Motto: “God, trust, work, dream, madness”
I sit at a simple table on a wooden chair in the pavilion of the Taverna Racilor -Crayfish Tavern and look out through the open door onto the terrace. The customers extract the white meat from the boiling pan. Trams run on Buzești, cars honk, pedestrians hurry home. From the sidewalk, up three wooden steps, anyone can reach the terrace. Here it smells of boiled crayfish, boiled clams. Steam floats over tables, under umbrellas, and dissipates into the street air. I’m Paul Nicolau, the crayfish man, and I want to tell you the story of my business.
January 2011. I was living in a studio apartment in Dristor. The usual rent: 200 euros a month. I had spent New Year’s Eve with my girlfriend, but after two weeks we broke up. I was working in sales, more precisely coordinating national sales teams for GSM services. I was earning good money, but it was melting away as easily as it had come. I could say I was living the high life, but my lucrative job was over. I had traded in three BMWs, but at that time I could barely get by with an Opel registered in Bulgaria. I was down on my luck. No money, no way to earn it. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.I was often afraid of missing out, of ending up at everyone’s mercy. I was compelled by the situation to do something that would put me on a good path. I was looking for a business idea. I know, a lot of people have business ideas. The internet is full of websites that offer, for free, piles of business ideas. Anyone you ask, they have at least three business ideas. Well, I didn’t have any. I used to spend days on the net after my morning run in IOR Park.
I fed myself apples, pounds of apples, day after day. I was full of vitamins, but I wasn’t able to settle on an idea and get to work. I was typing into Google: “business ideas”. I wanted a farming business, something with animals, with plants. Some websites recommended I start growing vipers. Their venom, I was told, is expensive, you make a profit. I imagined that in a moment of carelessness I was bitten by a viper. I end up at the hospital and on the 5 o’clock news. Bârrrrrrr! No viper farm, clearly! Snails? Snail farm? Too complicated. I’d have to scout the land, set up the place with nets and wait for the gastropods to grow, then beat my brains out about who to sell them to. I’d read a newspaper article about a guy who’d gone bankrupt because an Italian wouldn’t come and buy the snails. Quail eggs? Oh, no, thank you very much, Romania is full of quail eggs. You get the impression that Romanians have forgotten all about chicken eggs and are eating exclusively quail eggs. A boondoggle, of course. Paul doesn’t bite. Paul wants something unique, he wants a truly niche business. Silkworms, by any chance? Raspberry and blackberry plantation or lavender? Nothing I’m excited about.
I used to go to bed late at night, exhausted from reading dozens of websites. One day, I lay in bed, disappointed at the lack of results from my searches. I had fallen into a kind of drowsiness when I remembered that, long ago, when I was a child, my father brought me a crayfish from the pond. I saw that crayfish again in my memory. Then I understood. I will catch and sell cooked crawfish in a restaurant. I threw myself back on the internet. I read everything I could find about crayfish. There was no information about a restaurant with a menu based on boiled crawfish. The land was vacant, I had to hurry. I wasn’t the only one looking for a business idea, and I certainly wasn’t the only one who as a child had received a crayfish as a gift. I knew they still sold crayfish in wicker baskets on street corners in farmers’ markets. I knew that I would sell them in the markets and hypermarkets to begin with, but I knew, or more precisely I wanted to have a restaurant where I could sell boiled crayfish one day. But where would the money come from? I was broke, I could barely save the 200 euros to pay the rent. I called a friend, Petronel, whom I had met when I worked in sales. Petronel had become a branch manager at a bank. I asked him for a loan of 8,000 lei. He didn’t refuse. He gave me the money immediately. With the money in my pocket, I felt more confident in my chances. I started to do some serious research and sketched out the main details of the business. Witness my diary in which I wrote down all my observations every day.
I read a lot about crayfish. It was like I was preparing for biology school. I learned that there are several species of crayfish. There’s a difference between crayfish and crayfish. Even the Latin names are different. The first is called Astacus astacus, the second Astacus leptodactylus. Most of the world’s crayfish are found on the coasts of Timor, Celebes and New Guinea, as well as on the shores of India and Malaysia. Our crayfish grow to about 15 cm in length, but there are crayfish around the world that grow to 40 cm, live mostly on land, have very strong claws with which they open coconuts and eat the kernel with great gusto. I read on the internet, in an article published by Jurnalul National, quoting an article from the 1989 Almanac of the Hunter and Sports Fisherman by Mihai Burduja and Avram D. Tudosie, that there are also migratory crayfish that leave from the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to reach the Mediterranean, their journey lasting around 30 years. The crayfish is a sanitary animal, and its presence is a sure sign of clean water, not necessarily drinkable, but clean, not polluted. The biggest consumers of crayfish are the French. To show how advanced Westerners are, the first crayfish farms were established in 1880. In the US state of Louisiana, 800 tonnes of crayfish are caught every year. Crayfish are blue-blooded and breathe underwater for about 48 hours.