The Build: Whose Job is it Anyway?
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Welcome back to The Build, the latest season of Opening Soon. I'm your host, Jenny Goodman.
And I'm Alex McCrery. Last time, we had a fascinating conversation with Eric and Team Ursula, exploring the importance of building a strong team and fostering a sense of community. It's not just about the "I" in team; it's about creating a team that supports and uplifts each individual, including yourself.
One aspect that has been particularly intriguing in Eric's journey is his emphasis on building not just a team but a community. His approach has a distinct do-it-yourself (DIY) vibe, but with a collaborative twist. It's all about DIY community. Over the past five episodes, we've witnessed Eric's search for the perfect space, culminating in signing the lease for his dream location. He has successfully assembled his core team, and now it's time to dive into the exciting part of the process—the design phase.
Despite the challenges Eric faced in obtaining permits for some of the renovations, they were fortunate that the majority of the changes they wanted to make to the space were purely cosmetic. This meant they could skip the complicated permit process and proceed with their design choices. Eric and Lonnie had the opportunity to work with a pro bono designer, allowing them to unleash their creativity and transform the previously dull crepe space into something captivating.
Today, we'll delve deeper into the decision-making process behind creating a restaurant's identity through its aesthetics. We'll also explore how strategic design choices can enhance the customer's journey, from the moment they enter the restaurant to how they are seated, place to-go orders, or enjoy a drink. These details contribute to shaping a positive and memorable experience for patrons and reflect the unique atmosphere of the establishment.
Before we proceed, we wanted to give you a heads-up. As you listen to today's podcast, you may feel like a ping pong ball, bouncing between various tasks, themes, and timelines. Rest assured, it's intentional and part of the storytelling experience as we navigate through Eric's exciting journey. So, let's jump right in and discover how the design process is bringing Eric's vision to life.
There's a lot going on in Eric's journey, and it may have seemed like he was tackling tasks one by one, systematically checking them off his list. But the reality is far from that. As a restaurateur, multitasking becomes second nature, especially for moms and entrepreneurs who are masters at juggling multiple responsibilities. Opening a dream restaurant requires wearing many hats and keeping numerous tasks in the air simultaneously. As we approach the grand opening, let's take a closer look at the multitude of things Eric is currently managing.
Today is Tuesday, February 28th, 2023. It has been roughly three weeks since our last update with Eric. Amidst the busyness, it feels like our heads have been underwater, swamped with meetings. So, for now, let's skip the external world events and dive straight into what's new in Eric's world.
Just today, a shipment of beautiful tiles arrived from Morocco for the front of the bar. Additionally, the first shipment of liquor was delivered, marking an exciting milestone. The website is nearly complete, with the finishing touches being done in collaboration with Bento, ready for its launch alongside the restaurant. All the furniture has been delivered, and the next step is to sand and stain each piece, adding the final touches.
In a fantastic turn of events, Eric received news that he was selected as one of the 15 chefs from around the country to participate in the James Beard policymaking boot camp. The cherry on top? The boot camp is happening in Eric's hometown of Albuquerque this year, bringing an extra level of excitement and familiarity.
However, despite the progress, there are still hurdles to overcome. The Department of Buildings (DOB) permitting process has become a major roadblock. Lonnie, Eric's business partner, expressed her frustration with the architects' team, making it clear that they needed to step up their game. The situation feels a bit like the meme with three Spider-Mans pointing at each other, and Eric finds himself caught in the middle.
Initially, the DOB was responsive during the walkthroughs and assessments of various spaces, charging a fee for each evaluation. However, once the contract was signed, progress slowed down significantly. It took nearly two weeks for the DOB to conduct a pre-existing conditions inspection and an additional two weeks to receive the preliminary floor plan. This plan is crucial for Eric's designer to overlay their creative vision onto it.
To navigate this unfamiliar process, Eric had a Zoom meeting with the DOB. As uncertified individuals, Eric and his team needed clear instructions to keep the project moving forward. Surprisingly, the DOB stated that they did not require additional drawings from plumbers or electricians, although they could be included for the general contractor's benefit. However, when the designer sent the floor plan with the single new drain indicated, the architects questioned the absence of electrical and plumbing details, despite their previous assurance that it wasn't necessary. This discrepancy caused confusion and further delays.
Despite these challenges, Eric remains optimistic and determined to push forward. He understands the importance of communication and finding clarity amidst the complexities of the permitting process. As the project progresses, Eric's multitasking skills continue to be put to the test, ensuring that each aspect receives the attention it deserves.
Stay tuned as we witness Eric's remarkable ability to navigate these obstacles while keeping his eyes on the prize—the successful opening of his dream restaurant.
The back-and-forth with the architects has been a frustrating and time-consuming experience, causing unnecessary delays. The lack of clear communication has resulted in confusion and a seemingly endless loop of discussions. Lonnie reached a breaking point and emphasized the need for expedient and effective communication. As paying clients, they expect timely responses and clarity, considering the significant investment involved.
During a phone call last week, Lonnie had discussed the lighting arrangements with the architect. They were informed that due to restrictions, they couldn't install lights in the ceiling and had to rely on existing outlets and switches. However, when the updated plan arrived, the architect questioned the absence of lighting details, prompting Eric and Lonnie to point out their previous conversation. Eventually, it was confirmed that the previous understanding was correct, but the delay caused unnecessary frustration.
To make matters worse, the architects informed Lonnie that it would take an additional 10 to 15 days to complete the plan and begin the pre-filing process. Unacceptable to Lonnie, she demanded a faster resolution, as the architects had already caused significant delays and communication issues.
Keeping track of timelines and progress has become increasingly challenging, as the architect tends to provide conflicting information. The process feels convoluted, with constantly shifting deadlines and requirements. The frustration is further compounded by the fact that the permitting process was initially projected to take only a week, based on the architect's past experience. Unfortunately, six weeks have passed, and the filing process has not even begun, leaving Eric and Lonnie exasperated.
Despite the setbacks caused by the architect, progress is being made in other areas. Eric came across some stunning clay pendants online for the restaurant's decor. However, due to weight and shipping concerns, he sought an alternative solution. With the help of his brother's friend, who specializes in 3D printing, they were able to recreate the pendants at a fraction of the cost and within a shorter timeframe. The 3D-printed versions were designed to fit perfectly with the existing wiring and structure. The material used is plastic, which requires LED bulbs due to its sensitivity to heat. This cost-effective and innovative solution has not only saved them money but also reduced stress and time.
Witnessing the potential of 3D printing and its ability to replicate intricate designs, Eric is amazed by the possibilities. The replicas closely resemble the original pendants, and the success of this endeavor reinforces the idea that creative solutions can be found even in the face of challenges.
Stay tuned as Eric continues to navigate the complexities of opening his dream restaurant, adapting to unforeseen circumstances and finding innovative ways to bring his vision to life.
During our previous conversation, we discussed the placement of the Clover terminal and the flow of service at the restaurant. Currently, we haven't finalized the exact details, as we anticipate the need for flexibility until we are closer to the opening date. However, we have made some decisions regarding the terminal setup.
To prioritize hospitality and organization, we have decided to step away from the self-service concept for now. Instead, we will have a takeout terminal located at the front of the bar. Additionally, at the back end of the establishment, we will have a second terminal to serve customers dining in. This approach allows us to designate staff members for takeout and in-house ordering, ensuring a smooth operation.
We are considering a hybrid model of counter and table service, where customers place their orders at the counter, and we bring the food to their table. To enhance convenience, we are exploring the possibility of providing individual QR codes upon ordering. This would enable customers to add items or request additional service directly from their table, eliminating the need to go back to the counter. We believe this system will streamline the dining experience.
Regarding the furniture, there were initial concerns about the delivery timelines. The barstools arrived from Morocco on time, while the chairs and benches came from Colorado. Fortunately, all the furniture has been delivered, and it's now a matter of manual labor to get everything set up. In fact, I'm currently sitting in one of the chairs as I write this update.
Recently, I had to make a trip back to New Mexico to address a family emergency. It wasn't a leisurely break, as I had hoped, but an important visit to see my godmother, who had been hospitalized for 11 days. Thankfully, she was doing better when I arrived, and I spent valuable time with her. As part of my trip, I acquired some remarkable artwork by a New Mexican artist, which I plan to display on the walls of the restaurant.
During my visit to New Mexico, I also had a chance to see Ursula, my 89-year-old grandmother. Despite the brief duration of my stay, Ursula is already thrilled and eagerly planning her trip for the restaurant's opening. She has a vivacious personality and loves dressing up, engaging with customers, and proudly introducing herself. I brought back a large portrait of her from my last visit, which will be prominently displayed above the espresso machine in the new establishment. We're still deciding on the exact location, but Ursula will undeniably have her presence felt.
Reflecting on the past, it's hard to believe that Alex and I started TILA about a decade ago. Time has flown by, yet it feels like we've been working together forever. Throughout the years, we've had the privilege of outfitting numerous chefs and serving over 6,000 restaurants worldwide. We are incredibly grateful for the support and camaraderie within this community.
To provide some background, Tilit originated from a personal need. As a chef, I found the traditional chef attire to be outdated, uncomfortable, and lacking functionality. This dissatisfaction led me to experiment with streetwear, which eventually inspired the creation of Tilit We started small, with just a few carefully designed pieces.
Stay tuned as we continue to fine-tune our plans and bring our vision to life. The opening of the restaurant is getting closer, and we can't wait to welcome you all into this culinary journey.
I think the biggest advantage of what Tilit does is that we started with a commitment to modernizing our uniforms and working with the people actually wearing the clothes. So everything is super functional. We think about utility first, then we think about aesthetics. We think about the quality of the clothes, the quality of the clothing. So it's really workwear that you can wear in the kitchen and then also continue to wear when you're out on the street.
When comparing Goods to Eric's space, it's clear that Goods was much smaller in size. Consequently, the setup process was relatively simple, with only a few terminals and a single POS system to manage everything. Overall, it was an easy process. As for the interaction with sales reps, I don't recall having much contact with them personally. However, I do remember the excitement of signing up for new accounts. It was thrilling to source quality beef and establish partnerships with wine representatives. The wine tastings were particularly enjoyable, adding a touch of fun to the process.
Speaking of partnerships, one of the valuable lessons we've learned through Tilit is the importance of treating vendors as partners. We emphasize this to our hospitality counterparts, as reliable vendors are crucial to the success of any business. A breakdown in the supply chain or unreliable partners can make or break your operations. Therefore, we have cultivated strong relationships with our vendors, recognizing their role in our success.
During our conversation, you mentioned that you didn't receive the Hello Alice grant and are still waiting to hear from DoorDash. Despite these outcomes, your current cash balance is stable. While there are projected expenses yet to be paid, such as the remaining architect's fee and SLA lawyer fee, you have managed to stay within your initial projected budget. This is exciting news as it indicates that you won't significantly exceed your planned expenses. While additional grants are always welcome, the alignment of expenses with projections provides a sense of reassurance.
Furthermore, there have been various factors that have helped align with your budget. For instance, you recently received dinnerware sponsorship from Made In, which resulted in substantial cost savings. The diner-style dishes you wanted for the restaurant's aesthetic are made of porcelain and manufactured in England. These plates have a beautiful black rim, a pleasing weight, and exceptional durability. With the ability to withstand high heat, they are perfect for use with the salamander. Their sturdiness allows them to endure the daily rigors of kitchen operations, making them a reliable choice. Ultimately, they add an appealing touch to the tables and contribute to the overall dining experience.
As the opening of the restaurant approaches, we are grateful for the progress made so far. It's an exciting time, and we look forward to sharing more updates with you as we continue to shape our vision and bring it to life.
The selection of dinnerware truly fits the vision we have for our restaurant. They strike the perfect balance of being classy and elevated without feeling too delicate or precious. It's exciting to see all the pieces coming together, especially the cosmetic aspects that are taking shape.
In addition to the progress on the physical space, we've had the pleasure of meeting with liquor and wine representatives, which has been a source of great excitement. One particularly enjoyable meeting was with Zevro Jaday from Zevro Selections. A few weeks ago, Zevro visited us and spent hours with Peter, Lonnie, and me, introducing us to a range of spirits and carefully selected wines. The evening was filled with delightful conversations, and it turned into a memorable experience as Zevro went above and beyond, bringing additional selections and inviting her friend from "Black Girls Drink" to join us.
As for how we connected with these representatives, some of the spirits we wanted to carry were already on our radar. So it was a matter of reaching out to the distributors we had in mind. Jadai and Zevro, for example, offer Suncliff gin, a Tucson-based gin that is both queer-owned and fits perfectly with our theme. They use high desert herbs foraged in southern Arizona, adding an authentic touch. It aligns with our strong emphasis on working with distillers, winemakers, brewers, and companies owned by women, black individuals, LGBTQ+ community members, and people from marginalized communities who often have limited access to the market. The majority of the spirits we'll carry fulfill these criteria. Jadai also introduced us to spirits owned by worker cooperatives, adding an interesting dimension to our social sustainability model.
The journey continues with exciting developments on the renovation front. Our return to Nostrand, or Ursula 2.0, after a month away is met with anticipation. The bar framing we saw on our last visit has now been complemented by beautiful turquoise zellige tiles in the front. The color, reminiscent of Tulum, adds a vibrant touch. Tiles will cover the entire bar, giving it a stunning look. The space is now filled with tables and chairs, creating a bit of a mess but signaling progress. Furthermore, the bathroom will feature swanky mirror tiles, adding a touch of elegance.
With each step forward, we become more thrilled to see the transformation taking place. The journey of creating our dream restaurant continues, and we can't wait to share more updates with you.
As we make our way towards the bathroom, you'll notice the subway mirror tiles that we've chosen for its design. I've started experimenting with them on the wall to get a glimpse of their potential. Moving back to the bar area, we've stained the shelves to match the wood used for the tabletops and countertops. Behind these shelves, we plan to incorporate antiqued mirrors. If we manage to complete it in time, we might even include a little Easter egg—a subtle etching behind one of the mirrors. Personally, I'm obsessed with La Llorona. You might not be familiar with it, so let me share its significance.
La Llorona has a rich history, but my connection to it stems from my time in New Mexico. We had a public service ad called "Ditches Are Deadly, Stay Away" due to the arroyos in our region. These ditches channeled water during flash floods, but kids would often skateboard in them. To deter them, there were posters and signs everywhere featuring La Llorona as the mascot. She is an indigenous and Mexican fairy tale urban legend—a woman who drowned her children in a river and now roams the river banks, endlessly crying and searching for them. It was a somewhat aggressive advertisement by the city, but as a child, I found it intriguing and enjoyed the scary stories associated with it. The message was clear: stay away from ditches and river banks, or else La Llorona might get you. Its roots trace back to pre-colonial Mesoamerica and intertwine with the figure of La Malinche, who is considered the mother of the first Mexican due to her child with a Spanish conquistador. However, she is also known for betraying the indigenous communities by sharing their secrets with the colonial settlers. So, the story of La Llorona carries a significant historical background.
Now, regarding the etched egg on the back of the mirror, my brother will attempt to create a depiction of La Llorona's face. It will be a hidden surprise that catches your eye when you glance at the mirror. Imagine sitting at a table, waiting for your food, or enduring a particularly bad date, and suddenly noticing something peculiar in the design. It's those little discoveries that add an extra layer of intrigue. There's a Mexican restaurant in Gowanus that excels at this—their liquor cabinet shelves are adorned with odd dolls and hidden curiosities. I love it. Perhaps I'll revisit and take a closer look.
On the next episode of The Build, we'll explore a gentle, floral, smoky aroma that evokes memories of being in church. For me, Palo Santo embodies a church-like, apostolic scent. By the way, have you been to church before? The Build is produced by Armand Spingen, Taylor Early, Matt Patterson, Alex McCrery, and myself, Jenny Goodman. Special thanks go to Eric C. and Lonnie Holliday for generously sharing their time and insights on this incredible journey.
A heartfelt appreciation goes to the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts for their support of Taylor as the Julia Child Writing Fellow. Our audio engineer for this episode is H. Conley. This program is made possible in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Opening soon is powered by Simplecast. Opening soon is a production of Heritage Radio Network, a food radio network supported by listeners like you. Stay connected at heritageradionetwork.org/subscribe.