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.