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gfron1

Starting a high profile new restaurant (after closing another)

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2 hours ago, gfron1 said:

Hey everyone...i'm alive, and i'm forcing myself to take a day off so I can finally share more with you all later. It's been a fast and hard 6 months!

 

I think I can speak for the majority when I say we didn't really expect to see much of you for a while once the doors opened.

 

Not that we won't greet any crumbs from your oh-so-full plate with glad cries and exultation.

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“What is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

 

"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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Alright...where to begin?! (or continue)

 

After the last review we got our others:

Sauce magazine - a local food publication

Riverfront Times - alt weekly with critical reviewer

and over the weekend we were named the best new restaurant (Best in Class) in St Louis magazine's biannual listing...essentially the best of the past two years! That's not digital yet, just print until next week.

 

Each review had a little tidbit or two of Midwest Nice critique, and we've responded to each, as we felt each had a kernel of truth. To Ian's review mentioned last time I posted - we've significantly upped the anty on the dessert construction. Now, I still don't know if he was criticizing or just using the adjective "haute," but it I view that term as an insult to my food so we remedied it. Sauce mentioned our lack of Missouri wines. Well, show me one that works with my food and I'll serve it, but in the meantime we found this amazing little off-the-beaten-path meadery in the Ozarks that has some dry meads, and now we're the only restaurant in the state serving it. And RFT suggested that the price was too high for many people from the Ozarks (I know her well enough that I didn't read that as a serious criticism), so we are now offering a Bit Of Both Worlds experience where you can get both food from the bar and tasting menu, with drinks for a fraction of the price. 

 

I feel like our food just continues to mature as our larder matures. And we're able to gauge crowd response to the food and adjust. One of the things I'm most happy with is that my sous, Justin, seems to finally be walking the same path as me. His food has always been stellar, but much more traditional. His last few new courses get at things that are important to me but not as easily teachable - whimsy, surprise, completeness of textures, cravability. He's currently featuring cabbage - sassafras butter sous vide cabbage wedge, finished on the grill for a good char crust; sauerkraut cream, pickled apple spheres, parsley oil and crisped ham hock bits. Who knew you could be blown away  by  cabbage...and this coming from a guy who would be happy to have stuffed cabbage rolls on his death bed.

 

We're still struggling to get customers to eat at the bar. The media just wants to focus on the sexy aspect of the tasting menu. So now I'm focusing all of my media efforts on the bar. Just this morning we were on our local CBS morning news show. Next Monday we're on our local Fox channel. 

 

We've been working on gathering our farmers for next year. The goal is to grow historic crops that have been lost to time and productivity/fashion that we've found in our research. I have over a dozen farms just waiting for us to tell them what seeds to get. I the same light, we got a new history intern from St Louis University. He's been going back and transcribing all of the documents that my research uncovered, and coding them. Now he's starting to do new research based on key words i've provided him. Here's what I sent him:

Quote

 

You focus on the Missouri Historical Society database and libraries and I focus back on Little Rock. For both of us we're looking for...
1. Not printed books unless they are issued pre-1870 and document livestock breeds, produce/grapes varietals or any information on indigenous or enslaved peoples.
2. Counties. The researcher I talked to with MO Historical Society said that our best bet would be to look up by town or county, versus Ozarks as a search term. So for you I would focus on the attached map. That is not fully inclusive of the Ozarks but we need to limit ourselves if we're going to keep this manageable. Further I would really focus in on the counties including and below Shannon and Green Counties. I know there's a lot of heritage work around those areas. Remember that searching by towns/cities in those counties may net results too.
3. Topics. We are most interested in these terms (and I'm sure you can think of other synonyms) - food, cooking, farming, hunting, agriculture, trading, indians, native americans, slaves, recipes, seeds, crops, heirloom, preservation, pickling, plantations. Based on my experience those words won't get you far, but they are ultimately what we're looking for. My experience says that if you can find a hand written letter from any of those counties, pre-1870 they will be short enough that you can read to scan for these terms (which likely will have not been coded for the database). The older the better because those are the folks who are writing back home to tell people what they're growing and trading. It might be worth asking just about plantations to see which ones existed and if they have any written documents.
 
That's probably all the guidance I have because my best luck was just having them pull boxes off the shelf and me reading through very quickly for anything related to food and drink. As you have now seen, sometimes it's just one word or a very brief mention. Rarely is it a complete explanation or description. But those brief snippets are enough for us to work with. My other hope - if you decide you want to stick with this - and we continue to think about a potential book, is to start allowing your mind to develop higher level categorizations. My dissertation was completely qualitative, and that involved transcribing and reading thousands of pages of notes. In the process my mind would start to recognize patterns and topics which ultimately became the format and narrative path of my dissertation. You don't need to know how to do this because your brain will do it for you as it subconsciously unclutters your thoughts.

 

So it's exciting to me to get back at the research angle. Just today I got an angry email that we are satan incarnate because we're serving walleye...well, let me just show you the message:

I was excited to here about the concept of your restaurant on Great Day St Louis, until I saw you was serving walleye. Walleye has never been in the water of the Ozarks. Walleye is Native to deep water lakes in northern US and in Canada. There are no waters in the Ozarks that are deep and cold enough for walleye. A fish commonly found in the Ozarks is goggleeye. Pronounced gag-ga-lie. So now I am disappointed. I think you are misleading people. You need to do more research. My family had lived in the Ozarks since 1820 so I am well aware of Ozark Native cuisine, plants and animals
[sic]
to which I responded:
Thanks for the info. When we make claims such as that, it is always based in some form of research. And while our research is constantly happening (ie, we are regularly updating our info), I'm curious how you square your experience with the MDC: https://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2014/02/show-me-walleye
This article, was in fact, our source for this decision. Early on we were doing pond fish, but obviously that wasn't sustainable for a restaurant, whereas walleye gave us more bang for the buck. As I stated on the web portion of the show, for legal reasons we source our walleye from a distributor who gets it up north. But if we are incorrect about them being native, please help me understand what I am missing in our research. The only thing I can think of is that you are stating that they are native to northern Missouri. Let me know.
And I do want to state clearly - we don't expect to be perfect in every choice we make. We're doing our best. We do have some legal restrictions like where we can get our meats from. And my family's experiences and many of my sources may not jive with yours. But we are working our butts off to continue to gather info both from books and individuals' families with long histories in the Ozarks. We're trying to do this right and we're a very small restaurant, so this has never been about getting rich. We rely on folks to feed us info and correct us, so my response to you is sincere - if we are wrong, we need to know it so we can fix it.

(sorry I can't fix the formatting now...)

 

@kayb My sorghum farmer had a bust year because of the flooding. All he's getting is vinegar. If you know of anyone I've been planning to do your family tradition for fresh sorghum...but I gotta find some first and they're all pressing right now!

 

In personal news, my spouse, Tyler, accepted a job in Portland OR as Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ - sorta the equivalent of a bishop. Yes this sucks that after 19 years together we'll be doing the long distance thing, but it's unavoidable right now. I keep reminding him that if I could live at my restaurant I would. There simply are not enough hours in the day...and I've always been a workaholic.

 

Gonna stop there because I have an Imo's pizza on my table now and while the rest of the world hates St Louis style pizza...it's like milk from my momma's bossom!

 

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Not sure about that cabbage part.  This from someone who could* enjoy her weight in coleslaw.

 

Sorry about your upcoming separation.  I have a retired coworker ordained in a Protestant denomination while his chef husband is a former Roman Catholic monk.

 

 

*eventually.

 

 

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I appreciate the thought you put into your food. As Tom Roston just said about Windows (paraphrasing) it was love not money

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Will be on the lookout for Arkansas sorghum. Got to go to Hardy in a few days, so I'll check up there, as well.

 

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Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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19 hours ago, gfron1 said:

Just today I got an angry email that we are satan incarnate because we're serving walleye...well, let me just show you the message:

 

You should see this person as a potential powerful ally, not as an enemy, even if you are right and he/she is wrong. His/her comment should be read like "I'm following every single detail of what you are doing because I REALLY CARE, you made this minor slip and I wanted to take the time to make you notice it". If this is his/her only complaint then it means that everything else is perfect even after being scrutinized with a magnifying glass, so you should be proud of it. And you should try to become friend with him/her: if he/she took the time to write you for such a minor detail, then if you befriend him/her he/she is going to be a living advertiser of your restaurant (for free), which is always the best form of advertising for every business.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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Teo

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3 hours ago, teonzo said:

You should see this person as a potential powerful ally, not as an enemy, even if you are right and he/she is wrong. His/her comment should be read like "I'm following every single detail of what you are doing because I REALLY CARE, you made this minor slip and I wanted to take the time to make you notice it". If this is his/her only complaint then it means that everything else is perfect even after being scrutinized with a magnifying glass, so you should be proud of it. And you should try to become friend with him/her: if he/she took the time to write you for such a minor detail, then if you befriend him/her he/she is going to be a living advertiser of your restaurant (for free), which is always the best form of advertising for every business.

I got there this morning already. If they're willing to engage I can participate with them like I do my other contacts. 

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Think I have found you a source for sorghum. How much do you want? Coming to the Lou next month and will bring it.

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Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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13 hours ago, kayb said:

Think I have found you a source for sorghum. How much do you want? Coming to the Lou next month and will bring it.

I have gone through about 4 gallons since we opened...so ideally your source can do bulk. I would take as much as you can bring me.

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I can't believe how cool our project is getting! This is a document my history intern found last weekend. Today I attended an archivist association meeting and was told that the Recorder of Deeds for St Louis had a bankruptcy proceeding from a seed store in 1837 that lists the inventory including 10 pages of seed with specific varietals listed. I get it next week!

IMG_0543.JPG

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That's beautiful and interesting handwriting, too! Is that really a "Solution for Soft Soldering" at the top? If so, what does that mean? (I can admire the handwriting without being able to read it easily. :D ) If it is, what exactly is soft soldering?


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Here's our most recent coolness. A bankruptcy proceeding from 1831 showing the liquor inventory of a bar AND a loan proceeding for a seed store from 1842 that lists all of the seed varietals from that period! Found at the Recorder of Deeds Office, Archive Division. In other news...and related...we're getting a second intern from St Louis University's History program to help us out.

IMG_20191112_105153.thumb.jpg.972a65b53fa4536c4f740fdd34faf8a3.jpg

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Way cool!

 

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Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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Well...that slow restaurant month of January wasn't slow and it's gone and February is looking packed. This morning I have a rare quiet morning to think and evolve some dishes (much needed). Tapped my maple trees on Friday and will gather my buckets on Monday to start the boil down. HERE'S a local NPR interview I did where I chatted about the indigenous peoples and the enslaved of the Ozarks. And HERE'S a fun podcast I did talking about zero waste in our kitchen. 

 

On my recent trip to Portland to see my spouse on the other side of the country - I drove seven days - and had time for the first time in my life for focused podcast time (let's here it for the amazing Dolly Parton's America podcast...amazing!), came back planning to do my own with a couple of friends who will be perfect muses to banter about socio cultural issues of the Ozarks, framed within Ozark history, and capped with a bit of cooking and recipes. Stay tuned...why can't I just let myself rest?!

 

Spoon Licker #1: Rutabaga milk jam with acorn juniper crumble.

SpoonLicker.thumb.jpg.4a49f36652f559f28a67a8255393becf.jpg

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2 hours ago, gfron1 said:

Stay tuned...why can't I just let myself rest?!

 

Your creative muse won't let you, and that's our good fortune. :)

 

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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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10 hours ago, heidih said:

Great NPR interview. It brought to mind this New Yorker article on research of forgotten things and the odd ways one finds info, Your intern might enjoy (in all his spare time)  ;)  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/04/the-women-who-helped-build-hollywood

Interesting. I thought, at first, that you had linked the wrong article 🤣

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Sorry that was a bit hard to grasp. Fascinating how one has to be almost a "picker' to get some older data. Again loving your attention to detail and authenticity.

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I see that Missouri hasn't (yet) closed restaurants and bars to in-house service. That has to be a relief for you. Are you doing anything differently in the restaurant because of the pandemic?

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"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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I have some free time to post here again :) 🤣 🤒

 

My goal here was always to share with people that I consider friends and mentors, and so while sharing details is fine, for me it's always been more about what I would have talked about with you if we were having a beer on Sunday night at our favorite bar. This post is some big stuff - none of it really good, and I've been chewing on what and how to articulate any of it because this is the internet and most of you don't even know me let alone like me or care about me since for most of you I'm just a screen name (that comes off much more melodramatic than I intended.)

 

Things were rolling along very nicely through February. From the beginning we were hitting all of our sales figures and paying all of our bills, including our first large investor payback. I had done things the best I knew how, and I remind you dear friends, that this is my first "real" restaurant - meaning, big city, food critics, large body of yelpers, scale in which I rely on others beyond myself, and lots of people making money off of my and my team's efforts. And so I rolled into March with high hopes of award season and feeling pretty good about what we had accomplished. I can think of only a small few dishes (our of the nearly 100) that we created since opening that were dogs. A few nights with complaints of over-salting, and the like. And that's a great segue into my first comment.

 

I had received a couple of pieces of feedback on social media from followers (not friends) that I lacked humility. I know that I post a lot about what we do...and I do it because 1) I want to market to people and develop a brand and awareness of what we're trying to do; and 2) I think what we do is really cool and it excites me. I've had a month plus to think about all this and I certainly can't argue the point. On one hand I know I always give credit to staff, to farmers, to media, but I'm sure that some people don't view my bragging that way. I've tried to think about how and what I post on social media, and I've tried to watch what others do. In New Mexico the market was so small that if I wasn't constantly self-promoting we would have never made it financially because the pool of potential customers was so small. I think in St. Louis, it comes off as cocky and lacking of humility. Is this part of "Midwest-Nice?" I don't know, but it's led me to step off all social media (one of two reasons...second one coming). I'm currently operating under the thought that I don't have the skills or maturity to understand the nuance of "informing" and "lacking humility," so I've ceased my personal pages and turned the business pages over to staff. Technically this isn't the worst thing in the world. We were using my personal pages because I had established friends and followers, but now the restaurant does as well. And, it will be nice to focus my time more on running the restaurant.

 

The second big issue was awards. I know they should never be the goal, but they were/are very important to me because they allow me to see how I'm doing. Part of that goes back to New Mexico where I never had a food critic visit the restaurant for dinner. Never. Plenty of travel writers, but never food. And nestle into that mentality the idea that I've been a student of the JBF award winners for nearly 15 years. I look at what is important to the foundation, and hence to restaurants, and integrate that into what I do. I don't do forage, zero waste, local sourcing, ethical staffing, etc because of JBF awards, but I am aware of them and integrate them because of what I've learned through the JBF awards. Does that make sense? A couple of weeks before the semi-finalist announcements I was interviewing a new PR firm and was told directly that we wouldn't get consideration because the foundation has encouraged its committees to focus on diversity. And sure enough when the list came out that focus was loud and clear in our region, and quite frankly I support it as a way to make long-term change in restaurant leadership and how the media decides who deserves recognition. Knowing what i knew I was disappointed but not upset, and turned my attention to a local ranking that was to be released two weeks later. 

 

To keep this brief because it is still extremely painful for me, the critic did not visit our restaurant despite having given us one of the highest reviews in recent years. I called my peers on the list and they all got visited for the rankings. It really took me to the lowest place I've been in my life (at least since I was an angsty closeted gay teen). I don't want to get into this much more than what I have except to say that I only know my perspective and what I learned by talking to my peers. There's always more sides to the story. And yes, at some point I need to have a conversation with the critic and find out if I did something wrong or if I just don't have all the facts on the process. Either way it's an icky conversation that reeks of nothing more than sour grapes on my part, and I am very well aware of that. The painful part of this is how I watch my peers (pre-COVID) bragging about their listing and congratulating their team knowing all along that we were treated differently. It's immature of me. It's petty. But it's also a real emotion that I've been struggling with, feeling black listed or grey listed, and yet knowing it's very possibly all just made up in my head. So thank god for COVID to distract me because at least now I can apply my knowledge, skills and effort to maintain my business, whereas with the other situation I feel completely out of control and defeated. Again, way more drama than I prefer to share this publicly. And it's with all this in mind, partnered with my previous issue, that led me to get off social media - a place that used to be my refuge from the long hours of social isolation in the kitchen, which has now become painful and disheartening. For now I've had to give up that social network as well.

 

And finally we get to COVID. We're closed until further notice. I got my PPP funds on Tuesday night after the application went live. I've been focusing my staff on specific research areas since they're still on full payroll. My sous and I still go out and forage a few times a week because otherwise we'll lose a season of ingredients. And I'm strategizing about what we look like once we get on the other side of the pandemic. To that end I sent a short survey out to our mailing list and receive amazing feedback that we'll use to tighten the program up even more. I'll stop there.

 

Take care everyone. I'm still very raw. And I hope this was (or will be) a bit useful to someone in the future.

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Rob, I hear your rawness.  Please let me say that for many of us here, you are more than a screen-name.  You are an inspiration!  And because of your sharing, you are also someone who we want to support.  We are cheering with every victory you have achieved, and look forward to the others that we are confident will come.

 

That said, I will encourage you to be wary of the feedback loops of social media and awards.  They can be very encouraging, but they also can be very fickle as well.  And I know that is more difficult because you are in a position of needing to drive traffic, and the social media and awards can certainly encourage that.  But keep track of what is motivating you.  Keep track of what inspires you.  Don't let the current crisis and all the anxiety it inspires lead you into places of more worry and frustration.

 

Lastly, I think that your sharing here has always been on point.  You have provided education, conversation, ans opportunities for us to celebrate with you.  That said, when I lived in the Midwest for 6 years, I received some similar critiques and I was not in a position where I need to be doing promotion for a business.

 

I am praying for healing, peace and encouragement for you.  May you be well.

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