Friday, April 25, 2014

The Weekly UpDate

I will be frank - it's been a rough two weeks up here at 870 High Street.  We've had some serious employee issues lately,  a pair of which were finally resolved thorugh attrition.  Two of our key lunch time cooks clocked out for a final time - one via email and the second angrily through the back door.  Obviously there was no two weeks notice from either one, but that is the least of it.  The fact that we lost two employees back to back, both unhappily ending what they considered their disappointing experience at Brooks Tavern, is most notably an unfortunate result of our management style. 

Can we change?  Doubtful.  Kevin is not going to suddenly become all intuitive and empathetic.  I am not going to hold my tongue.  It takes a bit of a thick skin to work for us, I guess, and some can handle the honesty and some cannot.  Kevin's response to the email we got announcing the early retirement of the first cook describes what he tries to offer to his employees:

"...a framework with which to approach food preparation, work habits and comportment that can lead to long term success in the sometimes stressful but always fluid reality of the professional kitchen.  Works for some, not others." 

The employee to whom this was addressed came to us as an accomplished, professional cook, one upon which we thought we could heap responsibility and leadership.  Someone to take some of the pressure off of Kevin and help manage the day shift.  This eventually is probably what became a part of the problem.  The employee needed to be approached from a different angle than originally hoped for, one which was more in line with following rather than leading.  Just because a cook has a lot of experience under their belt should not mean that there are no longer going to be any new experiences to learn from - in order to grow, you need to be willing to take in new ideas without feeling threatened.  Sometimes a cook can find that a certain method they've "always" used to perform a task could be improved upon, with no reflection on their abilities. Different styles in a kitchen are all well and good, as long as the end result is in line with the style of the restaurant which is paying the salary.  Until you can demonstrate that your way is the best way, you are going to have to follow the mandates of the Chef; you simply can't have thin skin when it comes to taking direction and still succeed in a professional kitchen.  Kevin always says that his kitchen is a "benevolent dictatorship", with him at the helm.  Like it or not.  Or, as has been demonstrated this week, like it or leave.  

The second situation came to a more volatile head, with me actually losing all patience and going pretty much "off" in the kitchen this past Tuesday morning, resulting in the previously mentioned back door exodus.  This was the culmination of two weeks of dealings with an on-going stressful relationship with this employee.  It was bound to end badly, and it did.   I am not proud of my behavior - and it is not the first time I have lost my cool in front of staff members - but it got to the point that someone had to let the rest of the crew know that the situation was not acceptable.  That one person was not going to be allowed to poison the rest.  And if it took a walk-out, well, so be it.  The huge loss in this situation was not the empty position that needed filling, but all the time we've spent over the past 18 months training this cook: gone.  They should be well prepared for their next job, that is all I can say. 

I realize as I type this that persons close to these scenarios could be reading my thoughts as well as anyone.  I am aware that some  might be identified.  But I don't think I am offering TMI here.  This is just my personal insight into the challenges of managing a group of diverse individuals in an often hectic, sometimes stressful environment, with their varying personalities sometimes clashing, and all of them carrying knives.   Show me an owner-operated restaurant that doesn't share many of the same issues and I'll show you a very contented absentee owner...

Meanwhile, there was still a business to run, despite these very difficult staff issues that were rearing their ugly heads.  Food was made to be served, right?

This week's prix-fixe was opened with a variation on the new wedge salad we've been serving at lunch:
Probably a bit too large, but a crispy start to the meal, complete with bacon.

 Sausages roasting in the oven would be the main course.

This is a new sausage Kevin had made - chicken and pork - which was served topped with freshly made mozzarella, over a mound of roasted cauliflower and broccoli rabe.  Again, a bit over sized, but some very tasty sausage.  Dessert was the easy-to-make vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

We do have some happy employees - thank the lord!  Here's a shot of Dashan and Robbie, outfitted in their new Chef's Jackets.
Both have  been in our kitchen for less than a year, but are making a dent in progressing to be "real" cooks.  At 17, Robbie, on the right, is about as young a cook as there can be in a professional kitchen, and he is doing a pretty decent job of handling the pressure.  Dashan is a bit older - although sometimes we're not so sure about that! - and is also adding his abilities to the team that is the dinner line.  Both pretty much have been on-the-job trained, and one thing is certain - they will leave us with a solid background that could - if they so choose - take them to the next level anywhere they wanted to go.  That's something not every employee understands.  If they pay attention and remain open to it, there's a lot they could learn.  I'm never going to say that Kevin is easy to work for, but for sure he is a willing teacher if he has a willing student.

One such character stopped by the other night after his lunch shift to sit at the Kitchen Table and enjoy an oyster fritter.  Mandrell has been working the lunch line for close to three years now, and I think he has pretty much seen it all.  He has grown into the dean of the lunch crew, offering a voice of reason when required, and has been a thirsty vessel where Kevin's training is concerned.  Now he is about to progress into the next stage - lead line cook.  But first he has to start coming to work an hour early!  Ha!

I guess the big news on the food front is the change we are attempting to make in the presentation of the romaine salad - that very popular dinner salad made with romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing, which we broil under the salamander just prior to serving.  It is probably the most popular item on the dinner menu, and generally it is not cool to fuss with the customers favorite.  But change it we have, from the mound of dressed lettuce with the sprinkling of cheese and panko, to the above - two halves of a head of baby romaine, dressed and treated with the same garnish.  Very different.  And the feedback has been mostly positive - once the dressing was thinned out a bit so that it would drizzle down between the leaves.  It's a little more challenging to eat - you really need a knife and a fork - but it is less likely to be overdressed, which was a real problem before.  It will be easier to share, be it two or four.  We'll see how it goes this weekend.  I will be asking, and I am hopeful I will be told.

Two burgers from last night's burger mania here for your perusal.  Above is a cheese burger with a mound of griddled onions under the jack cheese.  Below is the "special" burger for this week - feta cheese, sundried mayo and crisp cucumbers.

And to top it all off, we are trying to get ready for Sunday's Taste of the Town, set to be held in Fountain Park in downtown Chestertown.  We are planning to do our signature ice cream sandwiches.  Luckily, our new hire on the salad station, who started yesterday, was game to get into baking 600 peanut butter cookies, followed by putting together 300 sandwiches. 

Today, Tiffany, (new guy) James and I got about half the load done.  Hopefully we'll get finished up tomorrow, just in the nick of time for Sunday's event.  ToT is a lot of fun, for participants and attendees alike.  We get to hobnob not only with our customer base, but with our fellow restaurateurs as well, which in this town is a rare experience.  Most of us are working the same hours, and when we are not in the shop we are not usually found in someone else's shop, we're taking a break at home!  So, while giving up a Sunday off is not our first idea of fun, at least we'll have fun while we're "working".  If we get all those sandwiches made, that is.

Let's end this on a positive note - apple blossoms that can't be stopped:

 And their hard working honey bees:

My new wallpaper!

Peace Out!

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