Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Renovation: Day 2 Holes & Setbacks

The mural's coming along; the fun part of this renovation. It's not the reason we're closed, but it does give me a nice chunk of time to add more color to the dining room!

Today they cut two nice skylights in the kitchen & worked on the roof. Unfortunately the nice new "windows" will have an air conditioner unit over one, and a makeup air unit over the other.

Aside from the contractor finding out today that there's some new regulation regarding the backsplash that may set us back, we found out that there is a new law requiring us to construct a guardrail on the roof because the makeup air unit will be somewhat close to the edge of the roof. The rail is for safety, should someone needs to service the unit.

The contractor asked the city inspector if he would allow us to still open, but have an additional 30 days to complete the guardrail (which was not originally worked into the time line or budget because we didn't know about this regulation) and still open the restaurant once the kitchen is complete.

Any guesses as to what the city said?

Renovation: Day 1 "Just a hood"

Today's Special: Kitchen Renovation! Yes, had you come into Caribe, today on the menu you'd find sliced ceiling tiles, insulation fluff, crispy plaster chips, and slabs of sheetrock with a side of sawdust. Mmmm.

I probably shouldn't post the following photo, but I'm frustrated.

Many dear friends, bless their hearts, have asked about the remodel and why we're closing down. And here's how the typical conversation goes. I tell them how we are closing down to have a new ventilation system put in so we can have new equipment to make our new & improved menu. And then comes their reaction: "oh, so you're just putting in a hood, huh?"

Well, yea, we are, but "just?" Just? JUST!

"Just" implies quick & easy. As if to say, "why would you close down so long to just put a hood?"

So, to my dear friends and well-meaning curious peeps who really do care, but "just" don't understand, here is what it means to have a ventilation hood put into our kitchen:

It means we have no kitchen.
It means we shut down for a week or two.
It means tens of thousands of dollars.
It means more contractors, sub-contractors and crew than I can count.
It means tearing out the kitchen ceiling.
It means a crane will be parked out front of our building tomorrow, just to hoist the makeup air unit onto the roof. A crane!
It means re-doing all of the ductwork in the kitchen ceiling.
It means electrical work has to be done by an electrician.
It means the ansul system has to be re-piped (is that even the term?) by the fire suppression guys.
It means huge holes cut into our ceiling and roof.
It means having to build additional structures on the roof to accommodate the new equipment up there.
It means new ductwork going into the dining room.
It means building an entire new ceiling over the line.
It means permits.
It means inspections.
It means mess.
And, well, I still don't understand everything they have to do, but it's a lot.

So now when someone tells you they're putting in a new hood in their restaurant, instead of saying "huh" you can say "wow, that's major work!"

Work, all worth it, of course. Because it also means when it's all done with, we can have our fryer (angels singing) and make crispy deep fried yummy things like empanadas (angels singing), bacalaitos, tostones and more.

I'll keep posting all week with progress (and mess!) photos. As well as the mural in the dining room.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Behind the scenes: our life in this restaurant start-up adventure

Everyone I run into these days asks me two questions: "How are you doing?" and "How's the Restaurant?"

Not feeling they really want the full story, I give them the usual, "good/tired/excited/exhausted."

And how is the restaurant? My answer is, "crazy!" And I mean that.

But I thought I'd take a little more time to give the long answer. How we really are. What's it really like?

Don't get me wrong, this is what we chose to do and had expected and prepared for a crazy few months (years?) in the beginning. And we've come so far! We have our restaurant! We are grateful and humbled to say the least. But how do I sum up our lives the past few months as we count down to closing day (March 29th) for the final renovations to the kitchen?

We took over in December and since then have had to learn on the job how to run a restaurant, while fixing it up, changing it to our concept, and eventually changing the name and menu. I'm certain we'll look back on this time in our lives some day and say, "how in the world did we do it?" Until then, I don't have much time to contemplate. We're too busy getting this thing off the ground.

So how are we doing? How's the restaurant?

Here's how it goes in a typical week for Tony and me...


He works at the restaurant every day now. Business is slow at the moment, so he puts in the overtime. He leaves home at 6:30am, and returns around 9:00pm. Sundays and Mondays he's home closer to 3pm. When he's not prepping food, cooking it, managing staff, or visiting with customers, he is the one driving around town picking up bread from the baker, produce from the co-op, ice from the liquor store, food from various vendors, register tape from the store, meeting with the cleaning contractor, HVAC contractor, the ceiling contractor, the city health inspector, the painter, the electrical contractor, the landlord, salesmen giving him pitches as to why their company is the best choice for [fill-in-the-blank], or whoever has requested "just a moment" of his time that day. He's making bank deposits, making decisions, making phone calls when such-n-such breaks down/clogs up/runs out, writing checks, paying bills, paying bills, paying bills, (and a few more bills), logging sales, logging sales tax, logging liquor sales, filing receipts, cutting costs, cutting shifts, cutting potatoes, cutting fish, shoveling snow, sweeping the sidewalk, taking out the trash, answering phone calls from everything to charities asking for donations, scams (oh yes, scams!), solicitors, vendors, the payroll company, and of course, his wife!

When he gets home we can talk about our day, talk out our plans for the next day, business that will need to be taken care of and he's off to bed. Whatever we forget to discuss, I add to his pile of papers and post-it notes to bring to work the next day.

The best part of his day at the restaurant is usually talking with happy customers. It's immensely satisfying for him to cook food and have people like it. I wonder how he has energy to even do that, with all it takes to run the business end of things.


On the days we're closed for dinner, when Tony gets home, I rush out the door, stop at Menards or Michaels for supplies and to go work on painting the restaurant. That is my break from being "Mommy" each week. When I'm painting I can just be "artist." And when I'm gone, it's Tony's precious time to just be "Daddy" and the girls love it.

But when I'm home the day is like that of most moms who stay at home with their kids. Three little girls ages 4, 2, and 7 months keep me on my toes, needing me every few minutes. I'm making breakfast, making lunch, making dinner, cleaning up, playing, disciplining, teaching, answering "why", changing diapers, bathing, etc. For the most part it's all a joy & a privilege. We are very blessed. They are the cutest girls ever!

The tough part is when Mommy's got to be Daddy's administrative assistant who needs to talk on the phone with the banker, vendor, contractor, whomever and try to find a quiet room in the house. I keep the files (somewhat) organized, at the moment, on our kitchen counter in file boxes. I help with the bookkeeping. File the sales tax. Stuff like that. When the kids are occupied I can be found painting various decorations for the restaurant at our kitchen table, posting to Facebook on my laptop on the kitchen counter, or working on various web marketing or design projects for the restaurant in my studio in the basement.

When the kids are asleep at night, I do freelance graphic design projects and maintain a few websites where I sell T-shirts to help bring in an extra stream of needed income. Housework, somehow always falls to the bottom of my list. Grocery shopping has been a life saver these past months with CobornsDelivers.com (and actually a money-saver, too, I might add...but that's another post). And somewhere in my action-packed day I try to find time for a shower, and make LOST a weekly priority. The only hour of TV I watch each week now.

A typical "pile" on our kitchen counter these days. This one was of
our restaurant license application papers. Everything in this picture is what
was needed by the city in order to obtain our restaurant license!

"So when do you see your husband?" my friends ask. We talk on the phone all the time (as our staff would confirm). Tony's never been much of a phone guy, but since we started the restaurant, we talk on the phone every day, often several times a day. Mostly business stuff. There's never a shortage of business stuff to talk about. It has kept us more connected then one might think. We need each other to vent to when something is going wrong. We need each other for encouragement when it seems like too much. He'll bring me chocolate. I'll leave him candy in his bag. I could never run a restaurant, but he tells me he couldn't do it without me. We've never had to rely on one another as much as we do now and I think so far we make a pretty good team.

We're confident that after the kitchen renovation is complete and we have a full menu, business will pick up and Tony can take a day off each week. Until then, "crazy" is our normal and we wouldn't trade it for anything (not even our former jobs).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Caribe Caribbean Bistro Now Open

Some photos of the dining room

The Grilled Cuban Sandwich, served with pineapple mango cole slaw and plantain chips

Heidi (me) with the new sidewalk sign

Wow, it's been a long time since I blogged. With the whirlwind of activity since we took over Jay's Cafe to turn it into Caribe, it's been easier for me to type a sentence here & there on Facebook and Twitter. But today is a big day...worthy of blogging. Today the new 20 foot yellow awning with the "Caribe" logo was installed on our building. Which means we are officially to be called "Caribe" now, and no longer Jay's Cafe.

As many of you who have frequented the restaurant know, it's been a work in progress since December when we took over. I've been sneaking in the building after hours to work on painting the walls, with the help of family and friends, and the interior is nearly finished. Still some projects to do, but the whole place looks different already with bright, bold colors, tropical foliage, and soon a mural will cover the one remaining white wall.

Tony's been slowly adding to the menu since we took over, too, and it's been great to get your feedback on the new dishes. Breakfast on the weekends continues to be our busiest days, but once we complete the kitchen and change the dinner menu (lots of new appetizers and some tasty new entrees!), we're confident Caribe will be just as popular as a dinner destination.

Speaking of the kitchen, an important date to make a note of is March 29th. That day we will be closing down for a couple of weeks as we have our kitchen remodeled. We are having a huge new hood system put in, which means holes cut in the ceiling, duct work relocated, electrical, gas, plumbing...all of that worked on. Once that new hood system is in place, we can hook up a deep fryer and grill, which will add several new dishes to our menu!

Until then, we are open and would love to have you stop in. We appreciate our loyal customers more than you know and it's you who have carried us through this challenging transition time.

We're so excited for spring and for all the new projects we have in the works. I'll keep you posted here, and as always, on Facebook, too!

Heidi (the chef's wife)