Musings of a Chef....
It's Sunday morning. I hurt in places I haven't even thought of in months; the last few days are kind of a pleasant blur, and I want to take my motorcycle out for a nice long ride to unwind.
In reality, I'm going in to the restaurant to assess the situation left from two shakedown nights, sort through the cash and reports, and maybe, if I have the time, remake a couple of desserts that didn't turn out the way I wanted them to.
A "shakedown" night, is when we open the restaurant up to friends and family members- people who are happy to come and eat, know that they're there to help you identify any problems that pop up, and are understanding when they do. The goal is to minimize the chance of something going wrong (i.e. the kitchen heat lamps draw more power than the electric circuit is designed to carry and the breaker keeps tripping, or three of the new wines are not correctly programmed into the point-of-sale computer, etc.) when the doors are finally opened to the dining public. In a perfect world, you'd invite, say, three or four tables the first night and double that the second night, to put a little more load on the system. Of course, it never really works out that way, but then again, this is the restaurant business. It's a three or four day mad scramble of ordering, triage, prep, running to the stores to pick up things like stick lighters, toothpicks, and a rondeau to make the French onion soup in (duh! How could I have forgotten that?). Then, you fight your way through those first few tables ("Who do I give this ticket to?") and things start to make a little sense. The next day you get right back to work, and it goes a little smoother and makes a little more sense. It's not easy, even after nine or ten restaurants, but it's fun.
There is no feeling quite like walking into your dining room and seeing your friends enjoying themselves.
After all the difficulties we went through to get open, it was worth it. My landlord and man responsible for building the restaurant, Mario, asked me the other day that if I knew last Fall what I know now, meaning that it would be so hard and take so long, whether or not I'd do it again. Of course I would. We still have work to do, and a lot of financial ground to make up for those lost months, but we're opening tomorrow, and right now that's enough to celebrate.
So come and have a glass of wine, and let me know what you think!Updated: March 28, 2010 9:04 AM
3/18/2010 I've been holding off writing this last week for two reasons- first, I wanted the next post to at least be able to include an opening date, and second, we're transitioning to another web hosting service and I thought it'd be nice to only have to type this in once! The last few days have been productive; the plumbers are done, the inspections are going well, and with the exception of yesterday when we suddenly and unexpectedly lost power to the restaurant, the electrical work is just about done.
It's really made a difference having two teams of workers going at this project. Judging by everything they've done, I think it'd have put us back another several weeks without them. We've started cleaning up, and will continue to do so today and tomorrow. We just have one or possibly two last inspections, and their outcome will determine when I can get occupancy and start cooking. It'll take several days to order and receive product, a few more to process and prep, and then we'll be ready to go.
Getting back to the new web site- it is, in my opinion, much nicer than the previous one because it's easier to navigate, much quicker, and focuses more on the menu and wine list. Everything is easier to read, and it has a nice look (except for the picture of me). The creative work has been done by Michael Sullivan, who lives just down the street. We're going to be filling it in with additional pictures as soon as possible, and it should be up and running any day now.
As for that opening, well, I have to think that next week looks good. If you drive or walk by, look for the cafe curtains in the windows- Angela's mom, Nanette, made them, and we're waiting until the last minute to put them up because they are really nice and we don't want them to get dusty from the cleaning! If you see the curtains, we're just about there. Also, starting on Tuesday, our phone will be operational (414) 482-1446. We'll take a limited number of reservations, because it's no fun to drive crosstown and not be sure of having a table; however, because we're a neighborhood restaurant first and foremost, we plan on keeping a few tables open for walk-ins as well.
I heard it's supposed to snow this weekend. If everything goes well, I just might be able to get a pot of cassoulet going; give me that and a bottle of Gigondas to tuck into on a chilly day, and I'm a happy boy.Updated: March 18, 2010 9:00 AM
3/6/2010 After several long discussions with the building owners, they've agreed with me that the quickest way to get the restaurant open is to call in a contractor to help with finishing the last few things that need to be done before occupancy is approved. I'm being told that the work should be completed this coming week, which means we could open as early as the following week. Should that actually happen, the only people happier than me might be Mario, Steve and Bob, the building owners (my landlords), who have actually been doing the build-out for the restaurant and dealing with me being in there every day bugging them to work faster!
If you happened by the restaurant last Thursday night you might've seen us all inside, participating in a two-hour wine training. Because the list consists mostly of French, Spanish and Italian wines, it's important to familiarize everyone with their names, characteristics, and what foods they match well with. We tasted through twelve wines, and all were delicious. As soon as I can get cooking, the kitchen crew and I will be doing the same with the dishes on the menu, so you can be confident when you come in that your waiter or waitress can speak from experience when answering your questions about our menu and wine offerings.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a radio story about veterans who are taking advantage of SBA programs to open businesses and create jobs in our community. It was for WUWM, and the reporter who was working on the story told me that it should air late next week sometime. It was an interesting experience- a first for me, but as I listen to public radio a lot, I thought it'd be fun and it was.
Two other things on my mind... the warm weather this weekend has me thinking of the Spring menu; and the number of people I've encountered lately eating lunch at other nice Bay View restaurants has me reconsidering my position on serving lunch...
As always, I appreciate your thoughts and comments; just drop me a quick line at email@example.com
So, we didn't make our goal of opening in January, and now we've missed February as well. Nothing is going to bring those weeks back, so let's instead look forward and be grateful that we're almost there.
The guys are working hard this weekend in a push to finish the last few things. The hood fan and make-up air units over the hot line are finally done, the new ADA accessibility ramp is done, and the walk-in cooler is running and holding temperature nicely. They're hanging a new vent hood over the dish machine today, and finishing up work on the walk-in freezer. The plumbing team is working tomorrow to hook up all the sinks and appliances, and the building owners have scheduled the fire suppression system tests and building inspections for tomorrow as well.
There is a lot of cleaning up to be done, and still a few small things like hanging towel dispensers in the rest rooms and smoke detectors in the dining room, but if everything passes, I may be able to get occupancy this week. "Getting occupancy" is the term used to indicate that the building has passed all the necessary inspections and is fit to be used by the public. Once that happens, I'll be able to go downtown and pick up my licenses and permits, which will in turn allow me to order food, liquor, and wine to prepare and serve in the restaurant.
Opening a restaurant is, admittedly, something of a quixotic undertaking. As difficult as it can be at times, what keeps you going is the belief, however fanciful, that you're doing something that will benefit others. Some you provide with a nice dining experience, others you provide jobs for. If you do your job well, you teach the people who work for you, and pass on skills that will enable them to be successful in their own right someday. We'll continue to work hard to earn our place in the restaurant community. Not one part of this process has come easy, but on that day when we finally do open the doors, all it'll take is seeing one person enjoying their dinner to make it all worthwhile.
On a side note, my Grandmother passed away early this morning at the age of 96. My cousin David and I are both chefs, due in no small part to the happy times we enjoyed at her table. Grandma was a wonderful cook and never failed to put out a bountiful spread of food and wisdom whenever anyone visited. She leaves behind a rich legacy of love for her family and delicious food that we'll all try our best to carry on in her memory.
WE Energies has the sidewalk and street in front of the building torn up this afternoon, so I'm enjoying the hospitality and fine coffee at Anodyne. Once the gas gets hooked up, we can crank up the new furnace and have heat again; maybe even get the ranges connected and start cooking soon. The building owners and their architect met with the inspector last week, and are getting close to finishing the list of eleven things that need to be done before we can get our occupancy and finally open up. Eleven things sounds like a lot, but most of them are either already done or in the process of being done. The only three that are concerning me at the moment are getting the compressors and fans for the walk-in cooler and freezer, installing a code-compliant condensate hood over the dish machine, and building a new ADA ramp outside the South side door. If those things can be finished this week, then some tests can be run (balancing the air exchange, fire alarms, etc.), permits can be issued, and we can start cooking next week. Unless something else goes sideways on us, that is. Really, though, I have to say once again that I'm impressed with the quality of work they're doing. As much patience as it's taken, and as hard as it's been to deal with the delays, the place looks really good. I can't wait for you to see it. Maybe next week??
Had anyone told me, back in November, when the building's owners promised me that they'd be finished with the construction and ready for occupancy by December 15th, that I'd be sitting here today writing this, I would've had a hard time believing it. Yet, here I am, trying very hard to be patient, knowing that there are people I've hired to work at the restaurant who need to get started in order to pay their bills. Each day that I go to the building and see only one or two guys working makes it harder for me to understand how the owners expect me to believe they are doing everything they can to get the work done... and it will take just "one more week".
Having said all that, though, there is work getting done. The exhaust hood seems to be nearing completion. It's kind of hard to tell. As anyone who's ever dealt with contractors can tell you, they can be difficult to keep track of and nearly impossible to get answers to questions like "When is the work going to be completed?" from.
The guys are working today to repair the walls they had to tear apart to build support headers for the exhaust ducts, hang the ceiling in the kitchen, finish the walls and floors in the walk-in cooler and freezer, and tie up a bunch of electrical loose ends. There may also be some plumbing happening, too. After that, I think they're down to a list of relatively minor things to finish- when I say minor, I mean things that don't require walls to be deconstructed or blueprints to be redrawn and approved. I won't even speculate anymore on when it'll be done- there are just too many factors involved that I have no control over.
When things go poorly, we all have a tendency to blame other people- especially when we have no control over what's going poorly or any reasonable recourse to correct it. I try hard to stay focused on the big picture, and to try to see things from the other person's point of view. As long as I believe that people are being honest with me I'll stick with them. I wanted to open Pastiche on this corner in this building because it's the best place for me to be. People who know me know how much I love Milwaukee and how happy I am to be coming home to the city after all those years in Lake Country.
I had a good idea of what I was going to be dealing with. People told me that the owners were "dreamers", and that they'd been working on the building for anywhere from 5 up to 8 years (I'm told it's 6). Those people were right, and I appreciate their candor- these guys are definitely dreamers, but they're also human and after the last several months of dealing with them, I've come to believe that they simply underestimated the amount of time and money it would take to complete the space for the restaurant (it happens all too frequently), and that's put us all behind schedule. Because they are new to restaurant construction, it's possible they didn't realize all the extra requirements they require as opposed to, say, a retail shop. They've been working hard to deal with everything that's been happening, and have been trying to bring the same high level of quality to the construction that I will bring to the restaurant. So yes, they are dreamers. I'm a dreamer, too. We all are when we get to the stage in our lives when we embark on our own enterprises, whether they are buildings or bistros.
All things considered, I think I can remain patient for a little while longer. As hard as it is for me (I haven't been in front of a stove for almost three months now), it just makes me that much more enthusiastic to finally get going. To help alleviate the frustration, I've spent a lot of time diving into my old cookbooks and notes, looking for things I've missed or rediscovering some long-forgotten dishes that I think will be cool to have on the menu. I've been sourcing out great ingredients and tasting some fantastic wines, so that when we finally do open the doors, it'll be worth the wait.
This business is all about love- a passion for cooking and for making people happy. Which brings me back around to Valentine's Day. I'm so sorry that we couldn't be open for you today, because nothing would've pleased me more. Next year (if they're done by then), it's a date!
We're still working toward resolving issues with the hood fan. As many people are aware, restaurant fires are often related in some way to the exhaust hood, so it pays to be extra cautious when installing it in a hundred year-old wooden building!
Otherwise, things are rolling along steadily. Signs should be going up late next week, and the walk-in coolers are being built today and finished Monday or Tuesday. Thanks everyone for your patience and encouragement!
I know the menu and wine list are small and hard to read. They're there, though; I consider that a small victory- and even a small victory is pretty sweet these days.
Tomorrow we start cleaning up the dining room; all the dust from the construction, baseboards, ductwork, and windows. The window graphics are scheduled to be applied tomorrow afternoon, so I'll be able to take down those "Opening in January 2010" signs that have been taunting me and put them away. If you pass by this weekend, you may see us assembling the tables, dusting off the chairs, and polishing glasses. The hi-fi stereo needs to be hooked up, and so does the new telephone. By the way, our new number is (414) 482-1446, but the phone's still in a box in my office so give us a few days.
If nothing else goes sideways on us- and there really isn't all that much left that can, we'll be putting the finishing touches on the dining room and bar this weekend, Monday and Tuesday. We'll then move into the kitchen on Thursday or Friday and start cleaning that up. If we get our licenses promptly, we'll do a shakedown night next week, and then open the doors the following evening.
I had a very nice surprise several days ago. Rachel Karr, an MATC student I met a couple of years ago at a Ronald McDonald House Dinner at the Italian Community Center, stopped by to say hi and check out the restaurant (I was so impressed by her work at the ICC that evening that I offered her a job at the club I was at; she accepted and has done excellent work there since). We talked and she has decided to join us at Pastiche. Rachel is very talented, and has a really nice touch with food. I believe she'll be a very successful chef and I'm pleased to work with her again.
So we're almost there. Just a matter of days now, I think, and we'll be able to fire up the stoves, roast some bones and get the stocks and demis going. Which brings me back around to the menu. Combining tips from my sister Lisa and my neighbor Hap. I saved the Word document as a PDF, then the PDF as a JPEG. The site server accepted the JPEG, and voila, it was posted. If anyone has an idea how I can blow them up a little bigger, please drop me a line and I'll give it a try. I'm sure it's something simple, but then again, I'm a chef, remember?
1/30/2010 Computers aren't my thing. Websites aren't either. I've been trying in my spare time to try to figure out a way to get the menu and wine list up on the site, but have been repeatedly foiled by the host server's inability to deal with any of the formats I've tried to upload them in. I think I made some progress yesterday, but I'm not sure... I also recently made the switch from a PC to a Mac, and the website plan is set up in Windows. As if just opening the restaurant wasn't enough! There is, of course, a learning curve when switching, and I'm navigating through as best I can. I'll keep working on it this weekend. If you check the menu page and see it up, you can smile knowing I've succeeded.
The restaurant construction continues. Thursday, the city informed the owner of the building that the hood fan in the kitchen needed to exhaust out the North side of the building instead of the South side. This set into motion all kinds of craziness, as the original blueprints showing the exhaust on the South side had already been approved and the construction had commenced. Of course, this will once again set our opening back, as we can't do anything without a hood fan. It's really frustrating for all of us, and very costly as well, but those things happen and you just have to take a deep breath and then let it go...
On the bright side, though, we've managed to forge ahead with everything else. Hiring is complete, and once again I'll say that I believe we've got the best opening team I've ever had the pleasure of working with. We're all very anxious to get going. All the equipment is here, the chairs and tables, china, glassware, lights, artwork... everything but the food and wine, which has to wait until the inspections have been completed.
I'm very sorry to hear about the fire at Pizza Man- I enjoyed many great pizzas and bottles of wine there over the years and my heart goes out to everyone who worked there. I hope for a rebuild...
As I write this, the fumes from the fresh yellow paint are making me feel slightly euphoric and almost willing to believe that we just might be open the week of February 1st... This has been a busy week for us, as we've taken delivery of pots and pans, china, silverware and glassware, and light fixtures. AT&T is here hooking up our phones and internet, and vendors are coming out of the woodwork.
I've met with and hired a few more good people to round out our staff- Charlie, Chris, Valerie, and Jenny, all with great experience and anxious to get started. I'm anxious to get started too. It's really hard to sit here surrounded by pots and pans and stoves and not be able to cook!
The wine list is done- at least for the opening few weeks. It'll change constantly to keep things fresh and interesting, of course, but for now we've got what I consider to be a pretty solid list of nice wines that you won't find everywhere else. Being that we're a French restaurant at heart, the list is mostly French, with some really nice Spanish and Italian selections, and also some from the USA. They're all tasty, many of them are from organic producers, and are priced from $16-$50, with glass prices starting at $4.
Construction continues as we enter the final weeks before opening, and with a lot of hard work and a little good luck, it may still happen by the end of this month. Alderman Tony Zielinsky hosted a neighborhood meeting at Pastiche on Monday night, and I had the opportunity to meet upwards of twenty people who were nice enough to stop by, ask questions, and enjoy some Anodyne coffee and snacks.
Three people from the neighborhood have joined our staff in the last week or two, and their energy, experience and enthusiasm are impressive. AJ, Alex and Marita- welcome aboard! There are still about forty or fifty more resumes for bartenders and waiters/waitresses to sift through, which I'll try to narrow down to a more manageable number and call next week.
We posted an ad on Craigslist looking for tables and chairs this week. The goal is to have a "pastiche" of several different but somewhat similar chairs and tables purchased from consignment shops, on Craigslist, etc. (reduce, reuse, recycle). We need more, so if you or someone you know of has chairs or pedestal-based tables that need a good home, please let me know.
The kitchen and front of the house equipment has continued to arrive. We received our wine cooler yesterday; it was damaged and we had to send it back, but so far everything else has been just fine. China and flatware are ordered, and wine glasses will follow this Friday.
One last thing; thanks for the nice notes and kind words of encouragement. This is a nerve-wracking, anxious time, and it really helps. Thanks also to Michael Timm and the gang at the Bay View Compass for the great article this week! As always, if you're in the neighborhood and want to get in out of the cold, please feel free to come in and visit.