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gfron1

I'm opening a restaurant...Oh S&%T!

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When I joined eGullet in 2005 I had no idea where it would lead me. My first post a few days after joining was a pretty extreme jump into foodie-ism when I asked about the rather obscure Vin Jaune. After that I settled more comfortably into the pastry and baking realm, with a bit of cheese mania thrown in on the side.

Before eGullet, however, I was the one who did most of the cooking in my house. My mom and I still laugh about when I was in high school - I used to run marathons and ultras so I was eating non-stop, which meant that with my mom working, I had to make much of my own food. I was raised on Julia Child and Geof Smith PBS cookings shows. Justin Wilson bored me - something about the color palette of the show. And in fact, my first cookbook was Smith's Italian cookbook.

When I lived in a fraternity house in New Orleans in the 80s, I was always the one whipping up some "fancy" food. During that time I was also mentored by a dear old woman on Freret St. who tried to plump me up on all sorts of Cajun foods. Then during grad school, I had disposable income, time, and a decent kitchen (not things commonly associated with grad school) and my cooking really took off. The lowlight being a blackened beef tenderloin I made for a good friend's birthday. We spent probably $50 on the meat for three of us, and after one bite she ran over to the sink washed her tongue off and then rinsed the meat off so she could eat it (My first critic).

With the exception of grilling, I can pull off pretty much anything, but am most happy at 5 am watching a pastry rise. That said I've become well versed in numerous ethnic cuisines and love making Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Moroccan, etc.

I've also spent some time in the Restaurant Life forum out of plain interest. I explored non-schooled chef clothing. I shared my process for bringing on a Business Partner. And I've delved into the quality of major food suppliers for restaurants.

So, why do I share all of this? Well, due to some interesting life twists and turns, it looks like I may be opening a restaurant/cafe in the next few weeks.

I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences of this process over the coming weeks and look forward to the ever valuable wisdom of eGullet members as I make this very scary step of leaving a paying job with great benefits to self-employment in a time of financial instability. Should be fun!

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Best wishes, Rob! I am sure that you will get valuable feedback here. I look forward to following your experiences on this topic and with good fortune will one day be able to expreience your restaurant first hand.


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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Best of luck. :smile:

I think you should blog your first year for us, if you don't mind.....

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While I haven't set a timeline for blogging, I will be going as long as their is interest. I think the unique angle on this is that I'm essentially eGullet taught. And I can tell you that my recipes are eGullet driven. And no, I'm not sending eGullet a check unless I make my millions :biggrin:

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Is curry going to be on the menu? I think I still have a few cans.

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[For transparency's sake, I thought I would share that I have been writing these excerpts for the past couple of weeks while all of this plays out, so what I am posting right now is a bit old, but you'll see when my writing catches up with reality.]

The twists and turns: Volume 1

When we added our business partner, she actually became a kitchen renter. Our chef's reputation was rock solid when it came to food - inarguably the best chef in town (there are only three, but she really is fantastic). But, when we look at her longevity in any restaurant, you can count the time in months, not years. When she hopped to us we assumed that we would have her a year, maybe two. That was in February of this year.

Fast forward to May. Chef comes in and says, "I have some news." Nothing good ever follows that phrase - that's the phrase that started my divorce. She proceeded to tell us about her being pregnant again and how that might throw some wrinkles into the cafe plans around August. She felt that her husband would pick up the cafe with some part time help thrown in. No problem we thought - that news wasn't bad. Jump up to June. "After I have my baby, we're going to take some time and move to England at the end of the year" (where her husband is from). Not great news, but we can deal with that time line. Days later. "We're closing the cafe at the end of June." Oh shit! "But, we can sell it to you or we can sell the equipment to someone else." We weren't interested in adding an unknown chef to our space - our trust was in OUR chef, and we knew and trusted her to care for our property.

My spouse, Tyler, and I didn't say anything to each other but we both had many dreams that night. Business had not been great for the past seven or eight months. Our bread and butter is the regular customers, but the tourists allow us to have profit. Gas prices have kept the tourists away from our oasis in the desert. On top of slow sales are major HVAC upgrades that were underway prior to poor sales, which now have maxed out the store card and kept us inching by from month to month. We're in that nasty cycle of needing sales just to purchase more inventory, and not having the inventory to make the sale. We're pulling it off but we need no more repair bills for a long, long time. Did I mention that I had a faux heart-attack in early April due to financial stress? Turned out to be nothing, but it was a bit concerning.

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:shock: Rob - even a faux attack can be serious. Please take care of yourself - you have lots of imaginary friends (what a relative calls online pals) out here who care about you!!!

I am very, very excited to hear this news. From here, you look ready and I can't wait to follow the journey. Best, best, best wishes and I wish I could be there to actually see it!

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Congratulations! Scary, yes, but extremely rewarding as well. I'm eager to follow along as all of this progresses. Best of luck.

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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Oh...you make pain au chocolat(e). It'd be almost worth flying in to NM just for that. My local source for it has closed down for the summer in order to go back to France for a few months, so I'm not going to have any place to grab some.

I'll tell you what: if I were coming to NM, I'd be sure to eat at your place, based on the pictures on your homepage alone!

Best of luck to you in your venture.

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Going from a gourmet store to a restaurant makes it sound like you're jumping out of the frying pan into the fire!

But seriously, best of luck in your new venture! I'll be eager to follow your adventures. This is exciting!


SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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huge admiration. I will be reading this daily. Good luck.


“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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Far be it for me to cause anxiety...

Twists and Turns: Volume Pre-1

Friends and good customers often say, "I think its so great that you guys are living your dream." I say, "Thanks," but I think, "Oh yeah, making no money, working long hours to listen to customers tell me the one item I don't have instead of finding one of the 1,200 that I do have...yeah, that's my dream." Tyler and I actually have a very clear dream. Its to open a retreat center. You know, come hang out at our cool Earthship house in the middle of the mountains. Tyler will run spiritual workshops and write. I'll do cooking workshop and do outdoor programs for at-risk youth. We'll bring in artists in residence to create artwork for the center and conduct workshops. Warm cookies and port every night for guests. Wafting coffee essence under their door every morning. Its every man's dream, right!? Well, it is ours, and it will take more money than my non-profit salary will support.

The store was a vehicle to move beyond non-profit salary to self-determined fate and property investments. We must be doing something right. We've been in the black from day one, and now in our fourth year, we own our own building, have a loyal clientele, and rightly or wrongly are viewed as the foodies of the community.

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The twists and turns: Volume 2

In principle we have decided to take over the cafe, but the current chef is causing some problems. You know how your motivation wanes when you prepare to quit a job, or graduate from school? Well, our chef is at that point. In her mind she is already giving birth and on that trans-Atlantic flight. In the meantime though, we need to keep the customer base to ensure steady sales.

Our plan is for me to quit my day job, and start running the restaurant. We don't need millions, but we do need to replace enough of my salary that we don't backslide financially. We also need to make sure that our volume is either small enough for me to handle by myself, or large enough for us to bring in a part-timer.

I've already thought about cost-savings measures, and income generating steps. I'll do nothing, however, until I've mastered their system and have tried it first hand. Together with the chef, we chose long ago to focus on carry-out lunches and gourmet-to-go. Sit down dinners may be a good revenue source, but I'm not looking to give up my life for that type of work. So this eGulleter is going to be happy making fancy grilled cheese and tuna fish. The carry-out packaging is a major expense because of our commitment to using compostable containers. We've been using them off and on for a while, but each re-order leads us to replace more plastic, more paper and more cardboard. But it has a price.

We also committed to providing reasonably priced lunches. Every other decent restaurant in town is going to set you back $10-15 per lunch. Not bad in a big city, but too high in our small town. We aim for the rounded up $5 range. I'm confident that we could compete in the higher market, but that's not what we want to do at this time. So, customers get a no-frills $5 sandwich with the up-sells of drinks, desserts, etc. We can guarantee fresh, fast, and interspersed organic and local products.

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Thanks for the well wishes!

Going from a gourmet store to a restaurant makes it sound like you're jumping out of the frying pan into the fire!

Hmmm...someone must know some inside info into gourmet stores :)

In a way I'm looking at the restaurant being easier than the store, although my money is on being proven wrong after a few days. We've had this store for over four years now and get all sorts of national accolades, but we got hit hard by the economy and its hurting. As long as we can pay the bills, we can be patient for the economy to turn - and it will turn. I eluded to the biggest problem with gourmet stores - customers expect you to have every obscure ingredient that they see on the Food Network. And while we have argan oil, British bangers, bootleg Kinder eggs and pretty much any uncommon spice or herb that is required for international cooking, inevitably a customer will need something we don't have. That's not a good customer experience. That causes me immense stress. So for the restaurant, I believe that I'll be able to substitute and modify quickly enough with my wealth of ingredients that customers won't even know. We'll see.

BTW - shameless plug - It really is crucial to support your independent stores because large stores can't/won't carry the diversity of products that we carry. I can't tell you how many times customers have requested products after the local mega store special ordered for them and never carried it again. Our shelves are full of those ingredients - and I can sell them because I know what to do with them. So enjoy your Whole Foods and City Markets, but remember the little guys...please! (or if every eGullet member lived in Silver City I would be rich beyond my wildest dream.)

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Thanks for the well wishes!
Going from a gourmet store to a restaurant makes it sound like you're jumping out of the frying pan into the fire!

Hmmm...someone must know some inside info into gourmet stores :)

In a way I'm looking at the restaurant being easier than the store, although my money is on being proven wrong after a few days. We've had this store for over four years now and get all sorts of national accolades, but we got hit hard by the economy and its hurting. As long as we can pay the bills, we can be patient for the economy to turn - and it will turn. I eluded to the biggest problem with gourmet stores - customers expect you to have every obscure ingredient that they see on the Food Network. And while we have argan oil, British bangers, bootleg Kinder eggs and pretty much any uncommon spice or herb that is required for international cooking, inevitably a customer will need something we don't have. That's not a good customer experience. That causes me immense stress. So for the restaurant, I believe that I'll be able to substitute and modify quickly enough with my wealth of ingredients that customers won't even know. We'll see.

BTW - shameless plug - It really is crucial to support your independent stores because large stores can't/won't carry the diversity of products that we carry. I can't tell you how many times customers have requested products after the local mega store special ordered for them and never carried it again. Our shelves are full of those ingredients - and I can sell them because I know what to do with them. So enjoy your Whole Foods and City Markets, but remember the little guys...please! (or if every eGullet member lived in Silver City I would be rich beyond my wildest dream.)

If you had more than a frontpage on your website, you'd make a lot more. I went to check out the store and unless I buy a plane ticket , I'll never know what I'm missing. Do you have a catalog you can send?

Just so you know, I have been boycotting Whole Paycheck ever since they moved to a more "Affluent" neighborhood. I only went there for the seafoos anyways, I hate their prepared foods.


Edited by RAHiggins1 (log)

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.

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Our website is the bane of my existence! I've studied lots of restaurant and store sites to see what I like and what I don't. And I've explored the online sales software options. We pulled our site about six months ago because of glitches that our web guy couldn't fix. In the end we kept having product show as available when it wasn't, and as I mentioned above, then customers would try to buy them and we wouldn't have them.

What I want to do is re-envision what our site could be like WITH the restaurant and not just the store. One of the things I've been thinking a lot about is having an ability to show daily/weekly/monthly food specials at the cafe, including nightly gourmet to go. And, I want the ability to receive orders through the web - but I need to know that they're there in a timely manner.

All of this means I need a web person who is competent, responsive, but affordable. In other words, I completely agree with you that the web is key to the store, but also the cafe.

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Our website is the bane of my existence!  I've studied lots of restaurant and store sites to see what I like and what I don't.  And I've explored the online sales software options.  We pulled our site about six months ago because of glitches that our web guy couldn't fix.  In the end we kept having product show as available when it wasn't, and as I mentioned above, then customers would try to buy them and we wouldn't have them.

What I want to do is re-envision what our site could be like WITH the restaurant and not just the store.  One of the things I've been thinking a lot about is having an ability to show daily/weekly/monthly food specials at the cafe, including nightly gourmet to go.  And, I want the ability to receive orders through the web - but I need to know that they're there in a timely manner. 

All of this means I need a web person who is competent, responsive, but affordable.  In other words, I completely agree with you that the web is key to the store, but also the cafe.

I sort of have that problem. we run a ebay store for computer stuff at my job. We pay to use their "Blackthorne" software which is a MS Access database. When we add an item to the store we put in the quantity on hand and it lists that item until there is no more inventory. It also allows us to export inventory into a spreadsheet and import it back in with the new numbers when we restock and it updates all the quantities. It's ideal just to import the quantites you want to update, so if you get a new shipment of cornichons you can update just that item.

Then on my website I have the sript running that lets you brwose my inventory on ebay. www.synergyresourceinc.com

The downside is that after ebay fees and paypal fees, if you use paypal, its about 10% of your sale.


Edited by RAHiggins1 (log)

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.

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[Reminder that I'm actually posting my thoughts from last week. My goal is to be caught up by the end of this week to be in real time.]

The twists and turns: Volume 3 (aka Staging Day 1)

Today was my first training day. I took vacation from my job to learn from the chef how she does her menu, order, prep, etc. Last night she called to say that she sprained her ankle and won't be in, so I trained with her husband who is her #2 in the kitchen. Not classically trained, nor a clean worker, he is however very efficient and knows the menu. He was a bit intimidated to train me, but I reminded him that my realm is sweets and not savory, so he really was more knowledgeable in many areas.

I came in at 6 to make my desserts. I made a lemon mousse (using Italian meringue) with amaretto soaked ladyfingers, tiramisu (for tomorrow), and an ultra chocolate brownie. I then cleaned, did a bit of eGullet hosting, and drank some tea (jasmine pearl). When Martyn came in around 9 we started our mis en place, I made a green chile corn chowder, and cooked our meats. Almost all of their cooking is done on small panini presses.

I couldn't handle Martyn's 'wait til the end' cleaning style, so I was constantly cleaning something, especially the dishes. Martyn was very happy when after our last customer the kitchen was basically clean and ready for mopping.

I got to pick the specials for the day, so I created a Thai Chicken wrap, and a Pepperoni/Pecorino, Balsamic glazed onion Pizza. I made the sauce for the chicken which was peanut butter, fish sauce, cilantro, sriracha and a hint of sesame oil (Kyoto brand, my favorite).

Our first customers were my office mates, come in to harass me. Martyn showed me how to make some of our basics (bacon, green chile melt, greek salad), and let me make one of my special wraps. The pace was steady, but it felt slow. Martyn said it was a typical Tuesday (about 30 covers). I can easily handle that pace! We'll see how I feel on Friday when we double that number.

A couple of blunders. First, we had a sushi order come in right as Martyn ran to our co-op for greens (he mis-ordered). They wanted a California roll - how hard could that be right?! Let's just say that I need to practice spreading my rice. The roll ended up being 1.5" across and 3/4 rice. I gave it to the customers gratis and said that the chef was on his way and would make the rest of their order. We have a contract with our hospital to make 30 rolls of sushi each Thursday so I'm sure I'll improve.

The other mistake was Martyn's. He was making fish tacos (near the end of service), and had just used the last of the filling. As he turned to do the final drizzle, he knocked the plate off the counter sending the tacos flying and covering all of the service plates. Back to the cupboard to open some more ingredients, while I worked on cleaning the plates. Just a two-minute delay. No one noticed and the plates were probably cleaner than when we started that day.

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I'm editing this question to make it more on topic.

What experiences and background got you to this point culinarily? Does your current daytime job play into it at all? Obviuosly from posts after this one you are looking to move away from your current revenue stream, is there anything from there besides former co-workers who wistfully stare at your new found passion that you are taking with you that will benefit your new life?

Also, what are you having to do with the bank to buy out Mel? Business plan? Insurance? workmen's comp, etc? Any other hoops? Do you have to transfer the business license, permits, etc?


Edited by RAHiggins1 (log)

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.

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