Friday, November 30, 2007

That Time of Year

I may not be posting very much through the Holidays. I will when I can but we get kinda busy this time of year.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hey Bud!

Anyone who has visited any of my restaurants may have noticed I don't sell Budweiser. I haven't for many years. I also don't sell any beer brands that the local Bud distributor sells. In my opinion that's the biggest downfall for not dealing with that supplier. They sell Guinness and Sprecher among other worthy beers. Those I'd like to have on my lists.

The original reason for not selling Bud was simply that I didn't like it. I also grew up in the shadow of Miller Brewery and feel an allegiance to that beer. As a young man if I was short on cash my friends and I knew we could always take brewery tours to satisfy our taste for the hops. We also could go over to the brewery and buy "shorts", bottles that were incorrectly filled and sold dirt cheap. Many of my friends dads worked there as well. You simply didn't drink beer that wasn't brewed in Milwaukee. (To this day I rarely do)

When we opened #1 I was convinced by the locals that I HAD to sell Bud. It was a big Bud town. So against my better judgement we opened selling the evil brew. The decision to stop selling it was made easy by the arrogance and ineptitude of the local distributor. Their service and attitude were terrible. It gave me a good excuse to dump it. So for years I didn't sell it, much to the chagrin of the local bumpkins who drank it. Unfortunately, one of my favorite beers, Sprecher, (A Milwaukee micro brew)recently switched to the Bud distributor. I stopped selling Sprecher. To their credit the Sprecher guys got wind of it and starting shipping direct. It must have been a pain in the ass for them because the next thing you know a Bud salesman shows up at my door. (They've always known better not to waste their time) I explained the lousy service and attitude and how I'd really like to sell Sprecher. He promised better service and mentioned I wouldn't have to sell Bud to sell Sprecher. I'm sure he looked at it as a foot in the door. I agreed and began selling Sprecher once again.

I think it was the second time we placed an order that the distributor screwed up. They also didn't fix it and gave me the impression they couldn't care less. Bye bye Sprecher. They will not be given a third chance.

I guess when you are the biggest brewery in the world you don't have to try so hard. Customer service is simply two words in the manual. In my book, it's the first two.

You would think that Bud would want a presance in the best restaurants in a community of a quarter million people? Also the restaurants that host executives from the biggest employers in the area and from all over the world. We may not sell a ton of beer but you'd think it would be embarassing for the Bud people not to be sold in the highest profile restaurants in the area. They couldn't care less.

So Budweiser? Kiss my ass.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Carbon Moment?

This may seem random but it tells something about me.

I had a strange dream last night. I was in a poetry class and the professor calls on me and asks me a very long winded question. It was so long and verbose that he lost my attention until the very end. All I heard was "describe the carbon moment in your life". Huh? Not knowing what the hell he was talking about I took a stab at it. I figured he was asking about a "defining moment" in my life. I asked if he wanted the short or long version of my answer and he replied, "the short if it's good enough". "If not I'll ask you to expound on the subject".

Ok. "death". He asked me to clarify.

That's when I woke up. It got me to thinking. Did I have a defining moment in my life? Something that has shaped me? Some specific event or time that had a profound affect on me and my life? Something that really "defines" or describes me and how I approach life in general? Yes. There is, or was, or still is. However you look at it. It's something I've been aware of for a long time but I never traced it to a specific moment until I thought about it while I lay there in bed trying to get back to sleep. It was the first time I made the conscious choice to lay my life on the line. It was 18 years ago. On the southeast side of Milwaukee. I had one year on the job as a Milwaukee firefighter. We responded to a house fire in the middle of the day. It was a relatively large two story structure located on a corner. At one time it was either a small grocery store or a tavern with a small hall attached. You see these types of structures all over in the old areas of town. Back in the day the neighborhoods were dotted with corner bars and grocery stores with living quarters above. Now-a-days they are converted to duplexes. One apartment up and one down. It was the lower unit that was on fire. We were the third engine in. Disappointing because the third engine was a "bridesmaid". You usually didn't get to put the wet stuff on the red stuff. You might help lay some lines help ventilate or protect an exposure. We got there shortly after the first two engines. The lower unit was heavily involved in fire. Thick black smoke belched out of most of the windows. The ones that didn't cough smoke were spewing flames. It was a "good" fire. We assisted the first and second engine companies lay lines. (hoses) Things move fast when you get on a fire scene. It's controlled chaos but the boys on the MFD are very good at what they do, they make it look almost like poetry.

I was working on a different shift that day. I was also working with an "acting" boss. Not a promoted person but a firefighter acting as boss. The senior member of the crew would fill in if the real boss (officer) needed to get away for training or personal time. The acting boss was Paul. The "cub" or rookie of the crew would be glued to the boss's hip. The cub was me. I had about a year on the job. I had been to fires before and had proved myself to be capable. Still very inexperienced as far as firefighters go. There is a saying on the job that until you got five years on, you're a liability. I really didn't know shit.

As we proceeded to lay the other engines lines a report came in about children trapped in the apartment on the second floor of the burning building. I have a hard time describing how a firefighter feels when he hears that. You can only imagine. This is why we fight fires. This is why we do all the mundane and dirty jobs while working our 24 hour shift. This is it. This is what it is all about my friends, this is life.

Being the third engine "in" we weren't engrossed in a specific task Paul immediately turned to me and said "let's go kid" (I was 30 years old) We got half-way up the back stairs and donned our "masks" (breathing apparatus) and proceeded to enter the upstairs apartment. There are schools of thought on many fire departments that you never do a search above the fire without a line. (hose charged with water) It not only can put out fire if need be it is also your life line to safety. More than one firefighter has lost his life getting lost in a two bedroom apartment. This one was a large three bedroom above a raging fire. It also had an odd floor plan. It wasn't your typical German duplex, Milwaukee bungalow or Polish flat. We knew how those were laid out. Generally speaking if you've seen one you've seen them all. Without hesitation Paul crawled into the apartment. You are also trained "two in, two out". I was glued to his hip and had to go. It was absolutely pitch black. I mean black! You could not see your hand two inches in front of your face. I might as well had my eyes closed. It was also extremely hot. We began our search in a clockwise pattern around the apartment. Keeping literally in touch with one another with our axes stretched out in our hands trying to cover as much space as possible. Under beds, on beds, in closets. (kids tend to hide in fires) I wasn't sure if I wanted to find them or not. I was also scared shitless. The further we got from those stairs the more nervous I became. Our breathing apparatus contained 30 minutes of air in optimal conditions. In a fire where you are exerting yourself and also scared shitless you're lucky to get 15. We had 15 minutes to find these kids and find our way out. I kept running into things, kitchen table, couch etc. You don't stand up in a fire, you crawl. You'll never find a real fireman standing or walking in a decent fire. Meanwhile we could hear the chatter on the radio. Listening for reports of the kids. Maybe they got out? Maybe they were really at school? We could also hear the other companies making progress on the fire. All the windows on our floor were being smashed around us. The ladder companies were doing a good job of ventilating and the heat and smoke were lessening. My warning bell starting going off. Your SCBA (breathing apparatus) would sound a warning bell when you had five minutes of air left. (more like two in real life)I was really shitting bricks at this point. Paul yelled to me not to worry and keep searching. (gulp!)By the time my air finally ran out completely you could actually see where you were and kind of breath the air. The boys downstairs had put the fire out. Paul knew the crews at that fire and had the confidence that they would have it under control enough for us to continue with or without air. We were joined by other crews and really tore up that apartment looking for those kids. None found. False report.

When we got outside Paul told me I had done a good job and went about the business of picking up hose and cleaning up. He acted as if we just went for a walk in the park. I just spent 20 minutes of the most exhilarating, horrific, unreal experience of my life and he shrugs it off like another day at the office! That's when it hit me. It was just another day at the office.

The point I'm trying to make is until you've put your toe over that line you don't know what's going to happen. Will you cut it or not? Betting your life on your co-workers skills, your training, your confidence that someone isn't going to fuck up and get you killed. Until you've gone there you're not a member of the club. I imagine soldiers and cops feel the same way. Which reminds me. Before Paul was a fireman he was a cop. He also had the rare label of killing a man in a gun battle while on the job. Before that he was a Marine who served in Vietnam. I guess for him that search and rescue was just another day at the office. As someone once said, "in life there are players and there are spectators." I knew from that day on I wanted to be dealt in.

It wasn't too many years later that I had a cub on my hip. We also would take walks in the park.


Friday, November 16, 2007

A Day in the Life.

A fairly typical Wednesday. I'll give you the short version.

Wake at the apartment above #1 about 6:30 a.m.. Read e-mails and surf the usual web sites. Head into work at #2 at 9:00. Prep soup, specials and help with the line set-up. Get into the office before lunch to organize the days office work. Assist with lunch then pay some bills and deal with any issues pertaining to #2. If any baking needs to be done I'll take care of that right after lunch. I've been training the guys to bake so I haven't been doing as much lately. (thank God) I'll head back to #1 as soon as possible. Meet with my wife and talk about current issues with either restaurant. Get into the kitchen between 3:00 and 4:00 and take care of specials, soup and if I have the time any personnel problems. I'll expedite during dinner and generally keep an eye on things throughout the evening. Hopefully my wife and I will have time to sit and relax and have dinner before closing. Head up to the apartment between 9:30 and 10:00.

Not a bad day if everyone shows up for work, don't run out of product, equipment doesn't break down, or have appointments to deal with. Not alot of time for misc. bullshit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Get er done!

I have some major work to do and none of it's cooking. I talked about spurts before but I haven't gotten nearly enough done. I've been busy cooking and dealing with near record business volume. (Woot!) On my plate is: New menu and format at restaurant #2. We're going with a tabloid sized single page menu. Upgrading the content as well. Going to "upscale" it a bit. Also have to work on guest check flyer's for gift certificates and happy hour. Restaurant #1 also is due for a menu tweak. We want to change the format there as well but that part can wait. I also need to produce a couple of radio commercials that need to be running NOW! I record them in my little "studio". We used to go to the station and record them but it's much easier and convenient for me to do them at home. You can't notice the difference in quality. Thankfully Thanksgiving time it slows down for a couple weeks before the shit hits the fan for the holiday push. Which reminds me, I need a New Years Eve menu as well.

The new bar manager didn't exactly work out so I'll be dealing with that as well. I've already hired a new one that we'll be training in two weeks. I for one insist new hires give proper notice unlike a certain new Italian restaurant in town. Speaking of restaurants, we dined at the Japanese restaurant in town for the first time the other night. Our intention was to have dinner. Wrong, it was a zoo but I won't get into that. I wanted to mention that I was appalled that they served frozen tuna on their sushi. You know the kind. The bright pink stuff that never loses it's color. I couldn't believe a sushi joint serves frozen tuna! What is more bothersome is that people actually think it's good. Even a couple foodie types I know. My wife said I was probably the only guy in town who could tell. There in lies my problem. Why bother with quality ingredients if you can dazzle them with flaming onions and flying shrimp! I wanted to stand up in the middle of the dining room and scream "THEY SERVE FROZEN FISH!"


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mission Impossible

Salty, I have a mission if you choose to accept it.

I wish to bring 40 international business executives to your establishment for dinner. Prior to dinner we'd like to have beverages and hors d'oeuvres. We'd also like you to entertain these executives during that time. I would also like you to involve these executives in the entertainment. How about getting them involved in the preparation of their dinner. Remember, hors d'oeuvres and beverages will be served during that time as well. You have three hours to accomplish this task.

Oh, one more thing. You have one business day to prepare. If the mission is successful you will be rewarded handsomely.

(Insert visions of smoldering tape)

Hmmmm, I've got a small kitchen that is awkwardly laid out. I must prepare high end, freshly prepared hors d'oeuvres for these discerning customers and immediately turn around and invite these "civilians" into the kitchen to do some work. Then immediately there after serve a four course dinner to aforementioned guests. All in under three hours.

No problem. While I'm at it I'll videotape the whole affair and show it to you and your guests on our ten foot video screen while you are enjoying that delicious dinner.

My name is Dog, Saltydog.

They had a blast. It's 15 hours later and I'm still exhausted. My staff rocked. My wife was as usual a rock. I'm getting to old for this crazy shit.