Monday, June 29, 2009

onwards and upwards

so our last 'official' day as a cafe was fairly nondescript. trade was exceptionally slow, which underscored that we need to make a transition. the next two weeks should see things taking shape.

I'll miss cooking dishes like this - thai beef, kumera and green bean curry:

but maybe I'll get back to creative dinners again.

haven't decided if I'll continue posting to this blog, as we're totally shifting the business model away from food. at any rate I'll leave it up, perhaps as inspiration (or even a cautionary tale) for anyone with a dream of having their own fooderie. as this blog will confirm, it ain't easy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

finale d'cafe

today's our last day trading as a "cafe". we've decided to take the rebranding approach, so we'll close for a couple of weeks of minor renovations and restock and reopen as a gourmet coffee/tearoom and roasting house.

we've put out feelers for second-hand books or antiques to fill some of the dining room that will no longer be required by us. so far, the response has been very good.

so we'll flip the closed sign about 4 or 5, have a few drinks across the road at the pub, and reemerge with what will hopefully be a more sustainable business model.

and a much less stress-filled one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

more course corrections

we're considering a fairly major change. the primary thrust of our business is coffee, but we've delved into the food end as we have a kitchen & the place has been known mainly as a cafe/restaurant.

as most in the biz know, however, the profit margins on food alone are very slim. we've done another hard look thru the books, and our coffee = food ratio is pretty good. so if we cut out the food menu all but entirely, our overall income would reduce but the margins would be greater. which might well work better for us.

another consideration is, we've been trying to develop a market west of the mountains to wholesale coffee to. but we're finding that there's a perception that as a 'cafe', they'd be buying from a competing business. so changing to a roasting house should alleviate that.

so at this point, we're exploring how best to turn the place into a gourmet coffee and tearoom, with cakes and a limited amount of snacks and pastries.

which means, we might just be able to survive a little longer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

random notes from mid-june

biz as usual. well, as 'usual' as we've come to expect. which is good for the sanity and stress levels, bad for the bank balance. and we don't expect much to change between now and end of july, when yulefest is in full swing.

can't believe all the hoo-hah that the gordon ramsay - tracy grimshaw feud kicked up. glad sarah palin wasn't in the country to add to the stupidity.

soups and stews are all the rage as winter's set in. wind chill dropped the temp down to -8c / 17f last week, and we've redesigned the dining room to take full advantage of the fireplace. the leather sofa, with coffee table directly in front of the fire is now the most-requested table.

the stripped-back menu is working much better, as far as the kitchen & aging equipment goes. but there were a few on the weekend who seemed a little disappointed with the menu.

mind you, you can never be everything to everybody. well, unless you buy-in everything and microwave portions, which we simply won't do. we've taken the tack that this place is what it is, and we'll make the most of what we can offer accordingly. at least it's fresh.

Monday, June 8, 2009

the g word

gordon ramsay's back in the country for the good food & wine show, and once again he's managed to rattle the ever-precious cages of aussie media.

you'd think by now, everyone would be hip to gord and his style. as bad as channel nine has been struggling for ratings, one would almost think the whole thing was a setup, anyway.

compare gord's histronics to, say, billy connolly. they're both mad scotsmen, intelligent and articulate. if billy unleashed on a tv presenter or journalist, everyone would think it hilarious. when gordon does it, he's in the bad books.

why? because one is an 'entertainer' and the other a 'chef'? I'd argue that gr's become more of a media personality than a pan rattler these days.

note to the aussie media pack: if you don't like what gordon's saying, stop asking for interview time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

great rain weekend

well, the big event came and went. only problem was, they couldn't get any antique trains to come up. some hiccup at the last minute meant the great train weekend became a clayton's train weekend.

we had quite a few in on saturday, familes seeking refuge from the cold.

then the rains set in around midafternoon and chased everyone away. sunday, the village looked like a ghost town as the rain and lack of trains kept the tourists away.

so we think we can expect a fairly steady but overall unremarkable trade for the next several weeks, at least until yulefest. then we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

steady on

gearing up for the coming weekend, an annual event here called the great train weekend. we're told that plenty of folks are in the village for it, anywhere from a hundred or two (local shops) or thousands (event organisers), depending of course on who you speak to. but we're expecting something along the lines of what we experienced over easter.

so we'll be staffed up, stocked up, and hopefully all the equipment will work. we've now moved to the new menu too. I'm sure our regulars will be sad to see the burgers go, but as stated in the last post, it's all about keeping the doors open.

Monday, May 18, 2009

luck o' the irish

the fabulous fergusson elliott performed on sunday:

if only there were a few more people here to see him and his amazing irish bouzouki prowess.

we're settling on what will be the new direction. for the past couple of weeks, we'd been considering whether it would be best to close shop, perhaps to relocate to somewhere more viable. we've got a couple of plan b alternatives on the table at present, but each will need plenty of time and money to implement.

meanwhile... we're both frustrated with the struggle to keep the place open. we've attracted plenty of great reviews, our regulars seem happy and everything's in place for a long, steady growth curve. except more customers. and it's not just us, everybody around seems to be feeling the massive downturn in regular trade.

so we're considering an option that will allow us to remain trading, but with much ramping back. we'll reduce the menu to soups, focaccias and other light meals only. this will mean we won't have to rely on (and spend big $$ repairing) the stoves, gas lines, fryer, walk-in refrigeration etc. readers who remember our first place up the coast will recall the menu there, this one may be very similar.

we'll save on gas, electricity, staff, stock and nerves. we can focus on our core profitable products such as coffee. and we can hang in for the winter season.

we'd also be cutting out our live music calendar, which saddens me. however, after six months we still haven't developed any kind of regular support. it's heartbreaking watching these incredibly talented artists like fergusson play to a half dozen people. or less. it's a sad state, everyone wants live music and sounds all excited, but when it's made available.... there's so many people around who supported the idea, but have never set foot in our place during a music session. guess they're all too busy watching football.

stay tuned, things are unfolding...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

join the club

not much to blog about, just bizness as what appears to be usual. we haven't suffered any major equipment failures or other infrastructure related problems, and have just been coasting along.

from last week's specials board - chicken club sandwich, with avocado, cos lettuce, tomato on a triple decker organic spelt loaf:

we'll have a rather big announcement sometime next week.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


so the much-hyped aussie masterchef made its debut last night. I have to admit, I wasn't overly impressed, and that's not because I'm a fan of the british original.

the problem seems to be the heavy-handed manner in which network ten churns out these 'reality' tv shows. execs have admitted that high hopes are riding on the success of mc after the cancellation of big brother, finales of biggest loser and dancing with the stars, and flagging ratings for australian idol.

but the only recent 'reality' food series to really connect with the aussie public seems to have been my restaurant rules, which network seven aired in 2004 & 05. viewers were allowed insight into the contestants' lives, hopes and dreams - and cared. ten's 'answer' show, the chopping block failed to deliver even after a hasty makeover for season two. and I can see the same rushed, "ignore the contestants, gush over the production values" style of mc australia.

the producers appear to have taken much inspiration from bravo tv's top chef series, right down to the padma look-alike host. but as with many of ten's productions, so far it's all style over any substance. and isn't 'reality' tv supposed to be about 'reality'?

Monday, April 27, 2009

misty mountain hop

the fireplace was put to full use over the weekend, and the diners seemed to appreciate it in the first pre-winter cold blast we've had this season. I put a hearty beef & veg stew on the specials board, we sold out by saturday afternoon.

also from the specials board: tempura fish & chips (sold huge, will probably move it to the permanent menu); chef's burger with wasabi mayo and aged bush pepper cheese; veg and lentil soup; cream of corn soup; and grilled chicken with roasted garlic mash & wild rocket:

the biggest hit from the expanded burger menu was this one - bacon chicken swiss cheese and avocado:

personally, I think the reason this one sold well was people are used to seeing a version of it on most of the commercial fast food menus.

caitlin harnett played to a comfortably full house. we met a few more regulars and welcomed some new arrivals, two who found us thru twitter. nice to see simon and amanda from pop tarts, carnsey and olson. happy b-day to ann, thanks for choosing our humble lil hideaway to have your lunch bash.

Friday, April 24, 2009

ironfest and anzac biscuits

those are two events on this weekend that may or may not have anything to do with our trade.

new opening hours are from 10am weekends, we're thinking about opening this monday but there seems to be some confusion over whether it's still a public holiday.

the new menu's ready, we're expanding our burger menu and adding more warm light meal items. the specials board will continue to feature whatever's interesting, in season and above all, of interest. it still amazes me what moves and what doesn't off of a specials board.

the sunday music sessions are finally starting to grow, we'd hoped that the cooler weather would help. grey misty days with a fire crackling and some top-notch solo singer-songwriters seems to be a good combination.

but we're still cautiously watching the bottom line. we've had to send a rather lengthy list of urgent repairs to the building's owner, and that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as what's in need of attention here.

one weekend at a time...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

time for a few small repairs

after much discussion, we've decided on a slight course correction. we're scrapping the breakfast menu and will now open for lunch at 11am.

there's a few reasons, and we think it'll all be for the best. the capper was our recent gas problem, which has actually been an issue in this kitchen since before we took over. the problem seems to lie with the stovetop burners sucking too much air back into the lines and killing the pilots. we're told by a couple of gas plumbers that the 1972-era waldorf ain't worth fixing, and we haven't got a spare $10k to replace her.

the main use for the stovetop is breakfast, we usually get by with the grill & fryer alone during lunch. so today I pulled out the spreadsheet of what's been ordered, how many covers etc. we've been doing 3 lunches to every 1 brekky. mornings start early and the stock costs are high. so dropping breakfast should actually save us money, reduce the prep hours and allow the kitchen to focus solely on lunch service.

on top of that, most of the weekend tourists up here stay in b&b's or other accom that all provide brekky.

we'll likely disappoint a few brekky regulars, but the numbers - or lack of - add up. we're struggling and we need to run this ship tight and solid. we're also having talks about combining our dining room space with a second business to increase traffic.

so I'm kind of excited about having some morning time to work on expanding the lunch menu. I've been perusing my cookbooks and various online sites for ideas and inspiration. stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

easter recap

well, the much ballyhooed easter weekend has come and gone. we went into the trade week half-stocked as our primary supplier failed to deliver. some idiot in the office put us down for a friday delivery - which, of course being a public holiday wasn't scheduled. needless to say, we're changing suppliers.

friday's trade was pretty solid, saturday and sunday were busier. overall, it was a big weekend, but, to my thinking at least - it still wasn't the mega-huge trade that all the local businesses said it would be. in spite of the stimulus package talks, people are still tightly guarding their pennies.

anyway, we did enough over the three days to cover our stock, staff and running costs. monday was to be all profit, earmarked to go towards our mounting personal debts - car payments, phone, credit cards etc. monday morning was misty and drizzly, perfect mountain cafe weather.

then the gas mains died.

we're still not certain what actually happened, as we're waiting for someone to come and examine the lines, but the pilots simply wouldn't stay lit. the stove, grill, fryer and oven - all out of action. we have a couple of electric appliances, but it was simply impossible to do full breakfasts for the dozen or so orders on the docket rail.

the only thing we could do was switch to what was doable with the benchtop gear. soups, toasted sandwiches and salads were about all. and as such, we ran out of those within an hour or so. the cappucino machine sprung a leak and we'd had enough. we flipped the closed sign and shut down, watching dozens upon dozens of people walk up to the doors and away again.

to fix all this, we'd need to dump a whole ton o' money into repairing the place. part of our deal with the owners was a 12 month exploratory lease on the proviso that any repairs or maintenance is to be our problem. two big problems with that solution: a) we don't have any money; 2) we're still not convinced that there's ample trade here at this time to make it all worthwhile.

so we're deep in discussions. at this point, we'll likely hold out until the great train weekend (another much-touted busy event) at the end of may, then... we shall see.

rebecca hancock and john sandow performing:

Monday, April 6, 2009

april no foolin'

we finally had a busy sunday, which was welcome in more ways than one could imagine. it's giving us a hint of what to expect over easter. we're still having a couple of staffing issues, but will hopefully have a full crew together by tomorrow.

peter pik put on a fabulous set of fingerstyle guitar:

from the specials board: marinated grilled lamb cutlets, on a bed of wild rocket with roasted garlic sweet potato mash:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

is that more rain?

arrived back from the city to discover two important things: a) it's still raining constantly; and 2) the roof that was repaired a couple of weeks ago.... ain't.

so the dining room has a half dozen buckets spread around, trying to catch the dripstreams, and the kitchen... ugh. not looking forward to the weekend, as the rain's not likely to lift and we can't get anyone to see about fixing things until it stops.

the upside is that we may pick up some trade as this is the pre-easter weekend. most of the local guesthouses have good bookings, we're hoping there's a few folks wandering around the village... raincoats and galoshes, no doubt.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

is that rain?

wetaher's starting to cool a little. firewood's arriving tomorrow. last weekend's trade was up a bit, which means we were just able to cover all the vital bills.

bring on april. I feel like making soups.

Monday, March 23, 2009

treading water

after seeing a bump in trade last weekend, we struggled thru another tough one. our music artist came down with the flu and couldn't appear, but there were only a few here to see her anyway.

we're beginning to consider (reconsider?) our long-term plans and the viability of growing a new business in such a tough economic market. running this place is enjoyable on so many levels, yet it's also a lot of work and stress. at the moment, we're both knocking ourselves out during the week to earn money to prop up the cafe. we knew we'd have to do that for a little while, but we're beginning to suspect that 'little while' may extend thru the remainder of the year - or more.

which is kind of frustrating, as the feedback we get from customers has been amazingly supportive and positive. we seem to be doing it 'right', yet there simply doesn't appear to be enough trade in the hills this season. and all the in-the-know economists are warning that the recovery won't be nearly as rapid as our politicians would have us believe.

from the specials board - roast pumpkin salad with english spinach, feta cheese and toasted pine nuts:

the two miss a's, proving they're considerably more than just pretty faces...

easter (and post-) weekend is proving to be a little tough for staffing. anyone up this way looking for some extra work, please get in touch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

the problems we like to have

after several weeks of less than stellar trade, we finally had a busy weekend. in fact, sunday's breakfast crowd caught us totally off guard, both staffing and stock-wise. by 11am, I had to pull the breakfast menu as we'd run totally out of eggs, sourdough, mushrooms, romas, bacon and sausage. pretty much 3/4 of the menu.

not sure what the difference was, there were a few local events, notably the blue mountains music festival over in katoomba. but I doubt if that made much difference, aside from some friends who dropped up to say hi as they were on their way. at any rate, we're hoping the summer slow season is finally drawing to a close.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

blog blahs

long time, no post. hasn't been much of note to post about, to be honest. trade's been diabolically slow all around and we're finding the need to work more mid-week and pump more cash into the cafe just to keep from drowning in bills.

there's only a few more weeks til the much-lauded tourist season, but I have to admit, I'm finding it very hard to keep enthusiastic about our prospects. we seem to be pouring more time, money and resources into this place than we'd expected, and we were expecting quite a lot.

the blue mountains folk fest is on this weekend, we'll see how attendance is. that might give a wee clue as to what to expect come easter, as far as the tourist dollars go.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

a block to chop on

anyone catching tonight's u.s. premiere of the chopping block, could you let us know your thoughts? I'm curious to see how this show is received / played out.

and I doubt we'll get it here anytime soon, one of the national networks is re-running season two of hell's kitchen. which lifestyle food has already screened at least four times. probably more. although I'll possibly catch it just for the shots of chef virginia in the spa....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

we tweet, therefore we is

we now have a twitter page for the cafe, if you're a regular tweet-type, follow us for more regular daily updates from our lil' cooking shack. we'll also have in-house specials exclusive to twitter followers.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

food blogs

who'd have predicted that blogging about food would become as huge as it has in the past couple of years? one look at the aussie foodblog list is telling, as this is just aussie blogs who've bothered to register with this directory. obviously there'd be hundreds more out there, and that's just this country alone.

there's few good interactive foodblogs that I've contributed to and kept up with. the original chef 2 chef forums were great, as they were frequented by lots of professional chefs who were very supportive and giving of their time and expertise. but after a time, the site somehow became something of an in-club until it was sold. it's never really been quite the same since.

I've tried reading thru a few of the forums at chowhound over the past couple of years, the aussie board seems to be 90% overseas visitors posting exactly the same questions about restaurants and getting exactly the same recommendations from the same posters. the food & media board seems to be a fansite for all those who worship at the altar of racheal ray, jamie oliver, iron chef america etc. the home cooking board has some interesting threads, but you've gotta weed thru a lot of dreck to find them.

vogue's food drink + entertaining board, like the chowhound media board seems largely preoccupied with celebrity chefs, although it's well-read and contributed to. I've recently discovered chef talk, it seems to be populated by pro chefs and is one of my faves now. although I find the paid ad 'infolinks' distracting.

there's lots of good review sites, which I enjoy for the customer-side insight. I particularly like rita's hobart guide (even though I'm not anywhere near tassie), as it's informative and well-written. but here I'm talking primarily sites you can use /refer to / be inspired by when it comes to sourcing, cooking and serving food, either on the pro or home level.

so I'll throw out to readers: what are your fave foodblogs, and why? I'm talking about really solid, well moderated boards that engage you on many levels, as a pro, as a foodie, as a serious home cook.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

which came first?

for us, the egg well before the chicken. mainly because the chicken's only on the brunch menu and not the brekky menu.

a couple of veggie (and carnivores with good taste) faves on a lazy saturday morning:

scrambled free-range eggs with fresh chives and slow-roasted plum tomatoes on toast:

poached free-range eggs with sauteed field mushrooms on toast:

Monday, February 23, 2009


economic data released last week claims spending in cafes and restaurants fell 3.9% last quarter, topping off a fall of 12.9% for the year, the weakest annual growth rate for 25 years.

I'm trying to locate the original source, this bit I gleaned from a news story reporting on the closure of the winning 2005 my restaurant rules contestant.

but it's a telling set of statistics, no?

the tex, the mule and the rev

well, things picked up a little on sunday. a little. so the weekend wasn't a complete loss. but we'll hang in until the easter break and see if the season finally kicks in.

thanks to amanda and her family for celebrating her birthday with us. if you're a roots / country music fan, check out amanda's excellent blog.

the tex-mex burger, with a tangy guacamole, cos lettuce and chipotle tomato salsa:

the rev jd love performing:

bluegrass fans, note next sunday, when the jimmy rush project hits our, well, it's not a stage, more of a carpet really. jimmy's bringing the a-team of australian bluegrass pickers with him. should be a dandy time.

Friday, February 20, 2009


we've been open three hours and haven't had a soul walk in. well, aside from some gal taking a survey about the local swimming pool. I've checked with the pub and the two other cafes in the village, they're all dead. welcome to february. no matter, we have bookings for saturday & sunday. the easter tourist season is around the corner, I'm sure I'll miss the relative quiet and serenety.

on the specials board today: penne with chorizo, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and rocket; veggie burgers with patties made from lentil, carrot, potato and zucchini; leek, onion and new potato soup; organic roast pumpkin, lentil and feta pies.

had another nice review on eatability, which is always welcome and encouraging.

*update* - the manager of the pub across the road came in with his family for lunch. bill came to just under what it costs us in electricity and gas to run the place for a day, so we're still behind.

*update update* takeaways. at least that's something.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

choose wisely

the rspca has a new initiative, which we were quite happy to join. it's called choose wisely, and is an awareness campaign aimed at reducing the amount of cage-laid hen eggs used in cafes and restaurants.

we're members at the silver level, which means that we use cage-free eggs in all food products made on premises (which we've been doing since opening), but that some products bought-in may have used cage eggs in production.

we'll occasionally have pastries or cookies brought in to augment what we're able to bake here, so we're not 100% sure about the egg sources used there. as well as some stock items, such as dry pasta, creams, custards and ice creams, so we're at the mid-level to ensure that our integrity is assured.

it's an interesting initiative. let's hope the word spreads.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

what's yer beef?

somewhat inspired by a few 'bad customer' tales over on rita's blog, I thought I'd throw the doors open to get a few comments.

as a diner, what is your one major gripe, complaint, etc about your restaurant experiences?

we've all got plenty, but I'd like to limit this to your top peeve.

to kick things off, one of my fave pubs in the city had a bistro that was always busy on weekends. problem is, they were always understaffed and the kitchen layout wasn't the most ergonomic, let alone efficient.

having qualified that, it wasn't uncommon on a friday night or sunday afternoon to have a table of four receive their meals within an hour of each other. first served would be well finished with their meal while number four was still awaiting theirs.

it's my main grumble, and I've always busted my arse (and my staff's as well) to make sure that each table is served completely at the same time, or at least within a few brief minutes.

so what's your beef?

Monday, February 16, 2009

sweets for the sweet

as we didn't offer a valentine's day dinner, we came up with something appropriately decadent. a chocolate brownie, made from dark belgian chocolate and topped with a caramel & dark chocolate sauce:

they sold out quickly. funny about that.

we went from last weekend's heatstroke to this weekend's cold wave. the fire kept the dining room toasty all weekend, and it gave us a vibe of what winter will be like. lots of tourists were in town for the valentine's getaway weekends, so business picked up - finally. we sold out of pasta, soup and veggie burgers, all the comfort foods on the specials board.

with the rain drizzling and the fire crackling, it's a nice place to be, if I do say so myself. it's a comfortable and cozy room to lounge around, sipping coffee and reading the weekend papers. of all the various books, magazines etc piled on the coffee table next to the fire, the most popular and well-read - by a long shot - are the four collections of gary larson's the far side that I dug out. watching grown adults sniggering like schoolkids while reading them is always amusing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

friday the 13th...

... it isn't just for horror movies anymore.

after last week's near-heatstrokes, it was cold enough this morning to stoke up the fire in the dining room. not that it mattered, you could count the number of customers that came in on one hand. a cartoon hand, for that matter (let's see who gets that reference...).

except we're not laughing. 'february's usually the slowest month', we've been told. but I'm sure that nobody expected quite the crunch that we all seem to be feeling.

there's an old saying:
come in and eat, before we both starve


Thursday, February 12, 2009


why haven't I discovered this before?

"Week One. Thurs. Students peel seven hundred pounds of potatoes to gangster rap about burning down zoos and hitting women with golf clubs. They are told not to come back."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

beatin' the heat

as previously posted last sunday it was 45c/113f outside and 56c/133f in the kitchen. here we are, wednesday, and it's 12c/54f. at least cooler weather means coffee weather. we usually get a decent breakfast trade when it's cloudy and drizzly like today, and the weather bureau says the cool weather will hold out thru the weekend. hope so, but we're not holding our breaths just yet.

yet another replacement espresso machine has turned up. this one resembles the one we'd originally ordered back in october (and which the company promptly lost). our tech guys are here bright and early tomorrow, and we'll give the new beast a run on friday:

Monday, February 9, 2009


so we were packed to the rafters all weekend, people left huge tips, I gave the staff $100 each extra, hired a limo and took the family to tetsuya's for dinner.


if only. the heatwave peaked on sunday and ensured that everyone in the area stayed home. we had the worst trading week since opening and had to endure the stress of the heat to boot. at 3pm yesterday, the kitchen topped at 56c/133f and we'd all had enough. the heat was stinging everyone's eyes and I shut everything down.

the wonderfully talented caitlin harnett performed to an audience of her family, a couple of friends and two regulars, but that was as good a crowd as we were going to get on the day:

in spite of the heat, there was a lot going on. in my other life as a musician, I debuted my new blues trio at the pub across the road on friday. after service saturday, we had a 40th birthday and a wedding down the road. sunday saw a few post-revelers drag themselves in for breakfast. I came up with an appropriate 'special' - chipolata sausages, bacon, eggs with a healthy dash of tabasco and chips with a paprika gravy.

I took a photo of one, but I can't bring myself to post it. let's just say, it appeared to have achieved its purpose. someone asked for a 'nice chicken salad with a wholegrain mustard dressing', so I threw this together on the fly:

the rocket was all I could get my hands on. my fruit & veg guy gave me the last fifteen batches they had. the hot weather in victoria killed off most of the usual supply of wild rocket, and next week, we expect banana prices to skyrocket in the wake of the north queensland floods.

it's a little cooler today, we're in the office stressing over bills and hoping that next weekend will pick up. it's amazing how much effect the weather can have on trade. at our last resto in sydney, we'd have forty or fifty covers on a typical friday night. but if it rained, we'd drop to four or five. they keep telling us that winter is the big season up here. let's hope we can hang in until then.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

prep day

I like prep days. they're easy going, low stress and even a little creative. the pace up here isn't as competitive or frantic as in the cities, so there's not need to queue at say, the sydney fish markets or paddy's at 4am, trying to get to the swimmer crab or raddichio before the best goes. in fact, the last time I'd arrived at the crack of dawn at my local fruit & veg, the boys were still milling about, rolling out trays of stock with all the urgency of a melting glacier.

so I enjoy a leisurely start to prep day, pounding down a half dozen coffees and reading the latest news, blogs and food forums on the net. it gives me time to budget out my buying for the day and to begin to think about the weekend's specials. most of my favourite food sites are northern hemisphere-based, so glossy photos and breathless reviews of 'hearty winter stews', 'rich minestrone' and 'beef bourgoin in a reduced red wine jus' don't really appeal to me (or our diners) in 40c/104f heat.

started pickling some baby octopus for a salad, they used to sell very well at our last resto, but the place was right in the midst of the italian quarter of sydney. it'll be interesting to see how it goes up here. also thinking of a nice summery potato salad, not the gluggy egg mayo variety (though I loved that at bbq's as a kid), but rather something more delicate. I've been keen to try some pastas, but am thinking it's still too hot. today's post about berries on gail's blog reminds me that I need to make up another couple of batches of jam soon.

among the tasks on the list today: making pesto, sauces and vinaigrettes; preparing and rolling out burger patties; trimming chicken and separating into fillets and marinating the rest for focaccias and salads; unpack the celery, reserving the leaves for celery salt; slice the ham from the bone; trim the rinds from the bacon, reserving for a future soup or stock; boil potatoes for mash; order bread and check that all needed stock is on hand and ready. by a remarkable coincidence, it's then often 5pm, which is happy hour at the pub across the road. there, I'll get the latest weather updates and agriculture gossip from the locals.

tomorrow morning, I'll roast off the romas and eggplant; slice breads (provided they were delivered on time...); set up the mise and salad stations; make a batch of garlic butter; caramelise onions and make gravy, wash and prep the salad veggies, make up some mayo; make salsa and guacamole and write the specials on the board. plus come up with some wise-guy retort for the a-frame chalkboard we use in the blackboard wars with the boys across the road. then I'll use my best gordon ramsay voice and say something like, "jean-phillipe.. open hell's kitchen", as the staff gals roll their eyes and go back to their coffees.

so I'm off to hunt and gather. I may post some pics if so inspired.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

this n that

trade's definitely slowed as expected, post holidays. we did around half the covers that we did the week before. but we did at least as well as we'd expected.

we've decided not to try and put on a valentine's day dinner, even though we had tentative bookings. we're simply not geared up to try anything 'fine dining' at this point, and to do an event like v-day, you've really got to do it right.

we're still having a few issues with our kitchen gear, it's adequate for the lunch menu we have but I'm not 100% sure about doing a full dinner. then, we don't have enough matching crockery for a proper three course, let alone all the ancillary items like tablecloths et al. borrowing or renting isn't an option, as all the other pubs, guesthouses and function centers are all doing their own v-day dinners. then, there's staffing. our gals work nights at other places, so we'd be stuck for a regular crew. so, into the 'too hard' basket for 2009.

speaking of, well typing of staff, our gal karin only made it thru the first audition round for masterchef australia before being given the 'thanks for playing' news. she must be doing something right, as she's been asked to come on board a diner down the highway that's just changed owners.

the heatwave continues unabated, keeping our breakfast trade at bay but bringing in a late afternoon rush. the kitchen temp nudged 51c/124f a few days ago:

perhaps it was the heat, but our salads finally started selling. on the specials board we had a grilled chorizo salad with a house ranch dressing. I used local green beans and snow peas from a friend's garden. I'd love to source some more local produce, but it's finding the time to make the contacts that's always a challenge.

interesting quote on ruhlman's blog:

“It was clear that we had this incredible bounty around us, but we weren’t known for creating great stuff to eat. At the beginning of the 20th century, Iowa fed people. And here we are in the 21st century, and we’re feeding machines. It’s just a priori wrong. One of the things in the U.S. is we don’t have the thousands of years of tradition of making prosciutto — or of making anything. You see that the quality of the meat comes from the quality of life of the animal and the quality of the feed”

you'll get no argument from me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

slow and steady

with a day or two to catch our breaths, we've managed to recap our first couple of months trading in this new biz. as most of you will know, the site we're in has been a fooderie of some sort since at least 1951, and possibly even longer than that, according to some old-timers in the area.

but after a few years of other operators trying to run a quasi-fine dining restaurant followed by two years closed space, we've always known that taking on this gig was going to be a big ask.

at this nascent stage, a few things are already evident: we're on the right track, as far as our menu direction and coffee quality goes. ditto for our price structure. many city types have commented that we appear to be 'too cheap', but we're in the ballpark of what the locals have been demanding, and we need their regular support.

the overall balance of the place seems to be working, the look and vibe of the room, the extras we offer (such as live music, the kids room, the leather lounges etc) all appear to be appreciated. we won't put much more work or money into decor or ancillaries as we probably don't need to, and we don't have any money anyways. a local artist is due to drop in shortly with some of his work, we may let him have some of the empty wall space in the back and do a pseudo-gallery (even though I personally feel that cafe/galleries are so last century....)

so we've ramped hours back to fridays, saturdays and sundays, at least until easter. we'll be watching the tourist trade very carefully, as january was a disappointing month for local biz overall. for every one that tells us winter is the big trading season up here, I keep reminding myself that an economic recovery ain't gonna happen in a quarter. we've gone back to our 'other' jobs during the week, and we'll feed and nurture this fledgling cafe at its own pace.

but it's promising.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

back to business

another australia day / chinese new year day is behind us. again, the customer traffic was completely unpredictable. thursday and friday were ridiculously quiet, and saturday was steady from breakfast onwards. sunday began slow, the low clouds and mist failing to bring in the morning crowd as it usually does.

from 2pm, we saw two and four tops begin to arrive, then a twelve top, then for the next two hours, all I saw were yellow order tickets on the rail, the grill top, the salamander and not much else. again, we started to run out of core items, which prompted an early morning scurry to try to find stock, which wasn't easy as most places were closed for the public holiday.

then the much-hyped australia day rush, er, wasn't as we did less than half the amount of covers as the day before. as I'm typing, I'm eating some leftover chicken and mushroom pie.

the demand for burgers continues unabated. we're looking to expland that section of the menu accordingly. I'm still trying to find a decent veggie burger recipe that I'm happy with. I've been playing with a few chickpea and eggplant variations, but I'm not getting the result I'd like. and the pre-made frozen patties from the caterer suppliers are abysmal.

this week's big seller: the aforementioned aussie burger, premium lamb, cheese, tomato, lettuce, beetroot and pineapple:

personally, I hate the idea of pineapple on a burger (same goes for an egg). somehow, I'd not once, but twice sent out a burger without the pineapple. I must have a deep-seated loathing for the stuff.

other news: we're ramping back our opening hours to fridays - sundays, 9am to 4pm. that'll stay til the easter long weekend, where we'll expand hours again.

we're canvassing interest in putting on a valentine's day dinner, which falls on a saturday this year. anyone keen, let us know.

waitress extraordinaire karin (she doesn't like me calling her a 'waitbot') dropped in this morning, her masterchef audition is tomorrow and she still has yet to decide what she's going to present. she's been getting advice from everybody from her chef brother to her chef employer.

and I'm going to spend the day tomorrow cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom and rearranging / restructuring the service areas. I'd rather be anywhere else, but it's got to be done.

Friday, January 23, 2009

aussie daze

coming up fast on australia day weekend. the local bizfolk tell us it'll be a busy one, but you wouldn't know it from the current lack of activity in the village. mind you, we're again heading into another prolonged heatwave which seems to scare away all but the most fervent rock climbers (and are there any other kind, really?).

we're looking at the past seven weeks of trading and trying to get some kind of handle - any kind - on what the potential is for future trade here. we've got until september under our current lease to decide whether to stay on, whether to buy the building, or whether to enter into a formal commercial lease. but if the past two months are anything to go by, there's absolutely no readable trends or patterns.

ordinarily, it's not an issue as one would just plunge ahead and hope for the best. but if we're looking at primarily weekend and holiday trade, we need to weigh up whether it's viable to open, say, thursdays as opposed to working our 'other' jobs, where we'd at least have a guaranteed income for the day. and that income'll be neccessary to float this place during the slower months, one of which is only a week away.

our coffee roasting wholesale efforts are starting to take off. we've approached a couple of restaurants and cafes in the central west who seem genuinely interested. if we stick it out, our coffee biz may actually be more profitable than the cafe itself. that'd be a nice problem to have.

and we've been selling a fair amount of freshly roasted coffee from the counter. anyone interested, we have 250gm packs at $14.00, postpaid anywhere in australia. even tasmania.

speaking of, I read that hobart foodieblogger and regular commenter rita had her photo in the local paper. couldn't find it online, but congrats to you rita, and we look forward to your own show on the lifestyle channel very soon. they've gotta get some new programming in, tonight at 8pm is season one of hell's kitchen usa (for probably the eighth rerun).

specials this weekend: in celebration of australia day, the all-aussie burger - 150gm premium lamb patty, cheese, beetroot, pineapple, bbq sauce & chips. also the return of the popular spanakopita - spinach and feta cheese in filo pastry:

plus some nice veggie quiches and organic pies that we're trialing. whatever doesn't sell, well, that's breakfast again :)

Monday, January 19, 2009

odds n enz

one of our waitstaff, karin, has been selected as a contestant in the new season of masterchef australia.

we did almost exactly half as many covers this past week as the week prior.

aldi was selling truss tomatoes for $2.99 a kilo last week. my providore's were $6.99, and about the same quality. what's wrong with this picture?

I've never known anyone that actually owns a padma laksmi cookbook.

we have enough spanakopita left over for us to have for breakfast all this week.

bloomberg is reporting that the u.s. based black angus chain of steakhouses is seeking bankruptcy protection, along with several others. does this mean the slow death of 'upmarket' fast-food?

iron chef america is pretty lame compared to the japanese original, dont'cha think?

it's well into summer, but we're hardly selling any salads at all. damned if I know why.

brisbane's sunday mail reports about a sunshine coast eatery that invites diners to "decide how much they want to pay for their meal". apparently, most were happy to pay at or even above what the menu price would've been. a novelty, or a necessity in this changing market?

it'll sneak up on ya

'twas a quiet and slow week indeed. that is, until sunday. steady breakfast trade rolled into a steady lunch trade - then the floodgates opened. again, we found ourselves running out of tomatoes, milk, focaccia rolls, steak, olives, ham, cukes, butter, staff, patience... you name it.

jimmi carr performed to the packed house. we had people standing at the door waiting for seats to open up.

nice to see katie and family in again. it's ecouraging to see the regulars trade start to grow.

on the specials board this week - salt & pepper calamari, on a bed of rocket and topped with a chipotle-laced tomato salsa:

every decent cafe needs an s&p squid on the menu, no? amazingly, we only sold three serves all weekend. on the other hand, the steak sandwich special - scotch fillet with caramelised onion, cos lettuce and truss tomato, on a grilled baguette roll and topped with a dijon mayo - sold fourteen serves in one day.

but the upside is - we'll be enjoying the leftover calamari for tonight's dinner :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

if you can't stand the heat...

... don't go near any kitchens. or that seems to be the general consensus with the heat wave engulfing us all. upper 30's may not sound hot, but for the mountain-acclimatised, it's oven-like.

so our total covers for yesterday were.... 0. nil. nada. just takeaways, and not many at that. the pub across the road usually does 40-50 for lunch on a thursday. they did six. the heat kept everyone off the streets, out of the parks and even off the roads.

it's marginally cooler today, but again we're seeing very little activity out the windows, so I'm not expecting much until after midday. at least I can grab a few minutes break to sit in my comparatively cool office and get important admin work done, like... uh... this blog.

so now it's time to get back to biz stuff. no, really.....

edit: took this pic in the kitchen yesterday, this is over at the pass. was even hotter near the stoves:

for you notre hemispherian types, that equates to about 114f.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

six weeks in

six weeks of trading under our belts. we've seen a little of both the tourist trade and the local regulars. we've changed and refined our menu as we've gone along to try and reflect what we get asked for.

simplicity seems to be the key around here. anytime I'd put something even remotely adventurous on the board, it'd be ignored as the breakfast and burger orders would flood in.

but I don't mind if we become a glorified gourmet burger bar. whatever our customers want is what we should be giving them. the past two people to have had this place went upmarket quasi-fine dining, which worked for the tourist weeks but drove away the locals. they all reminisced about the couple that had this place a decade ago who did... breakfasts and burgers.

and we're considering night trade... maybe. and then, only after easter in the cooler months. and again, cheap eats seem to be what people are asking for, with the exception of my former accountant, who wants five-star food at two-star prices. so pastas and stews may well be what's on offer, once the fireplace is roaring.

four years ago yesterday, we closed our first cafe. driven out by the new owners' redevelopment group, it set off a chain of events that saw the children move interstate, us back to sydney with the keys to a run-down restaurant and several years of sorting out debts. we're hoping that we're off to a better start in this place.

and so far, so good.

Monday, January 12, 2009

weak - ends

so we managed to get through the weekend with the gas mains dying, the deep fryer pilot going out during service, and this morning, the salamander's thermostat has gone to the great appliance store in the sky. just a typical week in the food biz, no?

chris turner performing:

from the special board: grilled cajun chicken breast, with a spicy chipotle and vine tomato salsa - viva mexico!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

all's fair in fruit & veg

we've noticed a couple of comments from our vegan friends, so in the interest of fairness, we'd like to present a photo of diners enjoying our vegan-friendly menu:

we kid, we kid.......

lentil, herb and tomato soup is on the specials board thru the weekend.


Friday, January 9, 2009

happy meals

had a family in this morning, wanting a couple of side plates of bacon for their two young boys. I was feeling a little creative:

let's see the golden arches top that.

Monday, January 5, 2009

a day in the life

5.30am. the crackling static of abc morning radio snaps through the early morning quiet like a twig. I rise, look out the window. the cloud cover is low again, and a thick white fog engulfs the village. the park is barely visible across the highway.

I throw myself into the shower. the bathroom's in need of serious repair, and the broken shower plumbing gives the effect of being in a submarine that's been torpedoed. water shoots everywhere, and I somehow manage to catch some of it. I make a mental note to ring and find out what's taking that plumber so long to get up here.

into my chef whites and trod down to the kitchen. we live just behind the cafe in the same building, it's a convenience that I'll certainly appreciate come winter. I step over the puddle of water from the leaky fridge and kick on the kitchen lights. a pile of dirty pans, tools and chopping boards on the wash sink remind me of the hurry I was in last night to mop out and get over to the pub.

I check the temp in the oven that I switched on while on my way to the shower and pull a bowl full of roma tomatoes from the fridge. a quick rinse, then slice the ends off and bisect them, placing into a roasting pan and drizzling olive oil, sea salt, pepper and herbs over them, then into the oven at 180c for an hour, slow-roasting. a customer asked me for my 'recipe' for roast tomato the other week - heh.

the stove gets lit, I pray that the pilot light holds and the cylinders don't run out again. we'd love to have direct natural gas, but we'd have to pay for the installation. at this point in the cafe's life, we can't afford to just yet. I switch off the radio in the kitchen after catching the 7am news and turn on the dining room sound system, starting with some nice acoustic guitar recordings.

I go about the morning's prep routine, slicing bread rolls, mushrooms, tomatoes. eggs and butters are brought out to room temp, sauce bottles refilled. I set up the mise en plais, which means literally "put in place". another of the classic french terms still used in commercial cooking. the idea is to have everything one may need at hand, seasonings, garnishes, etc. depending on how I've slept, I'll inevitably forget something until I'm plating up an order.

by now, my partner is down front and pouring her first coffee of the day. several will follow in the next hour or so. she ducks next door to get the morning papers as I do a quick inventory of the cool room's stored foods and make a decision about what specials to do. then, while I have the chalk out, I write something pithy on one of the outdoor a-frames for our ongoing 'chalkboard wars' with the boys at the pub across the road. it's now five to 8am, and the outside settings go out. the 'open' sign is flipped, and we await our first customers.

the mornings are all but typical, some days we'll have a big breakfast trade, others, just a few in for coffee & toast. today, we have a return couple who didn't get poached eggs yesterday as I'm still having problems with the burners on the stove. I quickly fill a pot with water and vinegar, shove the mushroom sautee pan aside and bring it to a simmer just as their order comes in. I don't want to say 'no' twice. several orders later, I'm standing at the hot plate wondering why the bacon's taking so long to cook. I bend down to look underneath the plate and sure enough, the gas jets have shut down again. I grab a grill pan, throw the bacon in and finish it off on a burner.

around midday, the last of the morning customers saunter out, and all three of us are left standing around, looking at each other. I top up my underbench stock, then wander up the back stairs to my office and sit down to read some email and news in the cool and quiet. I get about ten minutes or so before the intercom buzzes, and I return to the heat of the kitchen, nodding and greeting the arriving people.

from 1pm or so, lunch starts to pick up steadily. the kitchen's a blur of activity as orders come in, empty dishes come back from the dining room, cakes and breads go out, meals are plated. we have a run on smoked ham focaccias and a mild panic starts to settle in as I realise that I've already cleaned the last from the leg in the cool room, saving the bones for soup stock.

being over or under stocked is as tough a problem as the staffing issue in the previous post. too little stock, and you risk disappointing customers by running out of what they wanted. too much, and you end up throwing most of it out, which eats away at your profit margins. because we use organic breads, for example, they don't freeze and defrost as nicely as preservative-laded store brands do, so we need to keep fresh stocks on hand daily. the wholesale office closes at 3pm, so if we suddenly get a late afternoon rush of burgers and bacon egg rolls, we're in trouble. which is exactly what happened last monday.

quarter to 2pm, and as it's sunday, the first of my music artists has arrived. I'm knee-deep in orders, one hand on the pans, one on the salamander racks, so all I can muster is a quick wave and hope they can sort out the p.a. and mics on their own. by now, the grill plate's reminding me of that classic olympia cafe sketch from 70's saturday night live - "cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger".

as we get busier, the tension increases. I bark at a waitress for not clarifying a ticket, my partner's running in circles trying to please a fussy parent's kiddie drink (and who came up with the babychino anyway? more importantly, why?), the dishwasher's overflowing and plates aren't getting returned to the pass. we take it all in professional stride though, they're no gordon ramsay-style histronics here, although the rationale is the same. the singular aim is to get it right for our customers. it doesn't matter if it's the quiet lady from the next block who comes in everyday for her latte, or the german family of eight that we'll probably never see again. they're all important, and they all deserve the best we can give them.

by four-ish, the pace begins to settle down as the last orders slowly trickle in. I stick my head out of the kitchen to catch a breath of cooler air and to listen to my guests perform. I can't hear the music when I'm in the kitchen due to the extraction vents which roar like jet engines. shortly, the tables get cleared and we start to break down some of the kitchen, leaving the toaster and presses on in case we get any late customers. I hate to say 'sorry, kitchen's closed' when I can always throw together a wrap or a salad on the fly.

eventually, I shut down the rest of the equipment, cling-wrap containers and wipe down counters. I grab a cold water and go out to have a chat with my music guests, who by now are packing up. I promise them that the next time they play, our second chef will be on deck and I'll be able to get out of the kitchen to hopefully join them for a tune or two.

I do another inventory of what's on hand and what's been demolished and make a prep list for the morning. monday trade has been steady enough to warrant opening, and the whole menu needs to be available. then the doors get bolted, the place gets a mop out and the trash goes out. then we wander up back and change into cooler, cleaner clothes. anything's a relief after ten hours in a 43c/110f kitchen.

we grab some cash and start out the back door to head across the road to the pub, where we'll see some of our waitstaff who work there after they finish shifts at our place. but we stop dead in our tracks as we discover three trays of breads and pies on the back bench. the bakery's delivered someone else's order to us, and they've been sitting out in the sun since daybreak. we'll call the office in the morning and let them sort it out. but it does worry us, as it may well be our order that goes astray next time.

an hour or so sitting at the pub, chatting with the locals is my ideal wind-down. we've learned a lot from them, and were astute enough to canvass as many as we could when designing the menu and our price structure. we've also found a base of good tradesmen that have been kind enough to work for 'mate's rates" before we opened. it's a nice community up here, we're glad to be part of it.

home to chill for a bit, possibly dinner although I'm rarely hungry after cooking and tasting food all day. monday trade looms as night falls. tuesday morning, we'll go thru the takings and bills, deciding who to pay, and who to avoid/put off until the following week - hopefully. then we're heading down the mountain to take one of our visiting kids to the airport. along the way, we'll stop at a couple of wholesalers and pick up supplies, then to the hospitality store for more large coffee mugs, sauce trays and other miscellania that we've been taking notes on over the past couple of weeks. there's no such thing as a 'day off' in this biz.

drive home by (hopefully) early evening, then up again on wednesday to the butchers, fruit & veg and grocery for stock. the rest of the day will be spent prepping sauces, burgers, chicken, soup stocks and the like, roasting coffee and getting the front of house cleaned for thursday's service.

and it all starts all over again... and again...

Saturday, January 3, 2009


did I say breakfasts had slowed? this morning, I thought to myself, I'll prep more burger patties and slice some ham. a nice couple from alaska hit the door bang on 8am. I got so caught up in the conversation that by the time they'd ordered, another five tables flooded in, all with brekky orders. that I wasn't ready for.

you can never second-guess in this biz. our local pub across the road ran out of steaks in the heat of their friday $10 steak night. we'll put an extra staff on the floor and watch them polishing silverware in the empty dining room. then the gypsy gal will say, you and I can handle breakfast, and we'll get slammed.

in a small biz, it's a major problem. if you're short-staffed, you run the risk that a customer may have a bad experience, such as slower service, mixed-up orders or food that isn't 100%. real foodies understand this, when I'm in someone else's place, I always look around and try to make allowances. but the average diner expects more. then, if you're staffed up and hit a couple of quiet days, the slim profit margin that we exist on disappears. so it's always a guessing game.

I've been typing this during our usual mid-morning slump, when I can steal a few minutes to sit in my office and espace the noise and heat of the kitchen. our second chef is back from holiday in two weeks, and I really need the break. there's so much more to running a cafe than just opening the doors and serving food, and these past few weeks I've barely been able to keep the kitchen running on my own, let alone the biz side of it all.

I don't think I've commented on the new year's morning disaster when our gas mains went dead, will save that for another time. I'm needed back in the kitchen.

Friday, January 2, 2009

the burgers are better... here

can't believe how many burgers we've done this past week or so. had to get extra mince and roll deliveries. it must be summer.

breakfasts have fallen off big time, but our mid-afternoon thru early eve rush continues to build. nest year, we'll open seven days during this tourist season. it's swelteringly hot in the city, but gorgeous up here.

so come and visit, gentle readers. the mountains are stunning this time of year.