I Can't Isn't In Our Vocabulary, Don't Let It Live In Yours

What if your job was to open a nationally acclaimed restaurant in a small

town of 4,450? To put some fun into the game, we are going to establish a few significant constraints.

One restroom means no liquor license. No vestibule means the cold winter air will blast your guests, and in summer, the air conditioning will barely keep up with the heat from the door and the kitchen. Like a diner, the food will pop out of the kitchen through an opening in the wall with limited space to keep it warm. Oh, and there's no waiting area.

Limitations aren't as limiting as you think. Yes, they make achieving a specific goal more difficult or impossible as with the liquor license. But being unable to achieve a specific goal doesn't mean the general goal can't be accomplished.

Here's how each of those challenges was overcome by Matt Steigerwald at the Lincoln Café in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. And keep in mind that each time he overcame a limitation, his restaurant became more uniquely engaging, and guests became more likely to return.

No liquor license opened the door for a corkage fee. Bringing whatever wine you wanted made meals more interesting. Instead of a vestibule, there was a curtain on a semi-circular rod. A counter typical of an inexpensive small-town diner gave servers some room to work at. What about the waiting area?

Guests were encouraged to visit local stores or one of the local bars while waiting for a call or text to let them know their table was ready. A new store or two popped up and stayed open into the evening to take advantage of the traffic. Nearby bar owners appreciated the increased business too. On the way to being featured in the New York Times and by Oprah, the Lincoln Café had become an economic development engine.

I've had my own very personal brush with the temptation of "I can't." After two years of recovering from an auto accident, I chose to have my right leg amputated below the knee. That was a tough decision, but after two years of surgeries and treatments of various kinds, I felt it was time to move on with my life. But what about all the things I wouldn't be able to do? Especially those things I really love, like canoeing through the wilderness?

I've learned that except for standing on my tiptoes (and climbing from a ladder to a sloped roof), there isn't anything I can't do if I'm patient and persistent. That includes canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park, listening as the loons serenade the glowing moon and the trees row across the night sky.

Want to talk about turning limitations into opportunities? Give me a call at 319-214-9952 or email at