were recognizable with quality ingredients. Occasionally a tray would drop or a dish would be underdone, but at least something positive was being accomplished. Reviews were becoming better, especially after dealing with the aftermath of rebuilding. The second year at being head chef of the restaurant, the restaurant received a three-star rating from his efforts. It was the closest the restaurant ever came to achieving five-star status. It was disappointing that the restaurant couldn't compete further, but at least the restaurant was improving. More patrons made reservations and critical reviews weren't quite as scathing.

The head chef hired different staff members and worked with the assemble afforded him. After forty-something years, the head chef found what the restaurant lacked. There was always talk of a secret ingredient by former head chefs that never materialized. It wasn't an ingredient that was lacking; it was the method. The head chef went through the recipes and found the ones that complimented all of the ingredients available. If he couldn't get his desired effect with one, he'd make a substitution with one of equal value. One ingredient didn't overpower a dish. One dish didn't stand out over another. They all had to work together to make each dish the best it could be and all dishes had to arrive at the table at the same time. Suddenly the dishes were hot, appetizing, flavorful, and satisfying. The restaurant didn't have one successful week, but several in a row. Patrons lined up around the block. Never in their wildest dreams did they think that they'd have to wait for a table. But it was worth the wait.

The restaurant had a great year and so did the biggest smallest city in the world. Other cities flocked to the restaurant in droves, especially for the most important night of the year. For the first time ever, in the history of the restaurant, they achieved four-star status. For so many years the restaurant struggled and though perservering adversity had managed to do what some believed could not be done. Patrons danced in the streets, masks and antacid long forgotten. No one cared about other cities or other cuisines. The patrons never thought they could get that close to five-star status.

Tomorrow night is the big feast for that last elusive star. The final proving ground to all the other cities, the naysayers, the critics; but if the restaurant is successful in achieving it, the victory won't be for themselves. The ones who will savor it the most won't be the restaurant owner, the head chef, or the staff. It will be the patrons who came every week for years dining on what was offered, hoping for something better. Tomorrow, here's hoping, that they have the best meal ever.

Bon Appetit!