As much as he would like to point somewhere else, Greg Cordova freely admits the sudden closure of five Old Farmhouse Restaurants last week rests with him.
"I wish I could blame anyone but myself, but I can't," said Cordova, 44. "I wish there was another outcome."
All five restaurants — situated in White City, north Medford, south Medford, Phoenix and Ashland — were shuttered after business on Feb. 12, putting 50 people out of work. It was a classic case, Cordova said, of growing too fast on a shoestring budget with limited cash flow.
Cordova was a district manager for Shari's restaurants between Grants Pass and Sacramento before striking out on his own in 2006. He knew the restaurant business, but said only too late did he realize that it also takes financial expertise to run a company.
"At the end of the day, I was a victim of the Peter Principle (wherein one rises to a level above their competence) and didn't act fast enough. I'm not an economist, and unfortunately that's why I'm in this spot. I've been looking for a CFO the last couple of months, and I should've looked much earlier."
When Cordova and his wife, Cheryl, launched their first shop in the former Road Runner Cafe location in White City, near his family's home, it made a lot of sense. He could avoid long trips, and there was an opportunity for his older children to be part of the family business.
The economy was solid in the first two years. Cordova said he could feel a seismic shift in 2008, but while 2008 and 2009 were filled with financial hardship for much of the world, the Old Farmhouse Restaurant kept afloat.
"By 2011 and 2012, though, it was rough on us," he said. "When you're worried about funding and finance, it's hard to greet (customers) with a warm, fuzzy welcome.
"We were undercapitalized the whole time. You are always told here's what could or might happen. You plan for what you're going to need and then double it — and pray that's enough."
Cordova opened a south Medford location in December 2007, and two years later he took a fateful step when the company doubled in size.
Cordova had been trying to get into Phoenix, but wasn't able to put a deal together. So he shifted focus to a location between Riverside and Court Streets near the Rogue Valley Mall.
"I had been working on the Phoenix deal for two years," Cordova said. "As soon we opened by the mall in June 2009, the Phoenix landlord told me, 'We want to work on your terms.' That location has been OK, but it was one more thing adding to the picture."
Last summer, a fifth location was added in Ashland.
"I always thought if we opened another location it would give us more cash flow," Cordova said. "We did that a couple of times and there were definitely knocks on the road."
He admitted contraction wasn't a comfortable thought.
"I've been asked why I didn't try closing one or two," Cordova said. "That kind of advertising doesn't draw crowds — maybe I held my cards too close to the chest."
The next step is uncertain. Cordova plans to meet with a lawyer today to discuss options, including a Chapter 11 filing that might allow him to restart some of the restaurants while under court protection from creditors.
"I've deflated a lot of landlords in the area and the same with food vendors," he said. "I have to figure out whether we can run a couple of (locations) or any of them."