How Wine Turned Me Into a Citizen

It was Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer, astrophysicist, and cosmologist, who suggested, “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.” I mention this proposition to emphasize how vital it is to do serious but skeptical research before embarking on any business endeavor—or any endeavor at all, for that matter.

For instance, the only way to learn the retail business is to spend a few years working in a store. I learned this the hard way . . .

After spending a shockingly short time at the London Cordon Bleu School of Cookery,  I decided to open my very own cooking school in Greensboro, North Carolina. I named it La Bonne Femme.

La Bonne Femme, Greensboro, NC

La Bonne Femme, Greensboro, NC

Of course, nobody in Greensboro had the least idea what La Bonne Femme meant. As a dish, it is a seductively tasty combination of garlic, onions, bacon, and mushrooms in a red-wine sauce to accompany a thick veal chop or chicken leg. As a namesake, it evokes “The Good Wife.”

I preferred to think of myself, and of the shop, as The Good Woman.

I set up my cooking school in a beautiful, isolated little house in the woods where nobody could find it. Nevertheless, word of mouth was generous. The school thrived. It thrived so mightily—on a small scale mind you—that I decided to expand, into a shop where I could sell the same soufflé dishes, rolling pins, and other gadgets and utensils I was using in my classes. That worked, too.

Next, I considered how neat it would be to sell what then were quaintly called “gourmet” foods. A glass-door refrigerator displayed great cheeses. There were exotic coffee beans, teas, chocolates, and all manner of good things to eat. I arranged to have baguettes, croissants, and brioches flown in from New York every Friday.

There were only two things missing in my little corner of paradise: one was wine . . so I decided to import it. The law required wine sellers to become U.S. citizens. I became a U.S. citizen. The other thing that was missing was enough customers to keep the enterprise afloat!

Lesson One: Don’t choose a fancy name for a business or for your identity as a personal chef or for a service or for a blog or for a book title.

Lesson Two: Each town has a doomed location. There, every enterprise is destined to fail. Before investing in a cash register, make sure that you know that you have chosen the best possible location. Know who your customers and suppliers are likely to be. Make sure there is enough parking for the crowds that will flock to your store. Check the zoning. Get insurance. Explore all the hidden costs including taxes, garbage and snow removal. Register your name. Make friends with the bank manager. Have a marketing and publicity plan. Be realistic about drawing up a profit and loss statement. Think carefully about your ability to withstand extreme stress.

And as a rousing chorus of Les Bonne Femmes would say: Bon Courage! (Good luck!)

Food Job: Entrepreneur/Gourmet Store Owner