Welcome back to a special ongoing series of Eater column On the House in which former Fenway Park executive chef Steve "Nookie" Postal shares his experience of opening two Cambridge restaurants: Commonwealth and Steinbones. Here's part five.
[Photo: What will eventually be the dining room view from Commonwealth.]
Would you like a continuous dywall or a partitioned dywall? Would you like a foot rail at the bar or a solid step or nothing at all? What size ice cubes do you want? Should the door open to the left or to the right? Who the fuck knows!!!! I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if I know what I'm doing at all. I mean, clearly I have enough experience and a great grasp of the industry, but I don't know the answers to half the questions I get. It's great having "The Staubinator" [Michael Staub of Group M] there to explain everything. He should write a book... but, well, then he might lose all his clients. Anyway, good to have him aboard.
This week we had a great meeting with Ed McCabe over at Cafco headquarters. Staub said that I can't look at everything as an adversarial relationship. I need to trust that these guys aren't trying to screw me. I really feel like I'm getting there with my team, but I'm not quite there yet. I mean, I don't think they are trying to screw me, I just need to a little more time to feel really comfortable. I can feel them all cringe because I already feel pretty comfortable, but just not 100% comfortable yet. Today Dave Downing, the landlord's representative, called me "very annoying." I laughed.
I also need to come to terms with the fact that we are behind schedule. It's a sobering thought, but it's one that is unfortunately a reality. But Nookie, you are still a month and half away from getting the space, how can you be delayed already? Thank you for asking. Well, damn, it takes a lot to make a restaurant happen. I thought you just get an architect to draw up some plans, you hire a contractor and then they build it. Well that's what "How to Open a Restaurant for Dummies" said.
Couldn't be farther from the truth. There are layers and revisions and different sets and DD or CD or, again, who the fuck knows. All I know is there are a ton of plans and then we have to get pricing. Then I freak out and go back and slash, slash, slash till we get a really high number, just not an absurd number. Then, Cafco goes and has to get permits for all this. That takes another three to four weeks. Hopefully someone in the city of Cambridge reads this and pushes me through. Just stamp away please? That was probably a bad idea. Oh well, not deleting it now.
Staffing is starting to really get in the back of my mind. I need to start filling some huge management holes. I do have some filled, with people from my past, but I'm really looking for some solid front of the house presence. I really want to assemble a first class team of people who are passionate about service and hospitality and love and breathe the industry. So important. I mean, everything and everyone is important, but good staff - good staff makes up for a lot of missteps.
If the ceiling isn't great or we screw something up or whatever bad happens, paramount service will overshadow everything. It can make a break a restaurant. When I'm in the kitchen, I need to have full, 100% confidence that the service is held up to my standards and that the feeling is warm and welcoming. People are excited when they go out to dinner. It's not a funeral. People should feel warm and comfortable and it's the FOH job to make that happen.
This week we have more revision meetings and design meetings. Planning a field trip to Bee's Knees to check out their market. I have heard great things so we are gonna see if it helps clarify or vision for Commonwealth market. I still don't have a name for the market side. I like Commonwealth, but it's kinda long. Maybe Commonwealth Provisions, Commonwealth Market, Commonwealth General Store? Oat Creative will figure it out, they are pretty awesome. I'm also getting a bank account this week. Maybe Cambridge Savings, maybe Eastern, we will see who is nicer to me. And on the back burner, the one in the corner on a low simmer, Steinbones is really starting to bubble: it's getting closer and closer. I hope soon to be able to announce something but it's still just a little early. As always, follow along on twitter @chefnookie and let me know what size ice cubes I should have at my bar?
· All On The House Coverage on Eater [~EBOS~]
[Photo: Operable windows are in!]