t-minus 3 nights

I can’t think of any creative song lyrics to start off with this time.  We are officially in the twilight zone.. the grind is in full effect and all of the managers have probably worked 15 or 16 hours a day for the last 9 days  (if not more).. and we are just about to reach the starting line!  

As I sat with the contractor a couple days ago and went over the list of things to yet complete (it’s long), I realized that for them it’s almost over.. for us, we have the next 10 to 20 years to make this thing rock n’ roll..more if we’re lucky, less if we screw it up.  They are bone weary.   I’ve been here with them everyday (and I’m a little bone weary too) but they’ve done the heavy lifting and are ready to not see me again for awhile.. I’m stuck with me.  We first walked into this building in late November I think.. we signed a lease in January, we spent a while figuring out what to do with it.. we brought the hammers in just over 60 days ago to start the remodel.

Training is basically done.  Which also means it’s just begun.  We’ve spent the last week with nearly 100 new employees, most of which are still with us, and done everything in our power to pass on the information we think is critical for them..  They tasted nearly every wine, cocktail, beer, and menu item we’ll be serving.. today we did the 2nd round of menu testing.  7 plates of each item, about 30 items.. 210 plates by billy, michael and jeff with WAY too many cooks huddled around trying to learn.  The servers got a mere bite of each and a discussion about the what,where, why, who of each dish.  Tomorrow the staff is off, Monday we will serve about 200 ppl during practice sessions.  Tuesday we’ll serve about 300 people and then we are off to the races (literally… we have 1 week to really do this right before track season starts and we get slaughtered).  The real training starts with the first guest.  The first ticket.  The first cocktail.  And the repetition will improve the speed and knowledge daily.  But we’ve done what we can.  We have a great staff.  They have a hard road ahead to master their roles.  This is a thank you to all of them, and to the management team Emma, Amber, Melissa, Brian, Jeff, William, Mijkal, and wifey for getting us to this night.. To the design team and the contractors.. to the landlord for being really gracious in letting us do our thing.  We are all excited to present to you Sea & Smoke…an American Brasserie..

The posts will likely continue…perhaps.. for now, here’s some photos.     ALMOST DONE

down kitchen mez sign upbar

This is the end, beautiful friend, the end

In a little over 11 hours from when I am typing this, we will have around 100 employees sitting down for day 1 of training. Being there fairly non stop with the contractor over the last 58 days I sense their relief at being close to finishing. I wish I could share in that…but really, our work is just now beginning. There are still a lot of finishing touches to get done by the construction crew whilst staff is in the building training but in a little over a week we will open wide the doors. We passed our health final and have building final tomorrow. Just a quick update since I’ve been silent for a bit but I hope to share some stories of training over the next few nights!
Cheers from del mar!

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Like a steam locomotive, rollin’ down the tracks

I hate licorice.   my wife bought one of those damn costco tubs and i can’t stop eating it.. i don’t even like it and can’t stop.   fake and gross, but sometimes when it’s right in front of you, well… there ya go.  

We are down to the WIRE!  The wood floor dude seems to have a daily 2 hr max for work..he’s like a parking meter.  the tile guy is killing it… really happy with the nook tile that’s going in right now. Hand painted cement tiles from Nicaragua.  Very cool indeed.  Booths come Wednesday for the remainder of the nook.

ImageA bunch of the new hires are coming in tomorrow to start the clean up process and assemble tables and patio furniture etc.  The punch list is still huge.  In this coming week we have to:

- paint the exterior
- finish installing 5 doors and windows including the glass
- touch up a ton of paint areas previously done 
- finish the bar top
- finish wood floor and tile in main dining room
- partitions in bathrooms
- hoods clean
- Ansul system certified
- draft system installed
- CO2 install
- soda system re-boot
- POS install
- Opentable reso system install
- dishwashers and water softener install

That’s a very condensed version of the list and that’s all to be done by wednesday!  Thursday is orientation for staff, so hopefully we’ll be able to do some practice cooking during all that!

DAMN YOU TO HELL REDVINESImage

onwards to the feast, onwards to midas hall

I’m starting to get a complex.  I have been told at least 30 times in the past week that I seem awfully calm for someone getting ready to open a restaurant.  I am starting to feel guilty for not being all wacko and stressed out.  I’ll save the stress for service and for new staff that will not likely be firing on all cylinders when we get doors open, no matter how much we train and drill.  You cannot simulate combat.  You can only be in it.  

The past two weeks have been enormously productive.  We cleared some major hurdles that I’ve been writing about since day 1.. last week, i was surprised by a simple envelope in the mail, that upon opening contained our liquor license!  Restrictions? ZERO!  If you aren’t in the biz you wont understand the restriction side of licenses (such as in encinitas at Solace & the Moonlight, if you have a cocktail in your hand at 11:15 on a wednesday night, I have to take it away.. my proximity to residences forces me to close much earlier then I’d like)  Sea & Smoke will be a testing ground for both late night and earlier morning bar programs for us and we are very excited to not be bound by such restrictions!  AND most importantly, we finally got our bank funding a couple days ago.  That was the longest haul of all at nearly six months.. but it’ done.  

In the space, the painting is nearly complete, the floors started going down yesterday, the lights go up monday and tuesday, the last set of doors goes in on saturday, WAITING to hear back from the beer tap installer (and they are making me a little nervous with their lack of communication), the bathrooms are almost set, the stereo is wired and cranking, all the furniture is in except a couple random things that are in transit, the glassware, cutlery and china is ordered… i could keep going but you get the picture.  

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The most potential for stress comes in the staffing department.  We are close to being done  with the front of the house, and I’m told we are really putting together a solid team.. a very experienced team with a lot of knowledge coming in the door.  Cooks on the other hand seem fairly scarce..and we need more.  In talking to a number of my chef Imagefriends, I am not the only one in need.  In fact, in talking to some bay area friends I am told it’s happening there too… a lack of response to our ads and flyers and post.  Where have all the good cooks gone, long time passing, where have all the good cooks gone… gone gone away..   

Seriously folks, don’t be scared.. it’s hard work but it’s worth it.  We’ll rock your world and make you work your tail off, but you’ll learn from it and be a better cook for it!  I challenge any cooks reading this to come see what we are all about.  Ok.. enough of a plea?  We are going to do something very cool here and it’ll be worth your time to be part of the team. (email me  a resume.. you can find email for me at urbansolace.net)

The other night I had come up with a whole impassioned manifest.  I was going to post about what it takes to really put your crap aside and dig into a line job.  One of the most thankless positions in the world… burns, cuts, sweat, dehydration, yelling, getting pushed around, working in tight claustrophobic quarters… DREAM JOB.  and that’s an easy day.  I miss that feeling a little as I get older and have been working more as a restaurant operator or owner then a chef lately.  But openings always bring it back.  push push push and do it again the next day.  

Well, time marches on.  Last night was a fun break from living Sea & Smoke non stop.. We participated in the second annual Sausage Fest at JSix.  Chef Christian put together a hell of a fun event and it was fun to meet actually a fair amount of new folks in the industry.  I realize I am no young gun anymore, but rather one of the guys that’s been around for a while and I feel a little old but a little happy for it.  We made a killer Pork and Chicken link emulsified with burnt tortillas, figs and sesame seeds.. It was like a mole but not chocolate or chilies.. and it was delish..  Last year, was the first time this event was held, and frankly, there were a lot of stellar chefs involved..most of whom (including me) made sausages that just didn’t turn out all that good!!  This year was a dramatic improvement and a great time.  Also, the day before we had one of the most unusual and comedic news segments I’ve ever been part of.. this photo may give you some idea of just how that went… goodnight!

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Hiring Fair tomorrow (FRIDAY) from 10 to noon

Hi Folks, 

Spread the word, we are in full force hiring mode now for all positions.. servers, bartenders, server assistants, line cooks, prep cooks, washers of dishes and any other position normally associated with a full service restaurant

You may walk in tomorrow and wonder how the heck we’ll be open in early July, but that’s the magic.  See….it’s 9:15 at night and I’m sitting here watching these guys make fire Imageso we can have the place ready for y’all.. so tell your friends to stop by with a resume.. if not tomorrow, we’ll be here the following tuesday, friday and saturay from 10 to noon also. Check craigslist for our ad!  

concrete in my lungs, a smile on my face and a blender on the shelf

Today a guy sat on his knees for about 10 hours straight with a handheld concrete grinder preparing our floors (for the wood floor which we just found out did not arrive in LA as scheduled yesterday but is instead in SWEDEN)…That paired with the tile that is on back-order for six weeks created a little more work for us as we figure out what is available.. That has happened with each restaurant we’ve built so whatever….. we’ll pick something else. I’m writing earlier in the evening than normal because I hesitate to leave the job site.. there is one other person here, using a gas powered compressor in a not very well ventilated space and I’d hate to walk in tomorrow and find him blue on the floor.. so I’m hangin’ back. It kind of sucks going to one of the restaurants after all day in the space, because even though most of the time I am on a computer…I am still covered in debris and dirt.. the concrete grinding today made it the worst of all. There’s a fine layer of white on everything and surely in my lungs as well…

On the upside, we made a nice discovery yesterday in the bar area.. There was this horrid siding above the center of the bar in what used to be the “outisde bar”.. you can see it here in this picture.. before we tore out the bar cabinets, this top area was lined with tommy bahama tiki mugs:

siding

So..yesterday I decided to take a peek behind it because I’ve always been confused by a vent that is in the ceiling near it and where the duct for the vent goes.. and what I found was a big, beautiful raw wood glue-lam beam. That spans the entire width of the building.. so we tore that sh@# right off and this is what we have to work with! (it’ll require some sanding and love but it’s really going to be a cool element):

Beg Beam

beam

Now that we’re changing how that soffit looks, we need to strip the ceiling too.

On other fronts, the bank delayed closing the loan for a few days (mainly because our permits took so long to get in) but that happened on the last restaurant too, so other then the fact that I’ll have to pony some cash in to keep stuff moving for a week, I don’t foresee too much issue. Construction crew is pulling their first Saturday duty as we passed our electrical inspection today (and framing Wednesday) so we can button up the rest of the walls with drywall.. bathroom tile is here and waiting to be installed so one more day of grinding floors and taping drywall, and Monday looks like tile in bathrooms and maybe some paint.. and sanding that big old beautiful beam. Kitchen is almost all degreased now and next week we’ll fire up the gas (if SDGE lets us) and get our repair company out to make sure we are all up and running.

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HELP WANTED!

This coming Monday, June 3rd, from 9 am to Noon, we will have our first open house for hiring staff. So tell your friends if they are talented and motivated cooks and/or extremely knowledgeable servers/bartenders etc to come on down with a resume. Over the years we’ve wavered back and forth on what we look for in an employee. Do we hire the right personality and hopefully train them to be knowledgeable….or do we hire the knowledgeable person and try to train them to be personable??? Though in a perfect world, I’d prefer the former to the latter; what we’ve found is that they pretty much have to have both to survive. It’s made the interviewing process a real challenge for us. Maybe I already talked about this in a previous post, but we just have so much knowledge that each FOH person has to be responsible for that we just cannot train people from the ground up.. Even people who have experience often don’t have the real knowledge foundation we need… and training was getting to be like a 3 or 4 week endeavor, which is just too expensive. So we started screening our FOH staff with a quiz of sorts, about food and beverage knowledge. If someone can’t answer most of it, we don’t waste our time or theirs because we have learned from our past that the success rate is too low if the foundation isn’t there. What that means is a decent percent of our FOH candidates walk away before we even speak to them. In a perfect world, we’d be able to teach and mold everyone we liked but. sadly, no.. So there’s a challenge to any of you job seekers out there!! We take this profession seriously and want our staff to also! Kitchen is a little different since it is such close quarters and we can more easily mentor a cook. Anyways, we are having our first open house monday for those who don’t need to start work right away and will follow up with a couple more over the next two weeks and try to nail this down!

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GUEST SATISFACTION!

One topic I have definitely covered before is how restaurants are not always the right “fit” for every guest. Every now and then I am reminded of that by a fun email or yelp review. I take them all (mostly?) seriously, but every now and then one is just… well.. special.

Yesterday was my birthday.. I am officially “middle aged”. I swear, I looked it up on the internet.. 41 is officially middle aged.. I wonder if my parents felt like they were really in their twenties like I do at 41…. mentally at least. Well, yesterday, after a great family breakfast, a great day of work and a fun dinner celebration with my wife and kids, I got this email (disclaimer..other than sharing on facebook last night, I have never shared a guests email with the public, though I’ve wanted to many times.. there’s sort of karma involved..especially when the gripe is real).. but this one I am using as in illustration that not all restaurants are meant for all people..even though we try:

“Tried your overpriced resturant tonight…
with the prices you charge it would behoove you
to invest in a blender or two!”

At first I thought maybe it was a haiku attempt because of the spacing and general meter of the verse, but I soon realized it had just waaaay too many syllables.

So then I moved into the territory of trying to understand what this person actually meant…and came up with a few questions:

- If i had pureed his/her food in this particular blender, would it have made it feel less overpriced? Grass fed beef cheek, smoked tomato jam, roasted veggie, sweet potato masher, garlic jus smoothie? A steal at $24.50?

- Is he/she suggesting that being the wealthy restaurateur I must be because of my high prices that I should invest in the blender industry for some reason?? Is it experiencing some sort of recession I am not aware of and it’s my duty to craft a stimulus package to salvage the dying remains of this magical device??

- Is he/she suggesting that with the prices I charge he/she should be given a blender? like instead of an after dinner mint? Consolation prize?

- Then I focused on the misspelling of restaurant (which my wife pointed out I am guilty of often) and wondered if there was a hidden meaning in this.. is it a code?.. I tried rearranging the letters but all I could come up with naturerst or ruset rant…. so I didn’t get far on that..

- Finally, I came to the conclusion that he/she probably just wanted a margarita and some GMO corn chips with commodity beef tacos and premade salsa full of artificial ingredients, stabilizers, colors and other additives for nine dollars and he/she was simply not prepared for the type of service we provide.

I can’t fault this person for wanting those things, nor for feeling like they didn’t receive a value from me (though a take home blender may have helped ease the damage on the wallet for this person..yes?) but I wish they had been able to let us know during their visit that they didn’t feel a value.. we probably could have changed their mind somehow.. or at least acknowledged their frustrations and made an effort to appease them. We lost this one. BUT!!!! BUT, on my way home from my family / ice cream / middle aged birthday / pig-out session I ironically walked by this place.. and realized later when I got this email.. that had this person and I been able to communicate, I could have let him/her know that paradise awaited them.. that I have found the solution to all of their blender fantasies!!!!!! cheers:

WET WILLIE”S, GASLAMP SAN DIEGO