Milwaukee - If you could have your dream job and all it cost was $100, would you jump at the chance? Would you be suspicious? Would you ask "who sells anything like this for $100?" The answer to these questions made for one of the most interesting, uplifting, win-win stories I've come across in years.(Watch the video below.)
Here's the basic story. The owner of the very hip, upscale National cafe in downtown Milwaukee, Michael Diedrick, wanted to sell the restaurant to devote more time to his web design business, The Byte Studio, located just two doors down from the cafe.
His neighborhood, Walker's Point, is an area he politely describes as one "that could go either way." That's his code for a neighborhood on the cusp of going upscale or losing ground to the crackheads and falling apart. To win that battle, he figured he could not lose the higher income clientele who patronize the National's gourmet coffees, organic foods and freshly baked (on site) pastries. This meant he needed the right owner.
Here was his approach. On on a website he lilsted 11 promises the new buyer/owner would have to meet. Anyone who agreed to all the promises (keep it for two years, keep the staff, buy local, etc) could buy the place for $100. There wasn't just one catch, in other words, there were 11.
Out of the 24 serious applicants, Michael chose 35-year-old Nell Benton, a local, unemployed chef, who has clearly just stumbled into the break of her life. Nell, who grew up nearby in Green Bay, says she first dreamed of owning a cafe just like the National when she was a kid. Hers is the turnaround story of the year. Unemployed on Wednesday, owner on Thursday, and working at her dream job.
When producer Carrie Rabin and I first discussed this story (she found it while roaming the Web) it seemed too good to be true--until we learned and grew more amazed at the details. Michael is not giving away his restaurant (conservative value around $50,000) on some dumb Quixotic quest for sainthood, he is calculating that the long term value of keeping the National pretty much as is, is worth more to him with
someone like Nell in charge. He's taking the long view and fighting for his vision of the neighborhood.
What I really liked about this story is how transforming it was for Benton, a woman who clearly knows her food. At this time three weeks ago she was trying but failing to put together a catering deal. It wasn't working. She had toyed with opening her own restaurant, but couldn't find enough investors.
Millions of Americans live every day, just like her, in the crushing frustration of unemployment. They have
the job skills to help the economy but find no one's there to give them a chance.
In the end--this is what Michael was really selling her, beyond the job of her dreams. He was selling her a chance. And who wouldn't buy that for $100?