Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Blog on New Blogspot

Saturday, January 19, 2013

If you can't take the heat... you probably don't want to be in the kitchen

Crazy times! We've been busy and happy. My new counter person is named Wendy, she is awesome! I also hired my most recent intern, Janet, to work part time. So much has been happening. We are partnering with EJ Phairs brewery in Pittsburgh to put on a sausage and beer pairing event in Feb.

Belly Washer Scottish Ale with Haggis in beef middles and caramelized onions

Shorties Revenge with Bratwurst wrapped in bacon and red cabbage

Steeltown Stout with Grassfed beef mortadella sliders on beer mash buns

Face Puncher IPA with Andouille and Sweet Cornbread

I am so stoked to be a part of the event!

I have been putting on sausage making classes on a few Sundays at the cafe, they have been a ton of fun and sell out right away!

We also won a pretty cool designation on the Blog CHOW  which has bumped up business as well. We had one of our busiest weeks ever last week. I am tired but I feel like I have been accomplishing a lot.

We got a panini maker and we've been going nuts with it. Our morning business had not come along like I hoped while our lunch business has been doing well. So I wanted to find a breakfast sandwich to offer that was within my theme... I mean I am not really interested in serving a McGriddle if you know what I mean. So voila! Panini! I have put on 5 good solid panini pounds myself. They are yummy! I am going to be experimenting with banana and peanut butter on whole wheat panini and so forth. So much fun! Anyway it's been a big boost to our morning business. it's probably added a good 15% just in the first week to our daily receipts. And we don't even have a hard menu etc for them yet. I made one on an everything bagel and that was good too, but I have not found a good source for bagels.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meandery Day Off...

Gorgeous day in the East Bay and I am contemplating my Sunday in all it's stretched out glory. Kids are puttering on their laptops nearby, Dererk is as well. We are comfortably set for the day as we went foraging yesterday in one of those long slow decadent crawls for the small pleasures in life. Derek and I took Sam and Sara to the Monterey Market in Berkeley (I know it is confusing since there is a Moneterey California, but it is the street name in Berkeley).

We were starving when we got there so we stopped in at Gioia's Pizza. This tiny hole in the wall is packed with people all the time but the pizza is truly delicious, and the line goes quickly. Sara and Sam stopped in at the little cheese shop down the way and grabbed a Chai Latte and a hot coco. Gioia's usually has 6-7 specialty pies to choose from. We got (collectively) slices of spinach and pepperflake, a butternut squash, a "Julian", a mushroom and a sausage. They were so good we got back in line for additional slices.

The Monterey Market is one of those places that could probably only happen in Berkeley; a sprawling, jam packed glorified produce market with every thing you can imagine that grows in the ground, on a tree, on a plant etc. The smell of citrus washes over you as you walk in, 20-30 different varieties (we stocked up on key limes for key lime pies), plus melons and seasonal items like persimmons.

We were fascinated by this bright green cauliflower that looked like a Thai dancer's hat. I think it would probably make a really cool pickle for the charcuterie plate around the holidays, like tiny Christmas trees. I may go back next weekend to grab some for that purpose (really any excuse to hit Gioia's again is a good one IMO)

They also had at least 20 different varieties of mushrooms. Sammy (the cutie in the picture is my 12 year old son Sam) is holding a Japanese mushroom called Shimeji. We grabbed some large oyster mushrooms (I am making dirty rice with dinner that I am going to throw the mushrooms in... either that or pasta for lunch). We also grabbed some Scotch Bonnet peppers for jerk chicken.

On our way home we stopped at Cream on Telegraph. There was a line out the door for the delicious (I am assuming house made) ice creams and vegan cookies. All four of us got ice creams and cookies for less than $10.00 (the slices of pie were $3.00 or $3.50). Rasputin Records is across the street and Sam wandered over and got a few of the free records... actually a box, a really heavy box that I then had to carry back to the car.

We sat on the ledge by Rasputin and ate our ice creams while Sammy rifled through the records and were... accosted(?) by a very drunk homeless man who sang us a song about his "wife and his girlfriend" and then introduced himself and asked for our names. When he tried to get Sara to take her glasses off, I finally shooed him away. It is not an unusual occurance in Berkeley, especially in that part of town, but I still feel sad when I see people so down on their luck.

Derek and I hit Compass Star for dinner with friends at the Wine Bar, which was a fantastic time. I have been so busy I have hardly had time for my friends, and I am sorely missing them. So this weekend was a blissful combination of cooking, getting projects done around the house, cooking and munching on Thanksgiving leftovers and seeing friends and loved ones.

I will be going into work very early tomorrow to start getting a handle on inventory and various projects I would like to get done (I need to make headcheese and duck liver pate), plus make stock (Turkey) and soup for the week (Split pea and andouille). We were so busy last week I am not even sure what I am out of and that was a cause for chaos late in the week (Wed was truly awful for Wendy and I).

I feel pretty good about the slow steady increase in business and all of the good feed back we have been getting, I am feeling slightly behind on curing pastrami etc, but I know one solid week of catching up will make me feel a lot better. I also feel a little weird that I have not called my Turkey to go dinner clients to check up on their meals... It felt like pure chaos on Wed trying to get everything out the door and I feel like this should be getting more streamlined and less chaotic. My biggest problem with the increase in business, is there is less of me to go around and more for me to do. I was hitting a pretty critical burn out so I was coasting a little bit, trying to fine tune a few new menu items but not doing a lot of new stuff. I know Sean must be feeling a little abandoned as I have been conserving my resources.

Partially it is stress about the business side of the Cafe. I hired a new accountant and I am hoping this will start to clear away some of the clutter. I have been getting mysterious bills from the EDD (Emplooyment Development Dept). They are mysterious because I hired a payroll company right away and they should have been paying these taxes and filing my D9s, but either they have not, or there is a disconnect between the LLC and the original paperwork I filled out pre-LLC. I have called the EDD multiple times and they keep directing me to their web site to do things electronically, but it has not worked thus far. I will have to try calling again on Monday. I've also emailed my payroll company to see if they have indeed filed this paperwork, but have not yet gotten a response.

So there ya go, the good side and the bad side of doing what you love!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

One Year... wow...

We celebrated our one year anniversary last Thursday, November 15.

It seems like time has gone by so fast. So many things have happened and so many thing are different from my vision or expectation. Some things have been amazing and some have been very difficult. Most of the surprises have been pleasant, remarkably so. My favorite surprise has been how fantastic our customers are.  From our first customer, Kevin, who bought lunch for his entire staff for six week after we opened to help us get started... to Kathleen who comes in most mornings for her fat free latte, who started paying extra for her latte when she knew we were going to raise the price (in two weeks) because she didn't want us losing money. To all of the people who are willing to be first in line to try some crazy new thing (wine bar? prickly pear soup? Spanish teaching dinner?) that pops up in the creative hive mind of the Compass Star.

The downside is losing Stein to burn out and the ongoing struggle to make ends meet.

I feel more and more like I am part of the community, but still too small to really be caught up in small town politics. The past year has been crazy. My 6 year relationship with Brion ended. I went through a very crazy few post-break-up months where I fell in love with someone I shouldn't have, explored the rock star side of being a chef, made adjustments to my life, my menu, my restaurant, found love with a younger man (he is 31). Encouraged my BFF to open a wine bar in the evening hours, made adjustments necessary to sharing my kitchen (with mixed but cheerful success).

I feel like I get more comfortable in my place every day. I sing in my kitchen. I love the people I work with. Janet and Wendy are amazing women and I truly enjoy my time with them. Sean is passionate and inspired and I see him struggling with the things I struggled with in my earlier days and my heart goes out to him. Donna Mae and Mary are awesome. Ramiro saves my sanity every week. I love my workplace.

It also feels strange to see new businesses come in and not be the baby on the block any more. Barrel Aged opened a block away and is the new newest place in town. I remember when Jimmy and Creek Monkey were the new place in town. I especially love how much we all like, encourage, inspire and support one another. I love how much the local people encourage and inspire us in turn. I knew the odds were against me, the economy was against me, money was going to be super tight... I think anyone who tries to open a business in this economy must be a little crazy, and every time I hear of some small business failing I sweat a little. But I feel like we are doing ok. I feel really excited about the year to come.

I hope this blog will encourage and inspire others who might be dreaming of opening their own restaurant. I hope it will scare you, and serve to educate anyone who thinks this is easy. I hope it will prepare some for the stressful reality. But not discourage. I am here and still standing. I love what I do.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Almost One Year!!!!

I can't believe we've been open almost one year! The first year of owning a restaurant is legendarily difficult; the vast majority of restaurants don't make it one year... even really good ones like Cuba Linda. I know there are things I need to deal with... like the accountant we hired that we never heard from again (we need to get a new one). And paying sales tax for last year (I am paying penalties now because it is two months late). And renewing my liquor license on the 31st (pricey). And a million things like that....

BUT... we've been loved and embraced by the local community, to a level I would have never hoped or imagined possible. Martinez is an amazing town. My kind of town. I feel like we've gotten into a great rhythm with our landlord and developed amazing relationships with local compatriots like Jim Blair from Creek Monkey and Ashley and Irash from Barrel Aged. I don't think I could love what I do more. My mornings with Janet and days with Wendy are full of fun and happy chatter. My collaboration with Sean is enriching and exciting. I am getting into a good grove with my wholesale clients. All of the extra business (wholesale, catering etc) is what will eventually make it so I can bring home a paycheck. And it continues to grow in a sustainable way.

I feel like I am growing more mature in my role as La Patrona. Advice to people thinking about opening up their own restaurant? Don't expect to make money the first year, even if you are busy, even if your product is priced well, even if you have cheap rent. You are building your business. If you can't be ok not making money for a year, don't get started. That is the primary reason most restaurants fails. We are busy, rent is cheap, my overhead is low... I am still not bringing home a paycheck (but I will be soon ). I will pay off my few friends/family who loaned me money soon I hope as well. 

We will do something special for the week of our one year anniversary but honestly, I just feel so good about making it this far. I know there will be many many challenges going forward, but this is a great mental milestone. I am constantly amazing by how different the reality is from what my original expectation was... but in so many ways it is so much more rewarding and amazing than I expected it to be. It is a lot like having a child... I think you don't really understand how much you will fall in love until you see the reality vs "in theory". All of the complicated little pieces. I wonder what the year ahead has in store for us? I feel like my wings get stronger as time goes on and I find my comfort zone and build confidence that I can DO this.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A day in the life

A rare day at home today! I've been busy with all of the changes and catering and everything else that passes through a working single mom's life. But now I am sitting on the couch using my ancient iPhone (a 3G!) to update the blog.

I cant believe it's been almost a year! November 15 will mark one year officially open. I have web writing a lot about the emotional side of starting a small business. Tonight I am feeling mellow and wanted to post a few pictures from
the day to day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Life and all it's various nuances...

I am sitting at my desk, a rare free evening. My cat, Lilu, has been going through a phase where she wants to be a mommy (I think) and keeps dragging baby squirrels into the house. One dissapeared under my desk a week ago... suddenly sitting at my desk also involves smelling dead squirrel. It is not as easy as one might think to write about food while smelling dead squirrel. In fact, it is hard to sit here at all.. and yet I persevere...

Anyway, so two weeks has passed since Chef Stein, my beloved ex-sous-chef, left the restaurant. It is strange in many ways (like when I notice how low I am on some food product and realize I am the only one keeping track of such things now, so I better get on it!). But in general it mostly feel just... quiet. I am not sure I realized how stressed he really was about being there, but the air is suddenly deflated... calm and placid. He came by with his lovely bride today and (YIPPEE!!) had fixed my immersion circulator and Alicia made me this really awesome pig chalk board. I am going to use it to post the Charcuterie Specials.

Last Sunday I spent the day at my shop, singing and dancing around the kitchen playing with Creek Monkey's Octoberfest Bratwurst. It is bound and cased and now I get to sous vide cook it (which is always better) this week. I should have done a lot more while I was there, but one of my dearest friends came into town and I drove to Newark to meet her for dinner. There are some people that no matter how long it is between visits, it always feels like home when you are together.

The new employees are working out really well so far. (dear god, it really smells like a dead squirrel) Wendy is adorable and Ramiro is fantastic. I am dating someone young enough that we bumped into my daughter's English teacher at breakfast the other day and she thought he was my son (and then high fived me when I told her we were dating!). It feels so strange to be where I am now, compared to a year ago. A year ago we were getting ready to open the shop, no idea what to expect, making sausage and salumi... the path ahead a dark highway with indiscernible curves and hazards.

Since then so much has happened... the restaurant, my youngest baby, has taken on a personality of it's own,   often nothing like mine. So much of it's personality has Stein's imprint, and the colorful cast of characters that roam in and out of it's doors leave an indelible mark. (The squirrel smell is really gross)

I've met so many people who have taken an interest in our success, deep and important connections... commiserate spirits. It is such a unique experience, such a difficult journey. I still feel like I am free falling... the baby bird jumped from the nest, the wings are stretching, poised for flight. Please let me fly before I hit the ground! But I feel strong, I feel full of magic. I feel like the future is forming, dawn is breaking on the dark highway and I can see glimmers of the road ahead. (and that is all the dead squirrel smell I can take for one night)