Restaurant Owner Finds Opportunity in Firing

PHOTO Have you ever dreamed of just ditching it all? Moving to Hawaii and opening a coconut bar on the beach? Or how about a B & B in Vermont? Come on, admit it. What if you lost your job, as so many Americans have in the past few months? ABC News Photo Illustration
Have you ever dreamed of just ditching it all? Moving to Hawaii and opening a coconut bar on the beach? Or how about a B & B in Vermont? Come on, admit it. What if you lost your job, as so many Americans have in the past few months? Would you, could you, consider it an opportunity?

Have you ever dreamed of just ditching it all? Moving to Hawaii and opening a bar on the beach? Or how about a B & B in Vermont? Come on, admit it.

What if you lost your job, as so many Americans have in the past few months? Would you, could you, consider it an opportunity?

Chris Robbins did.

Four years ago he was working as a salesman in the tech industry. He earned a lot of frequent-flier miles, was on the road three days a week, used PowerPoint, wore a suit and tie. He earned a good living for his family—a wife and two kids, with one more on the way.

Just one problem.

VIDEO: Man creates his dream job and opens restaurant after being laid off.Play
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"I hated it," Robbins said.

Then one day, Robbins was fired. Out of the blue. He suddenly found himself packing up his office with a security guard looking on.

"I stood with my box in hand looking out into a sea of cars with the office behind me thinking, 'This is what it's come to'," Robbins said.

"What was going through my mind was, 'I will not go through this again.' Not the firing piece but -- I was unhappy in there. I did not want to be doing that anyway. So while it was tough to swallow that pill at the time, I did recognize that it was happening for a reason. That it was time for me to stop talking about doing something on my own and start doing something on my own for real … Somebody had just shown me the door, so to speak."

VIDEO: From No Job to Dream JobPlay
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But first, he had to go home and tell his wife about his decision. That didn't go over so well.

"He sort of strolled down the side path and I remember because I was in the back yard, and he had the box with him, and he kinda walked in, shuffling his feet," Chris' wife, Mel Robbins, said.

After Chris announced he'd been fired, Mel went into problem-solving mode.

"I'm like, 'No problem, no problem, just call that recruiter that was calling you last week and you can get a different job.' And he sat down and he said, 'Mel, I'm not getting a job.' And I said 'What, what do you mean you're not getting a job?' And he looked at me and said, 'I am never getting on another plane, to do some dumb PowerPoint presentation for a company I do not care about. I'm going to figure out what I want to do.'"

Mel had at that time just started her own business as a life coach. Later she would launch a radio show (now syndicated nationwide) in Boston.

"And you know it's funny, because I, now on the radio every day, I tell people what to do, how to make things happen," Mel Robbins said. "But on that day, I turned to my husband, and I go, 'Look, all this inspiration crap is for strangers. You go get a job. You're going to pay the mortgage. And that's what you're going to do. And if you want to pursue some dream, you can do it while you're working. End of story.'"

Mel said she was scared, terrified actually. At that moment all she could think about was her two kids, another baby on the way, the day care payments, the mortgage, the car payment. And she had just quit her job. Plus, she now admits, she realized that she had an expectation that Chris would always be the breadwinner in their relationship.

It was the low point of their marriage. Until one day, Mel realized that Chris really was never going back to the corporate world.

"I realized the train has left the station," Mel Robbins said. "And I have one of two options. I can either be the b----, that he did this in spite of -- which if you roll the clock forward two years, you can see how that would play out in my marriage. If I acted like that every day with the arms crossed, and every time I saw something on sale that I couldn't buy, because we're on a budget, I come home and needle him a little bit, which is how it starts to play out in your marriage. Or I could choose to be his biggest supporter. Because he was going to do it anyway, and if I got behind him, it would only increase his chances of success."

She not only got behind him, she took on more clients in her life coaching business. She developed the radio show.

The Robbinses didn't want to downsize or move, so they cut back on expenses and made a budget. Meanwhile, Chris started talking to friends and family about business ideas. And it turned out that one of his best buddies, Jonathan Schwarz, was ready to ditch the suit-and-tie world too.

"We noodled a couple different ideas," Chris Robbins said. "We kept coming back to pizza. I think because we lived in suburbia. We had kids. We like to eat healthy food. We don't like to break the bank. We like to have a good beer or a glass of wine. We like having our kids with us."

They decided to launch "Stone Hearth Pizza"—a restaurant that would use only locally grown ingredients and would be connected to the community. They wrote a business plan and secured investors. But they quickly discovered that jumping into the pizza business with absolutely no experience wasn't exactly easy.

Their first location was a huge hit—too big a hit.

"The first place we opened was an instant success. So much so that we were so bombed in the first three days that we had to close because we were out of food, we were out of everything … We had no idea what we were doing," Robbins said.

Their second location failed. It was too ambitious.

"There have been times… I've been looking in the mirror thinking, 'What have I gotten myself into, why did I do this? This is a disaster,'" Chris said.

But after four years, they now have three successful restaurants. "Stone Hearth" is turning a profit. And they're about to start selling their pizzas in Whole Foods grocery stores in New England.

"The truth is that what makes the experience rich is all those ups and downs," Chris said.

Just as they had hoped, their pizza joints have become hotspots in their communities. Chris now has the flexibility to work from home or stop by a restaurant, to pick the kids up from school or take a morning off.

And Mel says the change in careers has made Chris a new man.

"The way that you always were in, like, in the mountains… when you were at your best, when you were relaxed, when you tapped into your passion, it's how you are every day now," she told her husband recently. "You get up, you're proud of what you do… I'm really proud every day to see everything that you've built."

To read life and career coach and radio talk show host Mel Robbins' blog entry about her husband's dream job experience, visit her Web site at http://melrobbins.com/blog/