Year in Review 2021: A New Start

Good riddance to 2021. The worst year of my life is at least ending with signs of hope for 2022, and I’m hopeful that when I write my next year in review I will retrospectively be reflecting on how the events of 2021 opened up a new chapter of life that has allowed me to rediscover my purpose and verve for living. 

In many respects I’m in an great position in life, with one successful, profitable restaurant that currently requires minimal day-to-day involvement, another restaurant that is well on its way to being successful and profitable, and a financial position that leaves me comfortable to travel at will or do nothing or really anything I want (within reason).

But the emotional toll of this year, separating from KC and dealing with the second order consequences of the pandemic, has left me wounded and will take a long time to fully scar over. I will never be the same.

KC

At the end of September I separated from KC. After 8 incredible years together in which we started as naive Freshman at Fordham in The Bronx and ended as co-owners of a successful restaurant in Bogota, with a stint as successful corporate professional in between, KC and I have spent the last 2 years struggling to accept the fact that our paths had diverged and we were rapidly growing in different directions. I mentioned KC in my 2020 review but left it vague in the hopes that our struggles last year would fade away and we’d re-find each other. Unfortunately the opposite happened and this year (until September) I struggled in a way that I never have previously. I was lonely and depressed, with my partner making me feel worse rather than better about everything from our business, to my Spanish, to the way I dressed, and more. I felt like a loser rather than the interesting person working on interesting things that I actually am. I wrote about how I felt in the aftermath of our separation here (password “kc”).

I don’t hate KC, nor do I blame her for our break up – the blame is shared. People think I’m crazy to continue working with her as co-owners of Mesa Salvaje, but the reality is that Mesa Salvaje is a special place due to the input of both of our talents and passion, and it wouldn’t be the same without me nor KC, and I really want Mesa Salvaje to exist in 100 years. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we are capable of working together in a professional capacity. 

Three months after separation, I am both nervous but if I’m honest also a bit excited about “starting afresh”, as a single man but also more broadly as a man ready for a new take on life. 2020 and 2021 nearly beat the life out of me, but I’m going into the New Year more positive than I’ve felt in a longggg time. I have no idea what the future holds for me and as a nearly-30 year old that doubt has professional implications, but I am also open to travel and new experiences in a way I haven’t felt for a few years, and opening myself up will surely present opportunities. I just need to be willing to throw myself in when the time is right. 

Mesa & Pizza

It has been a challenging year business-wise, but mainly in the positive sense: we have grown and grown in both Mesa and Pizza. Growth brings its own challenges, but overcoming them is rewarding both professionally and financially.

We finally have a consistently profitable restaurant in Mesa Salvaje, which this year really established itself as a top destination for vegetarian food and brunch in Bogota. We consistently have lines out the door and the praise from customers and gastronomic critics alike fuels the motivation to keep it going. We were featured in a lovely review in El Tiempo , the most important newspaper in Colombia, were visited by the First Lady of Colombia, regularly frequented by Colombian celebrities that I still don’t recognize (but my staff do), and featured by a bunch of IG foodie influencers.

Pizza had a year of fits and starts, but overall was on a positive trajectory with sales roughly doubling from January to November. We had some memorable nights with a packed house and good pizza, cocktails, and music, were featured in (and got paid to be in) a commercial for Poker, a national beer brand, and created some banging pizzas. We also had too many quiet nights and some internal team squabbles (though fortunately nothing as dramatic as 2020, when I had my administrator resign after admitting to sleeping with the cashier…), and struggled to maintain control of costs that soared throughout the year. 

The biggest change year over year has been my delegation of responsibilities that previously I had maintained a tight grip over, and the subsequent freedom it has given me. I hired an administrative assistant and a dedicated cashier in June/July at Mesa, and a dedicated dishwasher at Pizza, expanding the size of my team across the two locations to 20 employees, and I contracted out our deliveries to a great bike messenger service. This was huge for my long term goal of building Mesa/Pizza into establishments that don’t need my day-to-day involvement in order to thrive. But managing a team of 20 is a very different proposition to managing 10-12, and the majority of my headaches today involve people management issues. We’re getting to a point where recruitment and HR will be ongoing tasks, not just once every 6 months or so. Will be looking to formalize this process this coming year. 

As I move more from a day-to-day manager/administrator to a more “corporate” role, I need to be disciplined and create more formal structures. All the administration, marketing, and HR remains informal. This is an ongoing project that will take time, but I’m moving in the right direction. 

Travel

After 2020, we all needed to travel. But I didn’t realize how much I needed to travel until I finally got myself back to the US in September. It was only on that trip that I felt the full extent of the stress, depression, and weight of responsibility I had been feeling in the 8 months until that point. Necessitated by two (lovely) weddings at the beginning and end of the month, the distance from KC and work and the reconnection with friends allowed the return of “fun Ross” and a sense of optimism and hope for the future I hadn’t felt in at least 12 months. NYC in particular was a special 10 days in which I felt more alive than I had done in a long time, citi-biking around the city I used to call home to visit different friends, reminisce about old memories, and create some new ones. NYC in Sep 2021 was a special time and place, with the whole city buzzing as the end of summer coincided with the reactivation of bars/restaurants as mandatory vaccine cards reduced the need for mask wearing inside.

Following this successful trip in which neither restaurant burnt to the ground (and in fact, Mesa had its best ever sales month), and post-separation from KC, I took more advantage of travel and maybe 5 day trips to Medellin with Chris White and to Tulum, Mexico, to visit Tom Moss, and left Colombia 5 days before the restaurants closed to spend more time with the fam in the Keys. 

I already have a couple of big trips planned to the UK/Europe and US for 2022 for weddings etc… and intend on jumping on every opportunity that I get. It’s time to make discovery part of my life again.

Everything Else

There were a few other small highlights of 2021 I want to remember: starting to play tennis again, discovering some great hikes right on my doorstep (albeit once getting robbed at knifepoint on my way down), hanging out socially with more Colombians/native Latinos, and discovering some great local nightlife I didn’t know before (shoutout to Teatron). England making the finals of the Euros provided some much needed fun over the month of June, although the final really stung. I somehow caught COVID twice,  I won’t dwell on my investing year but it was generally a great year thanks to BTC/ETH, although Softbank getting crushed hurt. I don’t have a food section this year because unfortunately nothing apart from some good pizza in NYC really stood out to me, including the 2 Michelin star restaurant, Moody Tongue, and Leo.

Content

  • Books: One of the upsides to having COVID and being shutdown by protests/lockdown was that I read a solid amount this year. I was blown away by book 2 of the Three Body Problem series (The Dark Forest) by Cixin Liu, and also thoroughly enjoyed book 3. Hail Mary by Andy Weir was an incredible book that filled me with optimism for the human race and left me with a tear in my eye, and I really enjoyed Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie where a Spaceship’s AI is the protaganist, and humans/AIs alike separate their consciousness across various bodies/beings. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wolf was an inspiring read that gave me lots of context about a period in history I’ve always been fascinated with (late 18th Century) as well as insights into Gran Colombia and the natural world of the Andes which has been my favorite type of landscape since being blown away by The Heart of The Andes. Towards the end of the year I reread the first two books in the Foundation series by Asimov to remind me why I had often said that it was my favorite sci-fi series, and as much as I enjoyed them I may have to revisit that claim, and I also have nearly finished Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, an enjoyable space survival thriller after the moon inexplicably blows up. I also read Red Notice by Bill Browder in one night in March, a memoir about a life as a Hedge Fund manager in Russia in the 90’s that reads like a thriller.
  • TV & Movies: 5 shows make my top highlight list this year: Lupin, Alice in Borderland, and Ted Lasso, F1: Drive to Survive, and Rick & Morty. Succession season 2 was amazing, season 3 was good but not as good. Dune was by far the best movie I saw in 2021, and I can’t wait for part II. I enjoyed Luca/Raya and the Last Dragon but not blown away, and was disappointed by both Encanto and In The Heights, which were both just fine. I guess my expectations for Lin Manuel Miranda are just too high! Shang-Chi was fun (thank you, Awkwafina) and the James Bond movie was an enjoyable watch but felt very un-James Bond-like.  
  • Music: For the first time in a long time, I felt like I discovered new music this year that I really enjoy. Some good pop music (Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, The Kid Laroi, Olivia Rodrigo) and an appreciation of Reggaeton that I didn’t really have before (Bad Bunny, J Balvin, Karol G) made it fun to go out dancing again. 

Expectations for 2022

I’m not really sure how 2022 is going to play out. I’m going into this year with more uncertainty than any year since 2014, when I secured an internship at JPMorgan that led to a full time offer. But here goes:

Personal ambitions/predictions:

  • write more, write publicly, write in Spanish, and write for a broader audience
  • run more – starting the year with a 50km goal for January is a good start
  • have more intellectually stimulating conversations – pick up the damn phone and talk to people, and go out and meet people
  • take more risks and seek more adventures in IRL. I don’t think I need to seek more risks online/investing/in business, but I want to travel and go out dancing and rediscover the joy that is life.
  • I already have plans to be on 3 continents, but somehow I think there’s a chance I either end up in Asia or Africa as well.
  • I have many memorable nights and many nights I’d rather forget – it’s all part of the process

Other hopes/predictions:

  • Crypto as a whole has a flat year, but we see a real divergence and some assets go up biggggg and some assets go flat/down. I actually think the ETH 2.0 transition could be a benefit to BTC, which will be the last remaining major L1 that uses PoW as opposed to PoS and BTC truly becomes the “hardest” money out there. I still think ETH 2.0 will help ETH scale and compete against Solana, but now it is heading down a very different paths to BTC. I don’t think any country outside of El Salvador buys crypto in 2022, but the stage is set for 2023 adoption.
  • NFTs outside of the blue-chips face a trough of disillusion, but smart money invests in utility NFTs that enable token-gated benefits and unlock new use cases we haven’t even contemplated yet. DeFi comes back with avengeance – better UX, cheaper fees, more realistic APYs – and TradFi sees an opportunity to build ontop of DeFi protocols.
  • COVID becomes accepted as a new flu/cold that we will all live with, but as long as we are vaccinated (and continue receiving boosters) it becomes nothing to really fear.
  • A climate disaster of some variety (fire/hurricane/flooding/drought) causes public outcry, and politicians gain the leverage to enact a Carbon tax or pass a large climate spending bill. Ebike proliferation faces challenges due to theft/lack of legitimate infrastructure for travel/storage. Demand Response (smart meters, smart EV charging, in-home battery usage) also becomes a bigger piece of the public conversation.
  • The US suffers a grave political calamity – maybe Biden has a stroke or Pelosi dies or Trump comes back or some Foreign Policy decision is hugely controversial or something – and somehow the Dollar strengthens as a result. But this short term gain comes at the long term detriment.
  • Man Utd somehow surprise to the upside – remains to be seen what that means.
  • The Miami Heat make the NBA finals for the second time in 3 years, but lose to someone from the West.

Thanks for reading – your friendship means a lot to me. I appreciate it now more than ever.

Until next year,

Ross

Rambler-in-Chief


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