Sunday, December 25, 2011

The nagging anxiety...

We got another awesome 5 star Yelp review. Why is it that no matter how positively people respond to the food, I always feel like I need to try harder?

I am really unhappy with how the holiday meals have been going out this year. Fridays are busy and it is hard to get them as prepared as I would like (everything labeled etc). Last Friday I forgot to put the salad dressing in and the customer had to come back for it. We were almost closed and drinking wine and I feel like I wasn't very professional when he came in.

It is terrible to want to be great, but (due to exhaustion) only have energy to be really good.

Also I am running out of staple items like corned beef, and They take 6-9 days to replace. Stein would like to see us run a limited menu next week to avoid disappointed customers, but I suspect if they come in for our house specials and we are out, they will be just as unhappy. It is not a good spot to be in.

I just need to think of something awesome I can make in a day that will blow people away. Like house made bratwurst with spetzle and bacon and wine braised red cabbage.

We won't have a quick fire vegetarian dish other than soup next week unless I make some quiches.

I just need to carefully organize my time tomorrow so I use it all to good advantage. Shop for product early, have a tight to-do list and delegate as much as I can to Brion.

Christmas Day

Kids have gone off to dads after the morning carnage and Brion is back in bed. I will head in to the shop today to get more briskets in brine for pastrami and corned beef. We will most certainly run out next week, at least of corned beef if not both. We were so busy we blew through the product we had and didn't have time to make more.

I am very nervous about next week. Stein will be in Southern California with his family (a vacation he more than deserves) and while it should be very quiet (most of the local businesses close between Xmas and New Years), it should have been very quiet last week and it wasn't. I am going to just take each day as it comes and if we run out of stuff, I will do the best I can with what we have. Brion will be helping me most of the week, but will have to work on Thursday, so my daughter will come in and be counter help. It will mean we are doing a very pared down menu, one daily soup and no complicated specials.

I also need to proces one pig head for testa and get some duck breast into cure for a client. I really want to make some bratwurst for next week, or some Andoullie for the special. It has been far too long since I've made sausages and I am mssing it. Plus it would be a pretty simple special I could put in the steam table up front... like brats, spetzle and bacon and wine cooked cabbage (or something along those lines) or Andouille with dirty rice and colard greens.

I also got a giant pork loin to put into cure for some ham and some lonza. If I can work on meat stuff today, I can probably just come in and work on soups and specials tomorrow and get a little ahead that way. It will be strange to be in the back of the house next week. I really like seeing my regulars and chatting. I know Brion will do a great job though. I am still not sure what I want to do for soups.. I think a white bean and bacon soup plus maybe.... I am not sure. Maybe leek and potato? Fennel orange beet? With cream and bacon?

I am looking forward to things being more in a groove so I don't feel so fuzzy and unfocused. I know that time is coming, I just need to keep moving things into a more settled pattern.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What a Rush!

I felt like a rock star last week! I had multiple foodie groupies come in and hang out, which was AWESOME. We were packed all week long, the holiday Charc platters sold like hot cakes and even though it should have been super quiet because he county was all but shut down for the week, we had a bunch of local traffic. And best of all, the majority of new customers were there due to word of mouth!

It felt so good to feel (even if it was a beautiful mirage!) like we'd ben discovered a bit and I am loving being in the slip-time-differential of people appreciating our food and being really excited and into it, and also being so new and passionate to what we are doing... every day is an amazing new discovery and wild ride.

Friday I had an uberfoodie come in with some wild duck he'd caught; we hung out, drank multiple bottles of wine, sampled a ton of Charc and just kind of... geeked out about food and generally had a ball! It was everything I imagined being a chef and owning my own restaurant woudl be like (at least the cool fun parts).

I am on this amazing high and things are so much better in so many ways than I could have possibly dreamed. Working with Stein is magical. I while am sure he wants to kill me every once in a while we have a great time and his strengths compliment mine. I always think with my Schwein-Stein by my side, I can conquer all of the goals and hopes and aspirations swirling in my brain.

I am madly in love with our customers; food savvy and they DIG the food. Northern California has such an educated food geek culture and they seek out the chefs doing the things that interest them. It is such an intense and amazing sub culture and I am so thrilled to be a part of it.

So Happy Holidays to everyone and I hope you all reach for your dreams no matter how scary and hard they may seem.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The State of Me

POOPED! I need to clone myself. This past weekend I tried to go shopping for the shop. It was epic fail AND I had another negative experience with my landlord. I think he is pouting, but he is always so grim, it is hard to tell. At least the tile work is getting done on the store facade. I tried to go shopping for the shop again today and STILL failure. I am not sure why retailers who cater to Businesses close at 5:00 pm during the week (and close on Sundays!? WTF?!)? It is a bunch of crap... CRAP I say!

It was gorgeous today. Sun shining. Albeit, I had my first customer complaint. She was totally justified in complaining (I am not sure if this makes it better or worse? Probably better, I would rather be chewed out for something I deserve)! We were expecting a quiet day and when we got hit with a lunch time rush, we were unprepared, still working on other projects and had loose ends all over the place. Monday is our largest prep day for the week and it is also often our slowest day as well, money-wise. So in the fluster I mixed her order up with someone else's and she walked all the way back to her office with this tiny portion of soup (she was given a "side order" of soup instead of a meal portion) that she paid full price for and then didn't have time to walk back to fix it. If she comes back in I will comp her something, but she probably won't and I feel terrible that she probably was starving all day because of my mistake.

AAAHHHH! My gorgeous cat, Geoffrey, caught a mouse like three days ago and he keeps trying to do the manly thing and take care of his family by gifting us with a "tasty kitty treat". AHHHHH!

Anyway, and I am losing weight rapidly. I find it mostly annoying that my pants and underwear are falling down while I am trying to work. I feel like I am going to have to start flashing gang-sign with my pants at half-mast all the time. I don't really prescribe to the "thinner is better" mantra, and I LIKE my clothes, but there is not much hope of stemming the tide while I am working so hard... so tight-jeans Fridays have now turned into baggy jeans Fridays... it's really not the same quite frankly. At this rate, it will be jeans around my ankles Fridays, which just might get the authorities called.

Today Kevin (my favorite customer) got me a pound of this locally roasted coffee he likes! I can't wait to try it. MMmmmmm... Xmas morning, freshly made cinnamon rolls and good coffee.... mmmm. It was a fun day outside of my pants trying to escape from my body. I had a meat-savvy customer come in and grab a Reuben and I think soup? He said he'd tried Boccalone's Nduja and wasn't impressed. I haven't had Boccalone's, but the stuff at Perbacco is KILLER, really really good (Mine is more mild and less smokey, and I ferment mine longer, I also use Sichuan peppercorn in mine which gives it a back of the throat heat that burns low and slow). Anyway, so I grabbed him a sample of my Nduja and also some of the new Pork Rilette we are making for Residual Sugar in Walnut Creek. He really seemed to like it and we joked around about how I was planning to get a tattoo of a Celtic pig (boar) on my arm. Before he tried the Nduja, he was like... "Guys are NOT going to be too interested in a  chick with a pig tattoo" but then AFTER he tried the Nduja he said, "Oh yeah, I totally get the tattoo now." It was awesome.

I am starting to be more relaxed about the amount of business we are doing. I know it is probably normal when you first open a restaurant but I have been getting up Monday morning and thinking... "What if no one comes? What if I open the doors and it's crickets all day!?" But we have a solid core of regulars which is growing every day and even our slow days we get extra sales in charcuterie platters and holiday to-go dinners that all seems to add up. I am hopeful I will be able to pay myself starting next month and start paying off the friends and family who helped me get started.

Next week should be the slowest of the year, almost everyone has the week between Xmas and New Year's off. Most of the court people come back on Jan 4th. But Stein will be visiting his in-laws with his wife and son and my Brion will be helping me at the shop for his week off so I will be saving some money there and I think January will be a better gauge of what kind of business I can expect going forward. It is good to feel like I am starting to get a clearer picture of what I can expect going forward.

I am madly in love with my customers and Martinez. I am not sure what I expected? Maybe more grouchy people or something, but really everyone is pretty lovely and I am really enjoying getting to know people.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A day in the life...

I can't believe it's been 5 weeks since we've been open!

It's been the most amazing experience... Money is still terrifying, but we are working towards getting that under control and everything else has been totally awesome!

So a day in my life as a small business owner/restauranteur. I get up really early now, around 4:30 am, so I can get in and start the pastries and get started setting up. I roll into Martinez when it is still dark and the streets are barren of people. I turn on the lights and put away the batch report for the credit card machine. Then I turn on the oven and the fryer, plus the hood fan and hood lights.

While the oven is heating up I put out the floor mats and sanitation buckets, take down the chairs, check the cold display and mise en place (which is chef speak for pull down all of the stuff I need to start my first dish of the day)

This is the mise en place for our almond croissants. I assemble the sweet and savory pastries and put them in the oven. Then I grind coffee for the morning and bring the milk, whipped cream and spoons and cups for the coffee set up. I put the pastrami and corned beef in the sous vide so they are hot and yummy for lunch service.

This is the line all set up for the day. I make myself a mocha, which I am totally addicted to! We use Weaver's espresso roast and Ghirardhelli chocolate...

I set up aprep station in the ront of the restaurant so I can prep and still help people as the come in. Stein usually gets in around 8:00 am (xcept Monday, when he comes in earlier for our big early week prep).

When Stein comes in he sets up the back lunch line and we get started prepping the daily specials. This tends to be very collaborative and a lot of fun. The town seems to snap up seasonal soups and anything vegetarian. I cannot wait for summer when we have the full California produce pallet to play with!

We try to get lunch pretty much set by 10:30. There is a small lull time where I can return phone calls or walk over to the printers to get copies of the menu, or flyers for the specials. I also make sure the dry erase boards have the right prices and specials listed.

This is my walk back from PDQ Printers. Downtown Martinez is gorgeous and magical. Brick walkways, old street lamps, turn of the century buildings, the smell of the Bay nearby and almost all of the businesses are small owner/operator and really really cool. It is a labyrinth of small strange and wonderful shops... The yarn shop that is never open, the impossibly high ceilings in Pandora's Box hung with colorful middle eastern chandeliers and walls lined with jewelry and hookas, the pot bellied stove shop, the Ultimate Fighting Club, the people walking by with cross bows on their way to the Bow Rack, the many bail bonds shops and law offices... sign shops, the optometrist, the florist(s).

I just love it. I feel like such a grown up with my own little shop on Main Street, USA (literally!)

Our "lunch rush" tends to be all over the map, often in waves starting around 11:30. We do a lot of take-out business, with many folks picking up a quick lunch to take back to the office. Our space is very tiny and cramped, so this is a good thing! We are talking about ways to open the space up a bit, possibly taking out one of the smaller tables...but frequently the tables are all in use, so there really isn't a great solution to the space problem...

Our best seller, bar none, is the pastrami sandwich. There is something about a fragrant steaming hot pastrami sandwich on a bitterly cold day that seems to appeal to a wide audience. It is a lot of fun to see how people make it their own, what they add or take away, how they react etc.

Here is Stein during the lunch rush, pulling Charcuterie out of the meat cooler for a Plouhman's Lunch. You can see how tiny our kitchen is (but not as small as Genisis' kitchen over at Residual Sugar!)

Around 2:00 it usually slows down enough so I can spend time with customers who have questions about the salumi, or Stein and I can start shutting stuff down and cleaning up for closing. Last Friday we had a rock band come in around 3:00 called White Wives. They were really cool! Below are two of the band members

Then I close the register while Stein closes down the back line and we get things tied up so we can go. The last thing we do before leaving is mop the floors and I head to the bank to make the deposit (and get change if we need it, we often do!). It is hard work but I really do love it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Life and all it's nuances...

Wow, having a restaurant is expensive. You don' think about it as much when you are trying to pull it all together because you aren't making money yet so of COURSE you are hemorrhaging money. But you just keep thinking once you are open for business it will all come together and the dough will start rolling in. And then the two weeks before you open and you turn on the phone, water and everything (each needing a $300 to $1200 deposit because you are a new business without established credit) you realize that you are kind if screwed.

Most people plan to barely break even the first year they are open and many businesses don't survive the first year. I kept my overhead purposefully low to try to counter this a bit. I think I figured I would open, and then miraculously have all the money I needed to start paying off creditors and buy upgraded equipment. I am not sad or pouting, I am only being honest because this blog is meant to be a road map for others who want to open their own restaurants and if I pretended everything was perfect all the time, that would not be a very accurate map.

Money is a constant stressor. I keep thinking back to every chef I ever had who owned his own restaurant... they are notoriously miserly, failing to pay on time, tyring to get free work out of employees (like they should be as invested as you are in the success of the business) and then I realize... I am THAT guy now!

I love my job... but the pay sucks. My ex husband (who is a close friend) sent me a spread sheet today showing me what he thought was my break even point... I think I am doing half that a day... and that is with rave reviews, rabid and loyal fans, a prime location and so many other advantages.

I really really love my job tho. I am madly in love with downtown Martinez. Our clients are savvy, quirky, food sophisticates and (I know this is going to sound like a strange qualifier) really snappy dressers. I've never seen so many nice suits in my life! And I've worked in the Financial District in San Francisco! I am crazy about my regulars. I am extremely proud of the food we are putting out. And the Downtown is beautiful. I think I am going to try and do a "Day in the Life" blog soon, with pictures so you guys can see what I see.

If I can just make it thru the next year...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Dichotomy

God how I love my job. And whoa-boy how the pay sucks.

The Good: Amazing customers and LOVING Martinez. People are food savvy and enthusiastic. We have steady business and even though it is the slowest time of the year we are getting decent traffic and new converts every day.

The Bad: We opened mid month in the slowest time of the year. The courts are all but closed for the holidays, and many of the buinesses close down for holidays as well. While our reviews are great, our regulars hard-core and awesome Downtn Martinez is a bit of a ghost town this time of year... even despite the really pretty amazing efforts of the local management groups (like Main Street Martinez and the Chamber of Commerce).

The Ugly: We are just not making enough money to support our current staff and menu. We've been back burnering catering and wholesale business to get the resaurant going and so those avenues of revenue are lower then they've been... well ever. So we are reducing our dishwasher hours and taking a hard look at the menu. We have a staple item that isn't selling that is also super labor intensive to make (the meatballs. Not only are the meatballs labor intensive, we are making the slider buns by hand because we could not find buns in the right size) and another static menu item that I love and does have a hard core fan base, but it is not a GREAT seller and all of the products ued to make it are exclusive to that sandwich; they are not used in anything else. We are also going to be developing our specials toward a higher price point and passing take out menus to all the local businesses and law offices...

But reducing Galens hours feels really shitty. I know they say personel issues are the hardest to deal with, and theyre right. I had a friend come work for me and he quit his job (a really shitty job, but a steady one none the less... and in this economy, better than nothing) to do it. Now, I had to make a choice to keep hemoraging money and beggging/borrowing to make ends meet in the hopes (rapidly dwindling) things will get better in the face of all signs pointing to the contrary... or try to manipulate my overhead to something more within my means.

It is really hard not to second guess my choices... everyone said, "Why Martinez?" Oddly especially people who live in Martinez. It's is kind of a sleepy little town. I feel like I am getting the best possible response; people seem to love the food and the place. There just isn't a reason to be down there if you don't have to go to court for some reason.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekend Fun

Thankgiving was a nice respite from the work week. I made a 24 pound turkey and somehow we have no leftovers? I feel like I was very scattered all week and didn't do things as well as I would have liked. I relaxed on Friday all day and then Saturday went to a friends wedding. It was a spectacular wedding; the bride was in a vintage satin gown looking very Marilyn Monroe and the groom was very dapper. It was a Greek orthodox wedding with the reception site about a half hour away on a foggy windy river road in a hauntingly beautiful mansion with big fireplaces, cozy nooks, tapestries and lacy filigree chairs.
Today I wen in nd smoked more pastrami, processed out the corned beef, put together a few vegetarian options, made more romesco, roasted off chicken for the chicken salad sandwiches and various other odds and ends. I did not get to the remulade, or make the muffin batter that I wanted to make. I need to clone me...

Now I am hanging out with Mary (sous chef, Peasant and the Pear), Galen and Brion watching Lord of the Rings. I am still hung over from way too much fun a the wedding and I am really sore from dancing all night.

I am sure a good nights sleep will have me clearer in the morning

Friday, November 25, 2011

Amazing first two weeks...

It seems strange that today is only the 25th... the soft opening was the 7th thru the 15th and we've been officially open since then. It's been different than what I expected, so much better in some ways and yet scary in some ways as well.

The thing that is the most scary... we are pretty steadily busy, but we are not hitting our break even point regulrly. The thing that makes this so scary is... how much busier do we need to be? Can we really take a whole lot busier?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My mood is tangled up in the weather today...

A quiet day today with overcast skies. I can't seem to get warm (despite my very fluffy wool socks and layers of clothing). I went to Costco this morning to pick up a few odds and ends for the cafe. I hate spending money right now, but it can't be helped. The next few months will be very precarious as it is generally the slower time in the downtown and I opened at an awkward time of the year (for making money anyway).

But... I can't help but be hopeful. Friday was slammin' and so many of our preconceived notions have been way off (in a good way). Like for example, we thought the Ploughman's Lunch would be pure vanity on our part... a plate of house cured meats and cheese and stuff; who was going to buy that other than the hard core foodies??? We figured we would sell 5 or 6 a week... we are selling more than that per day! And the crazy awesome interest in the cured products is... the most pleasant surprise yet. I knew charcuterie was vaguely trendy right now, but I had no idea just how savvy the general public (at least my general public) is about what I do. I am not sure who is more surprised/excited, me or my customers, that we've found each other.

I had a group come in yesterday early in the day (11ish). They'd been on their way to Starbucks, but the weather kind of sucked so they popped into my place (which was closer). They were like explorers who'd found an alien planet, examining everything... the walls, the bathroom, the menus. They asked a million questions and then we started talking about our wines. I gave a little taste of the Valdiguie to one of them and they ordered wine as well. One of them popped by today to grab some pancetta to bard their turkey.

My favorite customer is still my first; Mr. Hot Chocolate, Esq. I suspect he's made it his mission to help me succeed... It's been restorative to have my own passionate cheering section. The courts are closed thru Nov 29th and I am really going to miss him! But it should be a good experiment to see what business is like without the surge of jurors that are affiliated with the courthouse. We were calling Friday "Foodie Friday" because the surge of foodies in the shop on Friday was totally fantastic.

We are still not hitting our break even point on a regular basis. I based my business plan on only two of us working in the shop and having the third person has been throwing the numbers askew. I think if we can just get thru the next couple of months, we will be ok... but I have to find a way to raise revenue. I have some ideas, but I am so tired, it is hard to focus on much in my down time. I know that will change, hopefully soon. There is only so much Bejeweled Blitz a small business owner should be playing on her day off. What happened to my once thriving social life? Konstantina's Bachelorette party is tonight and I am probably going to be snoring on the couch by 8:00 pm.

But I suspect it is normal for where I am in the process.

Things I did not expect:

To still be having money struggles
So many awesome foodies!
How beautiful the space is

So some good things and some bad... but my feelings of gratitude for the good things have been growing exponentially every day. I am so lucky! Lucky to have a Stein and a Galen, lucky to be doing what I love, lucky to have made it this far.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The GRAND Opening!

Was totally amazing and awesome! Here is the press and the picture of the shop during the grand opening:

I am SO tired, but things are picking up every day. I've heard business drops off after December 15th, so I am a little nervous about that.

Soooo... the Grand Opening... I got into the shop at like 5:00 am and started prepping everything. We are all so tired, it has been harder for me to focus lately. But we still got everything prepped and the line semi set up. My Brion helped pour the wines and Stein did as much as he could before going to get his son for Boy Scouts. People started milling and hanging out around 3:00, the Chamber folks and the Mayor showed up around 4ish and the ceremony was really cute. They have a bunch of chamber members and local business  people come introduce themselves and hang out for the ribbon cutting. I had a ton of friends and family roll in. OH and my friends from An Tir sent me flowers, along with Lucrezia, Eric and Jess (they look WONDERFUL in the shop!).

We served a sweet potato gnocchi with a bresaola and arugula salad, plus porchetta, plus a glass of wine for $15.00. It was a mad crush right at 4:00 and we were plating up as quickly as we could. I didn't think so many people would want sandwiches, but a lot of people did and now we are like OUT of pastrami for the week. I have some in cure now and I will smoke it up on Sunday for Monday service, but the pastrami sales have taken on a life of their own. We stopped putting it on the "Magical Board" (anything we put on our outside dry erase board sells like crazy) because friends are telling friends to go try the pastrami and now it is our most requested sandwich. I ordered two brisket from Del Monte today, but they are both kind of small, so I suspect I will need to go load up on brisket at some point this week to put into brine. If I get them in today I can hot smoke them next Wed The problem is we are using the lean end for pastrami and the fatty end for corned beef and we just don't need that much corned beef... we might have to put "Reuben" on the Magical Board...

So many strange details... most of our customers are in suits and skirts with jackets, it is a strange thing in California where people tend towards casual dress. My favorite patron ordered lunch for his team today and then stopped back with his partner (law firm) to tell us how good it was... this kind of positive input is really the fuel I am currently running on about now (Bri is bringing home a pizza, I plan to have a beer with mine and go pass out!). We have more and more former East Coasters coming and wanting a "Pastrami on marble rye with just a schmear" (of mustard, of course). I am beyond grateful that we are finding our target audience. I am not sure how, but every day more and more people are coming in for charcuterie.

Of course, I am nearly out of marbled rye too... I am going to have to go forage for things this weekend. Have I mentioned how tired I am? I wanted to write something super profound and awesome... and I think I've dozed off twice and woken up to either my own snores or drooling. I think the thing I am the most excited about has been the people. I really love Martinez, it is a town that is very comfortable in it's own skin.

Next week will be all about prepping the Thanksgiving to-go dinners, plus my own fabulous dinner at home with a bunch of my friends coming in for dinner. I will get the Turkeys in on Friday to make sure they are totally thawed and get them into brine. I will smoke them next Tuesday and people will be in to pick them up on Wed. Ok, I promise to post something more in depth and coherent this weekend!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The week lies ahead of me like glistening pearl in the sun...

I lounged around on Saturday and today I kind of wished I hadn't. I am gearing up for the week ahead, servicing our existing patrons in addition to preparing for the grand opening. Last week we had a limited menu, no espresso drinks, no soups or specials, no muffins and no cured fish and bagel breakfast. Our espresso maker magically starting working over the weekend and I cured the fish last week and smoked them today. I am still not sure what kind of bagels I am going to end up serving. I can make a decent bagel, but our menu is already so labor intensive I am not eager to add anything else to our morning to-do list. I also mixed up a batch of pumpkin muffins with a crumb and pumpkin seed topping.

When we got in today the Sandwich prep station was hot instead of cold, so we had to toss all of the sauces we'd left in there over the weekend. I need to remember to make more mayo tomorrow morning. Our ice machine still isn't working. I turned it on today and it promptly overflowed the floor sink into which it drains. I contacted the project manager for the construction to see if they can fix the floor sink soon. Stan has still not started on the tile work for the front. He said he would do it before the Grand Opening, so hopefully he will still have time to get it done.

I smoked all of the pastrami we had in brine today, plus packaged all of the corned beef into the sous vide bags. I smoked the salmon and dover sole as well and did the refrigerator pickles (cucumber, and red onion). We are really low on the fig mostarda and I as hoping to grab more figs at the farmer's market today, but didn't see any at all. I need to see what kind of organic fruit I can find tomorrow morning at the store. I also need to get milk (all of ours was out in the inappropriately hot sandwich prep station) so we can make some mochas and latte's tomorrow :)

I puttered around at the Farmer's market this morning as well and picked up more cheese for the ploughman's lunch. I totally over cooked the sweet potatoes for the gnocchi today so I will have to buy more sweet potatoes tomorrow too.

It was another really fun day with the locals. People walk by my place on the way to the farmer's market. This morning the sun was shining when a tall blond man walked by with his 8ish year old daughter in a brightly colored sweater dress, toting her rolling cart for future farmer's market treasures. They stopped and read the menu we've posted then peered in the window and spotted me. I walked out to greet them and the father admitted his daughter's favorite was pastrami. I asked if she wanted a nibble of my pastrami and her freckles danced a smiling yes. They were delighted when I slipped them a piece of parchment paper with the pastrami and said they would come back soon for a sandwich.

I also received an email Saturday from a lady letting me know she had to work during our opening hours and was wondering if she could get some of our Nduja shipped to her house. I said I would be in the shop prepping today and asked if she would like to come by and try it? So she stopped by with a friend and I made them a small plate of mortadella, Nduja, Lardo, capicolla and finocciona and did a sampling of our red wines. It was a lovely sun filled chat with fellow foodies; the kind of one on one sharing of food passions that a chef rarely has time during opening hours to have with clients. And I made two new friends! Plus my Nduja will be traveling to Colorado for Thanksgiving!

So many good things in the midst of all the craziness of being a restaurant owner. I am really looking forward to the week ahead! We are building good buzz and I am loving the people. It might seem a little silly but I am really excited to have the espresso maker working... it is really starting to FEEL like a Cal-Euro cafe, with local high quality hand made products, a gorgeous bayside old downtown and a community of engaged, food savvy locals. I am bracing for the questions about the espresso drinks... we don't serve the flavored syrups. God knows what is in them! I think I will experiment with vanilla bean sugar to see if I can make a vanilla latte that is a little more of a natural product.

I am not trying to compete with Starbucks. It is like the McDonalds of coffee and there will always be a place for McDonalds. But not everyone wants to eat at the golden arches!

Anyway, once again I am really looking forward to next week and all of the adventures that will likely come my way. I am super stoked about the grand opening! I am curious what, if any, effect the recent advertising will have on business this week? It is all shining up ahead of me...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

And now what?

I had a pseudo day of rest today, which feels a little strange.

I mean, in reality, I did some shopping for the cafe. We didn't have to-go bags or straws, and there are still a lot of things we are missing that we can't afford to get just yet (like more ergonomic floor mats). I picked up little stuff, clips for the dry erase boards, more neon pens... another 25# bag of flour for beignet and slider buns next week.

We still can't seem to convince Allied Waste to deliver a garbage receptacle for us, despite daily phone calls and actually SEEING them drive by with the one yard container one day. I am still slowly moving all of the salumi from the rental kitchen fridge to the shop. I feel remiss that we've not made any salumi for at least two weeks now. The house feels strangely empty with so much of the equipment we were storing here now moved to the storage unit.

Things are still so lean money wise that things always feel vaguely precarious. Galen says I can logically focus on the future, but the fears still loom like specters in my haunted mind. We've been so well received and I am madly in love with Martinez, I know I should just relax and let things flow. There is something magical about the Downtown, the old buildings and the smell of the Bay, the Magic Shop and old Campbell Theater... the tiny print shops and bail bonds and small nooks for sitting with pretty benches... the sound of the trains rolling through the Amtrak station... the antique shops with lacy curtains and brightly colored glass... the restaurants that have been in the same spots with the same decor for years... the art deco building that houses the McDonalds (which is not open in the evening or on the weekends)... the beautiful pastry shop with the filigree chairs and wedding cakes in the window.

After meeting the public last week, I feel like I have hit the foodie lottery. I knew we would eventually see the people who were into charcuterie and hand made food etc, but to see so many so soon is... it's just really exciting. I forget sometimes just how sophisticated the food culture is in the Bay Area. I feel so blessed as a chef to be able to work here.

Tomorrow I will do a billion things, pickle some veggies (green beans and red onions), make gnocchi, smoke some fresh dover sole and the newest batch of pastrami. I need to find bagels at the farmer's market, plus more beets and romaine, plus some seasonal greens for the side salad. I also picked up little salad size containers for some kind of pasta side. I just need to see what looks good at the market for putting IN the container.

I made a pumpkin muffin batter tonight, but I don't like it. It's not sweet enough... I might add honey and see if that helps. In the oven now... (product testing... is delicious!). Bleh... I am still not impressed.

I still need to organize our Passover and Christmas pick-up dinners. I think I want to make a Beef Wellington for at least one of the Christmas ones. I will probably go theme-y for the Passover one. I just need to find some super cool specific food tradition (like Sephardic Spanish) and do a little studying to refresh my memory on kashrut.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sated and Happy...

WOW! What a week! Galen says we went from "zero to light speed" in 30 seconds flat and that is exactly how it feels.

Things are how I expected on some ways, but in many ways the experience has exceeded my expectations. The thing I am most thrilled about is our regular customers. We had quite a few folks eat at the CS both breakfast and lunch every day we were open! I have at least ten favorite regulars... from the pretty cosmopolitanism mother of Elliot (my youngest regular is an adorable 16 month old with a head full of blond hair, ready smile and built like a tiny tank), to Tori, the smoking hot Sheriff, to the eccentric and charismatic high powered lawyer who likes hot chocolate and typically has a reverent posse of well suited underlings walking a respectful ten paces behind. The downtown is both quirky and loveable.

Also, the number of food geeks I am seeing every day is phenomenal; they found us and fast. I was not sure how much time it would take to connect with that audience, but they are there in far greater numbers even the first week than I could have possibly dreamed... I am over-the-moon ecstatic to be communing with  such a food-sophisticated audience (insert happy dance here). One of my favorite customers is a slightly built and well dressed older man with an indefinable accent. He came in a few times and thoughtfully looked around before ordering, his manner as quiet and understated as his fine wool vest (with heirloom pocket-watch tucked tidily into his breast pocket) and Melton cap. The Charcuterie platter, of course.

I had a middle aged couple come in, the raven haired wife was very quiet and shy and didn't take her eyes off me. Her husband was clearly the spokesperson for their lunch and ordered himself a pastrami sandwich and for her the meatball sliders. I asked him how he wanted his pastrami sandwich and he asked how it was usually served. When I said the traditional New York Deli way was to have it on marbled rye with a "Schmear" of deli mustard, his wife's eyes danced and she tugged on his jacket. He laughed and said she'd lived in New York; she was thrilled that I knew how a hot pastrami sandwich was served in a New York Jewish deli.

We ran out of pastrami and the meatball sliders yesterday, but not terribly early in the day. I had a friend write a blog about the restaurant...  everything was done incrementally and over many months so it was sobering to see it all on a few paragraphs; how much work we've done... to read our story so well summed up...It all sounds really high falutin' and fancy! I guess I don't really see myself as having much food pretension... I think I am more of a food-hedonist than a food-snob; but to read about the deliciously laborious process of filling our larder with charcuterie, wines and fine coffees... I am so proud of our menu!
Here is the blog:

About Martinez being quirky... Wednesday we had a really slow day. I suspect it was due to a man who got upset at his lawyer and sat outside her office yelling, "(insert lawyers name) stole my retainer, she is the worst lawyer in the world, don't use (insert lawyers name)". So she got a restraining order. I suspect he has had many restraining orders, as he just measured out the proper distance from her office and started up again an hour later. When the police told him he was not allowed to loiter by standing in that spot yelling, he went and got his dog and circled the block, still yelling. Finally he walked into a local merchant's place and started ranting and raving, then punched the merchant, who then proceeded to kick the ever loving shit out of him. The whole of Main St was in a twitter about it! Business was back and robust on Thursday.

I am just so thrilled with our week. We just got another great plug in the Contra Costa Times and our ad will come out in the Martinez Gazette this Sunday. And our espresso machine is working!!!! It made one of the most beautiful cups of espresso I think I've ever seen.

Money, as always, is a worry. But I am hopeful we will be in the black soon and can start paying investors back. If I can just get through that part of it, I think we will be ok .

Monday, November 7, 2011


I am exhausted, haven't really slept for days (this post will likely be very rhummy)... but we opened the doors today for our "soft opening"!

The bad... we had this guy who has come in a few times pre-opening to chat and SO excited about us opening. He wanted to be the first customer (and he WAS) but he ordered for his first thing a hot chocolate... and we didn't have it! The espresso maker isn't working properly so we decided to do the soft opening without it, so we didn't get whipped cream. I think he was really dissapointed. I left right away to go get the stuff to make whipped cream, but we didn't see him for the rest of the day :( This is the hardest part about being new... you only get once chance to make a good first impression. I hope he comes back and I get a chance to wow him.

But everything else was pretty awesome! I am so proud of the food. We had some mishaps, like a surprise dunking of the sous vide circulator into the water bath. And we were not exactly ready at 11 when lunch service started. And we need more signage.

But we had some hard core meaties in there, totally digging on the food and Sean Andrade (from the Andrade Wine Group) came and hung out for a bit and we chatted food and wine. Plus, I am starting to think I have really underestimated how meat-geeky people are down there! I cannot tell you how cool it is how many people missed that we were open during their lunch hour (we have been trying to be super low key about the soft opening so we could really work out the bugs for a smaller audience and not embarrass ourselves) and came back around AFTER lunch to chat, grab menus, and just basically talk about what we are doing.

It was a gorgeous day and Sandra and Aldith were two of my early customers! My mom came by too, which was so awesome. I miss my family a lot and this past year has been totally insane, so it really meant a lot to have my mom there.

I am thrilled with how well we all seem to work together. Galen has really jumped in and taken leadership on a few things that have really made a huge difference (like programming the register and taking charge of the front of the house) and Stein, as always, is full of Stein awesomeness. He is getting things organized, which is his gift (one that I sadly don't share).

I am so relieved. So grateful and relieved. And tired lol... really tired. Above is the Charcuterie Platter. Nduja, Capicolla, Rilette and Crostini, Achadina goat's cheese, pate granmere. finocciona and honey balsamic fig mostarda.

There is a ton more... the happy smiling middle aged man of Italian descent sitting and almost laughing with pleasure while dining upon the above Charcuterie plate. Talking to me about the food. Drinking Pelligrino. Sun shining. The first cut into the hot pastrami, the smell of smoke and coriander, hot red flesh.

I still can't believe we DID it! But we did. YAY!!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And then there are the super cool Chef awesome things...

So this last weekend, we went and got our wines. Two from Napa and two from Sonoma. All family vineyards, second or third generation wine makers, 5000 cases per year or less.

It was magical... it is harvest time and the wine makers were bleary eyed and working hard. It had been far too long since I'd seen the wet end of a mascara wand and I even donned high(ish) heels and done my hair! It was a laborious process, what does a Chef wear to taste wines for her restaurant? I want to be taken semi-seriously... but then I wasn't sure why? Thank goodness I've lost a few pounds and had a few clothing options. White semi-low cut shirt, tan short sleeved cardigan, tight jeans, black studded high heel clogs... and the piece de resitance... a dragon necklace I got at the Halloween store... trying to rock it up a bit.

I know it seems silly to be such a girl and think about how my clothing might present myself, but I was in a hurry and I want to capitalize on non verbal cues. I am forty, I am a woman business owner in a largely male dominated industry and what I do is pretty rare (albeit getting more mainstream, thankfully) and I am pretty confident in where I am.

That said... I know nothing about wine. My favorite sippin' wine comes in a box and by the magnum. I drink Miller Lite on a regular basis. However, I had a few secret weapons in my arsenal and the foolhardy braggadocio of an arrogant Californian who just KNOWS that there are a million fantastic wines out there. I mean, duh... it's CALIFORNIA!

Secret weapon number one... Mike Wipple of Vin Underground. Brion's friend of many years. He has become an avid wine aficionado and expert and is especially into small batch vintners. We hit our first winery, White Rock, around noon. It is SOOOO Coool! A tall stately man meets us in the parking lot with the faintest of accents, like someone who has lived in California since he was very young. He talks about his wife and the vineyard, his sons... his grandson is eating lunch on a picnic table in the corner, he waves and smiles with chipmunk cheeks of sausage.

It is a beautiful winery, working it way towards an organic certification. Henry patiently explained their philosophy. His sons now run the winery. Christopher (the father of the adorable blond picnicker) is the wine maker.

We tour the caves. The winery is named after their
white rock caves which were forged from volcanic ash. They are amazing! They store the reds to age on site in hollows in the wall. The one above holds 4000 bottles. A cute brunette in cut offs is busy with the crush, everyone is bustling. She stops to check out my charcuterie (we brought some to try with the wines) and suggests I enter the The Good Food Awards competition for next year. I take some notes. I can tell she would like to talk more, but the grapes are waiting...

I pick one of their wines, a Chardonnay. Clean and bright, we all love it. It is the only wine in my price range and it is perfect. I talk to them about the wine makers dinners, they are interested.

I tell Mike we are going to a friend's winery (my second secret weapon, Danny Brakesman, is one of the winemakers at Summit Lake Winery. I catered his wedding). Mike is REALLY interested in checking it out, Howell Mountain is one of his favorite appellations and he is particularly interested in small vintners. We all head up after a yummy lunch at one of the roadside sandwich shacks.

The winery is gorgeous, late harvest time, everything is sun burnt auburn and gold. We meet up with Heather, Danny's sister. She looks just like Danny's daughter Sophia, gorgeous! We try the wines, they are amazing. A little bit pricier, but so worth it. the appellation is rare and highly vaunted and for good reason. We pick up four cases after a lovely tasting, with the dogs running around and Mike excitedly asking a million questions, How old are the vines? 135 years old. How many cases do you do a year? Around 1200.

We leave and hit Savour to drop off some product. We end up sitting and chatting with Dejan and Meghan for a while, it is hard to leave... they are so much fun to hang out with! It is easy to see why the place is so popular. We try wines, we share charcuterie, we genially chat.

We meet up with Mike shortly after at James Cole. An upper class couple is well into their cups out in the sunshine on the large loungy chairs on the patio. I stop to chat. They know what I do and want to chat all about it. I grab another tasting platter from the car and the husband sausage hoovers the plate in about 10 seconds. We all giggle in that wine-induced euphoria. the wines are great. It is clear by this time that the wine club members are a huge part of the success of these small wineries. Some of the wineries have 4000 club members that shell out $300 or more every few months for a shipment of club-member exclusive wines.

The last winery is Obrian. The matriarch of the winery joins us on a picnic bench outside. She brings us a plate of exquisite cheeses and laments that she cannot sell us any wines. We drink them anyway (of course) as the sun sets behind sweet smelling vines loaded with tiny ripe blue black grapes. The dogs run free amongst the vineyards and we are not really ready to go home, but we can't stay as the Obrian's are on their way to dinner. It was a lovely end to a beautiful day. And two wines selected! Both amazing and unique in their own ways and dear to me personally for their stories, my admiration for their makers, the land, and the vines.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vegging out watching the Cooking Channel

Hanging out after running around all day picking up odds and ends for the shop. We tested the acid etching for the wine glasses and the prototype looks great. I am mulling over our opening night special and gathering ideas so Stein and I can make some choices on Monday. We will offer a commemorative wine glass with a first glass of wine ($5.00 for refills, $10.00 for a 10 ounce carafe) and I would like to 1. showcase our style of food and 2. give people a preview of our specials for the week so I am thinking mini porchetta with 3-4 sweet potato gnocchi in brown butter with parm, and a single slice of bresaola topped with lightly dressed arugula, caperberry, thinly sliced red onion and a lemon wedge... so $10 for a wine glass, with a initial glass of wine, plus a plate of small bites for $10 for the first 40 people who order the special. I know Stein will have some great ideas too, so it will be fun to collaborate on that next week.

Stopped and picked up the bar tables today and put them in the space and took out the extra table and chairs.It looks SO good. I am so happy with how it turned out (so far). We found there are thee appliances that are not wired correctly and the thee plugs for the fridges are tripping the breaker in the back. I unplugged the empty one, but I will be very relieved when the electrician comes in a fixes the problem this Wed or Thursday.

I also laminated the open and closed sign, hours open sign, the menu signs so they can be hung in the window on Monday, plus the small tags for the framed photographs by Kelli Thompson in the shop. Plus I got fabric for the curtain hat will hang in the doorway to the back and some fabric to make Galen a water proof apron. I worked on the long slender menus for the grand opening (I will have to add in the food items and the wine selection once Stein and I decide on those).

Tomorrow we will go to Napa to get the wines!!! Yay!

Too busy to post as much as I would like...

All of the final details of the restaurant are piling up but we are working through it all. We are planning to do a Grand Opening special and we purchased 40 wine glasses to glass etch . We are still bantering ideas but I suspect we will offer the first 40 customers some kind of deal like... $10 for a commemorative wine glass with a glass of wine of your choice, plus a sample plate with 4-5 small bites. We need to hammer out which small bites we want on the plate and how that is going to work, plus get the wine glasses etched.

Since we are doing the grand opening after our normal hours of operation, we will offer our static menu plus the small plate special. There is a TON of things to try and organize, thank goodness I have a fantastic staff!

Things are really coming together, we got the bar height tables and bar stools, plus shelving for inside the chemical storage closet and the mural is done and is gorgeous! It's really starting to look like a restaurant in there!

I got my first shipment of meat from Del Monte Meats AT the restaurant. I asked for fat pork bellies and SCHNIKIES, they are fat. Four bellies weighted like 15# each... we will be rolling in the bacon, that's for sure. Everything but the turkey breasts (Which were still frozen) went into cure or brine yesterday. It feels so achingly familiar to be in the kitchen, making brines, trimming meat, Galen in the dish station, music on, Stein puttering around hanging signage.

I am worried about our outlet/plug situation. We have three fridges on one outlet basically and it keeps popping the breaker. I unplugged the curing fridge because we still haven't moved everything in from the rental kitchen and that one is empty, but we have an electrician coming in on Monday to clean some things up so hopefully that will fix the problem.

I have so much to do today. I am going to go find the paper for the open/closed signs, plus print out the cleaned up menus, order new cleaned up menus and a stamp... finish my order form list for US Foods... work ont he commemorative glassware and the menu.

Tomorrow we are going to Napa to pick up our wines. This will be fun! Then I just need to get over to Rabbits Foot to get some cyzer and after that we really just need to order our big order from US foods and program our cash register. I also want to finish up the product for Residual Sugar today or tomorrow. Whew! Lots to do...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What a rush!

Day two of "whoa, this is really happening". I know that probably seems a little silly, but with the delays we have had, it's amazing to feel like we are making great progress. Today, we got our final funding too. Wow, just Wow.

So Stein and I decided we would head on down to the shop with our laptops to... well really just to be in the space  in an admiring way and to make out prep lists for opening. It was a very surreal experience. We sat in the chairs near the front with the sunshine streaming in, and passersby coming in to say hi and just generally overhearing the ebb and flow of the conversation outside.

I am surprised that there is so much wild speculation about why we have not opened yet! I mean, people were talking about it right outside the door where we could hear them! "Oh they are having so much money trouble! I hear they are way in debt" (we are not, we owe less than 10k and none of that is to a bank, it is to some generous friends who have helped me out along the way which I should be able to pay back within a few months of opening)... stuff like that. But most of the people who came by were super nice and very curious about us and our products. We even had someone stop in to buy one of our holiday dinners (yay! our first purchase at the shop!).

I also got my parking pass for the downtown today ($106 every four months). Stein and I had a heck of a time getting the wireless to work, so we signed up for our business phone and internet service. I also signed up for garbage service, albeit I am not sure where we are going to stick a garbage receptacle?

We've been making long lists of products we need so we can get started brining the pastrami for opening, plus the bacon and smoked/brined turkey breast. It is this crazy process where we are checking all of our food vendors per pound prices and trying to get everyone who's been delivering to the rental kitchen to deliver to our new location.

Tomorrow we need to find the last few pieces of the restaurant. We need two bar height tables (four if we can find them at a good price) plus 12 bar stools, a robot coupe, a toaster and a cash register. That is pretty much it for furniture. We need to try and fix a couple of the electrical odds and ends (they did not wire the cold display outlet for the right voltage), hang the picture Kelli sent, laminate some signage (open and closed sign, hours, etc). We need to get our wines and hit the meadery for some bottled cyzer. Thursday should be fun, we are hanging out at the restaurant while my friend Chris Walls works on the electrical system and  my friend Brian Shellnut finishes the mural. I am tentatively hopeful I will be set up enough for Stein and I to cook the guys dinner. The first meal in the shop. Wow.

I am nervous and worrying, but I am also so excited to have the onus on me to move forward and not be waiting on construction, or a governing body to make a determination. I sent David pictures today of the progress and he called me to tell me how cool it was and that I should be really proud of everything I've accomplished. Stein said the same thing today. The waiting has been such a hardship on everyone that while I do feel proud, I also mourn for their hardship as well. I just hope the forward motion is everything we hope it can be.

I am especially nervous because Martinez is a beautiful old world town and many locals are passionate about being just that... locals. I am worried about any perceived effect potential  success may have on other local restaurants. I wish there was a way to convince everyone if one of us succeeds, it is a success for everyone. The two largest employers in Martinez are walking distance from the downtown; 10,000 potential customers. If this demographic felt they had a wide range of high quality food choices, they would be more likely to wander downtown for lunch. I suppose I just need to get in there and let people try my stuff. I know how to cook, I am a passionate advocate for my craft and I love people. My shop has been built on love and hard work, with a foundation made stronger by a shower of faith and support from my friends and family. I know I can do this, with trusty Super Stein by my side and Wonderboy Galen, we can DO this!

Monday, October 24, 2011

We passed our Health Dept Inspection today!!!!


We are SO excited! So we've been frantically prepping for our inspection and too nervous about it to post anything so we wouldn't jinx ourselves.Here is a picture of me with my temporary health permit and some of the restaurant... it's all coming together!

 Tonight my friend and artist Brian Shellnut is coming to paint a mural on the wall. Stein and I are SO excited!  I will write tons more later (Lara, I promise!)... but now... I have to get to work!

Here is the kitchen with the refrigerators, the shelving, prep area, and the stove
Here are the pictures of the space and a picture of the condiment table Brion and my friend Matt made for the space.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fun food day...

I feel momentum. It is a strange thing in my business... how it all works. So you have a product that you think is pretty spiffy. It's you... in your own kitchen... alone... with this awesome product. So how do you get that product OUT THERE? You let everyone you know try it, you make it a bunch of times, with friends, with employees, on your own. You are GIVING this shit away. Of course, everyone loves it.

Then your friends start asking you if they can have some of it (for free) for their parties, and you are making the awesome thing even better all the time. Now you have 40 variations on the awesome. Then you go to school and get your degree, work at some cool place where you learn how to make the awesome thing even BETTER. Then your friends (you gave all that free stuff to) start giving your newly minted cards out to their friends. Then slowly, so slowly, you start getting calls. They want the awesome thing, at a rock bottom price. You think to yourself... well I have to start getting paid somewhere!

Then five years later (flash forward, with that hazy dream sequence) you turn around and realize you have this KILLER client base, you are not even sure you can TAKE on another client. THAT is how bad-ass you are.

So I got a call from one of my favorite former schoolmates. She works at this kind of trendy wine bar in Walnut Creek. It's called Residual Sugar. The need a reliable source of Charc, and can I bring my stuff in? I am stoked. I local customer! No shipping required! Plus Residual Sugar just SOUNDS cool! So I wash the "opening the restaurant" grease off me, toss on a chef coat and slice up a decent selection of our stuff, plus grab some of the orange fennel and andouille fresh sausages and drive (the 12 minute drive) over to Residual Sugar.

They are closed but I can see Genesis in the back prepping. I wave and she lets me in. I love the space (I grow increasingly envious of well funded restaurants); it reeks of testosterone like a British club where hard bodied sons of former royalty drink beer in very tight very expensive jeans. The space is narrow and long with high ceilings and lots of dark wood. Her boss is, indeed, a smiling handsome early 30 something who clearly knows his way around a gym. The Bar Manager, slender, blond, like an impish Puck with a rakish hat. Genesis and I seem at home with all of our masculine energy, amazons in the sleek dark space.

She cooks up the fresh sausages. They smell amazing. We all sit down as I unwrap the plate of sliced Charc and start my schpiel, we start from lightest to heavier/spicier. The ThingTM happens. Each bite is a story, a history... they are trying to observe the social contract and look at me when I am talking but they can't stop looking at the meats on the plate... blood red to creamy white, smelling of salt and tang and spice. Soft and supple, "The Bresaola is so tender! I had some the other day that was like beef jerky". "Do you like head cheese?" "I like this head cheese!"

I slip into details, how I inoculate my refrigerators with our local lactobacillus "This lactobacillus is one of the reasons our San Francisco sourdough is some of the best in the World"... how we make everything by hand. I end with the andouille. I am not sure they will be into it (pepper spice can interfere with wine tasting) but they love it. We talk about the texture of hand made sausages vs. commercially produced. There is just no way a machine will ever be able to make sausages as good as a trained charcutier. To have one is a true treat that many Americans will never experience. But we are trying!

We talk about my process, I only have 3-5 wholesale customers at any given time and it is a very collaborative relationship for me. You have a signature wine? I will make Sauccision Sec with  YOUR wine. They talk about what they want... they really want some rilette, can I make some? Do I do terrines? Why yes sir, I do.

So tonight I feel inspired by my craft, by my clients, by my world. I am grateful for this respite to the stress of opening the restaurant. I called my meat purveyor to get the pork, pork liver and duck and picked up some duck tongues as well. Tomorrow I will make confit for rilette and take the ducks apart for rendering the duck fat. I will cure the livers a bit in spices before I start the pate. These are the Charcutiers pleasures; these complex little works of edible art that allow us to dance for you, to sing for you, to show you who we are. Most chefs get few opportunities to show off this skill-set in a modern world that rarely craves such food.

I love what I do so much.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Dance! Happy Dance!

We have floors and we have walls!  WOO HOO! And I had such a nice chat with Stan today too. I am working on getting my home loan modified so that won't be such a burden going forward as well. Plus, I sliced up a bunch of meat this morning for a fund raiser and noticed how gorgeous it was. Suddenly life feels more cheerful and bright (the beautiful day is adding to the general cheerfulness).

Plus Stein is being my good luck charm and not believing it until he sees the whole thing DONE. Which is kind of like knocking on wood. I just need a couple more shelves to get up to the 144 sq ft minimum for the Health Department and we are SO SO SO Close.

Stan said David can come in this weekend and put in the wood/vinyl flooring and finish up the last little bits... I know it is a fool's game to hope, but I am feeling pretty good today.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yay! Some good news!

We did our hood/fire suppression inspection yesterday and balloon test and passed! This means whenever my landlord can pull it together and get the front of the building done, we have all of the hard stuff done to get our Health Dept permit!

Here is the list of stuff we need:
  • set of completed plans
  • finish schedule
  • equipment cut/spec sheets
  • lighting plan
  • hood details 
  • ventilation plans
  • airflow test (done by ACCO)
  • Fire Department inspection
  • plumbing plans
  • holes in walls have been patched (one more in the floor will be done when they finish the floors)
  • Grease trap info
 As of yesterday they had still not started to sheet rock the front of the space. We were supposed to get in this weekend and get the floors done, but that isn't going to happen. It is extremely annoying that it sometimes feels like my employees and I are the only people with a sense of urgency. I have been feeling very hopeless that the project would ever be completed because of this strange phenomenon. But my practical side knows it can't go on forever (Actually if you'd ever dealt with the people I am dealing with, you would know it actually potentially COULD... hmmmm was that my practical side losing out again?)

That said, I have a tasting at Residual Sugar next week, which is a fabulous little place in Walnut Creek. A friend of my from school works there. I am going to bring in a pretty wide sampling of what I have and let them know to make them a full complement of salumi will be about 8 weeks.

This week I am making mortadella. My meat purveyor has some beef shoulder bits from Neiman Ranch that are $3.50 a pound. I will probably make andouille and orange fennel sausages for them to try as well. I might blow out the rest of the bresaola since I just hung another 8 pounds or so, which should be ready in a few weeks. I have around 5-6 pounds of Tuscan out in the curing fridge and I can't remember why I haven't pulled it? I think it was part of that batch that had the funky lactobacillus that I mostly tossed (it was unpalatabley sour). I am going to try it again today and see if the flavor hasn't improved.

I also need to start some brisket into brine. I have one brisket already and I am picking up another from Del Monte today. We have about 40# of pastrami and corned beef done. I'd like to have another 20# or so, it keeps for a long time and I don't want to run out our first week open.

I am contemplating doing two mortadellas, one with pistachios and one with olives. Hmmmm... I DO love making sausages. It will make me feel better and it's something I can control.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Progress is sometimes two steps forward and one step back...

I have found this week, even my typically sunny nature has been dimmed by the difficulties of the remodel situation. It is very difficult to talk about it because while I am comfortable (for the most part) being a public person, not everyone in the situation feels similarly. My landlord in particular is kind of old world Greek and a pretty private person. As frustrated as get about his lack of speed on the project, a lot of the delays stem back to one of the contractors (the retrofit Engineer) who is just a flake. He basically took the money and ran (he didn't even pay the sub-contractors). I feel so bad for Stan that he's had to deal with someone who is doing a very complicated job, and doing it so badly.

Stan got a new engineer to come look at the space today and it's a big ole mess. They will probably have to redo the whole thing. It is a complicated issue that could drag a few local politicians (who recommended the shady engineer) into the morass, as the local (very widely read) newspaper is now showcasing the problem, both in the article on my situation the other day and another article this last Monday on the retrofit in general.

What it means for me? I am not really sure. David has told them over and over they just need to button it up so I can open. If they need to fix it, they will have to do it around my closed hours. This doesn't really seem plausible to me. But... David has asked them to get their part of things done by Friday so he can get in and finish up a few things this weekend so we can go for Health Department Permitting next week. I have little faith any of this will happen.  I don't see how they are going to get the front sheet rocked and the sub floor done before this weekend. That is a multi-day job, and it has taken 6 months to do a job that should have taken 6 weeks. They haven't even started working on it this week and it's already Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I am not sure how I am going to pay my house payment this month. I feel like I should just capitulate and go get a job. At least I would be making money while I was waiting for resolution. It is so spirit crushing.

I am trying not to be so pessimistic, but it is hard to disregard the lessons of the past.

Aren't I a cheerful little bag o' joy.

We went in on Monday and got some shelves put up and fixed most of the back of the house little issues. It is a functional kitchen, or at least pretty close.  We got our ice maker and figured out how we are going to work the front of the house flow a bit more. I am still 10 square feet short of shelving space! ARGH. And I still need a large chaulkboard and some chairs (and to make the condiment table and get some pots and pans, and a robot coupe)... but we are really pretty close. If we could just get them to finish up the front area, we could pull all that together as well.

That said, Stein and I found some AWESOME little wall mounted condiment holders. I think they are going to look really gorgeous with the pictures Esme sent for me to put up on the wall (black and white pictures of cathedrals and gorgeous architecture). I am pretty stoked about how things are coming together aesthetically. Money is still a constant pressure. It wasn't meant to take this long and be so difficult. I've spoken to other friends who have opened restaurants and they all say I am experiencing a really special kind of hell. I am still working thru my to-do list for the Health Department permitting process (redoing the visios for the shelving and lay out).  I wish I felt like I wasn't wasting my time. You can't call the HD for permitting until the construction is "100% done". I have little faith the construction will be done in a time frame that will do me much good.

ARGH. I also think I might be even more sick of my own whining than anyone else. I don't know how people live feeling like this? I guess they do it because, like me, they really don't have a choice but to see something out no matter how unhealthy and stressful it might be. Maybe I just need a rest day? I can't DO anything to fix the problem anyway. I do need to finish up the HD packet (I need to make the changes that have occurred since we started the remodel on the blueprints and paperwork). I should go down and drop the stuff off and write down all the of product numbers so I can look up all of the spec sheets again.

I also need to put in a bit more pastrami and I got the brisket to do that today. I need a break from stress. But the only way I will really get a break is if things get resolved. It is a terrible catch 22 to need a break from stressors and not be in control of the things stressing you out (particularly for a control freak such as myself).

Anyway, I will try to refocus on more positive things. Life is really pretty wonderful other than the work stress. My kids are amazing, my lover is wonderful, I am getting many accolades for my food and the weather was really beautiful today. OH please universe, let good things happen this week and next.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In the paper

This paper is like one of those old school papers with great writers, which is very cool. But I am really anxious about people knowing that we are having so many problems. I am also worried that Stan will be upset that I spoke publicly about the problems. Even tho I was very complimentary of him, he is so private. This blog is out there in the nebulous stratosphere, but the Gazette is incredibly widely read in Martinez (as it deserves to be, it is a fantastic little paper). Maybe it will spur things to move a little more quickly?

It just feels lately like anything that could even remotely possibly go wrong, has gone wrong. Both in my personal and professional life. I know that is a VAST exaggeration. But it still FEELS that way. In fact, my fiancee and I are happy and well, my kids are amazing, my food continues to get accolades and good reviews. Professionally I have the most amazing Sous Chef and apprentice and we love working together and things ARE progressing.

Oh Universe, if you are out there, please send some good energy my way...

Some movement

So David talked to Stan today. Stan cannot get the engineer/retrofit guys to finish the work. He is going to have to sue them. They have been total crooks and I feel really bad for Stan. But meanwhile we cannot wait forever for him to thru the legal process so we are going to patch the roof, finish the floors etc this week and try to get going next week.

I am now worried that whatever the engineer did wasn't up to code and they will have to redo it. It's so depressing.

BUT last night I had a dream I was back in a kitchen. It was huge, with high ceilings. It felt like a very chic place. I was making a mango pepper couli. I miss it so much.

The upside is... it is possible we may be ready to clean and get permitted in 9 days. It doesn't seem likely, but it is possible. I just hope we can all hang on for a little bit longer.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The waiting is the hardest part...

So everything is now on hold pending the Retrofit contractor fixing the leak in the roof. We were supposed to get the floors in this weekend, but the sub floor is wet now, so I don't think that is going to happen.

The Martinez Gazette called today and asked when we would be open. I feel so bad when I say... I honestly don't know. I am just not in control of anything that is stalling us (currently). We have a small thing to fix on the fire suppression system, but Bri and Alicia will be working on that tomorrow night. Then we can do the balloon test for the fire suppression system, which is a requirement for our Health Dept permit. Then we have some cosmetic stuff to do in the kitchen and clean up and that is about it.

Sadly Stan is having a really hard time getting the contractor to fix their mistakes, or finish the job. I know he is trying really hard and is just as frustrated as we are. It is hard to be SO close and then everything stops (again). I feel especially bad for our Plongeur, who quit his job a few weeks ago in anticipation of the restaurant being open. It is just a horrible situation all around.

We still have some catering gigs coming up, and the wholesale to restaurants is doing really well. I am going to put in more product tomorrow (more finocciona and capicolla). I still probably need to make another 24# of pastrami and corned beef.

I feel depressed and stressed. It is hard to think about the future right now or feel very hopeful. It just seems like we've had problem after problem. I knew it was going to be difficult, but this seems over and above what anyone should have to deal with to start a business.The rainy weather has been relaxing and soothing in the midst of it all and I've been able to take some time to myself to recharge.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Into each restaurant some rain must fall...


So last week the Engineer was in the shop on Friday. I spoke to him and he said all of the work should be done Friday or yesterday at the latest. So last night we went in and the roof was still leaking water and it doesn't look like they've done anything. Dino (the project manager for the contractor I hired to do the kitchen) had been in however and dropped the front counter (it had to be lowered because the floor was dropped 3 inches to accommodate the ADA stuff) and done a bunch of stuff (like put sheet rock on the pillar in the back).

As you can see, the front is nearly done. The wood at the bottom will be tile. It looks really nice and I am really happy with it so far!

I feel so bad for Stan having to deal with the retrofit guys; they seem like scam artists. The fact they told us  directly they would be done with everything no later than Monday and refuse to keep their word (repeatedly), is horrible. And the worst part is we can't put in dry wall or the floor until the roof is not leaking all over everything. So, once again, everything is stopped while we try to get the retrofit crew to do what they have said they are going to do.

That said, things ARE happening. We are working on small projects as best we can and getting organized for the rush before opening. It's still very frustrating to have my livelyhood in the hands of unscrupulous contractors, but I am hopeful we are closer to the end than the beginning.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chaos and all the fun to be had therin...

It's been a crazy week. I made 80 # of sausage for my favorite client to bring to the Folsom Street Fair (which is a kind of... fetish celebration in San Francisco). Plus 20# of brats for Creek Monkey, plus a wedding and a food booth at the Italian Street Painting Festival in downtown Martinez. Whew.

The street painting festival booth was a loss. We have tried the food booth thing twice now and both times we've lost money. I know the property management group really wants us to participate, but we can't afford to lose money on anything right now. I think people really don't want to eat cold food at these festivals so we will try the hot sausages at the craft brewing festival and if that doesn't work, I think we are giving up on the food both thing all together.

The wedding food came out really well and I was really happy with it, but my meat vendor once again screwed up the order for the pig. We ordered a 100# pig and got an 80# pig. I think I probably need to find an alternative meat vendor who can get the pig order right.

The Italian Street Painting booth thingie... well it rained the second day and was cold the first, so I told Galen to just give away the rest of the sandwiches and salads for free Sunday when it started raining in earnest and come home. It was a good marketing opportunity so it wasn't a total wash (no pun intended).

This week we are waiting again. I still don't think the engineer has a plan to cover the wood beams with the sheet rock and we really can't clean until he does (sheet rock is a really messy process).  I feel bad for Stan; yesterday I noticed the roof was leaking where the retrofit was done. He's had such a hard time getting them to finish the work. They seemed like a really shady outfit and now there is a leak in the roof too. You can't believe how pretty it is looking in spite of all the troubles.

This week is waiting week. We got the air flow test done on the ventilation system, and we are waiting on the paperwork. We are waiting to fix a small glitch in the fire suppression system. We are waiting for the floors to go in. We are waiting for the sheet rock to be put on the beams. We are waiting to pick up the new prep sink so we can install it. Just a whole bunch of waiting. I feel really bad that Galen has now quit his job and I have no work and can't afford to pay him for this next week. Thankfully he can pick up a few shifts at his old job.

The thing that sucks even more is I have no idea when all this stuff will be done so we can move forward. They plan to put in the wood look floors this weekend. But I am not sure how much longer Stan will have to fight with the engineer/retrofit people before we will get the beams sheet rocked. We can't get a health department permit until that is done.

I hate not having control. It always feels like nothing is in my hands (which I know is a overly dramatic dramatization).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Ants Go Marching...

Yesterday was a lot of fun and very productive! I am co-coordinator for a historical food event in Feb 2012 and we have been struggling to find an event site that would fit our needs. It needs to sleep 100 people, have multiple kitchens, plus outdoor cooking area, classroom-like areas, within 1 hour to an airport... you get the idea.

Anyway, yesterday my co-coordinator, Donna Green-Tye, and I found an AWESOME site. I know our historical foodie friends are going to love it and I cannot wait to see what classes and demos people will come up with to fill the space. Donna and her amazingly awesome spouse (if Dicken's Feziwig was tall and slender, and a Burgermiester from a fantastic wine-making town in Germany, he might be much like Andrew) gave me a ride home and came to check out the restaurant. We popped on over to Lemon Grass for lunch and had a very enjoyable and delicious meal and got to chat with the owners. They have been somewhat following my progress and were so welcoming! They thanked me for my kind words about them in the Gazette article, and said a few customers had saved the clipping and brought it in for them.

Then we headed down to the shop and met up with Brion and Stein and our friend George (who offered to help for the day). They put the casters on the cold display case (it has to either be moveable OR 6 inches off the ground... it is SO freakishly heavy, we decided to put on wheels), hooked up the water to the espresso maker and the coffee maker, figured out the drainage system for the steam table, built shelving and moved things around, plus I started cleaning the stove. It felt good to get so much done! It is really starting to come together more every day. George is madly in love with my friend Phoebe and wrote Phoebe plus G on the bottom of the cold display case... I think having all that love around is pretty great!

I also had to put together a large order of fresh sausage for my favorite customer, who is taking the sausage truck to the Folsom Street Fare next weekend. I still need to put together the chicken apple bourbon sausages, but the brats are mostly done (some still need to be poached off).

Next week, we need to put together the order for the Folsom Street Fair, plus get the wedding food for next weekends wedding prepped and fabulous, plus prep for the Italian Street Painting Festival next Saturday. AND still work on getting the kitchen ready. Lots to do lots to do...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Still getting closer!

Yay! Here is a photo of our almost finished new ADA compliant front entrance. It looks fantastic and we are SO excited to get in and get started.

Stein, Brion and Galen will get in today and get started on building shelves and securing racks to the walls etc (I need to go check out an event site in Marin, but will be helping as soon as I am done).

So this week is clean up and hopefully the various contractors will get in there and finish their parts of the job so we can clear away the dust and get inspected by the health department some time after next week.

We worked the Martini's on the Plaza event in Martinez last night. It was a really fabulous with many folks dressed circa 1940's (when the martini was created). We served a smaller version of the our meatball sliders, which people really seemed to like. It was fantastic to get out and talk to potential patrons and give out samples of our product.

Also funny story... so a friend of mine was in downtown Martinez a few days ago and went into Legal Grounds (which is the guy who used to be in the space we are now leasing) for a coffee and overheard the guy telling a customer that we "Were never going to make it... she is in way over her head... she is $200,000.00 in debt... my customers are loyal and she isn't going to be able to steal them!" This gave my friends a chuckle of course because I am less than $10,000.00 in debt (to a few friends) and I am hoping with all of the great new places going in downtown that instead of needing to "steal" someone's customers, we will be able to see a whole new crowd of potential diners downtown. But... it still worries me that the business culture down there seems so negative. Jim Blier of Creek Monkey and the crew over at Roxx on Main are all very friendly and supportive, but some of the old guard... well I hope we will eventually win them all over :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Motoring thru the to-do list....

Today I stopped by the DMV to register the BBQ trailer that Chuck built for me. DMV is a fascinating people study! $53 to register and get new plates. Then I ran over to Home Depot to see if I could find the fire bricks we need to replace for the stove/grill. They did not have them, but Bri thinks we can get them in Concord.

Then off to Costco to pick up the making for meatballs for the Martini's on the Plaza event this Friday. They didn't have everything I needed including the 1.5 ounce scoop to make them, so I ran over to Smart and Final and grabbed a few other items. Stein was busy setting up some infrastructure items, plus making some equipment arrangements.

I got a call from my absolute favorite clients who is taking the sausage truck out to the Folsom Street Fair which is a very jovial LBTG and fetish event in the City. He wants tons o' sausage, but not sure exact numbers yet. Creek Monkey wants more Brats for this Saturday, so I am going to have to try and squeeze in some serious sausage making some time this week. The upside is, Creek Monkey wanted to try some of our other sausage varieties so we can set aside some of the Andouille for them to try. Pete was also interested in the Orange Fennel fresh sausage. He and his friends are addicted to the Berber Blackberry Organic Katsup. My sauce went to Burning Man this year!

And a dear friend asked us to cater her cast party on October 9. I am really looking forward to this one as I get to make some British food (Bangers and Mash, Pork Pies etc).

So things are busy! I just hope we can juggle it all!