Welcome back to a special, weekly 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 fourteen.
Good news and bad news?seems to always come that way, usually with the bad far outweighing the good. Let's talk positives first. Got our permits. That's exciting. We can start building now anytime, but it's not as simple as just saying, ok, now go build it. There is still tons to do before we can go. Budget numbers need to be finalized, contracts need to be signed (probably in blood), equipment needs to chosen, and schedules need to be drawn up. It's complicated, as it all is turning out to be, but progress is being made.
Kitchen equipment seems to be taking the majority of my time and energy lately. So, we basically designed exactly what we wanted and got a quote for all new equipment to stock that dream space. Then the price tag comes, and you pick yourself up off the floor. Twice the amount we can actually spend, so what do we do? Well, there are a few options. Leasing equipment is always an option, but being a startup, it's difficult to get a good rate on that.
There's the used restaurant equipment route. E.F. Smith & Son have a humongous warehouse in Quincy with every single piece of equipment you could ever imagine. Picture an equipment graveyard: rooms filled with coolers, and hoods and fryers and metro shelving racks as far as the eye can see. There is even a room called "Walk-in World," like 50 walk-ins just sitting there waiting for someone to take them home. Like an MSPCA for old equipment. The stories these things could tell. Anyway, some great options there, but it's used equipment, so there are some issues with it. But overall, it's a really good value. If I had the budget of, say, Menton, I wouldn't be thinking this route, but I don't. Champagne tastes on a beer budget — story of my life.
There were some really nice pieces there that are exactly what I'm looking for: a huge ice machine that makes 1 ¼-inch cubes for the bar and shaved ice for the raw bar and market displays. That was a great find. $20k new, $4k used. Big savings. A really great ice cream machine. It's 22 years old, but they don't make them like they used to. This particular machine needs to be connected to a chilled water loop from the building. The majority of the restaurants don't have access to that. I do. New $28k, used $3k. More savings. And I can keep going down the list. Some stuff will be new, but I have to do whatever I can do to try to stay in budget. It's not easy; everything costs.
Started the search for our GM. Such an important piece of the puzzle. Placed an ad on BostonChefs.com. Looking for a dynamic presence in the FOH. The feel and level of service and hospitality is so important to me. I want everyone to feel comfortable and special, and I want them to know how appreciative we are that they choose us to dine with over the many other choices out there.
The truth of the matter is that if someone has a mediocre food experience but outstanding service, they will more than likely come back, but a really good food experience with terrible service — they are more than likely not coming back. Service is so important. I think, lots of time, it gets left out and forgotten about, but I think we can remember with great clarity some of the great service interactions of our lives. I know I can.
So, that what's going on. Next week is July 4th, so that's kinda aggravating, because people are probably taking a half day on Wednesday, then July 4th, and then just rolling right in to the long weekend. Then Monday is a recovery/catch-up day. It is what it is. Big meeting at Cafco to go line by line again through the budget and pare it down to the number where we need it to be. Some tough calls are going to be made. We can't have everything we want, just the way it is. Window wraps are going up around the place, and construction will be starting soon. That's when the real fun starts?right???? Follow @chefnookie and @commnwlth on Twitter for real time updates.
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