A debut memoir recounts running a restaurant in Brazil.
Graham begins his book with the opening of East, a restaurant in São Paulo that he describes as “Shanghai opium den meets London lounge.” Although he lived in Brazil as a child, he spent most of his career in the U.S. In his 20s, he opened Forklift, a restaurant at a Utah ski resort. Optimistic and impulsive, Graham knew little about business but outlined a seven-step plan, starting with “get inspired” and ending with “live the dream.” Forklift flourished but he soon grew bored: “Work was now drudgery...I needed change.” He became chief of staff for Utah Gov. Scott Matheson and then moved to Washington, D.C., and spent many years in advertising. In each of these jobs, he found success; he was the “new boss.” But again, he grew restless, and after visiting Brazil on business, he decided to open East. The second half of Graham’s memoir details the joys and challenges of operating a restaurant in a foreign country. Tellingly, he never learned to speak Portuguese and seemed constantly in awe of and frustrated by Brazilian life. He recognized inequality and discovered that his staff saw him as a “gringo conquistador.” He aspired to a unique menu and décor but found himself “caving in to Brazilian expectations, sushi,” and open seating so guests could “show off their latest botox treatment.” Through financial, staffing, and menu troubles, East thrived for four years. Graham returned to America to write his memoir yet his chatty book reads like a crowded fusion restaurant, as if he began talking over drinks and stopped only when the establishment closed. His chapter titles suggest a similar pace. His tone is casual and self-deprecating and he offers hard-won, useful advice to would-be entrepreneurs. But the work is unfocused and uneven. He spends several pages on his dog chasing a squirrel, for instance, but mentions his children in just a few words. The volume’s most enjoyable parts focus on East.
A meandering account that delivers some worthy business tips and entertaining anecdotes.