Sunday, August 28, 2011

Finding a Zen place...

I am still adjusting my to-do list to the possibility of getting in the kitchen in the next two weeks or so and the flow of sausage (LOL). I think my two wholesale clients will be doing about 12 - 15 # of salumi per week. This means we need to be putting in 40- 45 # of sausage every two weeks. I've also discovered that for clients with smaller charcuterie platters, they really need more accessible salumi to make it work for their patrons. As bad-ass as it is that I have a large quiver of salumi varieties; the vast majority of people are not very adventurous eaters.

Brion and I went to Napa yesterday and I found a zinfandel I think will go well with my salumi. I want to carry at least one from Savour (I am leaning towards Dejan's Chardonnay as it seemed to go well with just about everything. I just hope it is within my price range) and one from Summits Lake (most likely a red), so then I just need one more white... probably a Pinot Gregio.

I think I won't put it on the printed menu, but the more I think about the small select group of potential hard core foodies that could potentially discover the shop and WANT to try a sampling of the full breadth of salumi techniques and varieties, plus the wines... the more I think I will have an off-menu sampling of a 1/4 ounce of each salumi, plus a 2 ounce sampling of each wine... I think I can do it for like $20 - $25 and still make some money.

So today I made some sopressata (northern-mild style). I've never had so many clients ask for a a sausage by name so often and I have not made any since I left Perbacco. I did a simple coriander, fennel, pepper, salt and a tiny bit of garlic. I am worried my buffalo chopper needs it's blade replaced. I think it's been sharpened so often it is not quite touching the bottom of the bowl. I am sure it is not very much to replace it, I will contact the Hobart shop next week.

I am also concerned about the rate of inoculation in the new curing fridge. I had a client contact me because some pastrami smells like it's gone bad. Pastrami shouldn't go bad... I mean it might dry up or get moldy but it should not rot... there are nitrates etc, plus a lengthy wet curing time (8-9 days... sometimes longer depending on the size of the brisket) . So I am worried there is something already in the fridge. We bleached it like crazy when we got it and I can see the good/white yeasts/molds are growing on some of the salumi that has been cured in there... I suppose only time will tell. I will bring some fresh pastrami to the Client next week. It makes me really sad because our Pastrami is something I am really proud of so I hate to see anyone's first experience with it be less than perfect.

I still need to get the tuna belly into cure today for the Savour party on Wed. I am a huge fan of cured tuna belly, which is not something we see very much here in the states. We tend to see a lot of Asian preparations for Tuna in general and especially tuna belly. My inspiration for my version is from a 1570's manifesto on food by master chef Bartolemeo Scappi (the then Papal Chef to Pope Pius the V). He slices the tuna belly very thinly and serves it drizzled with olive oil and fresh sour orange juice. I am going to serve it on beet chips with a citrus... something...

OK back to work! I hope everyone is having a lovely weekend!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


We had a two hour meeting with Kevi and Stan today. It was mildly contentious but also pretty productive I think. I feel like I got to understand Stan a bit more and I felt we really kept to relevant topics instead of contentious ones.

They have a plan, it was going to be submitted today. David and Stan talked at length about how to maybe do things a little easier or less expensively and then the architect showed up and It think he was really annoyed they were thinking of changing the plan. So the architect had the plan they had all agreed upon with him to submit to the Building Dept. It had been approved by the planning dept and the building dept verbally and was good to go. I couldn't tell when we left if Stan was going to submit the plan as is, or try to explore some of the other options. It was kind of confusing at the end because David has another appointment to go to and I think Stan was hoping they could all go down to the Building Dept and talk about it.

I can tell Stan really REALLY doesn't like me, but he was polite and I hope I was too. We talked about his honey (he is a bee keeper) and he showed me some stuff. Really beautiful honey and beeswax. I love the smell of fresh honey! I made a list of the things he was hoping to get addressed and took some pictures too so I hope we can get all that stuff taken care of so he is happier about that.

ANYWAY, so it was a little confusing when I left but I think they did submit a plan today to get a building permit. It is hard to tell if the structural/retrofit guys are done? BUT, if they can get started soon I would expect the construction to take 2-3 weeks. Which means Stein and I might be able to get in and start moving stuff around Sept 15th which would put our soft opening at October 1st-ish. Send me lots of good hopeful vibes!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A ray of sunshine in the clouds...

Today David and I went down and talked to Kevi. She was so sweet; she told me her story a bit and how her and her husband saved up to buy the buildings they owned, along with some of their siblings. Her husband passed away some years ago and the living siblings are all getting older, some are in very expensive assisted living. She knew that Stan had lost it with me and she chided me a bit for putting too much pressure on him.

At any rate we all agreed that we really just wanted to get the restaurant open and needed to collaborate and help each other out. It was a big relief to just be able to sit and talk in a reasonable way about everything. I know Stan is very stressed about other stuff (that has nothing to do with me) and seems close to some kind of break down. I just have to be a business person and work thru whatever obstacles come my way.

So Kevi said she would set up a meeting this week with David and I and Stan (hopefully Thursday). David said he would help with some of the finish work if needed and then on the way home he said if he needed to help me financially get thru to the opening, he would. This is a huge relief to me but I am still hopeful we will be open some time in September. Stein can't be out of work much longer and he is a huge part of my 10 year plan. I will find a way...

David said on the way back from Kevi's, "The end is always the hardest part of any project. You will get thru this." And today on my Facebook... I had an outpouring of love and support from my friends... it really restored my faith in the goodness of the world, my place in it and that I am part of something that is good and meant to be. Thank you Universe for showering me with inspiration just when I need it.

Paralyzed with grief...

I know in some ways I am over reacting by taking all of the obstruction personally. I get it, Stan really doesn't like me. He treats me totally differently than he treats the guys... like I am a woman and thus below him in the hierarchy. I am not really here to educate him on the modern view on sexism; I just want to open my restaurant. I have also had the dubious pleasure for most of my life of being very very beloved by 90% of the people I meet... the other 10% hate me with a white hot passion that is normally reserved for Hitler or Pol Pot.

So it hard not to take it personally when he is clearly stalling on purpose. I am not sure what the reasoning is... maybe they are hoping I will give up and they can re-lease the new improved space to someone else for more money? Maybe they are just really tight fisted and hoping if they stall long enough I will finish up the work on my own dime? I wish I knew.

I just know that every day now I am visualizing what failure looks like. To me, to the people who have believed in me and invested in me, to my family and my ability to support them... it is totally terrifying. It is hard to keep going forward right now. I am so angry, so afraid. Yes, lawyers are one option. A long lengthy option that is very expensive. It also would pretty much kill my dream of having my own restaurant any time soon. I can't afford to start over.

I wish they had been honest with me about all of the problems the building had so I could have found another place to lease. I wish they had done the work while the place was empty before I leased it. I wish I wish I wish. If wishes were fishes...

I have to find a way to get things done in a hostile environment; I really don't have a choice. This means stuffing my grief as far down as I can and thinking outside the box. The hostile man that I have been working with is no longer willing to work with me. He said I need to go thru his mom, who is clearly not the organizer for the work on the shop and is not a native english speaker, and thus very difficult to understand. I am so upset and emotionally invested that I am having a hard time talking about stuff rationally and calmly. The other problem is they clearly do not see women as "the boss" and don't feel they have to treat me like one.

So, for the sexism issue, I have two men in my life who are willing to be the point of contact, David and Brion. I hate having to abdicate my voice to someone else but I need to get things done too. David is willing to go talk to Kevi with me and see if we can set up different line of communication besides Stan. I will do that tomorrow when David's schedule is a little looser. We have gathered the information that they do have a plan, it just needs to be formally submitted with the fees. We will see if Kevi is willing to do that this week so Busby can get started soon.

I think I am going to have to call the retrofit contractor myself and get them to remove all of the equipment they have been storing in my shop so we can get started on the floor and ADA work. Stan has damaged the relationship with them to the point they just walked away, leaving stuff half done and their equipment all over the place.

I just want the angry weird guy out of my life all together, so maybe this is a blessing in disguise? Maybe I can just wash my hands of Stan and get on to solving the problem? Maybe Kevi has other children who are capable and competent who can help out with the language barrier? We just have to find the work around. I know he is going to continue to try to block my opening, but maybe if we can find a way to ignore him and focus in a more positive direction things will start to fall into place.

I think that is the hardest part of all this. I really never believed that Stan was organized or interested enough to get the work done, and it always kind of bothered me that I had to abdicate control over something so important to someone so apathetic and unorganized... and that was BEFORE he started seething with hatred and anger. So maybe if David and I can help Kevi get the stuff done, I will feel a lot better? Maybe it is a blessing to let Stan off the hook as well, so he can have less stress and be happier? Better karma. Maybe his blow up is the catharsis everyone needed to move forward?

Anyway... I feel better after venting. I just need to be ME and find a plan and then implement it. I am not a shrinking violet. I am a bad ass and I can DO this.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The nightmare continues...

So Stan finally called me back today. He told me he was refusing to let me open until this wacky list of things he wants David to do is done. He point blank refused to tell me when the work was going to be done so I could open. When I said, "that is not acceptable, it's been months, I need to know". He basically told me to go to hell. He also told me he is no longer speaking to me.

So now... David is going to try and talk to him, but I suspect I will have to get a lawyer. It's such a nightmare. I cannot believe that the 100 things I had to coordinate (ABC, Health Dept, Building Dept, County Sewer... you name it) the thing that was the biggest nightmare was my landlord. It just doesn't make any sense. Don't they WANT me to open and be successful? What is in it for them that I cannot open? They agreed to let me not pay rent until it is open, so they are not getting anything out of this. I just don't get it?

Landlord still is not calling me back...

So there is no new information except what I can track down myself. They do seem to have some kind of plan down at the Planning Dept (which is in the same building as the Building Dept, so they are pretty good at inter office communication) for consideration. I found this out by physically going to the Building Dept and asking Dave Scola and crew. I found out what the tentative plan for the ADA fix was by tracking down the contractor Stan hired and asking him directly. Stan has not returned calls in weeks, in fact I think he is pissed I can't "Wait patiently" for an answer. I think 7 months is plenty patient.

I am losing thousands of dollars in revenue every month. The wait is a real hardship on my Sous Chef's family. It is so depressing. I am not sure if it should make me feel worse or better that our products are so popular we can barely keep stuff in stock. I need my own kitchen. I can only do stuff half assed until I have my own place to store and process products.

I am so burned out. And the hard part is yet to come. You know... the part where I actually get in the kitchen and get started and open the doors to the public. And I can't afford to be anything less than perfect for that part. Did I come here to be a girl? Or did I come here to KICK ASS? Kick ass... of course.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Feeling a little down today...

I can really feel the strain the never ending delay is having on mine and Stein's lives today. I know there is not a lot a can do about it, but it sometimes seems so unfair that my landlord's apathy has such great effect on our lives. If either of us had known how little a priority it was for them to fix the issues with the building (or if they had disclosed the issues going in), we could have both gotten jobs, or I could have picked a site that didn't have so many problems.

There is no use in my crying about it now, when we are finally getting close to stuff being done. But I am so tired of the stress and lack of control I have over the situation. I can't ask Stein to work forever like this. I know realistically we are looking at opening next month, but even typing that out loud strikes fear into my heart... like I am jinxing myself by even hoping.

I talked to Dave Scola down at the Buidling Dept today. They are trying to hammer out the aesthetics on the new front (it is a historical building) but they seemed amenable to the contractor doing the floors in the meantime. Jeff Taylor was down there. That guy really doesn't like me. He can barely look at me and then he hurries away as fast as he can. I tried to extend an olive branch by talking him up in front of his boss at Creek Monkey, but clearly that didn't work.

I called Stan to tell him the building dept seemed ok with them getting started on some of the work, but he hasn't been calling me back recently. I would guess it is because he doesn't feel he has answers, but he calls Stein and David back and I can't help but wonder if he has some issues with my being a woman. It is actually pretty rare in my experience so I really hesitate to think that direction. It is such a crutch, "Oh I can't do that because I am a WOMAN... or I can't do stuff because I get treated DIFFERENTLY". I can do anything (well, minus the peeing standing up or flying or that type of thing) and I am more than capable of working with any personality type.

I know I am being whiny... it's so silly, it feels like we are actually getting somewhere recently. Our clients love the Charcuterie, we are doing a brisk business. Only one more hurdle to overcome, getting the ADA work done. The Contractor who is doing it seems like the NICEST guy and he's been so good about calling me back and explaining things to the best of his ability.

I sometimes hesitate to express how stressed and discouraged I get because anyone can read this blog. Clients, my landlord, strangers... the press if they so choose. And I suspect I should always be strong and collected in public. But that is not reality. This is an incredibly stressful and difficult thing I am trying to accomplish and since I am trying to help others who might some day try to do the same thing, I want to be as honest as possible. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving bread crumbs in the forest for others to find their way; if I forget to drop them in the difficult places, what good does it do?

At any rate, I am going to try and get some sausage made next week on my own so Stein can get some family stuff done before the restaurant opens and before his little guy goes back to school. It will be strange to work alone; Stein and I are an amazing team. But it will be meditative for me to just putter around my kitchen making whatever I feel inspired to make and getting things organized so we can really hit the ground running when we find out low much longer for the build out. Pray/hope for me that it won't be much longer!

Monday, August 15, 2011

YAY!!!! Earthquake Retrofit is DONE!

So the most complicated part of the reconstruction is done, whew! David talked to Stan this morning and the plans for the ADA fix have been submitted to the Building Dept. Sooooo maybe we WILL open in Sept!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why Opening a Restaurant is such a special adventure....

So as regular readers will know, Stein and I found the perfect smoker last week! I'd been looking since February of last year with no luck. It has to be electric, it has to be a very specific to work in the space. It really basically had to be an Alto Shaam. Go US for finding the smoker!

This is one piece of equipment among 40 pieces of equipment I need to open my business.

So we move the Shaam into the space and check out the plug... which of course is this weird three pronged 220 plug. So now we need to find an electrician who can come wire a special outlet for the plug. Stein's wife is a boat electrician and she thinks she can probably install it, but it is not what she normally does so she asks for some guidance (the person giving her advice happens to be wrong, but we don't find this out until after it's installed).

So we get the outlet and install it. Then the bad advice comes to fore when we flip the main and their is a flash of ozone, and then darkness. So then we need to find out which of the breakers outside is ours. None of them are marked, it's Sunday and nothing is open and they all have ancient locks on them. Needless to say, it was a LONG day.

Then we go to plug in the smoker and... it is the wrong outlet. Apparently there are like 2 billion of these 3 pronged 220 outlets and we grabbed the C073 instead of the C073.25 and so... after all that, Alicia had to go back today and put in another one! Thank god for El Tapatio and their very strong margaritas. Which we did imbibe in after leaving TCS.

Today got this via text from Stein and his lovely bride. POWER WORKING To Smoker!!!

And this, my friends is why it takes 8 months to open a 720 sq ft restaurant. Every flipping appliance has a special outlet, or needs hot and cold water running to it. OR needs a special floor sink. OR needs to be hooked up to the grease trap. It's not like you can just buy a thing and plug it in. OH NO. Some appliances have TWO different plugs, and the two different plugs actually need two different shaped outlets and are different voltages. I kid you not. Your plugs at home... all standard. In a restaurant... a whole rainbow cornucopia of different shapes, sizes, prong counts, prong shapes and voltages.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Like finding a needle in a haystack...

We've been looking for a smoker since last October. Once we were in the space it became a requirement that it be 1. electric (so we don't have to put it under the hood, and it doesn't need a special gas hook up and fire suppression system) and 2. small (the kitchen is TINY) and 3. That it could cold smoke (so the heating element and the smoking element are on separate controls) and so the ONLY smoker we really could use was the Alto-shaam holding oven with smoker.

In all of this time only ONE came onto Craigslist, it was $1800 and was sold in hours. So yesterday another one came on Craigslist in great condition (only four years old) for $2100. I didn't have that amount of spare cash on hand so I asked some friends if they would be willing to help me out and they said yes!!! TOTALLY saving my bacon (pun intended!). So today Stein and I trekked into San Francisco and grabbed the smoker... It is the piece of equipment I've been looking for the longest, and it was almost the last thing I found. It is so beautiful!

We also dropped off the Charcuterie for Savour this morning. I am so proud of our salumi!

This week will be a lot of salumi production, both for a catered lunch on Friday and my favorite San Francisco client. Apparently everyone LOVES the blackberry berber catsup. We will try to put in some whole muscle salumi as well.

Monday, August 8, 2011

All I really want to do is put my meat in your mouth...

Sausage innuendo is THE BEST!

I feel like things are kind of stagnant again on the restaurant front. I think Contractors live in a different time/space continuum when it comes to how long a "day" or a "week" might be. The Retrofit Guys said they would be done on Friday. I went in today and several new beams have been brought in, and the floor has been torn up. Like... there is a whole new project that was started? Something? I am not sure? It's all just confusing insanity.

I went in today to finish up the Comp-u-pay paperwork, which hands over payroll (accounting and disbursement) to people qualified to disburse that competently. I still cannot believe how large the steel beams are! Our front is only maybe 14 feet wide and now 3-4 feet is taken up with beam! Beam that still needs to be sheetrocked in! Of course it is impossible to get information out of Stan, who is no longer really responding to our calls.

But we found the EXACT smoker we need!!! I just need to find $1200 to go grab it, which I feel pretty confident I can do. (fingers crossed)

This weekend was pretty awesome, we catered a beautiful wedding, delivered more Charc to Tony Baker at Montrio's Bistro and got an order from Savour (which we will deliver to Napa tomorrow). It is interesting to note there is a huge demand for cured meats. Stein and I are trying to gauge as best we can what we can afford to sell to restaurants vs. what we need for Compass Star. It is so difficult to gauge when we don't have a clear idea of an opening date. I think we will need to do about 25# a week for Montrios, and probably 12-15# for Savour. Plus another 15# a week for ourselves. That's a lotta salami. We really need to explore some of the hot smoked varieties so we have a few super accessible salumi that only take a week or so to make. We are going to put in some Spanish style chorizo this week.

I feel like a bird about to jump off a cliff... can I fly or not? I set up my life post-divorce to work towards this goal. I went to school, worked in the industry and moved to open my business in the time frame where I was getting both alimony and child support. Alimony ends next month and the stakes are huge. My business will likely open within weeks of my needing to take on a much larger financial responsibility for myself. I own a home, I am a head of household with three children, I have three room mates who count on my being able to pay the mortgage... I have a lot of responsibilities.

And a lot of restaurants fail... in fact most do. I've done everything I can to avoid the common traps. I have almost no debt. My overhead is a fraction of what is normal. I have a very conservative business plan based on 80 covers total per day (evenly split between breakfast and lunch). I have a true partner in Stein who is willing to work hard for future rewards without seeing them up front. I am getting great advance buzz. We are picking up clients for regular income slowly but surely, and they are really cool places to be showcased.

I cannot control how fast the construction is done BUT I suspect it is moving forward at a decent pace now. I feel pretty zen about my leap of faith... I think I should be more afraid of financial ruin but I am just eager to get started and show the world my food.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tid Bits...

Tid bits... were this awesome sampler platter that my mom used to order for us at Dave Wong's in Stockton. Dave Wong's was this fantastic American Chinese place that had a side deli with the best "Garlic Chicken" ever, deep fried to greasy perfection with moist chicken and perfectly crunchy crust. Tid-bits were deep fried green beans, crab puffs dipped in toasted sesame seeds and I think foil wrapped chicken. They opened a new place shi-shi place in even northerner North Stockton. I didn't like it very much.

I love the old Chinese Restaurants in Stockton. There was one with private rooms, the little accordion door would shut behind the stooped old waiter and the big round table with the lazy susan in the middle. Primarily Cantonese food... via 3 generations in America.

Stockton... I loved it there. Unpretentious but trying, with the largest inland shipping port on the West Coast winding like an artery out to the bigger world. Stockton always felt like an older woman from the wrong side of the tracks with a lot of soul and twinkle in her eyes. Lazy docks bumping against mossy shores, deep gray clay under pete soil. Sunshine and BBQs and flip flops and mangy beaches covered with bloated river plants. We dug for clams with our toes and sold them for bait to grizzled old fisherman on dilapidated aluminum boats. A gallon baggie for $2.00.

This week Stein and I are prepping for a wedding in Santa Cruz. I really like the menu, simple but elegant. We got the stone fruit for the mostarda at the farmer's market. We tried the peaches and apricots and cherries, so full of mid summer flavors, before we bought them. Today the slow delicious process of shopping for just-the-thing went in earnest.

I want granite serving platters similar to the ones we used at Wente. They were elegant, natural and kept food cold. Such a simple thing. So we found a small purveyor online and toddled over to their Concord store. A small Asian man showed us around the discard pile of granite. It was all cut very straight and I asked how we could get the jagged natural edges I was looking for and he held a slab over his head and dropped it, shattering it... PERFECT!

Then we scoured some local stores for the pillars to hold the smaller pieces over the larger ones (I promise pictures later) and found just the thing at Big Lots. I felt triumphant!

Tomorrow prep goes into high gear. It is going to be fun!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Retrofit and Life in General

Went down to TCP today and the road was marked off with caution tape while they were working on the retrofit. I peeked in and saw the steel beam has been put in place. They had to put it in thru the roof. I am sure this was really upsetting to my landlord, who has positively freaked out every time something has had to come in through the roof, or any holes have had to be cut into the roof. I am only thankful it wasn't one of the people we'd hired as it is so upsetting to him and I am never sure what to say. It seems obvious to me why holes must be cut in the roof for ventilation systems... oh well, at least we are closer to the end than the beginning.

I dreamed last night that I was in my kitchen and everything had been cleaned and was all shiny and ready to go. Oh how much I long for that time!

I took a picture of the steel beam, it is HUGE. I can see why it was not a good idea to start the ADA stuff until it was in, I suspect the door is going to need to be in a totally different place from where we thought it might go. I have given up trying to plan floor layout until the dust settles. HOWEVER the good news is, the retrofit is projected to be done this Friday, including covering the beams with sheet rock! YAY!

Since I met the contractor Stan has hired to do the ADA work and gotten his business card, I think we should be able to call him some time next week and see what the time trajectory will be on him completing his work, then we will just have to finish the floors and get the kitchen permitted! (sort of, I am sure there is more, but those are the biggies)

Here is a picture that was posted on the Montrio's Bistro web site of the Compass Star salumi they are carrying (pictured are the finocciona, andouille and Nduja). We are SUPER excited about how pretty it is. I think Chef Tony Baker does plate composition courses for other industry professionals.

Stein and I went out to check on the newest batches of Salumi in the curing fridge. It is a new one for us so we need to constantly monitor to make sure there is no bad mold residual in the workings and the good molds take hold. It is extraordinarily wet. Like I've never had a fridge that maintains humidity like this one. This is AWESOME for salumi... but it is going to totally mess with my drying times. We always let clients know what our lead times are (typically 2-6 weeks for simple stuff, 3-12 months for more complex items) and stuff is drying a lot slower and I am not having to mist anything with water... there is no way the Capicolla is going to be done in two weeks though. But that is the downside of making a natural product :)

A nice slow drying process yields a much better salumi without the dark red overly dried out ring on the edges of cut slices so a wet fridge is great. Big manufactures have to control humidity as much as temperature.

I've been trying to get through this blog all day (it feels like great progress is being made on my projects)... but I keep getting distracted. Stein and I filled out the paperwork for Compu-pay today (which is my payroll company), I also printed out all of my hazardous chemical information and put it in plastic sleeves in a binder and got some of the prep lists put together for Christy's wedding this weekend. I am pretty stoked about the food and I think people are going to be really pleased. (knock on wood, of course)

As always there is not enough money to do everything, and I had to pay for my business insurance today ($575 for a half a year), but I am pretty happy about the progress on one of the more complicated aspects of the remodel. It is starting to feel like the future is blank vellum... I will soon dip my quill to ink the next chapter of my life.