Friday, May 21, 2010

Found Him…

Last night, I chose to rub salt in a wound that had not healed over as much as I had thought.

I had heard on the grapevine (from my manicurist—the resource library for all of the county's juiciest gossip) that one of the major restaurant players in The Next Town Up The Road had recently lost its chef. Using what deductive powers haven't yet been compromised by my chronic state of overwork and undersleep, I put two and two together and guessed that this was where California Chef had landed. So, last night, husband and I made a little "market research" field trip up the road to see what was shaking.

And yes, there was my ex-chef, toiling away in the open kitchen of the pizza restaurant-cum brew pub-cum comedy club-cum whatever else will put butts in the seat, which has also been struggling to add "dinner house" to its list of various personae. And while I am the first to admit that, in our-pint-sized demographic, success is built upon how many market niches an eatery can successfully fill, Pizza Pub Up The Road has enjoyed about as much success in the dinner house category as has the Hot Flash Café.

There are reasons for this; reasons that became more abundantly clear to me during the ten months I personally struggled to morph the Hot Flash Café into something that would optimize California Chef's talents. The truth of the matter is, there is an extremely limited market, out here in the exurbs, for what California Chef does best. He can make beautiful, tasty, trendy food. And that, unfortunately, is not what our customers are looking for in a local restaurant. They want clean, friendly, edible homey stuff. If a restaurant can kind of nudge them toward the 21st century without their knowing it, they're good with that. But they are definitely not looking for nouvelle cuisine out here. If they want trendy, they make a day or night of it and go into "The City." Or they go west to one of the more upscale communities on the beach.

When California Chef took his leave of us, it didn't take me long to realize that he had to leave…that we were never going to be able to make proper use of what he had to offer. I thought, "Okay. Failed experiment. Chalk this one up to experience and move on." But as cantankerous and hard to get along with as the kid had proven to be, I had made a sizeable emotional investment in him. I really believed he had talent and a bright future, even if it wasn't with my restaurant. As much as, in the end, his leaving was obviously best for everyone, it was not painless for me to see him go.

If only he HAD gone on to somewhere that his talents could be nurtured and properly utilized. But, no—he's at a stupid, small-town restaurant of ambiguous identity that is really just a bigger, more ambitious version of the Hot Flash Café. Churning out humdrum food that is NOT his, to keep the unimaginative patrons happy, while straining to attract a market that does not exist with specials like "Halibut Picatta."

My greatest regret with California Chef was that I worked elbow to elbow with him for ten months, and couldn't teach him a damned thing. I knew I had little to offer in the way of teaching him how to cook, but I had hoped I could impart some wisdom about how to run a kitchen, how to assemble and relate to a staff, even what kinds of food might appeal to our demographic. Seeing him last night, ramming his head against the same brick wall he'd encountered (erected?) at the Hot Flash Café, it really brought home to me how utterly deaf and blind he was to anything I had tried to impress upon him during our short and obviously fruitless association.

Within comfortable commuting distance to the city of Portland and its exciting up-and-coming culinary scene, California Chef chooses to go…sideways. Or even backwards.

It was a blow my bruised heart was less ready to absorb than I thought…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May Strikes Again

Just after we bought the café, I was so overwhelmed, yet still so attached to blogging, that I took to making little ten-minute posts just to let everyone know I was still alive.

Well, now there's not really an "everyone" to let know I'm still alive… And, theoretically, I have enough of a handle on this whole thing to be able to carve out some time to create real posts. And I really thought I was past those over-worked, walking around in a sleep-deprived haze days. Unfortunately, we seemed to have back-slid a bit in that…

So here I am with another ten-minute stream of consciousness post, because even though I have no brain left at the end of any given day, I am still attached to this blog.

With Mothers Day out of the way, it might actually be time to lean back and let the café go on auto-pilot for a month or two. NOT! Though I've managed to pull myself together enough to get a few things done in the long-term promotion category, I still have a list of things ten feet long that I want to/need to accomplish. Not the least of which is get the ball rolling on this air-conditioning thing before it gets really hot out. We've had a miserably cold spring (if we were at 3000 feet we would be buried in snow…) that has, up 'til now, saved our bacon air conditioning-wise. But we all know it's going to get warm sometime, and rather sooner than later, I would think. I cannot have my guests trying to choke down a meal with sweat running down into their pasta.

Speaking of Mothers Day, it went rather well. We didn't have any big disasters, reservations were taken and filled promptly, people complimented the hell out of the food, and we had a fairly good sales day. So I'm going to call it a success, though our food cost and labor costs for the week were unfortunately way out of line, so I'm thinking we didn't really make any money on the whole thing. We hope, however, that we did make some friends. And that is what keeps the doors open.

So, yes…Mothers Day went well. As well as can be hoped for a motherless, childless workaholic. These days, Mothers Day just means a day of extra stress and work work work for me. Which is, in the end, probably a good thing. Because May is just a…hard month, if I let myself think about it. Mothers Day and my parents' wedding anniversary were always within days of each other (my folks were married on May 12, 1945). With them both gone, mid-May would be a time of sighing and missing them, if I had ten minutes to rub together to dwell on it. Plus, my sister passed away five days after Mom & Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1995, so that is not a good memory, either. So though spring—May in particular—is a beautiful time of bloom and renewal in the Pacific Northwest, it is not without its barbs, at least for me.

Ten minutes are up. Time to make the donuts…

Wow. I thought Word had freaked out and eaten this post. But I just found it in some obscure "Auto Recovered Files" panel. Wrote this early this morning, before the rest of the ultimately crappy day had unfolded.

My chef quit today. Just up and said he couldn't get along with any of the staff…hasn't tried, really, but that's a story for another day.

So I guess some re-evaluation, reorganization and re-everything else is in the works.