Monday, December 15, 2008

mobile office

When you're starting a business and don't yet have an office -- and especially when you were notorious in your first career for not being very good at working from home -- you often find yourself set up at Starbucks in the mid afternoon with a laptop, a hot beverage, and a pile of paperwork. As I've quickly come to learn, Starbucks in the mid afternoon is a WEIRD place. I'd like to recount 4 recent encounters at 3 different locations.

  • #1 (LAKA!) I'm at a long bar, 2 seats away from a nice enough girl that looks to have downs syndrome. She's wearing headphones, and flipping through some kind of binder...oh yeah, and she's in a relationship with some imaginary dude named Laka. They flirt, they fight, they're a couple. She's vocal, and loud. "Yes Laka I will marry you!" She's hopeful. "Oooooh Laka, you a bad boy Laka!!!" They're playing imaginary slap & tickle. "Laka, you hurt my feelings Laka!" Laka's in the dog house. You get the idea.  It's a very passionate relationship. You feel bad for her, but come on!

  • #2 (Crazy Crystal Lady) Some sort of spiritual healing was taking place right in my line of vision. Lots of deep conversation, lots of holding both hands across the table, raising hands in the air, holding up a pendant on a chain to check for vibrations or something, the occasional huge outburst of tears.

  • #3 (Troop Dysfunction) Anyone who frequents Subway or Starbucks at Taylor/Coleman, surely know about the rag tag band of developmentally disabled kids that storm these stores most afternoons, and awkwardly splay themselves about. Totally in their own worlds. I think they're excited to be in public, but don't know what to do with themselves. I was set up in an armchair one day, and they sort of circled me with their weird antics. One was to my left, both of us seated around a coffee table. He started rocking, sort of cradling himself, and eventually was craned so far forward holding a pose, that his forehead was grazing the top edge of my laptop. I seriously started looking around the room for a Candid Camera producer.
  • #4 (Privacy Corner...this was today). Directly in my line of sight, and about 2 feet away, were 2 comfy armchairs. First it was a duo that I'm pretty sure was having an affair. Both wearing wedding rings, but whispering and clearly stealing a private and sort of uncomfy moment. You could tell there was sexual tension for days, but they were people who weren't really used to touching each other. They eventually left, and were replaced by 2 women - one quite socially awkward, the other very well put together & seemed to be taking a break from her busy day for this meeting. I thought they were just friends getting together, but soon after they sat down, Fancy pulled out a white envelope with chicken scratch on it & announced she was giving Awkward this sum of money. Not a gift, but payment for cooking classes she needed. Rice, vegetables, whatever! Awkward protested briefly, then burst into tears. Times are tough, after all. They shared some heavy moments, then Fancy reviewed some letter Awkward had written, and had heavy edits. She wasn't feeling it, dog. Now, we all know TonyP needs cash & for someone to review his work, so maybe I should hit Fancy up.
  • Thursday, December 11, 2008

    build dept...the pay off

    Well not a pay off in terms of having an approved building stamp, and that's the end of the story thank you very much. And CERTAINLY not a pay off in terms of greased palms - though that sounds very funny. It's the least exciting of the three - a pay off to the story I left dangling in the last entry. And the pay off basically is that we headed down to city hall like a good little trio of owner/architect/contractor, submitted all the drawings, answered all their questions, and then TonyP had to pay A LOT of $ in fees. Apparently SJ is the most expensive city in the area in terms of building permit fees (more expensive than SF according to my architect). I had a ballpark figure in mind, but it was a whole hell of a lot more than I anticipated....and most importantly, way more than I'd budgeted. That sticker shock was followed about 30 minutes later by a meeting with my contractor where we talked real numbers about construction. Um, let's just say I need to play the lotto and leave it at that. It's a scary and stressful time.

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    building permit

    So I think I mentioned a week or two ago that we were ready to submit for the building permit. We weren't. BUT....our appointment for the permit is tomorrow at 2:15. Sort of exciting. Just wanted to keep you posted. And to recap, the city supposedly wants 2 to 3 weeks to review the plans, and then we can start construction in earnest.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    recipe cards

    On the back burner for the last couple weeks, and then on the front burner in the last few days, has been building recipe cards for LWT. Part instruction card for staff to make my food, part tool to determine the cost of the food in each dish. It's an interesting, but time consuming exercise.

    First, I had to write the recipes (mostly from odds & ends in my head). Next I had to determine quantities for scaling up the dishes to serve A LOT (hopefully) of people. Then, supply the food distributor with a list of ingredients I'd need to order so I can get a cost from them. Now, the task of breaking down a 10 pound block of cheddar ($32.16) to the cost per 2 oz, which is how much you'll find on the Apple & Cheddar Press. It's .40, if you're curious. So, .40 for cheese here, .95 for some sliced bread there, 1.30 for turkey, and before you know it you have the true food cost of a sandwich....which partially dictates the menu cost. So you can see how important of a process this is. Just thought you'd want to know what's going on.

    Oh also, and pretty rock design team has generated first drafts of the website, to-go menu & in-store menu. They're DYNAMITE. More to come...

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    day after the auction

    I headed up to Oakland to claim my prize. It was the most disorganized shit show I've been part of in quite a while. There were maybe 4 people in front of me in line to handle their paperwork, and I waited over an hour. Very inefficient office staff and lots of bidders squawking  about anything from not wanting to buy the thing they bought, or wanting to scoop up more stuff that others didn't want or didn't bid on. Confirmed what I already knew - that the large majority of bidders were just resellers. That's annoying at first pass, but figure they're out there actually doing leg work and scooping the stuff up, so who can begrudge them reselling it at a premium.

    So I finally made it through and scooped up my press. Hot damn.

    Afterward, I had a meeting with the contractor and building management (my dad) to get on the same page about the ramp up of construction. It was an annoying meeting, and I sort of just feel like leaving it at that.

    This is a long and expensive endeavor.

    Monday, November 24, 2008


    So, every day in the land of "starting your first new restaurant in the world's worst economy" is interesting. Some days terrifying, some frustrating, some enjoyable....but all interesting. Today ranked high on the "interesting" scale, as I attended the liquidation auction of the company who(m?) I'd hired to handle interior design for me.

    As you may know from reading a few inches lower on this page, they closed like thieves in the night, and left many of us high and dry. On the Screwed spectrum, I had survived relatively unscathed as I was into them for not terribly too much money, and they really just owe me names of materials/paints, etc, which we're presently trying to shake them down for. Other poor people had literally tens of thousands of dollars worth of inventory on hold in their GIANT warehouse. So that leads us to this morning, as professional auctioneers set out to sell off all this equipment, as well as basically anything not bolted to the floor. I've never seen something like it. Anything from a couple pretty huge freestanding walk-in refrigerators, to dozens of pro kitchen appliances, to pots/pans, to desk/filing cabinets (for days!!!)/highlighters/binders/paint sample books/buckets of cell phones (weird)/horrible (but oddly, fantastic) 80's wall art. You name it. Equipment was all in the showroom and warehouse, but right off the showroom are all the cubes & offices. All the office supplies, desks, etc. were basically left as-is when employees were laid off, though now everything had an auction lot toe tag. As the auction got underway in the showroom, my consultant (yeah, I roll like that) and I combed through the rubble of the offices. It sort of felt like a weird movie set that we probably shouldn't be poking around through. Though, we were totally allowed, because they wanted us to buy stuff. So with some time on our hands, and carte blanche, we sifted through piles of project drawings trying to find any of my stuff. Sadly, many had professional stamps & were ready for submission, but will now be lost for good. Our searc was funny, and also fruitless. I checked almost every filing cabinet (again, fair game since they were toe tagged for auction), and found files for everything from small claims court cases to full employee time cards, but no LWT material lists. The walls were covered with hooks holding small material samples. I found 2 that looked familiar & pocketed them. SO SUE ME!

    Surreal is the best word that comes to mind.

    The auctioneers moved at a fast clip. There were roughly 1400 items. I got there at 9, and left at 4. They were about half way through when I finally said "uncle". I'd done a good job pricing  new equipment (though pricing varies widely by manufacturer), so set clear-headed limits for myself as items of interest came up. Unfortunately (for everyone except the auctioneers), many attendees were very stupid. The best examples are of off-brand meat slicers going for what I'm pretty sure OVER what you could buy it for from a gleaming showroom. Weird. Chalk it up to auction fever. A small group of us chuckled in disbelief. I really wanted a slicer, a mixer (think kitchenaid stand mixer, but on steroids), and possibly an ice maker. I didn't get any of them. SILLY bidding on the first two edged me out, and I lost patience in the whole affair just as they were moving to ice makers.

    About 10 minutes (which in this world was a blink of an eye, yet somehow FOREVER) before they were to be auctioned, I realized there was a stack of panini presses sort of hidden. All were in boxes - nothing on display - so they were easy to miss. I quickly inspected, and wanting to get in on the action, committed to bid. This was at 3pm or so, mind you, so my brain was pretty mushy. Long story short, I paced myself & won with a bid of $600. The company I'm buying most of my equipment from spec'd a better known brand press out at $3,000. With quick iPhone research, I found out the one I bought retails for $1200. Victory, if you ask me.

    So the way I look at, I got a good lesson in the world of restaurant auctions and got a panini press on the cheap (basically recouping the $$$ I lost to them in the first place). Weird day. Time to make soup.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    No more designer

    Yeah, they're totally done-zo. Still trying to figure out if there's any recourse, since there were some deliverables I was waiting on, and we had a contract. I'm guessing no, but you never know. What's frustrating, is that we were basically locked into a concept & I have all the colors, materials, fabrics in my head - just don't have that company as a conduit to actually get them ordered (and who knows from where??!!) These guys have (had, I guess) a jacked policy that you don't get to physically take any samples until you actually sign a sales order for the job. So all the while as we were working through the concept, I was able to visit the samples/swatches at their office, but now don't physically have anything. So, we'll see if all that is scattered in the wind. Am I making sense?...I'm tired. Anyone want to drive up to Oakland with me and ransack what WAS their office?

    I forgot to blog a little less than a week ago that we got approval from the planning department at the city. Really great news. Next we move to the building department for our actual construction permit. Can't wait to finally get in there and have some work done on the building. ;)

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    So here's something interesting

    You may remember a good while back - around the time of this blog's inception - I talked about the cool color palette, and generally neat plans from the interior designer I was working with. It's a company called REDs - Restaurant Equipment Design. Or should I say, it WAS a company called REDs. I called again today after 2 unreturned emails and a voicemail - to see what the heck the status was on their rework of the proposal. I was greeted by an operator's voice saying the number was no longer in service. I fanned out to people I know, and one person tells me he heard they closed. OK, WTF!?

    Story Developing....

    Sunday, October 26, 2008


    This is pretty off-topic for the new restaurant's development (because believe me nothing like this is planned for the menu), but we had a late lunch at Bouchon yesterday in Yountville, and it was stellar. I enjoyed the Poitrine de Veau Braisee: braised veal breast with sweetbread sausage, warm bean salad, arugula & sauce gremolata. I can't stop thinking about it. Unfortunately and surprisingly, not everyone at the table loved their food, which was a bummer. Bouchon was really cool because it's pretty swanky, but casual & approachable. Prices, unfortunately, reflect the former.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    12 steps

    Alright, now we're just addicted to food photography. Enjoy.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    On another front, Erik came over a 2nd & 3rd time to take food photos. At this point, 800+ photos have beenw hittled down to 120 or so great ones. Exciting.


    The city's planning department is still reviewing the overall package for the new restaurant, and very soon we should start making headway with the building department - to get the actual building permit. OK, that's where the project stands.

    But in the face of an economy that' the shitter, I had a revelation recently that comforts me somewhat. I finished SCU in March 2000, and started the next month at a high tech public relations agency. Valley historians may remember this is almost exactly when the dot com bubble burst. It was kind of a hot mess at my company, and I navigated it, and survived in the PR game basically as long as I could stand it. So I left on my terms. Second career is starting as a ridiculous recession seems to be getting underway. I don't know if I learned any lessons the first time around that I can apply here, but it's just an interesting observation that makes me feel better, OKAY.

    Saturday, September 27, 2008

    Food Photography

    Full-time attorney, part-time food stylist/photographer, Erik came over last night and took 400+ photos of my food. So far I have them whittled down to 111 of the best. Yikes. They're primarily intended for the website, and possibly for the to-go menu & in-store menus/advertisements. He took some interesting abstract & close-up shots of ingredients & dishes that might function as art-work in the restaurant. Time will tell. To your right is a little teaser. T-t-t-t-t-tasty tasty.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    irresponsible blogger

    Practically a month has passed since my suspense-filled post about the building sitting over the property line, and City of San Jose being none too pleased. So either it's being battled out in court and things are getting juicy, or I've strategically been holding out on you to build an extreme level of suspense, or I forgot to post the next day that the matter was resolved swiftly. It's the latter. Sorry. Basically, a call was made, and it got handled. For many reasons, it's probably better to just not go into further explanation than to say that, and that's it's good to know people. It's handled. Nuff said.

    On other fronts, a month later and we're not terribly further ahead than when we last spoke. We submitted the package to the planning department within the city, and that was an exciting (and tangible) accomplishment. Submission for building permit is next. Overall, things are progressing slowly, and I'm now forecasting Feb 09 for a grand opening. It's a bummer mostly, but given the WONDERFUL news on the economy these days, maybe not so bad to hold out a few more months.

    I met today with the interior designer to basically relay that her "vision" for the space (think $400 end tables in the corner, $7,000 settees on either end of the dining room, multi-thousand dollar custom/built-in tables) didn't quite hit the mark. We whittled down her proposal by over half, to a modest and I think really tasteful plan. I was expecting huge resistance, but they absolutely took the news in stride. Makes me think this is a common experience for them, and makes me sorry for any sucker who just buys into their plan. He may be the same guy auctioning his equipment in what used to be the patio 6 months after opening because "gosh darn it, costs were just out of control!"

    Anyway, the overall idea for the space is a color palette of oatmeal, terra cotta, and two nice shades of green. Wainscotting (sp?) with a cool wood laminate, modern wood tables and chairs, and some lounge chairs for the coffee area out of a really great subtle striped fabric in similar colors. I like it a lot. Modern pendant lights and sconces. You get the idea.

    I've also been taking other meetings with POS (touch screen cash register) vendors. Yikes, expensive. And we're VERY close to a logo. This has taken a while, and I'm really happy with where we are. I'll debut the logo here in hopefully just a couple weeks.

    I've hired a freelance food photographer (he's well known in the industry) to take some shots here this week for use on the website, menu & who knows where else. I'll plan to post those here too, to get everyone revved up for what's to come.

    To make this post even more all over the place, I can tell you that I dreamed up two new sandwiches today. Both need to be prototyped. The first is a panini full of traditional eggplant parm ingredients. Breaded/pan-fried eggplant, mozz, tomato-basil sauce. The second is what I'm calling "The New Chicken Club". It's slices of citrus-marinated chicken breast with smoke-y bacon, lettuce, tomato & honey-mustard on sliced sourdough. Thoughts on both?

    Thursday, August 28, 2008


    The corner of my building juts past its property line onto city property. SHIT!! OK, OK, STAY CALM! The planning department says it's easily remedied know...cutting the corner of the building off. I SAID STAY CALM!!!!!!

    This is an interesting new wrinkle to be sure. The landlords (aka my dad & uncle) take few things lying down, and are already on the horn with the city working some angles.

    It's funny all the way around, really. I'll keep you posted.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2008


    In my experience - now working with my second for this project - they don't know how to read emails before replying. And they sure as hell don't proactively use email (or phone for that matter) to update you on the progress of their work. Any architects reading this out there are welcome to fire back and represent for your fellow tradesmen.

    SOOOOO frustrating.

    I digress...

    Ah, graphic designer had a sick son (the kissing disease) so she won't have logo revisions until next week. I'm very excited to see the latest!

    Thursday, August 14, 2008

    The Facts of Life

    You take the good, you take the bad. You take both kinds of vendors, and there you have...Lunch with Tony. I gripe about most of my vendors (usually for good reason), but I have to say probably my favorite is graphic designer to the stars Linda D. During the day, she's a prestigious Creative Services Director of a prestigious institution. By night (I'm assuming she does this during the off hours), she's designing the logo, menu & related materials that will become the look and feel of Lunch with Tony. It's hugely important to me, and I can't think of anyone else I'd trust with this task. She's shared a number of directions on the logo so far, and we're close to having something that is clever, fun, clean, welcoming & all the other things we want to communicate with this this restaurant. It's really exciting. Stay tuned. I'll very gladly post our logo as soon as we finalize things. Oh yeah, and Linda's great at keeping my ego in check. It's necessary and there are few people I welcome to do it. Wait, was that big headed of me to say? Linda?

    Thursday, August 7, 2008

    At the 11th hour...

    ...he emailed me the first set of drawings. They're good. Hooray!

    "no, it's cool.....

    ...I didn't want to review your work this week anyway, architect!" That's what I told myself when I learned they wouldn't have anything for me to review yet. Bastards! I like them, I'm happy to be working with them (sure as hell happier than with the last fellow), but papa needs some forward momentum on this project in a bad way. So hopefully, I'll see something first of next week, and HOPEFULLY we can submit a package to the city (for our building permit) by the end of next week.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008


    Opening season of construction bids came and went with a thud. I'd been working with an architect-type (recommended by another vendor) who put the "SUCKS" in "sucks to be in July". I wouldn't say I "fired" him, because while I told him to pack his knives and go, he still got all his money. Good news is 1) it wasn't much $$$ (we hired him because he was cheap) and 2) the new & legit architect will incorporate some of the original guy's work, which should save some billable hours. The new architect is an in-house guy at the construction company I'm likely going to work with for the build-out. I really like the idea of having the same vendors under one roof. Though on the flip side, I worry that they'll take advantage when they put together the construction bid because they're sure they're going to get the job.

    On other fronts. 1) Prototyping continues with success and lots of calorie consumption. 2) "GDTTS" (Graphic Designer To The Stars) Linda D. shared a first pass at logo creation, and she rocked it! We agree on a "favorite", and she's going to keep fleshing out that design. Can't wait to get biz cards, and other elements printed. 3) We brought in some guys to clean up the interior/exterior of the building pre-inspections & construction. It was really nice to see a lot of the garbage the last guy left behind get cleared out. 4) I think I'm done meeting with payroll processing companies & merchant services vendors (aka credit card processing). So many choices & so much information. Now to review it all and make a decision.

    I  need to be better about posting more frequently so each one isn't so epic. Apologies to anyone reading this....though for now I have a confirmed audience of 1, and it's just Wally so he can deal.

    Friday, July 4, 2008

    Let the bidding begin

    First bids for construction start Monday and Tuesday of this week. Exciting! Finally getting our act together for submittal to the city for building permits. Hey wait a minute, we may just have a restaurant here soon!

    Recipe testing continues through the weekend with tuna melts yesterday (success!) and retooling of an already yummy veggie burger recipe on Sunday with Eric.

    Safe and happy 4th to anyone reading.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    First musing on just one of many frustrations in trying to open a restaurant

    hey hey hey. This is from a couple days ago, but 1. it just popped back in my head and 2. as you know I just started this blog today, so there's a bit to get posted up here.

    I called the San Jose building department day before yesterday. This is the crew that will issue permits to begin construction, and (except for the county health dept) basically holds any and all power in my quest to open the doors. Anyway, it was for me a big and scary step to make first contact with these guys. I called to inquire about restaurant signage requirements.

    From my days working PR for Apple, I remember a story about unbelievably strict signage requirements for a new Apple retail store in some suburb. Something about the town not liking logos (least of all fruit logos) as signs, and the town DEFINITELY not liking signs that were backlit. Career #1 in PR served many big and little purposes. Remembering this story about Apple served a small, but important purpose for the business, I suppose. Anyhoo, I came across a very friendly woman in the building department, who had a lot of good information about signage (AWESOME). There are semi-ridiculous requirements (NOT AWESOME).

    • If, for example, the front of your building is 30 linear feet, your sign can be no more than 30 square feet in size. 50 feet, 50 square get the idea.
    • A freestanding sign over 10 feet tall must be set back 10 feet from the property line. A sign 6 - 10 feet must be set back 6 feet. 6 or fewer feet tall means 4 feet from the line.
    • Max height of a freestanding sign is calculated by total possible square footage of sign itself (as based on linear feet of the building), divided by 4. Sure, sounds good.
    • This one hurts. Absolutely no animation. The sign will not (APPARENTLY) feature a giant anamatronic Tony stirring a pot of sauce.

    The back story

    I posted a little this morning about my background, but here's more on the building to set the stage for the project we're undertaking in the coming months. The building has been a restaurant, and most notoriously been a dive bar for locals in Alviso (a San Jose neighborhood). I'm including a photo here because I want to share every aspect of this project - warts and all. I am not offended if you gasp or laugh when you look at this photo.

    There are incredible plans for this spot, my friends. Incredible, but expensive plans. It's truly disgusting how much it costs to renovate a restaurant space. So in a few months - the fewer the better - Lunch with Tony will take shape in this dilapidated shell of a building.


    I'm marking my debut blog by announcing huge news...from 3 days ago. My fantastic kitchen designer submitted our drawings to the health department for plan review on Monday 6/23!!! Now there have been a handful of less tangible milestones so far on this journey (ie finally getting access to the building, finalizing the kitchen plan, making nice with the banker for my SBA loan), but officially telling the health department our intentions, and starting the back/forth process with them on the path toward approval really is important. My kitchen designer tells me he knows them and knows how to work with them. But as with everything....time will tell.

    Ok, about this blog. I'm a recovering public relations/marketing type who attended culinary school in 2006 and have since been working all sorts of food jobs in San Francisco. Personal chef, gourmet food stores, teaching cooking classes, a brief stint in a hotel.

    The plan has always been to be my own boss, and the dream is Lunch with Tony. A quick-service, order at the counter, lunch restaurant featuring the highest quality sandwiches/salads/soups. I'm excited, anxious, and scared. Definitely in that order. Friends and family have talked a lot about blogging the experience of opening this restaurant, and I'm hoping others might also be interested. Either way, here we go...