Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Be a Restauranteur, Just For One Day

Japan has an interesting system of "live houses" and other small venues which allow non-professionals to perform in front of an audience by taking on the financial burden of the event. The way this usually works is that the performer(s) "buy" as many tickets as the owner of the venue (usually a small club or bar) thinks need to be sold to make it worthwhile (for the owner). The performer is responsible for selling the tickets if he wants to get his money back. If he can't sell enough, he'll be out of pocket some money. If can sell a lot, he can make some money.

This system allows amateurs to get up there and perform in front of people. My former boss used to do this as a "crooner". He usually did it in conjunction with other folks including another singer and a piano player. He usually made a little money (about $50-$100) or broke even though not when the cost of renting a tuxedo or time were factored into the equation. Of course, he didn't do it for the money. He did it because he enjoyed performing.

I never lived in a big city in the United States so I don't know if a similar system exists but I have my doubts that it does. My husband recently told me about a similar situation which I'm pretty sure wouldn't be permitted in the U.S. One of his students told him that she was allowed to rent a space in which she could open her own "restaurant" for one day. The space included meal preparation space and a dining area and was presumably in an area trafficked enough by pedestrians to bring in business. The only requirement she had to have to do this (besides enough money to rent the space) was preparing a palatable meal for the man who was going to rent the space. Once she proved she could cook well enough to sell meals, the place was hers for a day to prepare and sell the Czech food and beer she was interested in. For her toil, she ended up making about $50 so it wasn't worth it from a financial point of view but it was satisfying for her from an experience point of view.

On the surface, this is a pretty cool idea as it gives someone a chance to share their cooking with, what would hopefully be, an appreciative diner. Under the surface though, it's just a little scary and I think that part would probably keep this sort of business from being permitted in the States. The main problem would be with hygiene and the fact that the people who did this had no special training or supervision in how they handled food. Also, it very much opens to the door to criminal behavior such as hit and run poisoning.

There are roughly similar situations in the U.S., but they are only permitted as part of fund-raising or collective social events. The bake sales and potlucks conducted by churches and various fraternal organizations are also situations where food is sold and the sanitary and safety conditions are not monitored. The main difference between this situation and the "rent a restaurant" is Japan is that the conditions under which the food is prepared in such sales is generally understood by those patronizing them. If you walk into a restaurant someplace, the expectation is that the folks running it are subject to and conversant in health codes and food safety procedures.

While I'm pretty sure my husband's student handled the food safely and carefully, I'm not so sure I'd be comfortable eating at one of these sorts of places. However, it's possible I already unknowingly have done so.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

In Canada, it is pretty normal to have a few bands rent a community hall together and sell tix (and alcohol sometimes if it isn't an 'all-ages event'). Usually the bands are kind of similar in stature and genre, but not always. Anyways, they get to perform and hopefully make some money and people get a hall party which are almost always fun. But as for restaurants, I've never heard of that. The closest I saw was a greasy spoon lunch joint that closed in the evening, so the owner let some newbies open a restaurant there at night. But it was a longer term thing.

Tess said...

The kitchen in our church has been updated to current building codes and is regularly inspected. It's a larger church which used to host a regular meal for the hungry, and though that program has now been taken over by a dedicated non-profit group, the kitchen is used for fund-raisers and wedding/funeral receptions. That doesn't mean that all the cooks are qualified, but so far, things have worked out well.

If you google "underground restaurants" you'll find a lot of articles about them in the U.S.

Below are 3 links to some diverse views on the topic:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/30/magazine/30food-t.html?ei=5090&en=0f9123868d3bbc2c&ex=1348804800&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

http://chefsgonewild.blogspot.com/2007/10/underground-restaurants.html

http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2007/06/hidden_kitchen.php

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/01/22/UNDERGROUND.TMP