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Chromedome's restaurant


chromedome
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Ordinarily I spend a lot of my time online, both for social reasons and because I use eGullet and a few other destinations as significant professional-development tools. This summer I've been absent in a big way, because of opening my restaurant. That whole 16 hrs/7 days thing cuts into one's online presence drastically...not to mention the entertainment of bullying my wireless card into working with Linux.

So, now that things are easing a bit, I wanted to take a few minutes to update everybody on how things have been going. Some of you have been inquiring, or have passed along words of encouragement by PM or e-mail; thank you for thinking of me.

My goal was to target the casual end of the fine-dining spectrum: quality dishes, but plated simply and with nice, clean flavours. I'm not one for a great deal of garnish or embellishment to begin with (some would find my platings rather Spartan), and my scenario did not permit of anything too elaborate anyway. I work in a very limited kitchen indeed (two domestic electric ranges, a domestic dishwasher, microwave... no broiler, no fryer, no walk-in), and my kitchen help has been minimal. Working up a solid menu around these limitations was an interesting challenge.

I settled on two soups, two salads, six entrees, and four desserts. I thought that a tightly-focused menu was really necessary in my situation, and that I'd be better doing a few things well than several things in a less-controlled manner. Half of my entrees featured local seafood, and the other three covered the necessary beef/pork/chicken standards. The first menu was designed to be safe and conservative, the idea being that once I'd had time to get a feel for the kitchen and find more local suppliers, I'd change it for something more interesting. In practice, once the season hit, I was just too damned busy to create a new menu, so I'm only getting to that now.

I was really surprised at the range of products available to me locally. I'd known that New Brunswick was something of an agricultural powerhouse, but traditionally that had been built around just a few products...potatoes, apples, dairy products, and so on. I was surprised to find caviar and foie gras being produced locally, just to pick a couple of noteworthy examples. There's artisanal pork, beef, lamb, and wild boar available nearby (all of them will be on my next menu in one way or another), and I've found numerous organic growers, raw-milk cheeses, and several other interesting things.

This unexpected bounty got me to thinking. For some time I'd felt that I could write effectively about food, given a suitable forum. So, having noted a lack of local food writing in the major provincial daily, I hit them up with the idea of a column profiling local food producers. My timing was perfect, since they were just revamping that section of the paper, and we arrived at an agreement very quickly. I've been writing the column now since mid-August, and have done a couple of other articles for them as well. I see it as a win/win/win situation: the paper gets local content; the local growers and producers get exposed to a large number of potential customers; and of course I get to raise my profile much more quickly than I otherwise could have done.

That last is important to me. I'm new to the area, and I have no personal contacts here beyond eGullet's own Reverendtmac. I'm confident that, over time, I can build a solid clientele from word of mouth, but that's a slow process. So, I'm looking to promote myself into a degree of local recognition by being an unabashed media whore. I've gotten involved with a local restaurant portal called Diningpick (www.diningpick.com), and through them have done a couple of segments for local cable TV. Over the offseason I'll be looking for opportunities to do more TV, perhaps some radio, whatever I can find. I think that my ability to communicate is the primary non-culinary skill I bring to the table, so I'm going to exploit it as much as I can. Five years from now I don't expect to be the best chef in the area (there are some very skilled people working around here), but I do intend to be the best-known. It's not as lofty a goal, but rather more pragmatic from the business perspective.

Aside from the ridiculous hours, and the consequent wear and tear on my joints, it was a pretty good summer. Feedback from the Inn's guests and my outside diners (for those who haven't been following the story, my restaurant is located within a charming country inn outside Saint John, New Brunswick) has been very favourable. The most common theme, expressed in various accents and with varying degrees of tact, has been “I really didn't expect to see food like this out here in the middle of nowhere...”

Many of the guests have told me that the best meal of their vacation was at my place, which is always gratifying. I'm not, to my mind, in the same league as the region's top handful of chefs. I do think I can make a case for being fairly in the second echelon. Over the next year I'm going to try to eat at as many top restaurants as I can, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. After that I'll have a better picture of where I fit in, and of course it's also professional development. I don't think of it as scoping out the competition: to me the other chefs in the area are colleagues; and the stronger each of us is, the better off we will all be.

One of my longer-term goals is to establish a network of like-minded chefs and try to put the region on the map as a destination for gastro-tourism. We have some excellent chefs in the Maritimes, great local ingredients, a burgeoning wine scene, a couple of distilleries, and some world-class microbreweries. All that's missing is the will and some organization... and I've brought the will.

On a related note, if any of you are flying Continental this month you'll see a little write-up on the Mariner's Inn in a sidebar of their in-flight magazine. That's the inn where I'm located. One of the editors was here this spring, and was delighted with the whole package. Not a bad little piece of free advertising, I think.

Now that the peak season is sputtering to a halt, I'm planning a number of initiatives to keep busy during the slow months. I'll be doing cooking classes, both for private individuals and for companies; one of the area's few sit-down (non-buffet) Sunday brunches; and I'll be cultivating the local business community to establish myself as a place for retreats, lunches, and company functions. What with one thing and another, I'm pretty confident that I can pay the bills through the cold months.

If any fellow eGulletters are going to be in the vicinity during the year, by all means drop me a line by PM and let me know. So far only ReverendTmac and his very pretty girlfriend have been here to see me (they live nearby in Saint John), but I'm always up for visitors.

More later, as developments warrant...

-Fred

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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One of my longer-term goals is to establish a network of like-minded chefs and try to put the region on the map as a destination for gastro-tourism.  We have some excellent chefs in the Maritimes, great local ingredients, a burgeoning wine scene, a couple of distilleries, and some world-class microbreweries.  All that's missing is the will and some organization... and I've brought the will.

-Fred

You are off to a great start. It is a place that until now I really haven't considered visiting, but sounds great. If you can, please provide an on-going chronicle. Even if the replies are sparse, that doesn't mean that no one is reading it.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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chromedome:

Thank you for the update and best wishes.

My wife and I are thinking of visit to the Halifax and Cape Breton region to re-visit friends nex year and if we do we'll try to squeeze in a drive to Saint John to see acquaintances in "Surf City" and visit the Inn.

Chuckled when I saw your photo as I remember you from Sunterra Downtown as I worked across the street at the Bank of Montreal building.

Continued good luck.

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Thanks so much for the update. I for one am definitely interested in an ongoing chronicle. I know the Saint John area fairly well, as with the rest of the Maritimes as I used to travel there frequently for business. Please keep us posted!

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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chromedome:

Chuckled when I saw your photo as I remember you from Sunterra Downtown as I worked across the street at the Bank of Montreal building.

I'd often thought about dropping you a PM while I was in Edmonton, but it never seemed to be when I was around a computer. Funny how that works, isn't it? I'll be back in town over Christmas to visit with the ex and kids, so perhaps we'll find opportunity to say hello while I'm there.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Look forward to it.

Steve Letts aka Stovetop is back in town from Vancouver Island and we got together for an ale at Sherlocks not so long ago.

I am heading out to the Island on Saturday morning but expect to be around the city come the holidays if you do make the trek back out here.

I was just running errands today and encountered Peter Jackson of Jack's Grill in the parking lot of Sunterra's Lendrum Shopping Centre location. He just got back from a week outside of Duncan at the Averill Creek Winery [owned by former Medi-Centre founder, Doc now winemaker, Andy Johnson who used to practice here in Edmonton].

Best of luck...keep us informed.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Whadayaat? Glad to hear that you have made a go of it in NB...I had hoped to be over that way working this past season and had wanted to drop by, but life gets in the way.....yes there is a lot more in the way of local products in the region and often think that the industry itself does not help in the promotion. I was wondering if the emails I sent were of any help in sussing out local products and also, what did you eventually find? I did not see a link to the restaurant above is there one---would love to peruse...again good luck and maybe I 'll be able to get there...freddychef

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We get to NB several times a year and at least once to Saint John - keep posting about your ongoing battle for the armchair restaurateurs like me. Is there a site for the . . . found it!

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I don't know how often I'll be able to update (lots on my plate, doncha know) but I'm blogging on NB restaurant portal Diningpick.com, so you may want to check there periodically. The site is down tonight, but I'll post a link when it's back up.

Here's a link to my most recent column, for those who're interested...

October 13, 2007

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Congratulations, chromedome, and thank you for sharing an update with us.

The menu looks very nice! How often do you find yourself changing items? Are you able to source good ingredients for a whole season?

I look forward to checking out your blog/column as well!

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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  • 2 weeks later...

My new cold-weather menu is up, now. Click the link in my sig to view...

Also, my blog on Diningpick.com.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Congratulations, chromedome, and thank you for sharing an update with us.

The menu looks very nice!  How often do you find yourself changing items?  Are you able to source good ingredients for a whole season?

I look forward to checking out your blog/column as well!

The menu that was up when you last saw my site was actually intended as a stopgap...something to get me started, which I would change once the season got underway.

Yeah, right. Somehow, I was unable to fit menu changes into my 110-120hr/week schedule (go figure). Live and learn...I'll go into my next peak season with a couple of menu changes already plotted out and ready to roll as required.

Ingredients are pretty good, for the most part. My biggest issue has been with the wine list: every time I found something I liked on ANBL's product list, it would be discontinued or go out of stock. Eventually I learned to check how much inventory they had before adding anything to my list.

There are always judgement calls to make, as the year progresses. A signature ingredient here, for example, is fiddleheads. Unfortunately, they come and go very quickly just before the tourism season starts. So, I bought 150lbs of the little darlings, and blanched them and froze them. They were on my plates all summer, and provided aesthetic value as well as a little taste of a local specialty (one lady made my week by asking me how I got the asparagus to curl up like that). Now, I was ambivalent about that, because it ran counter to seasonality. Ultimately, though, we've always taken the seasonal items and preserved them however we could for later; so serving my frozen fiddleheads all summer was a compromise I was prepared to make. With the arrival of fall, though, I pulled them (I'll use up my last pound or two in quiche or soup or something, or maybe just eat them myself...). I couldn't see serving the quintessential spring ingredient once the leaves have turned.

My top-selling entree over the peak season was local halibut, a truly exceptional product. Unfortunately, the fishermen have quotas to observe, and most of them cannot take any more halibut until the new year. That meant a mandatory change, so I dropped the halibut (saved the last piece for myself, mind you) and switched to sturgeon. The sturgeon is farmed about 25 minutes away (the breeding stock were taken from the Saint John river, which has the last healthy wild population of Atlantic sturgeon), and it's uncommon enough to attract some attention and (I hope) some good sales. Sturgeon is kind of fun to work with: the flavour is very delicate, so you can go with subtle preparations; but the texture is very firm and meaty, so you can play off that and go bold. In my case I give it a dry spice rub and cook it in a cast-iron grille pan, and then serve it on saffron rice with a sauce that's basically a "localized" version of pipian (cut back on the heat, and use local organic yellow tomatoes instead of tomatillos).

I'm pretty much at the end of local produce for the year, except for the old-school long storage vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and rutabagas. Right now I'm using a medley of large-diced veg (carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, beets, and sweet potatoes) as my standard side/garnish. I also have braised locally-grown purple cabbage on the wild boar dish (along with local berries, honey, and cider), and lots of other local meats and fish.

So, to answer your question...yes, I can still get ingredients. They're just not the same ingredients.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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  • 2 months later...

Geez, is it really two months and more, since I've been here? It's amazing how time flies.

I've been plugging away on a number of fronts. I'm still writing my bi-weekly column in the Telegraph-Journal, and will soon be contributing longer articles to the paper's "Salon" section. I've discussed a number of possible articles with the editor there, and it looks like we'll be focusing primarily on local/sustainable agriculture, and local foods in general. I'm all for it...my soapbox just got bigger. Once I have a couple of longer pieces to show off, I'll probably try to get a foot in the door at Saltscapes magazine (the premier regional mag, for those of you outside Atlantic Canada).

I've also been giving my attention to the nuts and bolts of my business...analyzing last year's results, preparing for next year, laying the groundwork for future catering, and so on. It's not as exciting as the kitchen side of things, but it's all got to be done.

In December I fulfilled a long-standing promise to myself... I spent 14 Christmases in retail, and I swore if I ever had my own business I would close over the holidays. I did just that, taking two weeks off to visit my kids in Edmonton (it's my slow season, remember). It was a great visit (sorry I didn't look you up, Merlin) and I came back rested and relaxed for my New Year's Eve function.

I've been approached about participating in the Fundy Food Festival, coming up next month. I'll almost certainly get involved in the chef auction, but I'm still debating whether to have a table there. I've asked for some information about who else participates, what sort of crowd they get, and so on. If nothing else, it'll be a late opportunity to generate some business for my Valentine's Day.

I'm still blogging at the Diningpick restaurant portal, as well. Here's the link to my January entry.

I'll try to keep everybody up to date a little better, over the coming months. If all goes well, there'll be lots to report. Hopefully, my brain will be a bit less tired than it is tonight.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Thanks for the update. Farmed sturgeon sounds very interesting, I have no knowledge of that product. As a kid in the 1970's I caught a few in the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers, they were big, bony and ugly I remember thinking. And rare.

The Fundy Food festival sounds like fun. Let us know how much you get auctioned off for!

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Thanks for the update. Farmed sturgeon sounds very interesting, I have no knowledge of that product. As a kid in the 1970's I caught a few in the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers, they were big, bony and ugly I remember thinking. And rare.

The Fundy Food festival sounds like fun. Let us know how much you get auctioned off for!

Yeah, they're not exactly a cutesy fish, are they? I like working with sturgeon, though. It's got a very delicate flavour, so you can go for subtlety, but it's also very firm and meaty, so bolder preparations are an option too. Unfortunately, the supplier is on shaky ground...ACOA originally gave them $1M less than their business plan called for, and seven years later they're slowly suffocating for lack of that same million dollars.

The Saint John river has the last healthy population of wild North American sturgeon, which is where the original breeding stock came from. It's a shame...sturgeon is one of the most-pressured fish, and there are only a handful of companies trying to offer a sustainable supply. I hate to see them go splat, but I sure don't have the bucks to put into it, myself.

:) I'll definitely let you know how the auction goes. The other chefs will all have an established clientele, so this'll give me a yardstick to measure the impact of my writing.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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  • 1 month later...

Well, the Fundy Food Festival was fun, if not nearly the success I was hoping for financially. There was snow on the day, which cut down on the turnout, and my table was directly across from the dais where the student cooking competition was held...so during the busiest hour of the day, you couldn't come near me because of the crowds watching the kids play Iron Chef.

I got auctioned off for $250, which was the lowest price of the day. I'm not upset, though, since all of the other chefs involved have been around the area for a lot longer and have solid reputations. Also, the people who bought my services told me that their boss had sent them in with firm instructions that they were to bid on me, specifically. That's always a boost for the ego.

I've been asked to participate in another festival, "Indulge NB", this fall in nearby St Andrew's. I've been brainstorming a bit with the organizer, because this ties into one of my longer-term ambitions. As I've mentioned before, I want to pull together as many local chefs/producers/events as I can, to turn this whole region into the gastro-tourism destination that I think it can and should be.

On that head, I'm in search of some advisors to help me make connections, decisions, etc. I'm going to start a couple of new threads for that specific purpose, but if anyone reading this has some connection/interest there, I'd like to hear from you in a PM.

I'm looking for those who have been active participants in gastro-tourism (ie, have planned vacations around specific events/regions), or have promoted events, or are in the travel business and look for festival/tour opportunities.

I will not be able to respond to any PMs for a couple of days (I'm leaving for a funeral in Nova Scotia in the morning) but will be happy to hear from anyone with any constructive input for me.

Edited by chromedome (log)

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thank you, Chromedome, for your posts - very useful information! I hope to be up in that sarea over the summer, and if I am, I'll definitely be in for a meal! Good luck to you!

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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[

I've been asked to participate in another festival, "Indulge NB", this fall in nearby St Andrew's. I've been brainstorming a bit with the organizer, because this ties into one of my longer-term ambitions. As I've mentioned before, I want to pull together as many local chefs/producers/events as I can, to turn this whole region into the gastro-tourism destination that I think it can and should be.

Hey there,

I was part of the Indulge 2007 which was in my opinion a great success. We did a 9 course tasting menu entitled "The Best of Fundy West" We will definitely be involved again this year. We showcased local products and are trying really hard to do a "200 km radius" type of cuisine...except for chocolate and vanilla,,,things of tropical nature...although we don't use too many of them. Anyways, if you would like to come and cook with us as a guest chef when the festival is up and running, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me.

Regards

Markian Shafransky

Chef de Cuisine

Rossmount Inn

I'd rather live in a world without truffles than in a world without onions.

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It'd be great to be there and work with you and Chris. Sometime before the season gets underway, I really have to get down for a proper day's visit.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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  • 8 months later...

Some of you may well have wondered if the 'Dome was still around anymore. Well, I haven't been on the site much in my copious free time, but I'm still kicking.

My second summer was easier than the first. That was partly because of having some experience to draw on, and partly because I had a practicum student from the local community college to help out. He's from China, and was very diligent and reliable...an absolute godsend. I got to meet another eGulleter - Opus came for sturgeon on his way through from North Dakota - and generally managed to keep myself busy and out of trouble.

I shortened my weeks down to 100 hours by bringing in a commercial dishwasher. That may sound like a hellacious work week, and it is, but it's a serious improvement over last year's 120 hours. Those last couple of hours a day are the ones that really grind you down, trust me on that.

Tourism was down badly in my area this past summer. There has traditionally been a falling-off during presidential election years, so that was part of it. Then of course there was the exchange rate and the cost of gas, so what with one thing and another it was something of a "perfect storm." We held our own at my location, though, managing to maintain something very close to last year's numbers despite the downturn.

The problem, of course, was what to do about the off-season. There is certainly winter business to be had in our area, but it's going to be a long slow process without significant amounts of cash to throw into promotional efforts (and just for the record, I am without significant amounts of cash). So, rather than remain open like last year, bleeding money and working the phones, we decided that we'd close for the season. The initial strategy was to seek a part-time position for a couple days of the week, while continuing to hustle catering gigs the rest of the time. In the event, though, a more interesting alternative came to the surface.

We've opened a second restaurant.

Not far away from my original location, there was a small diner in one of the gas stations. It had closed down in August, because the woman who used to run it decided she was getting too old for the daily grind. We were able to work out an arrangement with the owner of the gas station/convenience store, and opened up as Harbour Diner on November 3rd. It's very close to the big generating station at Point Lepreau, which is currently being refurbished, which means that thousands of contractors drive by us every day. I think that should provide enough business to keep us going until we're financially solid.

It's an unpretentious little place, with just eight tables and twenty-five seats, but we do a pretty good trade out of there. We crossed our break-even point (speaking in terms of daily sales) by the third day, and have been on the black side of the ledger ever since. We're only turning the most tenuous of net profits, but by God we're in the black in our first month and how many restaurants can say that?

It's a short menu. We do fish and chips, some damned good burgers, hand-cut fries, hot sandwiches...the basic necessities. We're still using local products where we can, even here: our potatoes, onions, carrots, and beef are all local, and our seafood comes from local suppliers. We're in a fishing area, so fishermen are a big part of our clientele as well. We also serve breakfast, which I think will eventually be a good line of business once the workers at the generating station figure out that we're open by 0600. These guys work twelve hour shifts, so our takeaway breakfast sandwich is a monster: three eggs, "Texas Toast," and six strips of bacon. We also have my elegantly-named "Big Honkin' Breakfast," which has two eggs, Texas toast, a quarter-pound each of fresh country sausage and sliced ham, four strips of bacon, a piece of French toast, and a big mound of country-fried potatoes. It's been popular, although at least once a week it will vanquish an ambitious first-timer.

It's been fun doing the simpler food. We came in with a pretty straightforward philosophy: give people food they already know they like, but do it better or bigger than they expect at the price. So far it seems to be working.

The plan is to have one or two cooks hired and trained before spring, so that I can continue giving my attention to the Mariner's Table when the season rolls around again. Last summer's practicum student will be coming back again as my de facto sous-chef, which will be a boon, and I should have both a kitchen student and a server from the community college this coming year. I'm hoping to trim my work week by another twenty hours, if all goes well, by the simple expedient of having people available to delegate to. We'll see how that works out in practice.

Edited by chromedome (log)

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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  • 2 months later...

Well hey ya made it through and as the usual saying at least 3 years to land on your feet....good going......I hope to drop by next summer as I am looking to relocate to NS from NL.....freddychef....The diner sounds like fun......

Some of you may well have wondered if the 'Dome was still around anymore.  Well, I haven't been on the site much in my copious free time, but I'm still kicking.

My second summer was easier than the first.  That was partly because of having some experience to draw on, and partly because I had a practicum student from the local community college to help out.  He's from China, and was very diligent and reliable...an absolute godsend.  I got to meet another eGulleter - Opus came for sturgeon on his way through from North Dakota - and generally managed to keep myself busy and out of trouble.

I shortened my weeks down to 100 hours by bringing in a commercial dishwasher.  That may sound like a hellacious work week, and it is, but it's a serious improvement over last year's 120 hours.  Those last couple of hours a day are the ones that really grind you down, trust me on that.

Tourism was down badly in my area this past summer.  There has traditionally been a falling-off during presidential election years, so that was part of it.  Then of course there was the exchange rate and the cost of gas, so what with one thing and another it was something of a "perfect storm."  We held our own at my location, though, managing to maintain something very close to last year's numbers despite the downturn.

The problem, of course, was what to do about the off-season.  There is certainly winter business to be had in our area, but it's going to be a long slow process without significant amounts of cash to throw into promotional efforts (and just for the record, I am without significant amounts of cash).  So, rather than remain open like last year, bleeding money and working the phones, we decided that we'd close for the season.  The initial strategy was to seek a part-time position for a couple days of the week, while continuing to hustle catering gigs the rest of the time.  In the event, though, a more interesting alternative came to the surface.

We've opened a second restaurant.

Not far away from my original location, there was a small diner in one of the gas stations.  It had closed down in August, because the woman who used to run it decided she was getting too old for the daily grind.  We were able to work out an arrangement with the owner of the gas station/convenience store, and opened up as Harbour Diner on November 3rd.  It's very close to the big generating station at Point Lepreau, which is currently being refurbished, which means that thousands of contractors drive by us every day.  I think that should provide enough business to keep us going until we're financially solid.

It's an unpretentious little place, with just eight tables and twenty-five seats, but we do a pretty good trade out of there.  We crossed our break-even point (speaking in terms of daily sales) by the third day, and have been on the black side of the ledger ever since.  We're only turning the most tenuous of net profits, but by God we're in the black in our first month and how many restaurants can say that?

It's a short menu.  We do fish and chips, some damned good burgers, hand-cut fries, hot sandwiches...the basic necessities.  We're still using local products where we can, even here: our potatoes, onions, carrots, and beef are all local, and our seafood comes from local suppliers.  We're in a fishing area, so fishermen are a big part of our clientele as well.  We also serve breakfast, which I think will eventually be a good line of business once the workers at the generating station figure out that we're open by 0600.  These guys work twelve hour shifts, so our takeaway breakfast sandwich is a monster: three eggs, "Texas Toast," and six strips of bacon.  We also have my elegantly-named "Big Honkin' Breakfast," which has two eggs, Texas toast, a quarter-pound each of fresh country sausage and sliced ham, four strips of bacon, a piece of French toast, and a big mound of country-fried potatoes.  It's been popular, although at least once a week it will vanquish an ambitious first-timer.

It's been fun doing the simpler food.  We came in with a pretty straightforward philosophy: give people food they already know they like, but do it better or bigger than they expect at the price.  So far it seems to be working.

The plan is to have one or two cooks hired and trained before spring, so that I can continue giving my attention to the Mariner's Table when the season rolls around again.  Last summer's practicum student will be coming back again as my de facto sous-chef, which will be a boon, and I should have both a kitchen student and a server from the community college this coming year.  I'm hoping to trim my work week by another twenty hours, if all goes well, by the simple expedient of having people available to delegate to.  We'll see how that works out in practice.

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