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.