Wednesday, January 31, 2007

All motion is cyclic. It Circulates...

Maureen says: the limits of its possibilities and then returns to its starting point.
--Robert Collier

You know the saying 'two steps forward, one step back'? That's not exactly what the last few days have felt like, but it's not far off. More like two steps forward, two to the left, one back, three to the right, another one forward and so on. There is progress. There is motion. Just not always in the same direction or at the same time.

Our noses have been buried again small wares catalogues. We received the samples for our initial selections and while they're gorgeous, they are not unlike objects viewed in a car's sideview mirror in that they are either larger and smaller than they appear in photos. This wasn't the case for all our selections thank the stars, but, well: there's the one step back. Conceptually they're what we want, but practically speaking, not so much.

Ditto the flatware. In terms of design, the pattern aligned with our vision, but the weight of the individual pieces felt light in our hands. The pattern is also 18/8 (18% chromium, 8% nickel) versus 18/10 (18% chromium, 10% nickel), though both are considered ideal alloys for stainless flatware. Chromium is the component that gives the steel its stainless properties; the amount of nickel is responsible for the degree of sheen the pieces have. The difference between the alloy compositions is minimal--both are considered top grade and both protect against corrosion--but in a commercial setting, 18/8 will wear faster than 18/10, so we're rethinking that point as well.

Having to rethink decisions we've already made seems to be this week's leit motif. However, rethinking decisions based on facts is better than second-guessing yourself in a fit of insecurity. It just is.

One thing we don't have to rethink is the light fixtures. The pendants and sconces arrived today and they're nearly what we expected, save for the degree of opacity. But that's hardly what you'd call a problem. Special thanks to my best friend Kath, who incidentally works in commercial lighting, for placing the order. We said, "Let there be there light."

And there was. And it was good.

Monday, January 29, 2007


Tom says:
Tonight I read John Foley's latest post on The Restaurant Blog and found myself alternately nodding in agreement, laughing and experiencing a slight case of nausea. In his post, Foley outlines a two-tier skill set one needs to possess in order to be a successful restaurateur. Go on, click here to read it. I'll wait.

At the risk of being overly reductive, Foley's saying, albeit in a different way and in a slightly different context, what I said a few days ago: You have to wear a lot of hats. You have to be, as Foley says, more rounded than the head of Exxon.

I'd like to add to that list that you also need to have a thick skin. Even if your business plan is solid, your budget's tighter than a cork in a wine bottle and you've got twenty years' experience in the industry and the majority of them are in the market where you plan to open, certain organizations aren't going to want to do business with you. What at first seems like just hesitancy, but is really refusal cloaked in well-developed people skills is going to make you question not only how the hell you're going to pull off your venture, but why, in the first place, it ever seemed like a good idea.

Okay--I get it: restaurants are a high-risk proposition. It's not a secret. Even if you've never really thought about it, chances are that at one time or another, you said, "Hey, let's go to that little place on Such-and-Such Street," only to find out, once you arrived, that it was no longer in business.

Here's what I don't get: the most common reason that most first/new restaurants fail is undercapitalization. I'm willing to bet that a small portion of undercapitalized restaurants simply didn't borrow enough money. More likely though, they couldn't find a traditional bank or commercial lender who was willing to write the loan for the amount they'd need to succeed. Or any loan at all (enter bootstrapping).

Restaurants are risky, they say. Ironically, the majority of these lenders focus their local ad campaigns on their support of small business.

Anyway, the Catch-22 nature of it all is enough to drive me to drink. Think about it. Failure rates for first/new restaurants are most often tied to undercapitalization. I'm going out on a limb here, but maybe, just maybe, if lenders helped restaurateurs achieve a solid capital position the failure rate might not be so high and that market sector might become less risky. I'm just thinking out loud here, because--get ready for more irony--two years down the road when we have a track record we created without their support? They'll be knocking on our door with a check in hand.

Now, I'm not balking at the idea of opening a second location someday, whether the same concept or a different one. That's what money two years down the road would mean. What I am balking at is the idea that a second restaurant automatically has as much or greater chance of success than the first. I've seen first restaurants open on a shoestring and grow into amazingly successful businesses and then I've watched second restaurants, with more funding than they knew what to do with, flail or even fail for reasons that are much harder to identify.

This can't be news to the banks. And that makes it even more difficult to understand.

[Note: that isn't always the case. Michael Buckley's triumvirate--Michael Timothy's, Surf, and Buckley's Great Steaks--is a shining, regional example, all the more notable for Michael Timothy's and Surf being across the street from each other. ]

We found private financing with a small, independent lender who's taking a chance on us. And we've connected with small, independent vendors who are willing to work with us partly in trade--everything from signange to consulting to electrical. If I wasn't already a stalwart supporter of independent business, I would be now. This is how you answer the cry that downtowns everywhere are being taken over chains and box stores and corporate logos. You hang out our own shingle and you frequent places with shingles like yours.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Maureen says:
Tom was spot on with the distinction between the multi-tasking required in the kitchen and the multi-tasking that opening a restaurant demands. It's tempting--though perhaps not very nice--to say to him, "Welcome to my world...

...the World of Multi-disciplinary Multi-tasking (MDMT)."

I'm not saying it's easy to hold down a full-time job, contribute to the restaurant opening, manage seven-tenths of the household, wrangle the cats, retain my grip (however loose) on my sense of Self, nurture relationships with friends and family, and still sleep a minimum of eight hours a night*. But it is possible, even when the adventure you're embarking on is a bit more terrifying than exciting.

[Pause while author tries desperately to rid her ears of Peggy Lee singing I'm a Woman.]

The key for me is thinking of Z not as a business I own, but as a client I've been assigned to service. Approaching it in this way helps keep emotion out of it and enables me to make sound, rational decisions more quickly.

So how do you multi-task successfully across a variety of disciplines where successfully means not losing your mind?

Remember, always, that whether you're opening a restaurant, organizing your child's birthday party or taking up the violin, everything you're doing, no matter how big or small, directly contributes to your highest objective.

Each task Tom's performing has its own mini-objective (usually to cross the damned item off the list). Completing those tasks, however, contributes to the higher objective of opening the restaurant doors on time, on budget, and keeping them open. But the highest objective, here, is for Tom to work for himself and have that work align with his core values (passion for food, commitment to quality service and a deep love for the endangered species known as the independent downtown merchant).

As dissimilar as the items on Tom's to-do list might seem to him at times, they're all leading to the same destination. That's what he needs to remember when he feels like all he's doing is spinning his wheels.

Speaking of spinning wheels...actually, let's not. Mine's still in its box and there ain't no way taking it out is going to get the restaurant open (but maybe one day, the restaurant will support my fiber habit).

*Rest is sorely undervalued in our culture, but it's the one area of my life where I refuse to compromise. Without sleep, I'm rubbish.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

If Tom's Chief Cook...

...does that make me Bottle Washer by default?

More musings on this later. Til then, carry on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In Which I Wear Many Hats

The big news today was City Hall's final approval on our plans. Now, our subcontractors can move forward with pulling the permits they need to get their respective jobs done.

[A special note to Karl, who I know now reads the blog: Thanks for holding my hand throughout the process. You made an overwhelming experience less so and brought us that much closer to opening the doors on time.]

Plans approved, it was time to get on the telephone and start scheduling the crews who've been waiting for approvals along with us. Is it wrong to wish that the only role I have to play some days is General Contractor? I feel good about the progress we've made, the pace we're moving at, and comfortable with what we have left to do with what remains of the timeline. So why, on days like today, does it seem like we're no further ahead than we were yesterday?

I think the answer lies in the demon that is multi-tasking. You'd think it wouldn't challenge me the way that it seems to be, right? Working the line in a commercial kitchen all you're doing is multi-tasking: one eye on the starters for the the tables that were sat ten minutes ago, the other on entrees for a party of eight, and the eye in the back of your head is staring down modifications to a dish to accommodate dietary restrictions and all the while you're tracking inventory so the servers can communicate there are only two catch-of-the-day specials left.

The difference is that the multi-tasking I do in the kitchen is single-minded: produce quality product to be delivered the customer in a timely fashion. In other words, the only hat I wear in there is my chef's toque.

Today, you could name almost any department that makes up the whole of a company and I was at its head.

Human Resources: scheduled a meeting to further explore employee group plan options (health); interviewed a candidate for dining room manager and reviewed additional resumes.

Accounting: invoice and receipt filing--they're coming in fast and furious now that work's being done.

Food & Beverage: scheduled a tasting with a chef candidate for early next week (two starters, one salad, one entree; two items must be off our menu, two from the candidate's personal repertoire).

Finance: delivered pertinent financials to Point-of-Service leasing company (believe it or not, purchasing a POS system, after installation and training, is the greatest single-item cost--more than the bar, nearly ten times the cost of the light fixtures).

Information Technology (IT): confirmed our business DSL installation.

Marketing/PR: the only hat I didn't wear today because it's snug on Maureen's head.

No wonder my head feels to explode. And no wonder that the very last thing I want to do when I walk through the door tonight is cook dinner. It's also the very last thing Maureen wants to do as she worked in Boston all day and beause she manages our personal budget I know takeout isn't an option.

Cooking at home amounts to my contribution to the household. Makes sense, no? Trouble is, the last few nights I've been lacking in motivation and desire. Not that that matters to her because trust me, I get the way longer end of the stick when it comes to the house and by no means do my equal share. She'd said though, that once I went back to work we'd split up the cooking a bit. I am just now figuring out that what she means by 'back to work' is earning an income again.

If that's not motivation for getting the doors open and taking downtown by storm, I don't know what is (kidding). Dinner? One of our reliable standbys--mexican pasta. Seared pork, cut into small strips, red and green bell peppers, diced tomatoes, black beans and sweet corn, which I realize isn't much of a recipe, but give a guy a break, okay?

Can't. Help. Myself.

Maureen's just sayin':

pal·ate [pal-it] –noun
1. Anatomy. the roof of the mouth, consisting of an anterior bony portion (hard palate) and a posterior muscular portion (soft palate) that separate the oral cavity from the nasal cavity.
2. the sense of taste: a dinner to delight the palate.
3. intellectual or aesthetic taste; mental appreciation.

pal·ette [pal-it]–noun
1. a thin and usually oval or oblong board or tablet with a thumb hole at one end, used by painters for holding and mixing colors.
2. any other flat surface used by a painter for this purpose.
3. the set of colors on such a board or surface.
4. the range of colors used by a particular artist.
5. the variety of techniques or range of any art: a lush but uneven musical palette.
6. the complete range of colors made available by a computer graphics card, from which a user or program may choose those to be displayed.
7.(in ancient Egyptian art) a somewhat flattish slate object of various shapes, carved with commemorative scenes or motifs or, esp. in the smaller pieces, containing a recessed area probably for holding eye makeup and often used as a votive offering.

pal·let [pal-it] –noun
1. a bed or mattress of straw.
2. a small or makeshift bed.

pal·lette [pal-it] –noun
Armor. A small plate defending the front of the armpit when the arm is lifted; gusset.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Avoidance. Sort of. Not Really.

Maureen says:
Am nearly out from under the weather, although winter-chapped skin and a nasal tone would lead you to believe otherwise. My sense of taste, however, has returned and just in time to sip my way through a package of sample teas that arrived in yesterday's mail. Three bags into my tasting, a fourth steeping now, and my choice of suppliers is simple. I'll opt out of revealing which Choice Organic Teas I've selected, but I'll promise you that each of them is perfectly lovely. I've also located a local, independent coffee roaster that, like COT, supports Fair Trade. Am very excited to schedule the tasting as, whenever possible, we'd like to do business with local independents (if you'd like to learn more about Fair Trade click here; to find Fair Trade Certified products near you, click here).

Tea is one of several things I turn to in moments of overwhelm. I'm sure Tom would prefer that I turn to it always as some weeks ago the panacea-of-the-day was dismantling my home office somewhere between the time he started dinner and well past my bedtime. Three hours and many reconfigurations later, it became a much better-functioning space (still in need of paint, still with no art on the walls or blinds in the window, but, you know: Rome. A day. Not built in).

I know, I know--my behaviors are transparent even to me. Create an illusion of control over the world? Check. A quick and easy sense of accomplishment? Check. Impose order on a room that has, for months and months also served as a catch-all for things like the cordless drill, shipping boxes and gift wrap? Check. Channel nervous energy? Check. (If you find yourself in a similar state of anxiety but without a home office to reconfigure, then I highly recommend the also-satisfying task of tidying the pantry cupboards.)

It may seem to some that I'm resisting overwhelm or worse, denying I'm overwhelmed by procrastinating and thus making matters worse. The truth is, I'm actually working with overwhelm the best way I know how: by performing tasks that produce tangible results. Call me daft, dotty or dim, but when the last book's spine is aligned with the edge of the shelf and various half-emptied boxes of corn starch are combined into one, I feel a little bit stronger. A little more equal to the tasks waiting for me. A little more David to the GIANT that is opening a restaurant.

Because, while I can afford myself the luxury of vacuuming the dryer vent or deleting watched items off the DVR, a moment spent in self doubt would break the spiritual bank.

This post? Provides the joy of having written without the pain of writing about the 427, 982 things that are freaking me out right about now.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lead Time

Tom says:
Managing any project start-to-finish requires that you prioritize. Ideally, you want to complete the project on time and under budget; if you complete it on time and on budget, well, that's good too (definitely better than being late or over budget or both). The project plan needs to be flexible and by extension, so do you. Whatever challenges arise, whether known possibilities or complete surprises, you need not only to meet them head on, but meet them with fair, reasonable and unemotional solutions.

There is a possibility that we may have to push the opening back one week, which doesn't sound like a lot until you consider the revenue projections. Interestingly enough, the factors contributing to a possible one-week delay are things I could only learn by doing. In two words: lead time.

More interesting to me is that the areas where lead time might hurt us don't, per se, lie in the dining room. From demo to decor, the dining room will be ready. What we'll be waiting on are the small wares (2-4 weeks lead time), the point-of-service system (4-6 weeks lead time) and exterior signage (4-6 weeks lead time).

So why, with all of this taking up space in my head, was I experiencing a mild panic about staffing? The short answer is, I have no idea.

And then today turned out to be one of those days where Maureen says the universe was listening.

Even before we moved to California I hadn't really lived in Manchester for about five years. Add to that the time we spent in Carmel and I was essentially gone for seven. But the friendships and business relationships I established when I did live here full time? Still going strong.

I've already mentioned, though it will always be worth mentioning again, the counsel and support I've received from Tim, Ed and Pam. But this morning, an old friend from my days at Cafe Pavone and Villa Banca stopped by the restaurant to have a look-see. Joan and her husband also recently returned to Manchester, having lived the last three years in Colorado. We reminisced some, caught up on where we are in our lives now and then she offered up her help in every which way I might need it. Have I mentioned just how very good Joan is? To have the help of yet another person I trust completely goes a long way to keeping me sane. If this were a Ma$tercard commercial, Joan would be the priceless part.

Then, shortly after Joan left, Joe, who's the Assistant GM at Villa Banca dropped in for the 25-cent tour. With a lead for a server/bartender. And when Mike arrived with his tools in the afternoon, he brought a friend with him who's looking to add another part-time position to the one she's already got. Lastly, the ads we've got out there started getting quality responses.

Lead taketh away (small wares, POS, signage) and lead time giveth (thanks Joan, Joe and Mike!).

Maybe the universe was listening. So how about we generate profits by the end of the year? Shut up. It could happen.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

All In Half a Day's Work

Tom says:
Wednesday. The demo and painting crew shows up at 8:00a and for some (stupid) reason it didn't occur to me that they would a) need ALL the space or b) move at the speed of light. In short, I lost my office for the day, which wasn't a big deal except for throwing me off balance.

So, I get these guys settled in and then I need to coordinate the delivery and placement of the dumpster. Having it sit on Elm Street was out of the question and behind the building, in the alley, there wasn't room. Fortunately, the owners of the building behind ours allowed us to park the dumpster in their lot for the next two days.

Of course the dumpster gets delivered while I'm in the middle of a pivotal meeting with Ariel and trying to make absolute, final decisions about the construction and design of the banquette seats. So I'm working with her, talking with the driver from the waste management company and then the painting crew chief, Fabio, rushes over to tell me there's water in the dining room.

There's water in the dining room ?!

Turns out the demo crew hit the one hot water pipe that hadn't been turned off. So, yeah: there was water in the dining room. Not a lot and nowhere near enough to cause any damage, but man. All this had happened and it wasn't even noon yet.

But by the end of the day, the ceiling had its first coat of paint; by the end of the next day it was finished (total gallons needed: 8); by the end of the week, the HVAC ducts and walls were wearing their new coats (of paint). And any trepidation I'd had about using bold color on the ceiling--and I'd had plenty--had vanished. The palette translated into fantastic and my vision is turning into reality now in ways that I can actually see.

This is the first week since we bought the restaurant that things seemed crazy and it's only the first of many crazy weeks to come: the police and fire departments both signed off on the plans, so the buildings department should be able to wrap up their approvals early next week. With that behind us, construction, electrical and plumbing can start.

My multi-tasking skills are being challenged. If I'm not in a meeting, I'm on the telephone. If I'm not on the telephone, I'm reviewing product quotes. If I'm not reviewing product quotes, I'm looking at signage and stationery comps. If I'm not looking at comps, I'm interviewing chef and dining room manager candidates. If I'm not interviewing, I'm rewriting menus. If I'm not rewriting menus, I'm tweaking the budget.

Hell, I'm always tweaking the budget.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Soup is Good Food

Maureen says:
While Tom's been focused on equipment and logistics (the demo started on Wednesday), I've been nursing a cold and directing what little energy I do have into two major projects at work. The lovely thing about having both a laptop and a wireless Internet connection at home is that one can, if so inclined, work from the comfort of a warm bed. I haven't as of yet, but I might: each time I think this cold has peaked, it worsens a bit. What started as a head cold has, this morning, moved into my chest.

Tom's feeling heaps better, though, and seems to have made it his mission to keep me in pots of soup. Earlier in the week it was a spicy Pho with chicken and ground pork, that, like most soups, was even better the second day. Last night, minutes after walking through the door, he started in on what he calls his Safety Soup. Safety Soup, so named in the early days of his career when du jour on the menu meant cooking a pot every two days, is easy to make, simple in essence and positively nourishing. If you do any cooking at all, you probably have your own version of Safety Soup. Tom's is tomato-based, contains the usual aromatics (carrots, celery, onion, etc.), chunks of chicken and tiny slabs of bacon (of course), seasoned with salt and pepper. If I asked him for the recipe, he'd say there was none and advise you to make it up as you go along which, for someone like me, is about as helpful an answer as 'cook it until it's done'.

All this is to say that I haven't visited the restaurant since Monday evening. I haven't seen the space emptied of table and chairs, haven't seen where the bar used to be (knocked down, gone, bye-bye), haven't seen the how the color we chose to paint the tin ceiling honors the decorative relief, haven't seen the primer on the walls, haven't seen anything that isn't an 'art shot' (further investigation led us to the conclusion that the blurry-photo issue lies with Tom's unsteady hand, not the camera).

But I have been moving along with writing content for the formal Web site, creative discussions with our Web designer, working with the agency on print production, talking with promotional item vendors about match boxes and coasters, and voicing pointed opinions on server/bartender uniforms, of which I have many.

Speaking of which, I'm of the pointed opinion that the folks at Tylen0l must have been under the influence of their own cold/flu products when they chose to coat their multi-symptom cold relief caplets in "cool burst". They're not chewables; you're supposed to swallow them. Perhaps this is targeted marketing for the segment of their customer base who takes caplets without water and complained about the subsequent medicine mouth. In which case, I'd like to suggest that the team responsible for package design put the phrase "cool burst" in significantly larger type as I purchased them quite by accident and was unpleasantly surprised by the taste of sickly-sweet mint (read: nauseated).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sold: One 10-Burner Vulcan Range

Tom says:
The original plan was to attend the restaurant auction with my friend, Tim, whose past experience with such events would benefit me, but it was not to be. The weekend's ice storm left his morning manager without power, which, in turn, left Tim without coverage at his own restaurant. I was on my own, armed with a plan and a handful of cash.

The cornerstone of that plan was to avoid overwhelm, not to be the metaphorical kid in the candy store. I arrived 30 minutes before the start of the auction to scope out the inventory. I knew what I'd come for--a 10-burner Vulcan range--but didn't know what else might catch my eye. Turns out, not much.

My plan also included identifying who, among the masses, were restaurant brokers and used-equipment dealers. Targeting those bidders, watching them closely would, I knew, help me to establish a baseline and keep me from over-bidding. The other attendees were an interesting mix of bargain shoppers and people like me seeking to outfit their restaurants at a price set by someone else's failure.

The bidders (myself included) were a pack of dogs circling the auctioneer, sniffing out the value of the lot, tracking his each and every word. The auction opened in the bar--stools, television, hand rail, the art on the walls--everything, even the silk flower arrangements, was for sale (it went for two dollars). A hundred plastic speed pours sold for a dollar; the blond granite bar top garnered $1,000. The lots were going fast, the majority of bidders devouring them like locusts in a wheat field while the seasoned bidders observed from the perimeter of the room. This told me what I'd already suspected: the best deals to be had were in the kitchen. And the kitchen lots were last on the auction's program.

When we moved into the kitchen, the energy shifted. Bidding increments increased from one or two dollars to $25 and $50 and the brokers and dealers pushed their way to the front of the pack. It appeared to me that they all knew at least knew of one another. There seemed to be an unwritten rule not to bid against one another else they they had prearranged agreements in place as to who was going to bid on what.

But I won the 10-burner I'd come for and it cost me exactly what I was willing to spend after factoring in delivery, minor repairs and cleaning. It wasn't a steal, but it was still a good deal. I made a significant equipment upgrade for what amounts to fairly short money. Should I be worried that no one bid against me? Is there something they knew that I didn't? If so, I'm sure I'll discover it soon enough. Meantime, I'll take one of the restaurant's line cook's word for it: it was the best range they'd had on their line, he said.

Within three hours, the auction was over. Within five, the restaurant was stripped bare (everything sold was required to be taken off premises same day). Nothing remained but empty liquor bottles and some misfit small wares that weren't worth five dollars.

Now it's time to turn my focus back to my to-do list with all the things on it that will keep the auctioneer's gavel from Z. Demo starts tomorrow.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Going Once, Going Twice

Tom says:
All things considered, the weekend was fairly quiet as far as the restaurant was concerned. Maureen and I researched regional and local produce suppliers, finalized and placed the table top orders, and talked shop between movies playing on the DVR. The cold that's been plaguing me for the last 10 days settled in my ears, warranting a visit to the doctor today. A hundred and twenty bucks and one prescription for antibiotics later, I'm actually starting to feel better. Unfortunately, Maureen woke up this morning with what she calls a thick throat. She's been achy and cranky all day and the return (arrival?) of winter weather isn't helping.

Health matters aside, though we don't yet have our permits for electrical or plumbing, I did learn from the buildings department on Friday that we can go ahead and start in on the demo and the painting. I've scheduled the crew to begin on Wednesday (note to self: take more 'before' photos). Meantime, our interior designer, Ariel, continues to take my vision and run with it, all the while managing the various projects I've thrown at her with such finesse that I've nothing but confidence that my vision will become reality. And a fantastically beautiful reality at that.

Tomorrow, I'm headed to Massachusetts for an auction that's being held at a failed Italian restaurant. The timing is right, not just because of where we're at with our own re-fit, but because the equipment being auctioned is, by commercial kitchen standards, still new (the restaurant was in operation for only 14 months and the lifespan of commercial equipment is approximately 10 years).

We may get some good deals, we may not. It's not how much we have to spend, but how much we're willing to spend and, in this case, there's equipment removal, hauling and installation to factor into the price. Even though this auction may be good for us, it's a hardcore reminder that the restaurant business carries a high risk. I can't imagine the owners of this place ever thought they'd be in this position a little over a year after opening.

Actually, I'm pretty sure they were excited, optimistic and convinced they'd take their town by storm. Especially when you consider that it probably took them more than a year and $500K to execute the initial build out of the space. It's too easy to Monday-morning quarterback their failure and insist the reasons they failed are the same traps I'll actively avoid: my offerings will be superior, my service standards higher, my location better, my marketing slicker. The hard, cold truth is that the reasons a restaurant fails aren't always that clear. Sometimes, the root cause of the failure is forever ambiguous. And if it's happened to you, you have to find a way to live with that. If it could happen to you, you have to be prepared to find a way to be able to live with that.

Looking back over my career, it seems I've always worked for successful operations and with some of the finest independent restaurateurs in the country. And yet, when I look at my resume--just the facts, ma'am--there's only one restaurant I've worked in over the last 10 years that's still in business.

If you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go throw up now.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Family Business

Maureen says:
Yesterday Tom's mother sent us some photographs of her maternal grandfather's restaurant, in Middletown, New York. The Mid-Mont, named for its site at the intersection of the Middletown and Montgomery highways was, to Tom's best recollection, a bar.

A bar fit well with Tom's memory of his Great Grandpa, Carl Schumacher, as a big, strapping man--a firefighter--with a shock of white hair and a wealth of silver dollars in his pocket that he doled out to Tom and his sister.

The pictures, however, belie Tom's interpretation of what, exactly, the Mid-Mont was. Below is a view of dining room from the kitchen. What's off camera, to the right, is the bar Tom recalls as well as a banquet room.

Interior of the Mid-Mont

The original sign, made by Tom's Great Grandpa Carl

The Mid-Mont, mid construction, circa 1947

The Mid-Mont, exterior, 1959.
Restaurant on the left; motel just visible
in the center back; the family house on the right.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Tom says:
Looks like the Manchester Daily Express link was only good for a day and the site doesn't archive past issues. I'll have Maureen post an excerpt from the interview over the weekend.

My fever finally broke last night. I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say that when I woke up this morning I felt more like myself than I had in about a week. It was hard, having lost an entire day, not to take it to full throttle. The desire was there, but my rational mind won out: there was no way I'd make up for lost time, so I focused only on the things in front of me.

Those things included a key decision: logo. Swanson Advertising delivered our color comps today along with quotes for stationery, menu templates and print ads. What amazed both Maureen and me was that we'd only given Swanson a verbal on colors and the comps they delivered so closely matched the interior paint palette that only a trained eye could see the difference--and we'd only finalized the paint palette the day before (Swanson hadn't seen it).

Nailing down the logo is key, right, because it carries across various media and applications: stationery, signage, advertising, Web and uniforms. We hope to add it to the blog's banner soon.

Something I'm learning right now is how to stay on message and what all the various ways of staying on message are. It's not just being able to rattle off your pitch when someone asks you what kind of restaurant you're opening or what food you'll serve. It extends to so much more than I was aware of (yes, Maureen, you were right).

Seriously Fun Food is the Big Concept and it encompasses each and every part of the experience our customers will have. Seems I've got the serious part down--everything I'm drawn to visually tends toward the elegant and refined. From my initial reactions to logo samples to the first-draft of my small wares list and various things in between, my inherent aesthetic is off message. Which isn't to say I don't like the choices that are on message, they're just not where my eye goes immediately.

Fortunately, I'm working with a great team that's teaching me how to re-train my eye and/or to trust their eyes and be done with the decision. We're past concept now. We're ordering product. Checks are being cut. And if we're off message, we're making mistakes. Mistakes that could be costly.

I was reading through the blog posts tonight and laughed when I read what Maureen had written the other day about all the factors that go into selecting a plate. Why? Because when we got the quote back from the supply house today, probably my favorite selection of the bunch costed out at 15% of the overall small wares budget ($28 per) and I'd had it mind for a single starter. Needless to say, as cool as a presentation as it would have been, it won't be on our order list.

The good news is that the small wares quote came in significantly less than what I'd originally budgeted for. Even better news when you throw in that the quote for seating construction was higher than I anticipated. I can only hope this trend of lower than + higher than = on budget continues.

And I keep looking at the calendar, wondering when the permitting process will be completed so we can start work and add a countdown to the Grand Opening to the blog sidebar. I left a message for the buildings department today. The electrician? Ready to go. Painters? They're ready and able to start next week. Me? I was ready yesterday. Or ten years ago. Take your pick.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Maureen says:
Tom has been felled, felled I tell you, by this cold. Six hours of talking yesterday didn't do him any good either. He was up early this morning for a meeting with the electrician, came home at 10a and slept until after 3p.

Now I'm sneezy, but I staunchly refuse to succumb.

Meantime, some buzz: a reporter from the Manchester Daily Express stopped by Z yesterday to interview Tom. The piece was published today, January 10th, in print and online. The online version is a PDF file, so you'll need Acrobat Reader to see it (and him in all his head-cold glory). Click here to view it online, then click "download a copy of today's paper in PDF format" right below the masthead.

The Union Leader also published a blurb about Z's impending opening. It ran in the January 6th edition. Click here to view, but don't worry about purchasing the entire article. All that's missing is that Z Restaurant, LLC is a partnership owned by we two.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Another Milestone

Tom says:
We're on our way: the health department signed off on our plans today! I went to their offices this afternoon, picked up the approved plans and drove them to the Buildings Department for the next set of eyes to look them over.

This head cold's knocked for me a loop. Trouble is, Z has little sympathy. Fortunately, Maureen does and although I was hesitant, at first, to sip on the honey loquat and hot water she suggested, I have to admit after drinking it that I sounded more like myself and less like Marlon Brando with a throat full of gravel. If only it could lessen the pressure behind my eyes, maybe I could concentrate on important things. You know, like opening a restaurant.

Despite my inability to fully concentrate, I soldiered on and, because I'd actually used one of the organizational tools Maureen set up for me, I didn't miss a beat. Call sheets. Where you write down, in advance, who you need to phone the next day. Who knew? The payback is that tomorrow I have roughly six hours of meetings, starting at 10a.

Every day and every meeting brings the budget into clearer focus. So far so good: areas where costs have proven higher than anticipated have been balanced by others that came in less than my estimates.

Today there was only one meeting and it was with the representative from the state liquor commission licensing division. First step in the licensing process is completion of the mini application. This sets the wheels in motion for things like background checks, etc. Then, there's the longer, formal application ($100 fee). Straightforward, but you don't actually receive your license until after you've received your permit for assembly. And you don't receive your permit for assembly until renovations are complete and you've passed your inspections (health/safety, fire department, etc.). Do the math on a calendar and you'll see that straightforward or not, it's kind of nervewracking to realize this is one of those things that doesn't resolve until what amounts to the last minute.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Me again.

Maureen says:
Tom's still under the weather, so it's me again, at the helm of the blog. And, given that it's Sunday night and it's back to work for me tomorrow, I'm going to keep it simple and see if I can't take some portion of the evening for myself.

Goals accomplished this weekend:
  • Selection of table top wares, which was a far easier process than I imagined or maybe we just got lucky. My aesthetic preferences aligned easily with criteria that, not being a chef, weren't on my mind, but were definitely on Tom's. Things like whether the design cuts too deep into the surface area, thus leaving only enough room for a presentation that works for one menu item instead of four. And how adding 2oz to your Pilsner glass makes certain cocktails appear sleek instead of squat.
  • Dismantling the existing shelving behind the bar; sorting inventory and identifying items we won't be using, but would like to donate rather than sell; and general out-with-the-old to make room for the new (note to the women who stood outside the doors today, lamenting the loss of their much-loved source for pho: change is good and we, we're going to be way better than good--promise).
  • Laptop optimization, services donated by my brilliant, generous and impossibly kind sister, elaine, who also pitched in with less exciting tasks like emptying menu sleeves and removing window decals. Her two cents about flatware selection? When buying for herself she avoids designs that lend themselves to collecting food particles that require another cleaning. Why create the opportunity for extra work, she says. Or the opportunity for it to be missed and land in front of a customer, I thought.

elaine (yes, the lowercase 'e' is on purpose), also took some photos for us today as I'd forgotten my own camera at the house. Above is a shot of our Coming Soon sign--not an easy one to capture well owing to the glare--and below, a photo of what I'll call the Good Karma Buddha. Tom teased the former owners about removing their altar from the space after the sale, so they got this one for us. I like him, although the dragon, who's supposed to be good too, kind of scares me (edited to add: must be a fear of success I have as Tom's just said that the owners told him the dragon brings wealth and power).

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Oh, the Irony

Maureen says:
Tom's come down with a cold. Ironically, he was exposed to the germs at the Health Department. I've taken approximately 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C today in addition to washing my hands something like fifty times to minimize my risk to exposure.

"How bad do you feel?" I asked him this morning.

"Bad," he said, stifling a cough.

But not bad enough to take to bed or stay at home. And even if he were feeling that bad, appointments in Massachusetts meant I wasn't going to be around to force him to rest (not that that would have done any good).

Fortunately, culling through china and other tabletop-wares catalogues takes little effort. Tom's gone through them all, marking the items he likes with Post-It notes. Now, after what seems like a long day with little finished work to show for it, it's my job to narrow the final candidates by removing the Post-Its from the pages with items I don't like.

Right after I disinfect them.

On another note, being that I'm a prolific tea drinker, Tom's tasked me with tea selections for the menu. I know which brands I favor and there's one in particular that I'm leaning toward, but I'd love to hear what teas are your favorites. Leave your thoughts in the comments section or email them to me at

Friday, January 5, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

Tom says:
The other day, my friend and fellow restaurateur, Pam, asked Maureen if we were sleeping at the space yet.

I wish. Because that would mean the floorplans were approved and we were into the demolition/renovation stage. We had Spiller's print five sets of plans; one for each of the four city offices that needs them (already delivered) and one for us, more to work on decor than for posterity. These guys also printed the Coming Soon signs that now hang in the windows.

I've scheduled preliminary walkthroughs with some departments while the plans are being reviewed as a proactive attempt to identify any immediate red flags. Plan approvals aside, there's more than enough and then some to keep us busy.

Goals achieved this week included meeting with Swanson Advertising to finalize the black-and-white version of the logo so they can move forward with color comps. Maureen and I were initially attracted to different logo possibilities and then to different iterations of each of the possibilities. Was this going to be our first, big creative difference?

In a word: no. Our discussions were swift and productive thanks to invaluable input from our Web designer who evaluated all possibilities and iterations across the ways the logo will be used (print, Web, signage, uniforms, promotional items). That, in turn, made it easy for Swanson to guide us to a final version that is versatile, represents our brand and that we both love.

I also met with the vendor who'll supply our china, glassware, flatware, etc. I couldn't have scheduled it for a better time either. I thought we had until early February to make our decisions and place our orders, but it turns out the lead time required for pricing and order fulfillment means we pretty much have to select our tabletop this weekend.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

This Just In

Maureen says:
Some months ago, Manchester Hippo writer Susan Reilly asked Tom, along with several area chefs, to contribute to a planned feature article on local foodie finds. The cover story hit newsstands this week.

If you don't live in the area, you can still read the article by clicking here. I prefer the online version for the simple reason that the handsome bloke, the one in the orange shirt at the top of the page? It's Tom. (I assure you he's not that pale in actuality, but he's pretty much that tall.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

In Which Tom Crosses Lots of Fingers

Tom says:
Obtaining our permits is the highest priority right now. The city of Manchester's restaurant permitting process begins at the Health Department, continues on to the Building Department, and ends at the Fire Department. Each department receives its own copy of the plans and today's challenge was locating a printer who could read the plan files and, obviously, print them (mission accomplished).

I've got my fingers crossed that the permit process is quick and painless. When Little Saigon leased the space, they took on the initial conversion from plain, vanilla box to functional restaurant. In that sense, the build out is pretty close to brand new. That we're not making any structural or equipment changes are, I hope, points in our favor.

One thing I do know is that anything former restaurant owners might have been given a pass on, are often things the city will ask the new owners to remedy before re-opening. Whether this winds up being the case for us or not, there's little we can do about it except hope that we're lucky. I'm handling the permits myself because as of today? I'm my own general contractor.

How I came to that decision was the result of talking with at least half a dozen general contractors who were all too busy to take this job on in the timeframe we need it done. That's when I started getting nervous. Not so much because I couldn't find an available GC, but because if all the top-recommended ones were booked up, what did that say about the quality and reliability of the ones who were available?

I'll share the GC role with my long-ago roommate, Mike, who's a tile and stone mason by trade, but well versed in all aspects of construction. He was a bit skeptical at first, but once he saw the space and the plans, he was more than confident he could handle the job. As for me, the building trades experience I have comes from owning a four-family apartment building for the last eight years. Together, I think we'll pull it off. My natural fear, though, is by taking this on myself I risk delaying the opening which would be the opposite of good.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Before Shots

Maureen says:
Happy New Year! Tom spent most of yesterday and today at the restaurant working on the floorplans required to obtain our demolition and construction permits.

Behold: two (poor quality) "Before" photos of the space.

Above: the view from behind the bar. Squint and you'll see the fuzzy glow of the front door EXIT sign near the upper right; the tall rectangles to the left of the door are street-facing windows that Tom covered with brown paper.

Below: the reverse angle; the bar is all the way to the back right. Together, these photos give you a good sense of the 15' wide by 65' long space we have to work with. (I don't have the ceiling height measurement handy, but it's quite high and the ceiling itself is decorative tin).

860 Elm Street is just one part of the building that locals knew as McQuade's Department Store and still refer to as the McQuade's building. If I recall correctly, Tom said that the restaurants stands in what used to be part of men's clothing.

Though I never visited MQuade's, I imagine it similar to the department stores of yore in Lynn and Salem, Massachusetts where my parents shopped as young couple. In my mind's eye: pneumatic tubes carrying cash and coin from the counters to the offices; clerks who knew not only your name, but your budget and preferences; maybe even a lunch counter or a soda fountain, where you could order cherry cokes and egg creams.

But enough with the nostalgia (and that for an era I have no authentic memories of at that). We're not sure if it's Tom's camera or an unsteady hand that gave us the photos above. This weekend, we'll try my camera with me behind the lens.