Monday, August 23, 2010

Anger, anxiety and hope


We are very close now to our official opening date and things are starting to round to form.  Thankfully the most recent delays have been a matter of days and not months – to that extent, I feel relatively blessed.  It doesn’t make it any easier considering that we are balancing a hired staff which have been scheduled for intensive training.  With all our dates and deadlines in mind, here is some of the more interesting tidbits over the last few weeks to tide you over until I have concrete news.

The Front of House Interview Process:

I think one of the hardest things to do is to gauge the capability or personality of a person and correlate that with work ethic during  a package of two 30 minutes interviews.  With that said, we weeded out 40 or so resumes from a pool of 200+ for front of house and conducted initial interviews.  We then conducted second interviews after cutting that number by more than half. 

During the round of second interviews (which I was one of two people asking questions), I wanted to create questions that would measure a few basic things: quickness when processing information, poise, intelligence, decision-making, creativity and personality.  I felt that out of all the questions we posed, the one question that seemed to catch people off guard the most was this:

“In Japan, there is a coffee cafe where you order for the person waiting in line behind directly behind and subsequently the person in front orders for you.  Given this were true, what would you order for the person behind you and what would you expect from the person in front?”

Here are some statistics:

-The most basic response for ordering for the person behind: Americano and Drip.

-The most basic response for a person ordering for you: Latte and Drip.

-# of responses that were considered “great”: 2 – one of which was Americano, but contained a perfectly laid out argument as to why an Americano would technically be the right drink for most people.  The other was practical and straightforward, “ I would just ask them.”  Only 1 person thought to say that.

Here are some other statistics on the rest of the FOH interview process: 

-There are at least 4 employees from Top 20 Universities/Ivy Leagues in our hiring group.

-We have artists, a successful product designer, a former MIT Toy Lab manager, a coffee production major, fashion designers, a hyphy hip-hop DJ and much more. 

-There is a dead-ringer for Carey Mulligan in An Education and there is another employee that looks like a hybrid of Charlie Sheen’s brunette gf in Major League II fused with Lizzy Caplan from True Blood/Hot Tub Time Machine.  Seriously. 

Inspectors, Vendors and the SF Metermaids

Not friends of mine.

Don’t be afraid to hurt a vendor’s feelings, hurting your business model and or budget is worse.

One of the inspectors tells us that we can paint a surface with color like black or brown, then after the surface is painted granite (lighter than a dark gray definitely) he tells us that it might be too dark, but apparently there isn’t a definitive rule or anything. 

A meter maid blatantly makes up an arbitrary ticket about me parking for more than two hours from 10:30AM to 1:11PM.  Too bad the spot was still street cleaning before 11AM (which, even if I was there, would more likely prompt a street cleaning ticket) and many witnesses put me as arriving here well past 11:15.  Seriously, if you’re going to make stuff up and ticket me, at least pick something more plausible. 

Anything But Cooking

At this point, I’ve been doing everything but cooking to get ready for our opening.  Oddly enough, there has been a lot of different aspects/skills/information that I acquired in my life that have all of a sudden become relevant again.  Some of those include utilizing my many years of experience in painting (summers spent working for dad’s contracting company), drawing mechanical diagrams in CAD for different items that we want to build and engineer (former mechanical engineering major), and knowledge acquired from studying geeky books and blogs on technical exploration of coffee/food.  It’s very Slumdog Millionaire. 

For some reason, I recently recalled a brief conversation I had with Melissa Perello a few weeks prior to her opening Frances.  When we were talking, I asked her if she had her menu and such all planned out and ready to go, to which, she said something to the effect, “I’m not sure, I haven’t even had time to think about it yet.”  It struck me as a little odd and I thought Melissa was just being modest because I always envisioned that the menu would be the first thing to happen, but fast forward 10+ months and I think I get it.  Melissa may have only been partially joking, but its really not that off base.  Cooking is the last thing that happens.

The truth is at this point, there are three basic mantras that as a chef-owner, I’ve come to grips with and understood:

1. If you don’t get it done, then nobody else will.  You are the planner, the executer and the backup plan.

2. Beg, borrow and steal – it takes a “I’ll do anything and everything” mentality to get through the madness.

3. Don’t let anyone outwork you.     



We hope great things out of our new dessert chef.  It’s official, our dessert concept is pretty much set for round 1.  We’re excited.  Announcement coming soon.

We’re also excited to be featuring Jared Nash as our inhouse pastry vendor.  His line of goodies will fall under the name NashBaker Pastries.  We really feel confident that we can provide a legitimately delicious match for your Red Blossom tea and Blue Bottle coffee. 

Here’s hoping my next blog is an official open date announcement and a welcome message.  Oh yeah, final inspections are this week.


  1. great post! i'll take your "3 basic mantras" to heart. it applies not just to chefs, but any start-up business. good luck w/ inspections!

  2. Whoop whoop! Go Eddie!!! Great interview question. Can't wait to see your concepts come to fruition!