Proofing Stage

A Room of One's Own When You Don't Own It

January 24, 2024 Joan Kanner, Michelle Bond, Amanda Schwarz Season 1 Episode 6
Proofing Stage
A Room of One's Own When You Don't Own It
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Any small business involves risk, often calculated and sometimes underestimated. Still, the brands you love press on every day through countless obstacles and decisions, bringing a team and the desire to not skip a beat along for the ride. 

But, what's behind your favorite place setting up shop, or shuttering its doors? This episode covers the ground from BUB Hub beta's build out and the team finally having a space of their own, through the end of the initial lease term - all against the backdrop of a global pandemic. We also remind you (and us) why this journey is worthwhile.


Hard-won victories, lessons learned and pro-tips abound, like:

  • In the world of commercial real estate, what's a vanilla shell? 
  • Moreover, what's got Joan feeling like a cold dark shell?
  • Negotiating for graduated rent
  • We stop ourselves short from unpacking health department and building inspection processes
  • The eustress (not me-stress) of moving
  • How "coming soon" is a phrase that shouldn't be used lightly
  • Paying to build out a space you don't own
  • Amanda creates a colorful new expletive
  • Why property ownership makes sense for small businesses
  • "I"m a real estate startup, and I'm here to help... our investors!"
  • Treating people like crap when you think you're better than them
  • Green means go. Yellow means caution. Red (flags) mean nothing when you have no options.
  • Whoever dies with the most toys wins
  • When landlords gaslight you
  • "The Wire" helps us explain some things
  • Rewarding landbankers
  • Did someone say "conspiracy?"
  • Michelle's pitch for you to "like and subscribe"

CW: Adult language

Theme music by Thorn Haze

Additional music by AlisiaBeats (via Pixabay)

Artwork by Lisa Orye

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Amanda

The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are our own. The pod also contains explicit language and occasional references to mature content and themes. To review our full notice and disclaimer, please visit our website at proofingstage. com.

Michelle

I’m Michelle Bond

Amanda

I’m Amanda Schwarz

Joan

And I’m Joan Kanner, and I put the “oof” in Proofing Stage
The title for Episode 6 is “A Room of One’s Own, When You Don’t Own it.”

Amanda

A building down the street from me that has been in “coming soon” phase for probably about six or seven months now, it looks like this abandoned kind of, possibly industrial building, perhaps an old auto repair shop. I'm not sure exactly what's going on. It got a beautiful paint job, it's all beautiful brown now, it has a beautiful logo for what looks like a brewery.

I mean, the logo is there, there are colored chairs inside, but the place isn't open, and it hasn't been open. And I'm wondering, did something bad happen or is this just the amount of time that it takes to do a build out like this?

I guess my question is, what is “coming soon?” How quickly can you actually turn a space like the one that you rented into your business?

Joan

What's the condition of the space and what are you going to be doing in it? 

Michelle

And then just the process. I think at one point I said we located the space in 2018, we didn't sign a lease until 2019. That's because it took a full year to get the permit to begin working on it. So we found this place in 2018, we started building it out in 2019 and we didn't even announce that we were doing anything until we were probably four months out because we knew that perpetual “coming soon,”  like there's the permitting process of any jurisdiction.

And there's like the building permit. And then there are several stages of like at each set, you have to get like the plumbing inspected, then you have to get the electrical inspected, then you have to, you know, then there's the health department. The very last stage for a restaurant is, at least here is the health department. And that can take, I mean, we know people now who took over a space that was already operating as a food business and, you know, have made their own like very minor adjustments. And it's still eight months later and they're not open yet. 

You know, so if it's a whole build out , to Joan’s point, it can take years. So for us, it took start to finish probably two full years. 

Joan

Yeah. And this was a place that may have functioned as like, you know, a chicken place or a bodega or something. But there was really like no evidence of like a hood. The walls were crap. The ceiling was crap.

We had to put in like a base of a floor. It was a shell. It was a shell, you know? So it's one of the theme of us doing things harder. Whether it's like making the food really well. But like we just envisioned this place like still having like more good to it than not. And that also meant like per Michelle’s  earlier points, like getting the funds to do it, having the plans to do it. And again, we had to be working the whole time to sustain ourselves, our team members, the community at that, and cracking into those two years is also COVID. So we're really just trying to like, keep a lot of shit together and keep a lot of things moving, knowing that it was still important for us to be in that space.

 

Interlude

 

Amanda

What was the state of the space when you moved in? You're talking about floors here. 

Michelle

When we moved in or when we found it?

Amanda

When you found it and you signed the paperwork, and it is now your space. What does this place look like?

Michelle

We'll have to share photos but it has… 

Joan

Yah you'll blow your mind to be like what?

Michelle

…it has a dirt floor 

Amanda

A dirt floor 

Michelle

The floor was re-poured but i don't know if it's because there was no floor or there was a bad concrete slab that needed to get re, re-put in or like…

Amanda

So no basement.

Joan

There's stuff behind it. So there's like a building, which I think may still be like abandoned, like a vacant building it was attached to, because it was basically like an old, big ass building. And then someone added this extension, which became the space that we used for our shop, but there was still that garbage behind it. And there was still like underneath, there was kind of like a basement, which is where we ended up also having to put in a grease trap. Things you gotta think about with the food business, you know, we don't do much grease, you still gotta have it for water discharge.

 Michelle 

Yeah, I mean, mechanically, we could talk for hours about all of the things that needed to get figured out. And maybe that's a different episode or a Q&A or Q&A at some point. But yeah, it was it a shell. So it was gutted and rebuilt from scratch, which made it amazing when it was ready and made it amazing for the entities that took it over after us. But, you know, go big or go home.

 

Interlude

 

Joan

When it comes to most leases, you're gonna be paying for the outfit of the space. So the landlords, they have their mortgage or maybe they don't if they paid for the property outright. And you're gonna pay for fitting out the space, putting in the floors and such, depending on the lease that you end up settling on. Maybe they'll get to vanilla shell, which can mean different things based on where you are, but can put in, basically just put in like the sheetrock and the floors and whatnot. 

So that's all gonna be dependent upon like what you agree to. But there's still that piece about property ownership and wealth in that, wouldn't it be nice like after putting in all this money to build out something to what you need, that you weren't making it nice for the next person or for the landlord and that you'd be able to like retain all the value of what you put into something. It's just good for people to keep in mind. 

And we went the rental route for a bunch of different reasons. And we can totally understand why people do that. But there has to be a push to be able to get small business owners into their own spaces. But things like a massive amount of vacants, not just in our city, but in others that we have traveled to for sure, wouldn't it be great to give a better pathway for business owners to be able to own the spaces that they're in? Because you can also keep that line item balanced. You'll know, like, this is my mortgage.

Or this is like, this is my mortgage and this is like my business loan to have the build out. You can actually count on those numbers, whereas like we all know rent can fluctuate. We all know different landlords have different approaches to maintaining a space. We all know that landlords can be intrusive or they can be absentee. So there's something about giving people control over their space and that financial aspect to it. You can actually, “okay, well, this concept didn't work for me, but I own the building. I'm gonna put in a different concept or I'm gonna rent it out to like people who can really use the space.” You know, I…there's different reasons why people should be mindful of property ownership.

 

Interlude

 

Amanda

is there a honeymoon period? You've got to be excited about moving into this new, beautiful space. How long did that last?

Joan

Well, there was also the COVID piece to it. So we were like, we were masked when we started. There was not yet vaccine. We knew some people were going to be leaving the team and going on to places that were a different fit for them.

And I think for a time there was also just the reality of like being happy to go somewhere to be able to do something because we are all essential. But at the same time, all of our stories were getting tired because we had no new stories to share with each other. Like we had the space and the customers and the delivery and maybe some like stuff we're catching up on the internet. But at some point there's also just the mental toll of like, this should be a more exciting time. Which we can't divorce from being a difficult time to get there, right?

But it was hard to have anything like a grand opening or any way of really, really appreciating that transition. 

Michelle

We opened in June of 2020. And I feel like there was a little bit of a honeymoon period with the crew that we had kind of that fall and into the winter. 

But the immediate time was really blunted by COVID because we had, you know, at that point, COVID was in its peak. No one was doing anything. Everything was, I mean, even getting the shop finished was tough. We had, you know, someone working on a mural for us who we had to like have a letter that he was essential. And like, and everyone was going through their own issues. Like we all were just trying to figure out how to cope and we had poor coping mechanisms and we had, you know, and so. 

We were quote unquote "essential." I think there was a week in between moving out of the kitchen that we were in and moving into the store. But we were working throughout COVID otherwise and building out this space. And yeah, most other places had grand openings or had a ribbon cutting or had more press. And we really weren't able to benefit from any of that. I mean, we had some press/earned media that we had been working to get. 

We also had no sense of people's consumer behavior because of COVID. You know, so it was absolutely incredible to have our own four walls and to have a place where we could have our team and we could show up every day and do our thing and have our regulars and like all of that was incredible, but it was definitely muted. And you know, and as that went on for more than a year - more than two years - there were different challenges. There was fatigue and there were different expectations in the changing workforce; and our landlords and their own coping mechanisms. 

I think everyone was looking for control where they could get it - including us. We were just trying to make it all work. There were just a lot of factors that I think put strain on it and never really, I think, allowed it to just be what we envisioned. 

I mean, we never had people in the store. I mean, we had people walk in, order and leave. But like we had these counters made by a local crafts person, which were gorgeous. They never had stools attached to them. There was just a lot that wasn't realized.  

And I think we were so on fumes coming out of what it took to get there. And then COVID. That by the time our lease was up, we were just like, this is like, we just can't deal with all of these forces. One of which was, you know, just our landlords not working with us.

Amanda 

I know that during those times, landlords were being asked to take it easy on their tenants, at least in terms of residences, right? Like if you're living someplace and there's somebody who is not able to go to work and they can't pay their rent, that, you know, we shouldn't be giving these people a hard time. 

I mean, you're a new business, you've moved into this space. Businesses all over the place are asking their landlords, “can you cut us some slack because of X, Y, and Z?”  

Was there any kind of COVID response from, I mean, it's a brand new landlord to you. You've been working with him or her for a couple of years because you've had the build out, but now that shit has officially hit the fan, coinciding with your moving in and doing business, was there any conversation about concessions due to COVID? 

Joan

Don't forget, like we, this bordered two different spaces that we were in and two different sets of landlords. Both he/him in both scenarios.

Michelle

Yeah, I mean, with the short I mean, we were told there were no concessions in the kitchen, and then later learned that there were for people who were not us.

Amanda

At the shared kitchen.

Michelle

Correct. 

Amanda

Oh, cluster fa fuckity fuck fuck…

Joan

You made up a new curse word! Keep going!

Amanda

Yeah, you know I’m the maker of swear…

Michelle

It is a cluster and a fuckity fuck… 

But um, but no with our actual space no. And that was part of the sticking point for us was like, you know, we were incredible tenants. We increased the value of that property aside from the build-out. I mean we just took impeccable care of it, you know, we brought a lot of traffic to a place that didn't otherwise have it. We paid on time. 

Oftentimes when you have a commercial lease, you can negotiate certain things. It's common to ask for graduated rent so that when you're just starting out, you're paying a little less and then you pay more over time until you get to like what your regular rent is. 

And so there were periods of that, you know, short, three months, six months where, where things would go up. And I mean, we never had to be told that, you know, we always paid, you know, we would just, we paid on time. We paid without question. We took care of a lot of things ourselves. And yeah, we're never, never asked for, but never certainly offered a break. 

And so then when we were trying to sort things out to renew our lease and there was no tolerance for it - any kind of negotiation - that was really disappointing because we had all kind of weathered the hardest of it and we're doing well. We're starting to have people really know that we were there and all that kind of stuff. 

But between conflicts that we had in the year prior with just, again, this need to exert control in ways that didn't make sense and being in our face about things and having disagreements that clearly showed that we didn't value the neighborhood in the same way, which was really important to us. And certainly the bill of goods that we were sold when we started on there. 

All of that combined with then like no concession from the business end to like try to make it work to keep us in there, it was clear that this was just not a partnership that was gonna be good for us long-term. 

Amanda 

How long was the lease?

Michelle 

It was a three-year lease, which is on the shorter end for commercial leases but a risk we wanted to take for a reason such as this. Because what if we were in a 10-year lease? And COVID had had, or even a five-year. And so, I mean, we did have full intentions of renewing it, obviously, when we first created it, but a lot happened in that three year period of time that changed, I think, everyone's reality.

 

Interlude

 

Joan

I have a warm and fuzzy to add, and then I just have just like a listener take note that's very mechanical, but people need to know.

So with the warm and fuzzy, doesn't start so warm or fuzzy, but let it be said that generally moving involves you eustress. You know, it's meant to be like a positive thing generally, but it's always gonna suck. But when it came to moving in and having team members before we were ready to sell in that space, 

I had such a warm and fuzzy from seeing people put shelving together as part of... We still gave people hours, you know, like putting the lockers together, cleaning something. "Oh, where should we put this?" And having that kind of, dare I say it, family moment of just like, where do we, how do you want to set up the shop? 

And Michelle and I, like, of course, as the owners, like have a sense of where things should be, but like, “you're using the lockers, you're using the storage, like put it up!” 

Like, you know, like you're the master of getting Ikea furniture together in your house. I know that for you.  I know you [specific team member] love like little like cubbies and stuff, you know, so. No, so. 

Michelle

[Laughing] Looking at you, girl… [Amanda]

Joan

And then, and we have like team members like that were like that. So I'm just like, "girl, do it. What else do you need? Like, here's the tools”. So I just want to make sure that we also cover that warm and fuzzy moment of like, when you have your own space. 

Michelle

That was probably part of the honeymoon is like, we're all moving on. Like even in even... Thank you for going back there [Joan].

Joan

You're welcome. It's what I do, you two... 

Michelle

The COVID time when we were like first, you know, we wanted to get the place to a certain condition before the team saw it, you know, and the team, like, obviously, the team knew we were going there before anybody else knew.

And then we had, like, the day we had tour and then we had food and you know, it was just like those moments of really…that was an exciting time. Thank you [Joan] for bringing me back there. And it was, it was a very something we were doing together. And even though the rest of the world felt like it was scary and falling apart, like we at least…

Joan

…got some new memories and new stories...

Michelle

…just do this together 

Joan

…for everybody.

 

Interlude

 

Joan

Just to make things clear for the listener about graduated leases. When we say that, there was very much a time, especially in our scenario, in which case you have the lease and you're gonna be giving a bit of a tithing. 

Negotiate the smallest amount possible as you pay for the build out of the space because you cannot make money off of it. So see, a small a bit of rent you can provide, and I'm quite sure many a landlord, depending on their funding, will say, "you gotta give me something so I can prove it to my bank that I'm having a lease and I'm making some sort of money."

So just pause in those moments and think, “when can I possibly make money off of this place?” And “how long will that take?” And realize there's always gonna be something that comes up, even when you think that you're done, you're not done. And permitting stuff can come out, because you never know, because the reviewers from permitting offices can be different. Just be mindful of negotiating the smallest amount you can, if you have to pay it all, for the initial lease before you can hit the ground running and start to make money back on that. You don't want to be completely in a deficit. 

Michelle

Yeah, no good point. And it's all negotiable. I mean, there are, you know, you can ask for anything and you can, you know, and I think that's something that we were encouraged to do throughout which I thought was definitely helpful and reassuring. 

Amanda

Encouraged by who?

Michelle 

Just folks in these offices, in these economic development offices or- 

 Joan

…food business owners, or you know...

 Michelle

…these organization or other food businesses. 

 Joan

Talk to each other. 

 Michelle

Or other businesses, period. 

 Joan

That's why we're doing this, talk to each other. 

Amanda

When you think back to the creation of the lease and the things that you agreed to, is there anything that you would have done differently that would have benefited your situation?

Joan 

Wow. I think I would have considered buying a place. And there are so many more, like now, like ways of crowdfunding money for those sources. Because neither Michelle or I like have any type of like family wealth or connection that would lend itself well. 

We certainly had the business' revenue, right? But there's so much that goes into it in terms of like owning a property. I think I would have had a more concerted effort to seeing what would make sense for purchase.

And that's definitely like, that's a step way before a lease, right? It's trying to figure out how to get a mortgage and how to make that happen. Because we are already fronting the money for the build out. Like, why not just like, oh, the whole shebang? I think I would have considered that option - and people should.

Michelle

Yeah, I don't know because I mean, of course, again, knowing I'm the one who just said you can negotiate anything, right? So maybe we could have had something in there that's like, “well, if we don't renew, we get X percentage back of investment costs.” I mean, they would probably say no, but that's something we could have asked for. But, you know, you don't go through all that to think you're going to be gone in three years. And so it seemed pretty reasonable. 

I mean, we had other people look at it, we went through it. I mean, we took our time with it. We negotiated back and forth on certain things. I will say that I was in the 10,000 Small Businesses Goldman Sachs program, right? And you do risk analysis and you do these things as you're like mapping out your growth plan. And in one of the things they always tell you to account for in any business program is the catastrophic events, right?

Oh, “what do you do if the economy tanks?” And so that helps you pivot. It helps you think about pivot. It helps you think about like having delivery during something like COVID or whatever. But you really can't, you can't know something like that is gonna happen. And you can't know how it's gonna affect people's morale and their coping and the decisions that they make differently than they did when you started, and the supply chain, and all of these things. 

I feel like if I don't wanna have, even throughout this process, so hesitated to put it all on COVID, but I feel like without that, we would have probably been able to have a workable renewal. But it just brought so many things to a head that I don't know, or maybe you just see people's true colors sooner or more clearly. 

Joan

You're gonna get too many sunk costs though, Michelle. I mean, we had so many sunk costs with those landlords where, you know, very early on, it's more just like celebratory and exciting and like partnership. And this one landlord wanted to show us all of his toys because he had like other properties right in the area. So it was just another thing about us adding value. If you have like these vacants and warehouses and whatnot, this is good for people who are your tenants, they can come grab something to eat. Like it should be like more symbiotic, right? 

But early on, he just showed us all of his toys. "Here's some cars, here's a boat that I'm keeping. Like I used to like work in development in DC and “here was this one restaurateur and I keep his boat for him.”  And this is all like a Joan foreshadowing moment about the boat and who the restaurateur was. And I will skip ahead and say the people who replaced us in that space were his buddy who the boat belonged to. And there's really no way for us to have seen that [coming].

But also like during the building process, and Michelle got more of these interactions than I did initially, one of the landslides would just be like, “well, if you're not gonna give them the money, I'm not gonna do it.” Because they were also building out the space, they had construction experience and they had people that they would hire on to help build things out. So they had a lot of control, in which case it very quickly became an “if, I'm not going to move unless you do x, y and z” and we were already so motivated to like leave where we were it's almost like me of the research center going into that new office that ended up being fucked up; we had to make some sort of move. 

And I do wonder if I had different interpersonal support, if not financial, if I would have said “you know what Michelle, I know already we already sunk in so many you know multiples grands of like of dollars should we just pull out of this?" I don't know where the hell we would have gone. Again, I'm saying like we already had so much sunk cost. We kind of had to like move out, definitely not necessarily like up, but we definitely had to like move out. 

So I don't know what else we could have done, but there were so many other things that came up in interactions [with shop landlords] when the rubber met the road. And I think to Michelle's point about COVID, it just didn't... Who did better at that time? Like who was coping better and who wasn't looking for control and who wouldn't look for control from like two white presenting ladies? Why the fuck not, right? There's blood in the water.

 Yum.

Amanda

Yeah, that's true. I'm thinking about all the toys that he's showing you. I've been in these situations before.

 Joan 

Did yours include an arcade game?

 Amanda 

Many, several. This one included a game house that was built on the property, as well as a wine house with hundreds of bottles of wine lining the walls. 

Joan

Talk to me, you're so awesome.

 Amanda 

Also a one day trip to Orlando to do the amusement parks. Got on the plane in the morning, did Disney World, came back in the evening. 

Joan

Oh shit. I'm quivering.

Amanda

Trips out to St. Michael's for crab feasts. Trips to Manhattan for the holidays. Yeah.

Um. Yeah.

Amanda

Yeah, and this was, this was a, I'm not accrediting this to anybody because it's, it's one person.

Joan

Just too many different people do that. Oh, it's one person? Oh, shit, damn.

Amanda 

One person. And it's yeah, it's the for me, I was, you know, when you're in the middle of it, you're just like, “well, shit,” right?  And, you know, after the fact, when you're thinking that was, those were probably red flags. So when I'm hearing the toys, I'm like…but that's only from my own personal experience. And I'm not saying that everyone who moves through the world like this, I mean, could have just been sheerly out of the generosity of just having a lot and wanting to share all of those things. I'm going to put that out there, right? People who have a lot oftentimes want to share, and that's a beautiful thing. But also, what do you share and the things that you choose to share? 

Were there any other red flags from this, landlord? I'm curious. That may have felt good at the beginning, or maybe that didn't feel so good, but you may have. 

Joan

We were too busy. Oh God.

Amanda

Right? Like you had to ignore some stuff because you needed to get it done eventually. You were looking for a space forever.

Joan

Yeah, were you just like talking words or was anything like really meaningful? But there are certain comments he'd make [comments] about the community because he lived in the county, not in the city. 

I'll say there were two guys [shop landlords], but there's one specifically who I feel like did not have a filter, but didn't need to. Because when you're a certain position of power and privilege, there's like you don't have to be nuanced in your speaking. 

It's kind of like the TV show "The Wire," which I'm sure we're going to talk about in terms of like our chapters or like our episodes here. But like the one cop, Herc, the white guy, just to make it easier for people. 

Like he talked about how black people ran drugs differently than white people. White people would just be like, “I got the drugs. You want the drugs?” There's like, there's like no need to hide or be clever or do anything. And you still get all this stuff. And I feel like this one guy in particular just didn't need to do any of that because things just came easier for him even though he didn't present as like slick or polished in any way. 

Michelle

Yeah, I think at first that was one of the things that we appreciated was that given our experience with developers, it didn’t feel slick or gross in that way. You know, it was more kind of down to earth. It was more gritty and you know, by this point in our journey, you probably know that we gravitate towards that. 

But so some of these things just felt like, I mean, we had countless debates, like, you know, Joan would have something would, you know, she would have a flag and I'd be like, "we just got to get this done." Like, we just got... “fine, like stroke his ego, do whatever, like we just need to get this done because we need to get out of where we are. We're losing money. This is like we've already had sunk costs. This is the dream. We just got to get there and try it and see what happens." And, I don't know. I mean…

Joan

You know, wanting to weigh in on your menu to me is also a flag. It's just you know like have... you wanting to weigh in on your menu is also a flag. I'm like what?

Amanda 

That's it.

Oh, oh, gotcha, yeah.

Joan

I mean, it's more of like that's like, you know, that's it's certainly like not racist or like other comments, but it certainly is annoying as shit for a woman [to have landlord weigh in on your menu] to be like, “what, what? Sorry?”

Michelle

The other thing, though, this pattern of behavior is one I've experienced so much in my life as like: the petite girl, woman, you know, guys just talking and you got to make him feel comfortable and you got it, you know, like, I mean.

I don't think I would do it the same way now. But it was certainly just a means to an end. And it sounds gross even saying it. 

Joan

Hashtag let me finish. 

Michelle

Yeah.  But I mean, but I think that's why when everything came to this point of renewal, we really were just by that point. And we had blatant conversations then about just literally being gaslit. I was like, "was I just gaslit? I think I was actually." And just, you know, things that were said about the neighborhood, this place that had become beloved to us. This place was the whole reason we were there and to not only not share those values that you purported to at one point, but then to also...again, like not even try to fake it for us. Like not even don't, like, lie to me and tell me that you're not disrespecting the very people who like were here for. And you know, it just those some of those things were just for some people, they'd just be like, “oh, just ignore it. Just do your thing. Make your money. This is why you're here.” But like, that's why we're there.

 Amanda 

Yeah.

 Michelle

Again, the factors were many, but this was a big one. And when you look at renewing for three, five years, is that somebody you wanna be raising your prices to pay? 

Joan

Or getting crowdfunding for? Like our team members were like, "can't you crowdfund?" I'm like, "to pay these assholes?" I'm just like, “I love you guys, I wanna like, we can definitely extend your pay after like, we wrap things up from your perspective,” and we're still doing stuff obviously, but I'm like, but "dude, this is not how things work, this is not how justice, there's no justice piece of that, if we just keep paying more and more."

Amanda

It's always interesting to see when somebody's attitude pivots about a certain neighborhood. It's a lot easier to screw people over if you think that you are better than them. 

Joan

How do we highlight this? Is there a way to highlight this? Amanda’s doing it!

Amanda

Yeah, but it's what it is. It's really easy. Like once, once you feel as though somebody is beneath you, that's when it's easier to pull shit and it makes it easier… It's an easier mental load. You don't feel as bad about it. I mean, that's human nature. 

It's sickening, really that while you're in the process and you're, you know, you're moving into the space “oh the neighborhood, the neighborhood, the neighborhood, check this out.” But then as things start to turn [with the landlords], yeah, you know.

Michelle

And I, and I really think it was just because we, like, we weren't asking, we were asking for less as time went on. This one particular person's role became so insignificant that it drove him crazy. 

Joan

This one landlord.

Amanda

But apparently not crazy enough to not tell you what should be on your menu.

Michelle

Well, that was early. I mean, we just started ignoring him like this the whole second year. We were just not even doing business with him. But when we needed things like we needed to clear up some issues we were having with another tenant of theirs and they didn't want any, you know, he didn't want to have any part of it. He was acting like “don't ask me for any…” you know. So anyways, I don't really want to get into the gory details, but basically it was like he couldn't handle not being needed. And at the same time, when you actually wanted him to do something that was within his required role besides collecting a check, he became a two-year-old. 

Joan

This is the learned like hopelessness that we mentioned, I mentioned earlier about the Shared Kitchen and Michelle mentioned here about asking for less. I need to clarify for anyone listening. So these were two white males who were kind of like non-traditional in terms of like their appearance. They seemed more to like down to earth and if not like Larry Darrell and Darrell from like Newhart for people who get that reference. 

Amanda 
I know that reference. I know that one. Yes.

Joan

Okay. So I mean, like a little more bungling. And I feel like that was also giving me a different sense. And I was listening to Michelle more as we began a journey with them because I figured like, “oh, maybe she's right. They do seem to present this way.” But it's just like trying to being like a woman who's white and blonde and being like, “yeah, think of me as dumb, but watch out,” you know what I mean? 

So I feel like that was another thing that kind of masked those those issues and to Michelle's point about a major meeting that we had about a parking conflict with another tenant of theirs. It was at that meeting where this same specific landlord among the two, he decided to mansplain to us what colored people time was, because the other tenants happened to be African-American. I mean, it's fucking Baltimore city, you know what I mean? 

Amanda 

Oh fuuuuuu-ck

Joan

And I was just like, oh, it's like, “is so and so like running late, you know, have you heard from them?” He just, and then he said like, “well, let me explain to you what colored people time is as it was explained to me.” And then he goes into…

Amanda 

Oh my god. No, no, no.

Joan

Right, exactly? This is what we had to fucking deal with. I don't wanna give you money. I don't even wanna look at you.

Amanda 

No. Nope. Nope. Fuck that.

Joan

I mean, I talked about like, you know, different, you know, the “clowns and circuses” thing. I mean, unfortunately, these are some of the people who still have power. And like, if you extrapolate this and go more macro, these people can still get more respect, and more funding, and more assistance, and more yeses than different minority group members. And that to me, I feel like is some the greatest injustice and it's still going on. 

I don't know why it's still easier to try to correct me or Michelle or question us and our use of funds or what we do or how we do it, than going to those guys and being like,” you don't deserve this. I'm taking this from you.”

Amanda 

That's because they're connected, right? They're connected to the questioner, the people who are asking the questions. They'll protect them. It's shit.

Joan 

Yeah, they make the systems, they benefit from the systems and they still do. And, you know, it's just remarkable to me that these white male F students can do better than anything that we try to do A ++. I mean, it's really, that's bullshit too.

 

Interlude


Joan

There was a lot of gaslighting going on to the point where even this guy [landlord] was saying like, “well, I didn't have to, I basically let you use the courtyard between the building that you're in and a building that we own next door. Like I let you use that. I should be, I should be charging you differently to use it.” Meanwhile, it's COVID and we had to have like outdoor seating, but also we were beautifying what was essentially like a little alley. So that was one thing. 

And when it came to the day-to-day, practices of shop being open, they were quite passive-aggressive. And this one guy that I keep talking about who I will not name for a number of reasons, including me no wanting to give him voice, is he would - versus telling me or Michelle about something he had a problem with - he would tell a team member. Like you're playing telephone as an adult male versus telling either one of us. And I would just say, “did you say anything? Can I help you with anything?” But he would tell a team member: "You know, there's gonna be a problem with mold. Look at the steam on the windows. That's gonna cause mold." 

We make fucking bagels, there's gonna be fucking steam. It's charming, we have a hood system that we paid for. 

So it was just little digs like that. And I feel like it's easier to dismiss that as being anything major when you're someone who's in the position of power. But for different minority group members who are listening to this or reading about this, you're gonna go, “yeah, actually, these little slights accumulate, and sometimes there are bigger ones.” But I was just tired of taking all those knocks. When I had so many… I had to worry about paying people, bringing in money, rang to people who needed catering. And who has time to do that shit? Like how boring is your life that you're coming in and pecking at people? 

Michelle

For your own entertainment, basically. I mean, it wasn't even like really anything of consequence. And when it was of consequence, then he didn't wanna show up. I mean, I think that was where our, that's where things really got sticky. It was like, you're gonna bug us about all of this nonsense when we are literally like model tenants.

But then when I actually need you to be a landlord in a way that is meaningful to me, you disappear, oh, or you don't disappear, you gaslight me. You literally say, “well, then I'm gonna park my truck here and no one can park here.”

Joan 

That's his resolution to the parking meeting, which is “I'm just gonna take it away from you. I'm gonna park my vehicles here.” 

 Michelle

Like, again, a two-year-old.

Amanda 

Well, it sounds like he was really taking care of his properties before you got there and really…

Joan and Michelle

Hahaha!

Amanda

…really managing the business really well before you got there. 

Joan

Yeah, I think we also like had a harder time not just because like we were not gonna at some point we just realized their bullshit and didn't put up with it. But then the space that we had a legitimate like lease on it, whereas the [landlord's] LLC that was over the property that we were in was also an LLC for the building next door. They had a lot of stuff. So the next door one was where they got, you know, you know cash rent. Which I only know because again like to Herc's point from "The Wire," just white people just say stuff. Like you're not worried. It's like a James Bond villain.

“Hey, Mr. Bond, I'm gonna kill you this way with this laser" or this, whatever the hell they're gonna use with this decaying sandwich, who knows, right? I mean, botulism. So he would just say things like that. There was like no problem. You can just go around, you don't have to keep anything secret. And just say, “oh yeah, like we get cash rent from next door.” This is obviously, should also been a red flag to us. “…and then this is how we pay ourselves. But then also we're gonna need a lease from you because the bank looks at your lease.” So again, all these flags, but like I really don't know what the alternative could have been, versus like, we didn't have like help to make choices. 

And I feel like people need to also realize that access to capital and network gives you more choices. And that to me is like true freedom. And I see more and more of that now in terms of like, what's blocked us from different growth opportunities. It's just the ability to have choices is the best thing you could possibly have for your business. And the most you should really want. 


Interlude 

Michelle

Property ownership is so important. And that's something that we've been really focused on. But, you know, again, even resources in that realm, it's tricky. You know, you need to find somebody who's willing to work with you. You need to be able to line up the initial capital to acquire a place.

Joan

Different organizations are helping people in the city to purchase buildings from people like this one guy who in our neighborhood, in Waverly, owns countless properties, right? And is trying to like help folks buy properties from him. But there's still this, there's this part of me that's just like, "why are we giving this motherfucker full price” or “like why are we trying to like encourage him for sitting on it?” And I understand, and I'd rather have it be in better people's hands who now bought it from him, it's no longer his, but this is the same dude who has shopped around the same PowerPoint for years being like, “I envision, Waverly being like this and Greenmount being like that.” And the dude probably owns like, definitely over like, 12 buildings, I think still. 

And I remember very early on, he wanted to talk to us, kind of, give us no eye contact wouldn't respect us, because we were women, but he was still in meetings referring to our business. It's like, he was saying, “I'm gonna put a Bottoms Up Bagels” here. Like, without our presence…

Michelle

…like “I've never talked to you, dude, like I we've never even…”

Joan

Oh, I went like zero to Nikki Haley in my mind when I heard that. “Get your…get my business name out of your voice, mouth, spirit.”

Michelle

Always on time, Joan. Always on time.

But I will say real quick on the ownership piece that we were working with a different entity earlier this year, a nationally-based place that is a startup in their own right again. 

So this is also part of, this is a theme, right? Like places who are trying to do things a little bit better, a little bit differently, they have, they're trying to solve a problem. So they start up, but then they're also working out their own kinks.

Amanda 

And working within the systems…

Joan

And they're venture-backed, including like some really famous people who I don't think that these people sit on the boards, but like a Venus, sorry, Serena Williams, my apologies, Serena, Serena Williams. I just I don't mention her name to get something out of my voice, mouth, something. I just mentioned it because she's one of the funders of this place. 

Amanda 

Get her name out of your mouth!

Joan

That's right. You're McEnroe me, just smack me with the racket. But like, you know, this it's a venture-backed place, the story of the founder includes and he's like, founded many businesses before, and his family had a grocery and the grocery ended up having to close because they didn't own the space that they rented, right? It's a very short version of their origin story as a business. 

And at first, they were going to work with us. It was going to be a rent-to-own situation, which is perfect for a business of like, you know, of our at the time, like income level, like, “yeah, we'll pay you like we don't mind like renting for a few…no one you're going to actually own anything we build out or doing this unless we default which is highly unlikely given our track record. We're going to own the building you could just kind of like help us to establish that and then five years like they've made rent and then also part of your rent goes towards a down payment for you buying the building.” I mean it was, and I have found this…

Amanda 

Does it get better? Right? Yeah.

Joan

No, no it doesn't get better. 

Michelle

You're like “why aren't more people with money doing this, right?” Like… 

Joan

But I'm looking at you Amanda because like you understand this - I think better than the two of us - about having investors like impact how you do things. When we began talking to this business, I thought like the startup, I thought we're gonna be able to like take advantage of, we talked to them and it was kind of clunky and people were changing around and I can live with that cause you're like, not even like a year old, I get it. 

But as we talked to them, they kept changing the goal posts in terms of like what they wanted us to do. We're like, “no, we wanna buy a space and these are our specs and we wanna like have the building. We found some great buildings. Here are a few buildings in different places.”

Amanda 

Hmm.

 Joan 

“And this is like how much they're worth.” Some of them are actually like... This is like great value because we need to leave ceiling once you buy the building for us to build it out.  Again, that would still be on us. 

And they changed the minimum amount. They want us to buy a building a million or more. And because like we didn't want to buy that expensive a building, because we still had to build out the motherfucker….

Amanda 

Whaaaaat?

Joan

Like we, yeah, they changed it. So like, I mean, I don't like, why, why? Like we're trying to be really fiscally smart about this, but because people who don't know a situation that we're in or making these decisions at a high level and want to see a different level of return for you. 

I think they're still in business. I don't know. I think they are. But like, I mean, talk to us, you know, they really pissed me off that no one's talking to the potential clients or customers. Like, you would be great poster children in terms of making this work and increasing like wealth. I thought based on the shit you're putting out there in this world as your, you start up, real estate startup, that you'd understand [more than] anybody where we were at. And there was just this, at some point, this massive void or gap. 

Michelle

Well, and those are the exact people that need to be helped. I mean, the thing is, if you can borrow enough money to acquire something at 1.5 [million] or more, whatever their thing was, you can also be backed in other ways. You can also get a loan easier. You can also attract, you have a higher valuation. You can attract venture differently. Well, if you're in the 2% right? Or I guess for LGBT if you're in the minus 1%.

A dear person we used to work with in a kitchen like after we were out of there…

 Joan

…that's code in case you're wondering we say "dear person" it means something … 

Michelle

…no but he was we would check in with each other and be like “oh how things are going” he's like “oh every new level of growth has new challenges." And it's true right I mean, so of course, I'm sure people in different brackets always feel like there aren't enough resources. But if you're poised for growth at a certain level, but there's all that room to cover before you can actually get assistance, there aren't that many options. Again, another thing that's well-intentioned, but doesn't quite work the way that it's intended to work. 

Joan

I can do it better than them. I mean, as soon as we like, we could like crank out more money. I mean, this podcast alone is a fucking goldmine. Amirite?

Amanda 

Seriously, you're gonna make bank. Bank. Mm-hmm.

Joan

But like I would like, I would definitely have, like, not be a mentor to women-owned and non-binary owned businesses. I think I would, I know I would be a champion, but I think I would also like undercut this startup. I actually, I know I would undercut them. I'd be like, “I will help you rent to own and then I will help you like, figure out what to do in terms. I will have specific realtors to work with and I will have construction...” 

Michelle

But that's probably made by their board. Like that decision is probably made by their investors who are like…

Joan

Who are not talking to us. 

Michelle

“…you're only gonna make money if you work with this bracket." I mean… 

Joan

Then we will get all the customers like us who they don't have, boom.

Amanda 

Well, the thing is that not only are they, they're building their business on your back still, right? 

Joan

Yeah, right, with our five years of shit…

Amanda

That's what it comes down to, because I'm almost expecting if they want you to have a piece of property that is a certain amount of money, first of all, that tells you that the property is located in a place where it's more valuable, and then it also puts you in a position that when you default, they've already started with a nice chunk of a down payment on your back. And now they own the property and they can do whatever they want with it. They can throw an Anthropology in there if they want. 

Michelle 

Or sell it… Or sell it at a...

Amanda 

But if they're in real estate and they've got a property that's worth 1 point something million, they probably don't want to sell it. They want to rent it to the next chain that's going to be able to pay it. I'm terrible like that. I'm always “conspiracy theorying.”

Joan
No, that's factual.

Amanda
That's the way I see it kind of playing out because nobody wants, landlords don't want businesses to own their business or to own their property.

Joan

I just say real quick about this startup, like you find the property yourself, like they have some preferred realtors, but you find it yourself and you know what your needs are. And you build it out. 

Michelle

Yeah, to Amanda's point, it's on your back. 

Joan

Yeah, just wanna just be sure it's very clear in terms of like, they don't find it for you. I mean, in case people aren't clear about that.

Amanda 

And that's the thing too, they have you now searching out the spot, right? They have you doing all the footwork. And then they say, “but it has to be valued at this much…” 

Joan

To start yeah, and you also have to also have to be you know, you also get to see that get to prove that you can support a rent of so much, which is like less of a whatever like I don't I get that you want to make sure we can support the rent that It would be at. 

Amanda

Right, but then if the building is now three times the amount of money. 

Joan 

Also by building it out, we create it. Like we make it, yeah, we make it like more worthwhile. 

Michelle

More valuable, yeah. Yeah, and it's, you know, so no surprise that we're like, “okay, well, let's just sift through all of these experiences that we've had even in the last year and been like, what's worth it here? What's possible?” Like, because it's really hard to accept that maybe it just, for some people, it just doesn't make sense.

And I mean, and I say that not in a woe is me way. I say that in a, you look at your product, you look at your assets, you look at what it takes, you look at the environment. I mean, we haven't touched on it yet and that's probably, but like COVID changing the entire world in the way that things not only operate, but where people, where the general public is at in terms of - no pun intended- appetite for certain things and also where funding world is at in terms of supporting those things and how the wealth gap has widened and how everything is still in the crux of disruption and not getting shaken out and where things will be, none of us knows.  

But I think it's still worthwhile and people are still at it, especially locally. Although I will say that three long-term beloved businesses locally in the last month - keep seeing the news headlines - have closed down. And I think that's a sign of a lot, of larger things. 

Amanda

Food businesses?

Michelle

Yeah, food businesses that have been around for over 10 years, all of them.

That's like “Canary in the Coal Mine” stuff because these are places that weathered COVID and probably, I don't know their stories, but have probably been flailing around since. And I think, and I say this with a little bit of like, comfort, at no one's expense, but I feel like that's what would have happened to us. I feel like we would have...we didn't need to close when we did. What we chose to do at this time in between is something different.

 Amanda 

And not everybody's up for that either. Not everybody can do that. I'm not saying that your choice was easy, but not everybody had the idea to do a roadshow or, you know, That's…

 Michelle

No, of course not.

 No, and it's like, so it makes me both feel a little better, but not good. It's a sign of larger things. 

 [theme music begins fade in]

 I think it's easy to be like, it's easy to be like, “well, you're just doing all this complaining and maybe it's just not for you.” And like, duh. Like it's not like we haven't asked ourselves that question, but it still doesn't mean, it still doesn't mean that it's not helpful to take a closer look at these things. Because for one main reason, and that's because we have people called BUBalas.

 We have a customer base that has supported us from day one from that the crazy running around markets and all that kind of stuff through like the 16/20 hour obstacle courses of the kitchen into that place that opened during COVID and even right now and they don't know what the hell we're doing, you know, and If it doesn't make sense for us to continue because of all of these barriers then that's then that's a decision. But it doesn't mean that other people can't maybe be maybe a tiny bit ahead by just knowing what some of these pitfalls are. And it also doesn't mean that maybe there isn't a different road, you know? But that's part of something that you can only learn once you like again shed light.

 Amanda 

That's right.

Shall we close? Because I'm going to have an ornery 13-year-old ringing the doorbell in about two minutes. Yeah, maybe about five minutes, but that's OK. Yeah.

 [theme music continues swell]

Amanda

This week’s episode of Proofing Stage brought to you by

 Joan

From the makers of the defunct corporation with a similar name, it's Yexium. Yexium, don't call it a cult back.

 Michelle

Thank you for listening to Proofing Stage. We're here to share our experiences and our learnings, and we also wanna learn from yours. So if you can contact us, you can do it a few different ways. Instagram at Proofing Stage, email proofingstagepod at gmail.com. You can leave us a review, follow us on Apple, Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcasts, and comment on our posts. So we're also on TikTok actually as Proofing Stage. And we're just getting going but we'd love for you to be a part of it so please reach out and we hope you continue to listen.

 Amanda

For additional information, including notice and disclaimer, music credits, episode notes and more, check out our website: ProofingStage.com

 [beep]

 Joan

The ending of that could be a teaser. Michelle’s “Stand and Deliver” speech.

 Amanda

Is Stand and Deliver a movie? Because I haven’t seen it.

 Michelle

Yeah, I’ve not seen it either.

 Amanda

YEAH!

Michelle

I’m telling you…

 [beep]

 

 

Challenges of Opening New Business
Moving in and Setting Up Shop
Leasing vs. Buying a Property
White Male Power and Property Challenges
Challenges With Property Ownership and Startups