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Monday, March 29, 1999
 
1999 Small Business profiles

Café Mez: A couple discovers owning a small business is less glamorous than they imagined

by Robert Marshall Wells
Seattle Times staff reporter

Former owners: Mez and Patty Lounis
Location: Café Mez, West Seattle
Annual revenue: $250,000
Profitability: broke even

Even as a child growing up in Algeria, 34-year-old Mez Lounis dreamed of someday owning his own restaurant. That dream finally came true in 1995 when Lounis and his wife, Patty, opened Café Mez in West Seattle.

But within weeks, it became apparent that being a small-business owner was far less glamorous than the couple had imagined.

Lounis was also the restaurant's only chef. His workdays were routinely 16 hours long, sometimes more. Shopping for food, preparing it, cooking, cleaning and taking deliveries became a relentless and never-ending cycle.

Patty Lounis, 36, who had operated an apparel-design business in Seattle before marrying Mez five years ago, said loyal customers were the source of many happy and rewarding moments. But the experience also took a personal toll on the couple.

"You can never leave," said Patty Lounis, who worked as a full-time buyer for Eddie Bauer during the day and then waited tables at the restaurant nights and weekends. "You can never close down and go on vacation. You have to be there all the time. You just live there."

When the lease on Café Mez expired in 1997, the Lounises willingly chose to abandon their dream. The venture had barely broken even financially. And the couple had ceased to have lives outside the business.

While many people dream about starting a small business, the reality is that calling it quits is a decision many small-business owners eventually face, either for financial or personal reasons.

The Small Business Administration reports that 80 percent of all small businesses go under within the first two years. The rate for failed restaurants is slightly higher.

Quite often, the independence and self-reliance that makes entrepreneurs so successful can make re-entering the work force difficult, especially if their ventures fail.

In the case of Patty and Mez Lounis, both managed to land on their feet. Patty Lounis now works as a retail buyer in Seattle, while her husband has opted for a career change. He is now a full-time student studying wireless-communications technology at Seattle Central Community College.

"There is no end when you're on your own," said Patty. "We just said, 'You know, is it really worth it?' We were just so tired. It was time for a change. Time for something new."

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