Thursday, February 28, 2008

Two Good Things…

No brain power to come up with ten…but I have these two:

Carmina Burana—You may recognize the "O Fortuna" part of it from a host of recent movie scores…  (and if I figure out how to do it, I will provide a link...)

I ordered the complete CD from Barnes & Noble. The version I chose is conducted by Marin Alsop (Leonard Bernstein protégé and one-time conductor of the Eugene Symphony…who has since gone on to bigger and better things.)

I love this piece. In its entirety. Is it the language (Latin) that appeals to the latent Catholic in me? Or the fact that this lofty work, expressed in that exalted tongue of the ancient Church, is built upon what amounts to a bunch of medieval bar songs…?

There is a certain cognitive dissonance about the work that appeals to my peculiar sense of the ridiculous. And musically, it’s just…superb. I can’t seem to get enough of it.

Digital SLR—Got one for Christmas. Didn’t even have time to take it out of the box until some time in late January. And then realized that I really would need to read the umpteen-page manual that came with it before I could take full advantage of its wonderfulness.

This didn’t stop me from buying a telephoto zoom for it with my inheritance money (thanks, Mom & Dad…)

Took an hour or so out of my "home work day" today (between loads of laundry and washing floors on my hands and knees) to play with it.

Hoping I will ultimately be able to figure it out and make optimum use of it. But, until such time as I have it mastered… Oregon, we love our bridges...

...the eagles are back...

...and my daffodils are blooming.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nice Matters.....?

I received a "Nice Matters" nomination in my email today, from Tressa at "Storms Whisper." I had to laugh. I don’t think I can really accept the honor. Because I am not nice. That fact was summarily brought home to me by a customer today. Here’s the story:

My restaurant is located directly across the street from City Hall. Which makes many of the City Hall workers regular customers. Once upon a time, anyway.

Because, once upon a time, the Old Town Café was owned by a man who aspires to buy up and build upon every available commercial lot in this town. And this guy felt it was in his best interest (and it WAS) to brown-nose every city employee in the building across the street—from the mayor to the police chief to the lowliest desk clerk.

Unfortunately, when I bought the café, red carpet treatment of city employees (who I didn’t know from Adam) abruptly ceased. Which didn’t win me any popularity contests. We lost a lot of the across-the-street business simply because I was WAY too overwhelmed with every other aspect of the business I was trying to learn/run to worry about who worked at City Hall and make sure I continued to kiss the appropriate butts.

Still, I have nothing against city employees, and I appreciated those who continued to be regular customers despite their loss of "anointed" status. As I appreciate all my regulars. There is one particular desk clerk (she could have some more Important Title…I don’t know…) with whom I seem to have developed a, for lack of a better word, dysfunctional relationship. She is a methodical, entitled, we’ll-get-around to-it-all-in-good-time government employee. I am an overworked, high-energy, I-needed-it-yesterday small business owner. Every day, we vie for the same parking spot (in front of MY restaurant…)

We really can’t stand each other, but we try to be nice anyway, because we know it’s what we should do. But because we exist on such opposite ends of the personality spectrum, we usually end up pissing each other off.

Last fall, when I needed some paperwork to be processed by the city, I took a couple of quick walks across the street to find out what the hold-up was. My inquiries were summarily blown off by Ms. Desk Clerk, who took pains to demonstrate that just because I needed something in a hurry, did not mean that anyone at the city was going to make my needs any kind of priority. In fact, it was none-too-subtly telegraphed that the more I wanted it, the slower they were going to move on it. Because they could.

Yeah, I was frustrated. And I never have been any good at hiding my emotions...

Feeling righteously put-upon, Ms. Desk Clerk proceeded to complain to my landlord (who is the former owner of my restaurant) that she felt I had been rude and impatient with her…sacrilege of all sacrileges! Mr. Landlord, of course, enjoying the feeling of superiority this gave him, immediately had to share this information with ME. At which point, for a plug nickel, I would have happily sold them both to Sweeney Todd…

And yet, Ms. Desk Clerk has continued to be a regular customer, so I have tried to put our history aside and treat her as I do all the regulars. I tend to spoil our regulars a bit…give them special service, throw a few extras into the bag now and then. So, last week, in the middle of our busiest-ever Friday lunch hour, the front counter is clogged with teachers-in-a-hurry ordering lunch. I am in the kitchen, trying to help the cook crank out the orders, but I glance out front and notice Ms. Desk Clerk standing off to one side with money in her hand. I look over my shoulder, and in the middle of our huge string of orders is her ticket for a bowl of soup to go. In deference to her status as regular customer, I grab her order, make it up myself forthwith; then I run out to the front counter (putting everybody else’s orders on hold) to take her money and get her taken care of as quickly as possible. Thinking I was doing a good thing…

I go to hand her the bag, and she says, "Are there crackers in there?"

We don’t actually serve crackers with a bowl of soup…it comes with garlic cheese bread. No crackers. Never has had crackers.

So I say, "It doesn’t actually come with crackers. It comes with bread."

And she says, "So I can’t have crackers?"

And I say, "Well, it doesn’t actually come with crackers…" as I’m stuffing crackers into her god-damned bag. It’s not that I was begrudging her the damned crackers. Or that I didn’t want to give her the damned crackers. It’s just that we were hugely busy and I hadn’t intuited that she was going to want these damned crackers that are NOT NORMALLY SERVED WITH A BOWL OF SOUP. And that it was going to turn into a huge issue.

This afternoon, she shows up at the front counter. When I ask her how I can help her, she starts in about…the god-damned crackers.

She wants to be sure I know how rude I was to her, and how dare I argue **twice!** about the stinking crackers. And she was so upset about the incident; but she figured that, rather than boycott the place, she would come and talk to me about it.

Today is Wednesday.  Five days later.  Mind you, it wasn't that she had stopped in to buy a cup of coffee or something, and thought she'd mention the problem while she was there.  She had made a special trip just to get in my face about Friday's crackers.

She must be the only person in the world who obsesses about a perceived slight more than I do.

Was I in the wrong? Possibly. Could I have handled the situation better? Probably.

Is it something that comes naturally to me, this ability to kiss up to people, piss all over myself when they complain, do anything, say anything, just to keep them happy?

Not in a million years.

Nice Matters? I suppose it does. But, obviously, I am NOT nice.

And, once again, I’m wondering why I chose to do what I do. And if I’ll ever be any freaking good at it. L

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Valentine's Day 2008: We're Getting There...

Finally. Time to relax. Time to consider the implications of the events of the last few days.

Thursday—Valentine’s Day—was a success beyond our wildest hopes.

Some things didn’t go as I would have liked. Our best entrees were not the most popular. We had a fantastic pecan-crusted salmon salad on the menu, and we sold maybe a dozen. Our "Old Town Mac & Cheese" is really wonderful…cheddar cheese sauce with a bite of hot dijon and our great honey ham… But it’s been on the menu for a couple of months, and I guess people were looking to try something different, or maybe less comfort-foody. The most popular entrée of the night—Pesto Chicken breast with provolone and fettuccini Alfredo on the side—looked a bit puny on the plate going out. I’m sure it tasted fine (I know our pesto is top notch and our homemade Alfredo is to die for) but the plate coverage wasn’t there. We ran WAY short of "vegetable du jour" (and it was, I’m ashamed to say, sort of a throw-away anyway…) But we didn’t run out of anything important, and we didn’t send out any wrong orders (which would have been inexcusable with four of us in the kitchen…)

Considering that we did more sales in three hours than we usually do in a good (entire) day…I’d say we did okay. We comped one glass of wine to a guest who didn’t feel the meal was coming up fast enough, and one glass of soda because we didn’t get it to the guest in a timely manner. But, on the whole, the restaurant looked great, people had a good time, and nobody died. And we had our all-time best sales day in our history of owning the restaurant. Which will ultimately translate to our best sales week in our history of owning the restaurant.

In February.

Which, last year, was our second-to-worst sales month in our history of owning the restaurant. I’m finding it really hard to assimilate that particular aspect…

We learned some things…about what modifications we will need to make to our systems, our menu, and our physical plant if we ever hope to do that kind of business on a consistent basis (and that is the ultimate goal, is it not?)

And about what we can do, even when we have no idea what the hell we are doing.

I think we can chalk this one in to the "wins" column.

Friday morning, after four crappy hours of can’t-make-the-adrenaline-go-away sleep, I dragged my butt back to the restaurant. But it was okay…I anticipated a peaceful day. Surely everyone in this itty-bitty town who had any intention of eating at our place in the foreseeable future had done so. I figured we would probably be pretty damned dead for the rest of the weekend.


Friday was a "conference" day for the local schools. Teachers were in residence. Students were not. And, in this small town, we are pretty much within walking distance of every school in the district.

Oh-so-many teachers chose the Old Town Café as their lunch destination on Friday. So many that we did the highest lunch sales hour in our history of owning the restaurant. Right on the heels of our busiest day ever. Let me just say, we were neither prepared nor particularly eager to welcome that gift from the gods…

And, yet…we did. With as much grace and skill as we had left in us. All went well.

Friday evening, my butt scraped the asphalt all the way home. After I left, my poor tired girls managed to rack up enough sales to make this our all-time highest Friday sales in our history of owning the restaurant.

Yikes. I hardly know what to do with this sudden success. Honestly.

Early this afternoon, as I scraped the residue of breakfast off the grill, I had a thought that made me giggle out loud (and caused the cook who was working with me today to shoot me a quizzical glance…)

I understood—for the first time, I think—that we just might make a go of this thing. We just might keep the doors open. And I realized that this could be the difference between me and most idiots who open restaurants with the idea that getting rich off this sort of venture will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

They all think that, within months, they will be raking in enough money to make them official residents of Easy Street.

I, on the other hand, consider it a victory that I’ll be able to keep the doors open.

Making money? That will come, eventually.

Making a fortune? Dream on.

But if I can create a place where people can come and eat and be part of the family; work for a boss I can actually get along with; keep a roof over my head and a car in the driveway; provide work for a few other souls, and maybe even make their lives a little easier…

Then I AM a rich woman indeed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine’s Day at the Old Town Café

2006 sales (original ownership): $1252.45

2007 sales (new ownership) $725.27

2008 Projected Sales: $1200.00

2008 Actual Sales: $2123.99

This is The Big One, Elizabeth....

I am stressed, I am exhausted, and I am totally hyped out.

Tomorrow (actually, today) is Valentine’s Day.

In some recent episode of "Kitchen Nightmares," Gordon Ramsay says that there are two days a year when your restaurant should be full… If it’s not, then you might as well close your doors.

Mothers’ Day. And Valentine’s Day. Those are the two days.

For all intents and purposes, this will be our first Valentine’s Day at the café. Yes, we owned the place a year ago, but we were still in that "change of ownership" stage. We had a terrible crew and an awful menu. So rather than drag people in only to have them hate it and never come back, we sort of took a pass on Valentine’s Day. We were open, but we didn’t much tell anybody.

This year, we are in an entirely different place. So, in an effort to prove—to whom, I’m not sure—that we are not quite ready to close our doors, we have decided to advertise a Valentine’s Day special.

Candlelight Dinner. Four courses (nothing fancy…but four courses, nonetheless…)

We are not taking reservations. Because…um…we don’t know how. And rather than cock it up, we figure we’ll just go with the old first-come, first-served thing. And see how it goes.

I have absolutely NO idea what is going to happen. We could be swamped. We could be extremely disappointed. No way of knowing, without a book full of reservations.

What I DO know is that we are the least expensive Valentine’s Dinner to be had in Columbia County. I didn’t plan it that way…it just happened. And "cheap" is one way to really draw a crowd ‘round these parts.

I don’t know whether to be stoked, or scared shitless. I’m trying to lean toward stoked…

I doubt I’ll have enough energy left tomorrow night, after the fact, to do more than crawl into bed and pass out…but I’ll let you know how it went when I come back up for air.


Friday, February 8, 2008

The Rest of A Day in the Life

(What…did you think I did a Rip Van Winkle on you?)

A little background is in order before we get to the fun part…

It has been an increasing annoyance to me that a certain element of our community has come to think of my café as a large empty space with tables and chairs which they are free to use any time. I wish I had a dollar for every group that comes in, disappears into the back corner and proceeds to have hours-long business meetings. Occasionally, they condescend to buy a couple of cups of coffee. If we’re lucky, we can bad-vibe them into buying a pastry or a meal.

Since we installed the free wi-fi, this problem has grown worse. Internet junkies who feel entitled to any free connection they can sniff out, and don’t feel they should be compelled to buy anything in order to make use thereof, duck into our back corner and spend literally hours geeking out. Or whatever it is they are doing. We have a few especially annoying people—I think they are Real Estate agents—who treat our dining room as if it were their personal office-away-from-office. They drink gallons of coffee, squat at our largest tables for hours, and get annoyed if we should "pester" them about actually ordering a meal. Several times a week, I resort to disconnecting the modem to get these folks to pack up and go away.

Recently, we have enacted some house policies designed to rein in the out-of-control wi-fi use. On two occasions last week, I asked single wi-fi users to please set up their computers on smaller tables, rather than using our larger tables meant for parties of four or more. In both cases, these folks arrived just before a typical rush period…otherwise I probably would not have approached them at all. The reactions I got were over-the-top.

One guy (who had just spent much of the previous day attached to our internet) packed up and left in a huff after I asked him to set up at a smaller table. Then he called us on the phone and went off on this sputtering, barely-controlled-rage diatribe about refusing to buy one of our extremely overpriced burgers just so he could use our wi-fi (I hadn’t asked him to purchase anything…I simply asked him to sit at a smaller table.)

So, what has this to do with the continued fun and games on Sunday last? Well, husband and I were settling into our seats after ordering breakfast, and I noticed that there was a large group holed up in the back corner, complete with spiral notebooks, folders, computers, pens and pencils, and very little evidence that they intended to partake of any food or beverage.

This was a bit worrisome, because Sunday morning between about 9:30 and 10:30 is typically our busiest hour of the week. We have a bunch of folks who come out to the restaurant before church, often in groups of four to six. And here were our largest tables being squatted upon by people who were essentially non-customers. I was annoyed, and tried to think of some earthly way to get them to wrap it up and go away before the rush hit. Without starting World War Three.

As I was wrestling with that issue, a guy pulls up in front of the restaurant, gets out of the car with his laptop in hand, and comes in. He seems to know the folks doing the meeting, because he stops by their tables and chats with them for a bit. The next thing I know, he’s unzipping his case and setting up his computer on the last empty large table in the back corner. So, I stand up, walk over and ask if he could please set up his computer at the smaller table adjacent to where the big group is meeting. Whereupon he…goes off on me. He opens by telling us how he had had a bad experience at the café previously, so he’d posted a "very negative review" about us on his blog.

Eventually, we attempt to diffuse the situation by sitting down and trying to have a civil conversation. Husband is Mr. Mollification. "We apologize if anyone here has ever been rude to you. We assure you that is not our policy and it will never happen again…" Turns out he was pissed off because he came in one day, yammering on his cel phone, set up his computer and was not immediately and consistently fawned over by the counter girls. And, travesty of all travesties, they took away the coffee pots without telling him. (Our coffee is self-service refills until 5 pm, when we switch to table service for dinner. At which time we take in the self-service paraphernalia and give customers their own small pots at their tables if they order coffee. And if this jerk was ANY kind of a regular—as he claimed to be—he would have known that.)

I can barely tolerate this officious a**holeasserting that we need to realize that wi-fi isn’t a service we offer customers, it is a marketing tool designed to attract people like him and his group. "People like him" being those who intend to settle in for six to eight hours at a time, hold meetings and remain attached to the umbilicus of MY internet connection. All day. Maybe several days a week.

I don’t think so.

He likes our décor. He likes our music. The cafe should be a place where itinerant business people can set up shop, conduct business and connect to the wi-fi. With complete freedom to stay as long as they see fit. (And you know, we went around and around with that guy for fifteen minutes, and he never did say a thing about our food.) I am adamant that this is not what we intended when we offered wi-fi service to our customers. I’m getting more and more frustrated with this butthead and his "I-know-your-business-better-than-you-do" attitude. In frustration, I ask him, "What business are you in?"

And he says….

Wait for it…

"I’m a pastor."

I’m sure the words, "Are you f-ing kidding me???" flashed across my forehead in marquee-sized letters. I swallowed those words, opened up my mouth to say something, and swallowed those words again. Here was this overbearing, self-righteous son-of-a-bitch telling me he is a pastor.

Okay. Well, maybe that isn’t so unbelievable after all.

So I say, "Of a church here in Scappoose? Don’t you have a facility?"

And he says, "Yes, but there’s a school there, and it’s too noisy…not a good atmosphere for business meetings."

At this point, I think I have to be losing my marbles. I cannot reconcile this guy and the way he just…IS…with my idea of a pastor. Naïve and antiquated as my idea might be.

Somehow we managed to smooth things over enough to avoid the scene of his whole group standing up and walking out in a huff. I personally had to bail on the conversation and let the husband finish it up. If I sat there any longer and listened to his pompous flatulence, I was going to be sick. Or kill him.

Husband herds ME out the door before I can do any more damage. But of course, I go on obsessing about this for hours.Much later, I decide to indulge in some internet detective work. And find Mr. Pastor has posted yet another "negative review" about the café, and tagged it so that it will easily come up should anyone google us. Swell. That’s what I get for pissing off a geek, I guess.

So, like I said. The events of the past weekend got me to the place where I really wondered why the hell I made the decision to do what I do, and whether I will ever be any freaking good at it….

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Day in the Life

Today was one of those days when I feel like I didn’t do anything right. I got p.o.’d and threw some stuff around in the kitchen (I swore to myself thirty years ago that I would never do that.) I got irritated with my best little employee (and I hope she doesn’t just tell me to take the job and shove it.) I didn’t make any headway with my Valentine promotion plans, and time is ticking away quickly on that one.

Actually, I think today was just a continuation of yesterday. Which might have been an extension of the day before. In fact, I’m trying to think of just when my last good day was…

Let’s start with Saturday. First of all, it was a crappy anniversary of a crappy day. My dad passed away on February 2nd, 1999. So it’s always a kind of off sort of day for me.

And then, it took a notion to snow all day. Ugh! I looked outside at the snow and I thought, oh, THERE goes my week (sales-wise.) So of course I decided it wasn’t going to be busy. And then it was. Which was good. I guess. But annoying, when one has made up one’s mind that it is not going to be busy and has planned accordingly.

In addition, I’ve been fighting off a cold with mass quantities of zinc and Vitamin C; but so far, the cold is winning. You know how they say that if you take all this stuff, the cold is supposed to be less severe and of shorter duration? Well, that looks like it’s probably going to be true, but it only makes it marginally less annoying. I’m not sure it’s an advantage to be just sick enough to be really crabby, but not sick enough to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over your head. Let’s just say it’s not making me any friends this week…

I guess yesterday was the capper. Sunday…supposed to be our day off. The plan is for husband to sleep in and enjoy the game later on, and for me to go to the café and get some work done while husband is Superbowling. At a quarter to eight (am) the phone rings. It is the good and faithful "D" at the café. Mila the café cat has been attacked by three unleashed dogs. Saved by "D", who has been seriously punctured for her trouble. Can we rush to the café and whisk the cat to the vet?

So we jump out of bed, throw on some clothes, drive hell bent for leather to the restaurant. Poor café cat is holed up in the ladies’ room. Seriously sad kitty. Full of dog spit, probably in shock, and with one back leg sticking out at an odd angle. No holes or tears that I could see, but obviously not okay. But cat has a tag with an owner’s number on it. I make the executive decision to call the owner and let them foot the vet bill. Owner shows up, takes cat away in a laundry basket.

I slather peroxide all over "D’s" injured hand and try to help her wrap it up. Day off has just begun, and is looking pretty funky. Husband and I adjourn to a table and figure we might as well have the cooks make us some breakfast. Almost seems like things could slide back to normal. But the fun has just begun…

(I will finish this later. Gotta go to bed sometime…)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

February 2nd

Hi Dad!

I got to thinking about you today. It is a day for thinking about you. February 2nd. I can’t forget.

It snowed today. All day long. Before I closed the bathroom door to take my shower this morning at 6:30, I squinted through the blinds to see what kind of day it was. Black rooftops…cold, but dry. Got out of the shower 20 minutes later and the rooftops were white.

Damn. But I slogged out to the truck, turned on the wipers, and mushed over to the restaurant. I learned to drive in this stuff. You see, Dad? You and your little nuggets of wisdom are never too far below the surface.

I was sure the snow would be the kiss of death for sales today. But we did okay. In fact, we had a good day. You’d hardly know it was snowing. The place was packed for breakfast.

I so wish you could see our place, Dad! I look out into the dining room sometimes, and I think about you. The way you and Mom would always come to wherever I worked. The pizza place, the Italian Restaurant, the bakery. The Scandinavian Festival. You always came. You were always part of my successes. I like to think it made you happy to see me do well, though you never really said so, in so many words.

You would be happy with the café, Dad. I think we’re really going to make it happen. Some day, we might actually make some money on it! I hate that you’ll never sit at one of our tables, never tuck a napkin into the front of your shirt and take a big bite out of one of our burgers.

Never see me trying to pass on to another generation some of what I learned from you. The things that are timeless and never go out of style. Honesty. Dependability. Patience (well, I do the best I can…!) Pride in a job well done.

I think it would be easier for me if they—my crew, "my girls" –could have known you. If only they could have met…the person I aspire to be. They might understand, then, why sometimes I’m so prickly. Because I’m frustrated. With myself. When I fall short of what I know I could be. What I should be. What you would have wanted me to be.

Nine years. I can scarcely believe it.

And now, Mom has gone, too. Is she with you? Are you together in some unearthly reality? And isJoyce there too?

I hope, wherever you are, it is…well, "beautiful" is such a lame human word, but it’s the best my lame human mind can come up with.

I hope, too, wherever you are…wherever you all are…you think about me from time to time. Because I think about you.

And I miss you.