SAN ANTONIO — Curtis Beebe might not be an economist, but time and again he has demonstrated shrewd understanding of the most complicated, most vital of economic principles: opportunity cost.
Investopia calls that “the benefit a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action.”
Confused? I know. Economics is hard.
Luckily, we have Robert Frost, the turn-of-the-20th-Century philosopher/poet, who explained opportunity cost simply and elegantly (and possibly inadvertently) in his masterpiece, “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In short, life is about choices, and each selection contains both a cost and a benefit. Which brings us back to Beebe, who, having analyzed and agonized, hopes his latest decision in a series of headline-worthy elections is low on costs and high in benefits.
It’s not hard to like his chances. Not just because Beebe is an analytical guy, but also because he is a demonstrated entrepreneur with a little Beat Generation philosopher/poet in him — Donald Sutherland’s cerebral “Oddball” from “Kelly’s Heroes,” minus the Sherman tanks.
Having worked most of his life in IT and dabbled in local electoral politics, in his latest iteration, Beebe (“bee-bee”), 54, is a restaurateur, who lately has added through subtraction.
Until about a month ago, he and his wife of 31 years, Rebecca, presided over three east Pasco eateries: The Pearl in the Grove (whose farm-to-fork menu won a Florida Trend Golden Spoon last year) near St. Joseph, Rebecca’s at City Market in Dade City and, in downtown San Antonio, the LOCAL Public House & Provisions.
Now they’re down to one, the LOCAL, a hybrid of the neighborhood pub and upscale dining experience. In the space that was once the town’s only grocery store, and after that a coffeehouse, Beebe offers 16 local craft beers on tap and a menu of delights that borrows heavily from the Pearl’s farm-basket-fresh experience.
What didn’t make the transition is the full complement of employees from the closed restaurants. Six came to the LOCAL from Rebecca’s, none from the Pearl, leaving 15 – “Mostly part-timers,” Beebe reports – out of work.
The closings also meant Beebe had to negotiate early exit agreements with his landlords.
Still, retrenchment wasn’t at all what the Beebes had in mind when they expanded for a third time late in 2015, opening Rebecca’s on the back side of the block that includes Kiefer Village Jewelers and Williams Lunch on Limoges.
“That really was a classic case of my reach exceeding my grasp,” Beebe concedes now, tucked into a couch in the side room of the LOCAL. “We got way out over our skis trying to do three.”
It’s not that Beebe didn’t love each in its own way, as a parent does children. But, chef-driven restaurants rarely survive when the chef is often absent, and that quickly became evident as 2016 ground on.
The IT-guy-turned-high-end-cook probably will miss the Pearl the most. After all, it had turned out to be a rare gem: a destination dining experience that lured visitors from around the region. “Lightning in a bottle,” Beebe says.
Opened in 2010, for a while it was all good. But, “all good” in the restaurant industry has a different definition than it might elsewhere. Beebe calls this the “interesting economic realities of fine dining.”
He explains: “If everything goes perfectly, you clear 7 percent.” Seven percent. If the stars align ideally and remain that way indefinitely. That’s cutting it close.
Again, opportunity cost intrudes.
The sharp investor guys at the Motley Fool can, for a small fee, point out a basket of stocks that, between growth and dividends, project a 7 percent return and then some. And, you have your evenings free.
Alas, everything was not exactly perfect at the Pearl, which, for all its allure, was full, Beebe says, only two nights a week.
“The Pearl, by itself, was never going to support my family,” Beebe says. And, again, it suffered from his divided attention. The LOCAL, on the other hand, does business enough to keep the Beebes, including son Jackson, who helps manage the place, in the black.
Beebe concedes disappointment that he couldn’t make three work. But, once the decision was made in late September, there was no looking back. After all, he’d been down this road once before, when he shed the business that had been his identity — IT guy — the first 25 years of his working life.
For ages, when he’d share beers and stories with other professional geeks, he’d drill down on the source of his career discontent.
“When was the last time,” he’d say, “the dollars your client spent on you was highest, best use of their money?”
This probably is not a question with which anyone who supplies product or a service wants to wrangle. But Beebe, his 40s unwinding in a series of unfulfilling projects — “The technology never worked, or it broke, or it was complicated,” he says — was insistent. Was this all there was?
At the end, he was both self-employed and “very, very underemployed.”
Somehow, he found his way into the kitchen, and from that, at an unlikely age, a new life bloomed.
Still, and to his credit, Beebe appears to learn from every experience. Having done four years as a Dade City commissioner — time he seems to regard as a hitch as a draftee in the Army — Beebe says he gained respect for career politicians and professional bureaucrats.
“They’ve created this process that’s not easy to figure out,” he says, “and they know how it works. They know how to keep things running.”
As for him, he has figured out how to be the best restaurateur he knows how to be, and it swirls around a single kitchen in one location to which he can be devoted. And now, when he’s sharing beer from his own taps and hearing stories from his guests, he no longer has to worry whether he’s delivering the highest, best use for his clients’ dollars.
Their return patronage says he took the right road.
Published November 2, 2016