Walter Mencken 4 p.m., Dec. 14
When It's Too Much
Talking with Al Kazzazi at BB’s Deli yesterday got me thinking. How much of a strain is it to keep a restaurant going when the economy is evaporating around you, and you’re not getting customers, and the landlord and the bank still want their pound of flesh?
A lot of foodies like to snap up the latest -- the hot, successful places. But what if you're not hot, just a mom-and-pop, not on the best street, and you never will make it to easy street? Not in this climate, anyway.
What about the couples who started with a restaurant dream and ended with a money-mangling nightmare? You can understand really good chefs going the gastro-truck way, just because the outlay’s less outrageous.
But I’m really thinking of Zofia Migdalska. She committed suicide July 24 because the stress and depression of running -- and then losing -- a restaurant got to be too much.
She and her husband Marek had set up a sophisticated Polish-French-American eatery in Imperial Beach, MZM Seacoast Bistro. They had met in Poland, when she was 15 and he was an 18-year-old rocker. Marek went on to the Ritz-Escoffier school in Paris and has cooked for Presidents and media stars. He was personal chef to Joan Kroc. When they moved to IB to run their own place, he cooked and Zofia ran the place.
I guess it was partly the location. You had to make a special trip to go there. It was a tough sell where it was. Unexpected for its kind, in such a surfy location.
I met them in 2004. They had delicious Polish-style apple pancakes at MZM (the name came from their first name initials combined with their son's name, Marius). And they made a mean dill pickle soup and could tell a thousand interesting stories.
Then, well, the economy, the closure, the watching as a maybe more suitable place, Jersey Boys Diner, took over the building. Late July, Zofia could handle it no more.
“She just couldn’t understand the fact that the people [who] were responsible for this [economic] downturn got bailed out by the government, and little businesses couldn’t get a helping hand,” Marek told the IB Patch. (See their story at http://imperialbeach.patch.com/articles/mzm-seacoast-owners-death-declared-a-suicide)
It's a wake-up call for all of us customers who stomp in and want our burgers now, and don't want to hear about no problems on the other suide of the counter.
So here’s to all you brave souls out there struggling to keep feeding us in these times we’re in. Let's not pretend it's not hard.
For my part, I’ll try not to be so righteous next time breakfast turns up with toast that's burned.
Pictured: Zofia Migdalska, photographed by Marek Migdalski; from the IB Patch