Most restaurants and delis use a  service to provide, launder and deliver their daily linens.  In our case, we need fresh aprons and bar towels each day.  No big deal, I thought, we will rent our linens just like everyone else does.  Beginning in October, I was approached by three competing linen companies, each claiming to offer the best weekly rate and each was willing to beat any competitor’s price.  I thought that all three companies offered pretty much the same product for pretty much the same rate and that it wouldn’t really matter who I chose.  I assumed that the decision was in my favor, I thought that I would benefit from choosing any one of those companies and every week our aprons and towels would arrive neatly folded and fresh.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

First of all, it turns out that the great quotes that I received were calculated over a long term period of three or four years.  This ‘detail’ was not mentioned at any of my initial meetings.  We’re talking about APRONS and TOWELS here.  Our STORE is only leased for three years!  I asked each company about a week to week service and they all told me NO.  They said that the industry standard is a long term contract because essentially we are leasing the materials from them which doesn’t pay off for them until 2 years down the road.  I asked about a lower priced laundry service if I provided my own linens.  They said they would not launder linens that they did not provide, the same policy extended towards the doormats.

At my old store, the Bedford Cheese Shop, we used a weekly linen service that did not require a contract.  Ah, Cascade was the best!  One of my employees told me that her old restaurant has weekly terms with one of the linen companies that refused to offer me anything less than a two year contract!  What’s the deal?!

My last meeting with a linen sales person was the day before we opened.  By that point, I was done shopping around for a linen service, I had made up my mind that all linen services were offering  long term contracts and they were all bad, but I was meeting a salesman one more time because he insisted.  I told him that I had bought my own towels and aprons that day and I was going to wash them myself for a week.  He was clearly aggrivated and nervous.  He threatened me with bullshit, ‘in a week you’ll call me, you’ll be so sick of washing those’, and ‘the towels are all lint, they are a fire hazard for home dryers’.  He had brought in a bundle of aprons that he pushed me to keep as a ‘friendly gesture’ I refused them because I knew that there were strings attached (*ahem, literally).  Also, the aprons smelled like rancid grease.

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After we chose our location, we began lease negotiations: how long are we renting, how much is rent, what will the landlord provide us with, what will our schedule be, how many days can we be closed, how long do our lights have to be on after we close at night, what can we put on the sidewalk, how we must ask permission for any changes to the structure or facade, how we can’t keep the store above 60% humidity and on and on.  It was tedious.  We hired a lawyer to help us understand what was standard for this type of rental, what we should clarify and what we could negotiate.  

We also needed a lawyer to help us set up the structure of the business.  We decided to become a Limited Liability Company, honestly I don’t know the details of why we chose this but I think it is a flexible model for a small business and also allows us to open other stores under the same company in the future.  My investment was not monetary because I don’t have any, instead I am commited to the company for time.  We did all this legal stuff sometime in May.

 The lease was signed not until the first week in August.  The space was finally “delivered” to us (meaning that the landlord gave us the space the way he had agreed to in the lease–in this case that included a working bathroom) on AUGUST 25th.  That’s when we got the key.  Yeah, getting a business started takes a long time!