Neal Brown is one of the Midwest’s most well known chefs, but the road to the top hasn’t always been smooth. In 2007, he was named “Best Chef,” and his restaurant L’explorateur was voted “Best New Restaurant” in Indianapolis Monthly. Shortly after winning over the critics, however, L’explorateur was forced to shut its doors. Neal dealt with the failure, and moved on. Currently, Neal is growing his newest restaurant venture The Libertine Liquor Bar while also expanding his Neapolitan inspired pizzeria, Pizzology. See what he has to say about the lessons he learned from failure.
I can’t tell you exactly how I felt when we closed L’explorateur in whatever God-awful year that was. Despair? Depression? Sure. It was a whirlwind time, because so much has to happen at once.
If you think starting a business is difficult and expensive, try closing one.
People still talk about L’ex, some fondly, and sometimes it’s almost with a sense of pity. It’s funny actually, because at times, I get the sense that some in our little food community haven’t gotten over it’s death when I have long since moved on. It is “death” too, because it is the painful decline of a once vibrant, living entity that supports people, and their lives. Therefore, when it’s gone, it’s dead, and it leaves a void.
I use the words “I” and “failed” quite often when I talk about L’ex. It’s important for me to remember that that was my first foray into entrepreneurship. I certainly don’t live in the past, just ask anyone that knows me, but I do find value in revisiting it from time to time to reflect, and study, and sometimes, just to get that really shitty feeling in the pit of my stomach so I know that I never, ever, want to feel that way again.
But failure, has taught me a lot.
The interesting thing about failure in business is that it is so personal. The lessons aren’t so much about “how not to do this or that in business” but more about feeling. Feeling that you let A LOT of people down. Feeling completely helpless as the ship sinks, and the cold water is creeping up your thigh. Feeling like you have completely, and totally, SCREWED. THIS. UP.
Failure allows you some time to think, reflect, and critique, with zero pressure. I mean, you’ve already failed right? Things get quite lucid after the fact, let me tell you. It’s this time, that you must decide what kind of person you want to be. The world gets very quiet. People leave you alone. THAT is the time to decide if there are lessons to be learned, and if you are honest with yourself, you’ll seek them out because failure’s greatest lesson is that it can never again be an option.