It was three days before Christmas last year and about two minutes before opening.
Wadi Ina was in the back room of his Chardon-based New York Deli and Grille doing paperwork when one of the restaurant's servers walked into the office and said he was pretty sure there was smoke seeping into the restaurant.
"I peaked through the back door," Ina recalls. "I saw flames coming through the door of the store next door."
The fire department arrived within minutes, but it was too late to save the business next door, Bostwick Hardware, which was completely destroyed and today remains a vacant shell.
For Ina, however, the story was different. His firewall held up and the deli remained largely intact. There was plenty of damage -- firefighters ripped holes in the walls looking for ways to attack the flames, smoke and water marred the restaurant's remaining walls, floors and equipment -- but Ina's real battle was with his landlord.
"I was sitting in the parking lot saying, 'This is not happening,'" he recalls.
And, as he watched firefighters battle the blaze, Ina wondered about the future of his business and his business plan. The lease clearly indicated who was responsible for the repairs; what it didn't define was the time frame in which those repairs were to be completed.
The resulting daily struggle to get his operation grilling again not only hindered business, but also prevented the Lebanese immigrant from implementing his long-term plans, both for the future of his business and for his family.
Ina wanted to retire by age 55, but the young restaurateur was savvy enough to know he needed help to get there.
He met with Mark Arlen, a planner with the Cleveland Financial Group, and the pair spent months running the numbers. The final plan considered all aspects -- from employee retention strategies and buy-sell agreements to retirement income -- to finance Ina's leisure days.
"We had done the whole plan," Ina says.
Implementation had barely begun when the fire sparked, putting it all in jeopardy.
After the fire, Ina devoted his attention to getting the New York Deli & Grille opened. He likens it to "seven months of being pregnant because you're in labor every day."
Because of the interruption in his business, Ina didn't have the income to support his plans for an employee retirement program. Business interruption insurance helped, but not enough to move forward with other plans. Even when Arlen called to remind him to maintain his life and disability insurance policies, Ina wondered where the money was going to come from.
Ina and his partner survived the seven-month hiatus, reopening the restaurant in August.
For now, Ina's financial plan is on hold until the business and cash flow return to normal and he and his partner settle lingering concerns. The process, which should have been underway, now is likely to be pushed back one or two years. It's problems like this, Arlen says, that reinforce the notion at that preparation is key.
"People need to be more focused on planning ahead and thinking ahead before things happen," he says.
One minute Ina was worried about holiday party trays and juggling vacation schedules; the next, it was how to get the business running again.
"Yeah, you do have insurance, but it's a big, drawn-out process," Ina says. "It's not like they give you a blank check."
The New York Deli is not Ina's only venture. Without another restaurant, the Manhattan Deli in Willoughby Hills, Ina may not have been able to get his restaurant opened, even in seven months.
"If I didn't have another business, it would be very close to bankruptcy," he says.
Ina's partner in the Chardon restaurant wasn't so lucky. He and his wife, who also worked at the deli, were forced to find other jobs while repairs were made, even though the partners had business interruption insurance. Ina, himself, sought outside help.
"We had to go to the bank to borrow money to keep it going," he says.
The main problem was the lease, Ina says. While it did articulate who was responsible for the repairs to the infrastructure (the landlord), there were no stipulations on the time he had to complete them. Without knowing when they would be able do the detail work -- and burning through cash faster than expected -- Ina was limited during negotiations with his own insurance company. Knowing Ina was desperate, the insurance company held all the cards.
That changed when Ina received a bank loan. Once he no longer had to worry about day-to-day money issues, it put him in a better position to negotiate with his insurance company. And, he hired a private adjuster to work with the insurance company to get the claim settled faster. It's something he regrets not having done from the beginning, and will make sure to do if disaster hits again.
Like many business owners, Ina once believed, "It'll never happen to me." He now knows all too well the trouble of falling for that fallacy and follows another philosophy -- it's never to early to start planning, although it might be too late.
To other business owners who aren't yet true believers in preparedness, he offers this advice: "Get started as early as you can because you never know what tomorrow brings." How to reach: New York Deli & Grille, (440) 286-3388; Cleveland Financial Group, (216) 765-7420
Daniel G. Jacobs (email@example.com) is senior editor of SBN.
When the planning process began, Cleveland Financial Group's Mark Arlen asked Wadi Ina what his goals were for the future.
Ina replied, "a comfortable lifestyle."
Arlen asked, "What does that mean?" and kept asking as Ina further articulated his hopes. "Success" and "Peace of mind" followed.
The pair finally settled on "Make a better life for your family -- better than your parents made for you."
To get to that goal, Arlen led Ina through a four-part process -- objectives, assumptions, recommendations and implementation. It's something any business owner setting plans for the future should consider.
Simply put, what do you want to accomplish? Ina wanted to plan for the future of his family and his business. Arlen led him through a variety of issues, including:
- Emergency reserves
- Accumulation goals
- Mortgage analysis
- Education funding
- Retirement planning
- Investment planning
- Risk management, including disability and survivor income needs
- Estate planning
- Business planning
The assumptions were based on information Ina provided about his business. One of his goals was to provide five years worth of education for each of his two children. The assumption was that he would need $25,000 per year for five years in today's dollars, inflating at 5 percent.
Based on their ages, Ina was told to save $731 each month for his 8-year-old son, Jason, and $557 a month for his 4-year-old daughter, Nicole.
The final step of any long-term plan is to schedule the implementation of each of the accepted recommendations. It was that part of the process Ina had barely begun when the fire hit.
Now, because everything is being pushed back, the numbers will have to be adjusted, Ina says.