Sunday, September 23, 2012

A day in the life

A rare day at home today! I've been busy with all of the changes and catering and everything else that passes through a working single mom's life. But now I am sitting on the couch using my ancient iPhone (a 3G!) to update the blog.

I cant believe it's been almost a year! November 15 will mark one year officially open. I have web writing a lot about the emotional side of starting a small business. Tonight I am feeling mellow and wanted to post a few pictures from
the day to day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Life and all it's various nuances...

I am sitting at my desk, a rare free evening. My cat, Lilu, has been going through a phase where she wants to be a mommy (I think) and keeps dragging baby squirrels into the house. One dissapeared under my desk a week ago... suddenly sitting at my desk also involves smelling dead squirrel. It is not as easy as one might think to write about food while smelling dead squirrel. In fact, it is hard to sit here at all.. and yet I persevere...

Anyway, so two weeks has passed since Chef Stein, my beloved ex-sous-chef, left the restaurant. It is strange in many ways (like when I notice how low I am on some food product and realize I am the only one keeping track of such things now, so I better get on it!). But in general it mostly feel just... quiet. I am not sure I realized how stressed he really was about being there, but the air is suddenly deflated... calm and placid. He came by with his lovely bride today and (YIPPEE!!) had fixed my immersion circulator and Alicia made me this really awesome pig chalk board. I am going to use it to post the Charcuterie Specials.

Last Sunday I spent the day at my shop, singing and dancing around the kitchen playing with Creek Monkey's Octoberfest Bratwurst. It is bound and cased and now I get to sous vide cook it (which is always better) this week. I should have done a lot more while I was there, but one of my dearest friends came into town and I drove to Newark to meet her for dinner. There are some people that no matter how long it is between visits, it always feels like home when you are together.

The new employees are working out really well so far. (dear god, it really smells like a dead squirrel) Wendy is adorable and Ramiro is fantastic. I am dating someone young enough that we bumped into my daughter's English teacher at breakfast the other day and she thought he was my son (and then high fived me when I told her we were dating!). It feels so strange to be where I am now, compared to a year ago. A year ago we were getting ready to open the shop, no idea what to expect, making sausage and salumi... the path ahead a dark highway with indiscernible curves and hazards.

Since then so much has happened... the restaurant, my youngest baby, has taken on a personality of it's own,   often nothing like mine. So much of it's personality has Stein's imprint, and the colorful cast of characters that roam in and out of it's doors leave an indelible mark. (The squirrel smell is really gross)

I've met so many people who have taken an interest in our success, deep and important connections... commiserate spirits. It is such a unique experience, such a difficult journey. I still feel like I am free falling... the baby bird jumped from the nest, the wings are stretching, poised for flight. Please let me fly before I hit the ground! But I feel strong, I feel full of magic. I feel like the future is forming, dawn is breaking on the dark highway and I can see glimmers of the road ahead. (and that is all the dead squirrel smell I can take for one night)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Big Changes and Going with the Flow at the Compass Star

Has it really been that long since I last posted?

Big changes are coming for my little restaurant. I am losing Lindsey at the end of the week as she is going back to school (Cal Poly). She has been a treasure and I will miss her and hope she comes back to visit when she can. I've been interviewing for a counter person to replace her (Which is a whole blog all on it's own). 

But the strangest change is Stein is leaving. I remember reading Heat and chapter after chapter of Bill Buford's observation of Mario Batali's sous chef and his infinite unhappiness at one golden moment in time at Babbo. Stein got to that unhappy place, slowly over a long period of time. The ridiculously long wait to open when he was working for free. The discouraging realization that there is never enough money to fix the stuff that need fixing, buy the items we need to put out the quality of food to which we aspire, even pay for the minimum of stuff we need to comfortably operate. The stress and strain of the first year of a small restaurant opened on a shoe string. Being exhausted by the sheer overwhelming neediness of the venture, while still balancing the needs of his family. Dealing with the chaos of me... my focus and drive sometimes baffling in it's direction; frustrating in it's ability to tune out what it doesn't want to process. Chaos. Lack of control in a venture which he was deeply invested in. When I began to suspect he was not going to be happy ever again in our kitchen, we talked about possible solutions... there didn't seem to be a way to make things better and so... he quit.

There is no way to overstate how integral he was to the opening of this restaurant. I am still not sure how I am going to survive without him. In the last week, I see him try to impart wisdom, give advice... I am not sure if it's better to let my fears show? I just want him to be happy, in the end, about being free of the burden of this complex venture and the chaos and stress that seem to never abate. I feel relieved that I won't have to observe my dear friend in the depths of misery. We both feel relieved I think. I just want to make his last days here as pleasant as possible. I can never repay him for everything he has done to make my dreams come true.

We did have the going away dinner party last Friday at the Wine Bar. It was lovely but I missed having Alicia there and Jonathon and Leah. They are people who are important to Stein and I wish they could have marked the event with him (Alicia is stationed elsewhere right now and life conspired to make it difficult for Jonathon and Leah to be there).  I am grateful that I have an amazing new intern, Janet, to help with the process in the weeks ahead.

We found a counter person. Her name is Wendy and she is adorable. A young mother of two, she lives with her husband and mother in law in Martinez. She is a clothing designer as well ("They just don't make nice stuff for people who are plus size!"). She starts tomorrow.

Oddly, we've never been busier. It's been a strange catering year in that, typically things start to slow down after school starts, but we have been contacted almost every day about possible future events. I've been on 5 site/job walks in the past week. So my business is getting busier on all fronts, and I am losing my right hand man all at the same time. I know I can do this, I keep trying to find the sliver lining.

I suppose the silver lining is I can better target my payroll dollars towards the cleaning person we've desperately needed and the less expensive part timer for the counter help. Stein was really too well trained to do those jobs, and he can focus on getting a job where he can use his formidable skills, or starting his own BBQ rub company (which he is interested in doing). But I am really going to miss that guy and all that he brought to the organization.

I feel like it is the time to make some changes. I feel like I've been coasting... tired and overwhelmed... constantly trying to "catch up". But recently, I started dating someone who has to go to bed really early for work and so I've been going to bed earlier as a consequence. The extra sleep seems to be clearing some of the fog. I feel like we were originally planning for this low key sandwich shop but the reality is Martinez is full of foodies who are not afraid of hand made edibles. I am going to make the menu tighter, smaller and start upping the ante on some of the specials. I am feeling creative again.

I spent today (we were closed for the holiday) in the restaurant, just feeling the space. It feels so different with Sean and crew there in the evenings and the new cleaning guy. I also started reading again, books on food, magazines on food, looking at pictures...

Money, as always, is still very tight. I have been contacted about a large job in February, which would enable me to pay off everyone who helped me get started, which looms large in the back of my mind always. I am also hopeful money will be less of a worry when my payroll is smaller. It's always such a stretch to pay for everything. 

Anyway, I am pooped and tomorrow will come quickly, but I wanted to check in and mark some of the big changes that are coming or have happened :) Also posting a cute picture someone took of Derek and I shortly after the wine bar opened.