We are talking about the kind of commitment that takes over your life! This was one of the wakeup call the partners of KOTTULABS had a few weeks in to their new venture. No more Friday night partying, trips on long weekends, taking naps on Sundays after lunch etc. That was all a distant memory. Instead they had a reality where every minute of every day was consumed either by the restaurant, running it, cleaning it, etc. or by thoughts of it. There was no 'off switch', try as they might to find it.
Don says the first 4 months of operations was a rude awakening to the realities of owning and running a restaurant. The pressure was so intense that the partners almost came to blows several times over disagreements, frustrations, and misunderstandings. Every day came with a new battle to be fought. All four now agree that they went into the business with a naiveté that was shocking. Even though their market research indicated that a high level of commitment was required to make it in this business, it only came home to roost when they were in the middle of it. The partners were so stressed that there were several occasions within those first four months where they each thought it was time to pack it in and just move on with their lives. But every time one or more of them had this thought the others were able to pull them back in, encourage each other and keep going. Don says this determination or it could be called ‘ego’ - the perceived shame of giving up so soon, of failing - is all they each had at times and that is what helped them to rise above, keep strong and keep going when things got really bad.
Speaking about things going bad, Don gives us a few examples of just how difficult things were at the beginning. One such incident was on the day that KOTTULABS announced that they were open for delivery the restaurant did not yet have a delivery bike. Nor a delivery person. Even though the research was done, and common sense would indicate that a delivery method was needed, things were so hectic and happening all together that they just didn’t have the time to properly secure a delivery person/bike in time. Don says when KOTTULABS first started operations, it was open from 4 pm to 12 pm, 6 days a week. Initially, they only made Rs.7000 - 8000 per day in sales, which was a surprise to them. The day that they first made Rs. 24,000, which was the highest they made at that time, the kitchen resembled a “war zone” he says. They just couldn’t believe the effort that was going into making just over 20K Sri Lankan rupees a day, with which they needed to cover all overheads. Another example was when the partner in charge of kitchen operations took a week of paternal leave, there was no one to manage the kitchen operations – there was no choice the others had to step in and take over. Don says, they each went into the business thinking that each of the four would look after a certain aspect of the business i.e. kitchen operations, customer care, finance, marketing, and so on, but the reality was that they all had to do everything, even getting under the cookers at the end of the day and cleaning them out. Why? Because this was a start-up, there was no cash to pay someone else to come in and do it. There are no boundaries when you’ve sunk in a large sum of money and are trying to make a go in the food industry. Managing staff, suppliers, customers and banks, every day takes a toll on a person, and yet there are no off days, no sick leave, no deciding your too tired and so are going to take a day off and relax. The ‘commitment’ is immense.
Don says there are so many people, who look in from the outside and think “oh, I can do that” or “that’s easy enough to do” and jump into the food industry. They themselves did the same thing. “But it’s only when you are in it, that the realities become apparent and it’s time to either sink or swim” says Don. KOTTULABS has managed to ‘swim’ for the last three years simply down to passion, dedication, and pure stubbornness. Don says this type of commitment is also possible because they each have families that are supportive and tolerate all the missed family events, holidays, and special occasions, friends who are always ready to lend a hand or offer a kind encouraging word. Having a great support system is vital, say all the partners of KOTTULABS.
Written by Shali Jayasuriya
Shali is a freelance writer and blogger. She has written articles for clients from various fields, as well as developing content for websites and social media as well as copy writing for press releases, collateral and internal marketing. She has extensive marketing experience and has worked in various industries including aviation and hospitality, education and e-commerce. Read her blog at http://wellwornhushpupps.com/