Jumping into the Rapids to Learn How to Build a Raft

A tale of youthful folly and growth

project: New America

The Challenge

Create a welcoming space that serves delicious and affordable food in Baltimore, MD.

The Outcome

Mixed results: a beloved restaurant was created, but it proved to be unsustainable.

Many Lessons were learned along the way.


3 years


Best Brunch 2017, Baltimore City Paper

Between the Summers of 2015 and 2018, I dreamed of, opened, and closed a diner in Baltimore.

I went into the project driven by a desire to create something larger than myself. I wanted to learn what it was like to lead a project, and I think I was also trying to create a space for myself to belong.

I am someone who lives with a deep sense of hospitality and enjoys bringing about beauty and a sense of care. My Mom’s Parents owned a restaurant, and although I never met them, I feel their influence.

I wanted to know why it was so hard to get a good meal in Baltimore and took a bit of an extreme approach to finding out.

Conducting Research

Going into this project, the one thing I knew was that I didn’t know what or how much I didn’t know.

I moved through the world always thinking about the project and keeping an eye out for anything that might be useful. I began to study any restaurant, commercial, or situation of hospitality that I came across.

Observing a Single-Molecule Restaurant

While in the planning stage, I worked at a restaurant called Bottega where there was 1 hot chef, 1 cold cook, 1 dish, and 1 to 2 servers. 11 tables total. I loved the chance to observe a single unit of restaurant.

Experiencing My First Restaurant Opening

I also helped with the opening of Clavel, a mezcal bar and taqueria, which gave me the chance to experience and take part in a restaurant opening before I launched my own.

Designing the Space

When thinking about how to design and outfit the interior, I wanted to create a space that was both comforting and eclectic.

I was working with a limited budget and needed to design things in a way that could absorb a variety of disparate objects and aesthetics without becoming too chaotic.

I wanted to create a space that felt like the intersection of Hopper’s Nighthawks painting, a country store, and a field of wildflowers.

I outfitted the space with a combination of craigslist finds, discount lighting, and hand-crafted solutions created in collaboration with friends.

What Worked Well

A scene did develop. We had a fair number of regulars who would come to brunch every weekend, some would even come both days. There was a feeling of an ongoing conversation and the space definitely did develop its own life force and culture.

We were voted Best Brunch by the Baltimore City Paper in 2017, our only full year as a restaurant and the City Paper’s last year of publication.

I also really enjoyed composing and leading a team. Some people who worked for me told me I was the best boss they’d ever had. I’m sure others felt differently, but I tried to lead with respect and admiration for other people’s intelligence and humanity.

A blurry group photo from our last service

Errors + Lessons Learned

I bit off way more than I could chew. This was definitly a fundamental error and lesson of this project.

I didn’t go in with a team. Over the course of the project, a team developed, but I now more fully appreciate the importance of starting with a more solid foundation.

I didn’t do enough to control and communicate the brand. Most fundamentally, I had spent too much time in my own head and didn’t do enough to incubate the brand out in the world.

I also worked with a local sign painter, Simon the Sign Man, who made some work that I loved, but I didn’t do enough to unify the identity across media.

I didn’t have enough organizational systems in place from the beginning. I ended up introducing systems, but the experience definitely highlighted the power and importance of structure, protocols, and standards.

Reflections + Moving Forward

I think for a while I felt a lot of guilt and shame about my youthful hubris.

I now see the absurdity of taking on such an unwieldy project in such a state of inexperience, but I am also glad that I jumped into the rapids and learned lessons the hard way. Pain is a powerful teacher and helps lessons to stick.

Coming out of this experience, I definitely take branding, marketing, and accounting much more seriously.

This experience also led me to discover User Experience Design and now Service Design.

I am an entreprenure at heart, and I consider this some early scar tissue to help give me future fortitute.