On a warm July evening in 1994, Thomas Keller threw open the doors to The French Laundry. It had taken him 19 months to raise the money to buy it, exponentially longer than he'd expected, during which time he constantly dreaded losing it. Some smart chef or real estate investor, he knew, could sweep in and snatch up the 19th-century building where he hoped to create a restaurant and find success at last.
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