Photo by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson
Borja let his eyes wander across the bar. The Bakery. The living room. He had no idea what he should call the place. His eyes wandered from the entrance along the counter which contained some pies and pastries. The bar table succeeded the counter. The beer tab on one side and the bar stools on the other. The inner most part of the place was split up into two spaces. On the left was a decent size kitchen with a good oven. On the right was something resembling a living room. A couch in one corner. Projector hanging from the ceiling projected the tv broadcast on the inner most wall of the bar, the bakery, the living room or whatever was the right word for the place. The place was a combination of those three things. Yet something completely different.
Borja let his fingers wander across the neck and hit the strings. He played pleasant chords that hung in the air over the bar, the bakery, the living room or whatever was the right word for the place. He watched the Barcelona players run back and forth on the wall in the living room. They were playing the in the quarter final of the Champions League. Borja tried to make his tune match the rhythm of the game. He enjoyed himself. This was the perfect life. Almost. Having a few customers would not hurt. On the other hand, he had his regular customers. The customers he had had even before he opened this bar, bakery, living room or whatever was the right word for the place.
Borja heard some noise at the entrance. A customer had arrived. Borja did not recognize him. It was probably one of those few souls that every now and then wandered in for the sake of watching football. They had nothing to do with the core business but often bought beer, pies and pastries. Nice people.
Borja put the guitar aside and welcomed the customer who entered the bar quite hesitantly.
“Can I watch the Champions League match?”
Borja found the customer sound a bit shy — if not a bit nervous. Was it the empty bar that put him off? Did he think he was interrupting a guitar practice? Was he nervous because he wanted something he did not dare to ask for? Borja did not know.
“Well, of course. Can I get you anything?”
The customer took a seat at the end of the bar, close to the big screen. He ordered a beer and two spinach pies. He was apparently here for the game. Borja put two spinach pies in the oven. He carefully chose two pies baked with the right butter — or the wrong butter — depending on how one looked at it.
After serving his customer Borja took a book and started reading. Or rather pretended to be reading. He was thinking. Staring at a book and thinking. Carefully remembering to turn a page every now and then.
Borja glanced at the customer who seemed to have lost himself in the game. He liked this sort of customers. He enjoyed baking and serving customers. He was happy he decided to open the bar, the bakery, the living room or whatever was the right word for the place. It was certainly risky to deal with two types of butter. He had to focus hard not to mix together pies and pies. It was worth it. It was so much more interesting than the home delivery. He felt he had more freedom. This was his own business model. This was his own bar. Bakery. Living room. Or whatever was the right word for the place. He realized that he was still very dependent on his wholesaler. Yet he thought he had more freedom than before.
Borja recalled the first days after he opened the bar, the bakery, the living room or whatever was the right word for the place. He had been nervous. He had not known how to draw attention to his business. More importantly, he had not known how to avoid drawing attention to his business. Depending on how one looked at it. In the end he realized that he needn’t worry about the regular customers — the ones he had had during his home delivery era. The were quick to find him. They told other customers. Business was good.
Borja had been stressed soon after the opening when two agents from Guardia Urbana started to show up for lunch day after day. During their first visit Borja’s hands were shaking as he served them their pies. He had been certain that his days as an entrepreneur were over. During their second visit Borja was not as stressed and after they had visited every day for a week he could relax in their presence. They were clueless. They were here only for the pies.
Borja was glad that his regular customers rarely visited during lunchtime. It was a slim chance that they would bump into each other — the cops and the regulars. Arguably they were not a good mix. The cops could chase away some regulars and the regulars could give the cops some wrong ideas — or right ideas — depending on how one looked at it.
Borja looked up from the book when he heard more customers enter the bar, the bakery, the living room or whatever was the right word for the place. He felt shivers down his spine when he recognized the visitors. The wholesaler was visiting together with two of his sidekicks. They let their eyes wander all over the place before taking a seat at the end of the bar closest to the entrance.
Borja looked at the customer. He looked preoccupied with the Champions League match. Borja hoped that the wholesaler would not make a fuzz and the customer could watch the match in peace.
“Nice joint you have here,” the wholesaler said smiling at Borja.
Borja did not know why the wholesaler had decided to pay him a visit. He doubted it was out of courtesy.
“Customer?” the wholesaler asked looking at the Champions League fan.
“No,” Borja replied. “I mean yes. But not that way. Eh.”
Borja looked at the customer. He was still preoccupied with the game and did not seem to have noticed anything.
“Precisely!” the wholesaler continued. “This is precisely why we are here. We are a bit worried. We are worried that you will mix customers with customers. If you know what I mean?”
“Yes.” Borja knew what he meant.
“I want you to realize that we deal with rather delicate merchandise,” the wholesaler said with a serious face. “We are a bit worried about your new business model. It is risky. If you make a wrong move we do not want anyone to trace anything to us. You understand?”
Borja understood and nodded.
“Good,” the wholesaler said with a grin. “We support you wholeheartedly as long as your business model works out. It is good to have creative minds like yours in our organization.”
Borja wanted to point out that the decision to open the bar — the bakery, the living room or whatever was the right word for the place — was precisely made as a step to distance him from their organization. He did not want to belong to their organization. He wanted to be an entrepreneur. He wanted to be free.
“If it is a success it might make sense to scale up. Make it into a chain. Export the business model to other cities.”
Borja was not interested in making it a chain or export the business model to other cities.”
“I don’t know if I’m interested in scaling up,” Borja said awkwardly.
“Well, I was not referring to you scaling up. I was talking about us. The organization. You know.”
Borja knew. He knew better than he dared to admit. He knew that he had been wrong in assuming that this venture was enough to free him from the influence of the wholesaler. He realized he was only a pawn in a complex game that was all about protecting the king. The were silent. The king, the two rooks and the pawn.
“I spoke to David this morning,” the wholesaler suddenly uttered as if had just thought of something remarkable he had previously forgotten.
“David?” Borja asked and found a knot forming in his stomach. “The landlord?”
“Yes, that David,” the wholesaler replied and put up a nasty grin. “The ex-landlord!”
“The ex-landlord?” Borja asked and found his throat go dry.
“I made him an offer he could not refuse,” the wholesaler said and laughed. “If you know what I mean?”
Borja knew what he meant. He should have foreseen this. He should have foreseen that he would not escape so easily form under the heel of the wholesaler. He had been clueless about how far the wholesaler would reach to secure his influence.
“David is still the registered owner of this place. So you just continue paying him rent until I tell you otherwise.”
The wholesaler stared Borja in the eyes to follow his words through. He wanted to make clear that he had the upper hand. It was clear. Borja was speechless. The wholesaler took that as a sign that he had made his case.
“Well, that was all,” the wholesaler said as he prepared to leave. “Good luck!”
Borja looked at the wholesaler disappear out of the door of the bar, the bakery, the living room or whatever was the right word for the place. He knew that his business model had failed. His attempt to free himself from the wholesaler had backfired. He had few options. If he wanted to be free he had to change the business model drastically and turn to selling traditional pies and beer.
“Could I have two more pies and a beer?”
Borja looked at the customer. The Champions League match had reached half time. Borja nodded, smiled and served the pies and the beer. It would be tough to make a living from selling only traditional pies and beer. Semi-finals in the Champions League and only one customer. That was not a promising business model.