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At age 22, Vincent Williams was working the graveyard shift, standing in 3 feet of ice and prepping poultry for the Golden Bird company. Ten years in, Golden Bird offered him the reins to one of its failing locations in Compton. Williams jumped at the chance, though he had no earthly idea of how to run a restaurant: “I only looked at it as an incredible opportunity. And it was a dream that I just wanted to hang onto, no matter how tough it got.”

In 2004, Williams renamed his business “Honey’s Kettle” when he began frying his birds in kettles, and opened a second location in Culver City. Most days, he can be found there, having closed the Compton location.

Williams says life in the business has been a long journey of hills and dales: “You’re climbing hills all the time. And you think, ‘Is there something on the other side of the hill? Like, you’re going to eventually get to this pot of gold?’ And somewhere around maybe a quarter of a way into it, you say, ‘This is an impossible situation.’ What keeps you going is that you have to believe that the impossible can be turned to possible. Because that’s what restaurateurs are doing a lot of times.”

Working in the restaurant business is a constant hustle and an unpredictable enterprise. A decade ago, Ohio State University researchers found that 6 out of 10 restaurants fail within their first year of being open. More recent findings reveal the median lifespan of a restaurant in the western part of the US to be just 4½ years.

Five restaurateurs share their stories of life in the business with KCRW’s Good Food. Photo of Vincent Williams, owner of Honey’s Kettle, by Stan Lee.

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