Last night our hood caught fire. Again. By again, I mean this is the third fire in two years. I am the GM of a small French bistro in SoCal. The owner is by far an excellent human being. After twenty-one years of various positions in the business, I can say there is no greater person I have worked for. This is her baby. The baby that keeps her up all night, every night and she tends it with loving care 24/7. It was an oddly quiet evening. Lots of deuces, few walkins. At 8:15 p.m., I cut one of the two servers. By nine o'clock, we were picking up in business and I thought to myself "good, the night's not a total loss." Around 9:30, I went to the kitchen for something. A stock pot was on fire and our sous had pulled it, but the hood had caught fire. The ansul system didn't go off. I said, "Are you okay?" He yelled "Get Dan!" (Our chef.) He pulled the fire extinguisher off the wall. It didn't function. He yelled "Call the fire department!" I hotfooted it to the phone, laying a hand on the owner as I passed, saying her name only. It was the only thing I could get out. She ran to the kitchen. I grabbed the phone and dialed 911. It took me three times to dial flipping 9-1-1. I was in the alley in front of the restaurant watching the smoke billow into the dining room. The staff and customers were exiting as I put in the call. Total elapsed time: maybe 30 seconds. We spent the next hour and a half in the alley watching the smoke pour out of the building, not knowing if the fire was spreading to the offices upstairs, spreading into the dining room, spreading at all. Just waiting for the word. I told our staff to go home and we'd get word to them tomorrow as to what the plan would be. Several volunteered to stay and help clean up. I said, "Go home, rest up, and keep your fingers crossed." The good news: the fire didn't spread. It was totally contained to the hood. No one was hurt. The bad news: we will have to replace the hood. This will be the third. I blame the restaurant consultant. Because I need someone to blame. So, rookie owners beware. When your restaurant consultant tries to sell you a $50,000 hood with a series of filters that have to be changed in order to circumvent putting in a proper ventilation system: run. Run fast, run hard. Run like your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on it. It will fail. Continually. As we walked back in to survey the damage, it started to rain. It never rains. Chef Dan went home to get the shopvac. The fire department put their axes into the hood to get to the fire. They didn't have to break the picture window that looks into the dining room. My boss started washing dishes in the corner so no one would see her cry. We gently persuaded her to sit at the bar and open a bottle of wine. Her best friend Sara was there that night with her husband Anthony who I worked with at another restaurant and have become good friends with as well. (Side note: we have "Top Chef Dinners" where we gather each week, cook, and watch Top Chef. They got to meet Collichio at an event and tell him this. It made him smile, which is good, because my failed tirimisu would not have. I even imagined him asking me what made me think it was serveable as I threw it against a wall. It was a very bad day.) They are the silver lining on this hideous, heinous black cloud. Anthony and I started washing the dishes. Back to our roots. His father would make him wash dishes at the restaurant as punishment. My punishment washing dishes was self-inflicted. (Strong-willed.) We were making record time when my boss re-entered and asserted that she wanted to do it. Cleaning therapy. She dropped an f-bomb, so we relented. Back to the front to continue glass polishing, wiping off tables, putting up chairs, etc...My main bartender defied me in leaving and joining his wife ON HER BIRTHDAY to stay and clean up. He's a good egg. And can make a reduction that will please your soul. So what now? Cancel the reservations with our apologies, email our clientele the details about our exciting new cold menu, hope we can open on Tuesday, and cry for now. Yes, cry. Even foul-mouthed, mercurial FOH hags can be broken. When you watch someone pour their soul into their dream and get knocked at every turn: it's heartbreaking. Fire-prone hoods, a string of screwed up sous chefs, revolving door employees, high maintenance clientele....she's handled it with absolute grace. And maybe I'm insane because it makes me want to work harder.