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September 27, 2017

A tale of two Penguins

The following story is true, except for the typos and bits I don’t remember correctly.

The first Penguin was in Paramus, New Jersey.

No, my name is not Mr Popper, it’s Vasco Phillip de Sousa. I have to use my middle name to get a “p” sound. This Penguin was not a flightless bird, it was a frozen yogurt restaurant. And, it looked like “we” had a chance to own this Penguin.

I can’t pinpoint the precise period of this proposed proprietary purchase, but I think that I was a pupil in Paramus, perhaps it was when I was pushing shopping carts for pocket money.

Penguin frozen yogurt looked much more fun that working at Shoprite. So, although I was too young to make a business deal, I wanted “us” to own a Penguin. This place had a newsletter that called for the banning of the letter Q, not as a form of censorship, but as part of a crazy sense of humour.

(You couldn’t do that in Europe, here a government could take it seriously, and that wouldn’t be fair to anyone who actually might enjoy Quorn, Quiche and Quinoa.)

“Blah, blah blah, success!” – de Sousa says

My father, if I remember correctly, was between jobs as an engineer. While engineers are well paid whilst employed, entire departments can be cut by some anonymous bean counter. This had happened on more than one occasion. Dad made the mistake of implying that he was considering quitting that career, and running one of these frozen yogurt restaurants instead.

I thought it was a cool idea. Frozen yogurt wasn’t the hottest thing out there, but I could definitely chill with that Penguin.

However, my dad and step mom gave the franchise a chilly reception. They stuck with their more secure (but less cool) day jobs.

Years later, I met a different kind of Penguin. My son had worked at the second Penguin restaurant for a year, it was his first job. This Penguin had a much older clientele, older even than my father. In that way, going there makes me feel like a kid again. But, instead of frozen yogurt the second Penguin is famous for its coffee.

The restaurant has fun images of Penguins on the walls. But, the name Penguin has nothing to do with what it serves. I think it’s related to the fact that many people think Penguin is a Welsh word, as “pen” is Welsh for head and “gwyn” is Welsh for white.

Penguin means whitehead? At the first Penguin, and my face was full of pimples and whiteheads. (The pimples went away when I stopped eating red meat, just another reason to stay away from pork.) I liked the yogurt, but not the whiteheads.

My mother-in-law heard that the business was for sale, and thought I should consider buying it. I wasn’t so hot on the idea, as I’m not into coffee, pork, or the other things they sell. (They do make very good hot chocolate.)

She said that the proprietor was thinking of retiring, and practically giving the place away. Allegedly, he said he wasn’t allowed to sell it for any less. It was a deal too good to pass up.

Well, partly because I have been instilled with a respect for my elders, and partly because I wanted to prove how stupid of an idea it was, I eventually felt obliged to go to the estate agency to find out more about this Penguin. The price, which was out of my range to begin with, only included the “business” for fifteen years, not the rent of the premises. Of course, it didn’t include employees, lighting, electricity, food or other expenses. It was like renting a franchise to a one restaurant chain. And, there was no frozen yogurt, no cool newsletter.

What would the ROI be for me? Disappointment, stress, unhappiness, excess paperwork, bankruptcy, and boredom, most likely.

Not that I expect the business to survive for that long under the current model. The typical client is one generation older than my parents. I wish them a long life, but unless they break some world records, I don’t expect that generation to survive into my retirement.

The best thing about the current business are the proprietors. Two brothers who know how to run a restaurant, how to make coffee, how to smile at customers and create just the right amount of conversation. They are as charming as the penguins on their wall, but as they are selling so they can retire, the purchase price will not include the Penguin‘s greatest asset.

What makes it worse for is that I’m not a customer of anything they sell. My diet is more like that of an actual Penguin, rather than that of their customers. I’m a pescetarian (fish eating, mostly vegetarian). I don’t eat pork, they serve a lot of pork. I don’t drink coffee, or even know what good coffee is supposed to smell or taste like. My kind of Penguin. I would need to work at one of those places for at least six months before I was ready to run one.

One Penguin catered to a clientele too young for my father to understand. The other Penguin caters to a clientele unlikely to survive for as long as my father. Both businesses could be viable in other hands, but we don’t understand their markets. While you might make them profitable, for us they would just result in debt and disappointment. We both made the right decision by not investing.

I think I should have run the first Penguin, when I was at school, and my mother in law should invest in the second one herself.

If you still think I should apply for a loan to purchase the Penguin, and save it from disappearing, consider this: If I were to take over Aberystwyth’s Penguin, I’d cease selling ham and coffee immediately, and stick with what I know.

Sure, I love history, but I don’t want to be part of it, not that badly.

If you think something is a good idea, do it yourself. And if you follow someone bad else’s advice, when it goes belly up, they’ll forget that it was their idea.

Vasco Phillip de Sousa writes stories, designs business cards and DVD covers, makes promotional films for clients, and longer films for entertainment.

Contact Ptara to hire him for your project.