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.