A simple slip on the ice nearly ended a business that has thrived on Jay Street for four years.
John Bendick, owner and sole employee of Adirondack Take Out & Delivery on the Jay Street pedestrian walkway, had to close down his business temporarily after breaking ribs in a fall at home while clearing his stairs of ice on Jan. 3.
He dragged himself back to the store Tuesday, even though he was still under orders not to twist, turn or lift anything. That doesn’t leave much for a cook to do, so he called in a friend to help him serve. She cooked his trademark Tuesday roast beef — he cooks a different special every weekday — while he supervised.
“I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have help,” he said.
He’s lucky he was able to return at all. Some sole-operators with a small profit margin would be forced to close for good if they lost two weeks, he said.
He spent much of his bed rest thinking about how to recover financially.
“It could have backed me up against a wall, to considering whether to continue,” he said. “I told myself, the biggest cost to me is soda and soda doesn’t go bad.”
He didn’t lose much food because he had the good fortune — if it can be called that — to break his ribs right after the long New Year’s weekend. He’s not open on weekends and holidays and he buys most of his ingredients fresh, so he didn’t have much stock on hand.
But that didn’t mean he welcomed the doctor’s orders for two weeks of rest.
There’s no such thing as a paid sick day when your income depends on your presence at work, as Bendick tried to explain in the emergency room on Jan. 3.
“I looked at the doctor and said, ‘I own my own business, how can I take two weeks off?’ And he said, ‘You’ll twist the wrong way and you’ll rebreak it, again and again, unless you rest.’ ”
So Adirondack closed, with no warning beyond a hand-written note that Bendick’s girlfriend hastily taped to the door.
At home, while “fogged” on painkillers, Bendick called every regular customer that he could find in the phone book. He felt guilty that he wasn’t at the store, imagining his faithful customers gathering orders in their office buildings and trekking down to his business, only to be disappointed.
“I had to call my regular customers. It’s only fair, instead of making them wonder what’s happened to me,” he said. “I kept having the nightmare of people lining up outside the door.”
Two weeks is a long time — long enough for customers to find another favorite lunch joint, Bendick said Tuesday as he waited for customers to arrive — or not.
“It’s the customers remembering. They get in a routine,” he said.
At 11:30 a.m., the store was empty. But starting at noon, a steady stream of customers came in.
Some just looked in to say they were glad he’d recovered. Others stood in line for whatever food he’d managed to make, not complaining that he didn’t have the gravy ready for his roast beef.
He spent the lunch hour sitting down as much as possible. In fact, he wasn’t up for much of anything. Usually he arrives before 8 a.m. to start cooking, but he didn’t make it in until 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday.
Customers quickly realized he was still on the injured list and waited patiently for others to help them.
“People are very understanding. You would think, in this day and age — but they’re very caring,” Bendick said.
This month was not the first time Bendick has had to close because he doesn’t have any employees to pick up the slack.
During last year’s Kids Fest, Adirondack was dark even though Bendick makes more money during that festival than any other day of the year.
“It’s the most profitable day I’ve had,” he said, recalling how once he sold 1,000 snowcones in four hours during the summer event.
But last year, his uncle died the night before Kids Fest. Bendick locked the doors and went home.
“That could’ve been a big day for me, but my family, my friends and my health come first,” he said. “You make a few hundred bucks, it gets spent, and what do you have? You’d feel guilty forever to have not been with your family.”
But, it wasn’t an easy decision.
“That’s what really stings with a small business,” he said. “When I’m not here, my business is not here.”
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