Sunday, January 31, 2010

C is for Capacity

Lately it seems that for every restaurant that closes, one opens up.  Some re-open with a new concept in a previous restaurant's space, some develop their location from scratch.   But the test for how successful each restaurant becomes is how well they manage their capacity.  Many people think that the capacity of a restaurant is the number of seats it has, but the real capacity, the financial capacity relates to how much can be can be produced from what lies within those four walls.  And by maximizing this to it's fullest, an owner can then pass the economies on to the guest through more reasonably priced enjoyment.

Many factors affect the financial capacity of a restaurant, square footage, number of seats (and how often they are turned), price point of menu, kitchen size are primary portions of the equation.  Having a secondary affect are such things as guest satisfaction (do they return?), location, and the economy.   The primary portions can be adjusted as long as the secondary factors support the changes.  Of course crystal balls are in short supply these days, so knowing the outcome of making a change in a successful equation has its risks.  But by nature a person who opens a restaurant is not necessarily risk-adverse, so you see many restaurateurs willing to take the steps to change their capacity. 

A while ago I wrote about the trend in restaurants becoming smaller, and the majority of new full-service restaurants that have opened since then have been smaller than ones that opened 5-10 years previously.  On the one hand, they have the advantage of lower costs and if popular, table turns that spin like an Olympic skater.  But these tiny locations find themselves limited on earnings due to their smallness, and are finding a variety of ways to expand their sales to increase earnings.  A few mega-restaurants are still opening, but guests pay for underutilized capacity in the high-priced menu items and high-priced wines.

The easiest plan (and requiring the lowest amounts of capital and risk) would be to expand sales at the existing location by opening on closed days or for lunch/brunch, by boosting outside catering, or by utilizing their kitchen as a commissary for smaller retail locations.   Also capacity can be increased by skilled and professional staffing: making sure available tables are turned, keeping guests meals at a even pace, and by accurate handling of guests when the restaurant goes on a wait. 

Having well trained front door people is critical, it is a skill learned after many years of handling a busy restaurant.   Alas, many owners let a "no reservations" policy be their guide for maximized seatings, but this provides absolutely no service to the guests.  And it ties up key personnel juggling where people are located in the crowd, who has walked out, and where they will be seated at the peak of the restaurant's activity.  By allowing reservations it sets up the seating, the flow of the evening beforehand and allows the host/hostess to attend to those who walk-in with more attention and detail.   Because once they enter your doors the last thing you want them to do is leave before dining, there is no way to know if they'll be back.

Some restaurants expand their current locations midway through a lease.  This should only be undertaken with a cost-benefit analysis done first - unless the per-square-foot sales (psfs) of the additional area equals the psfs of the old area it can end up a money loser.  It ties up costly capital and can become a cash flow drain if funded with a loan.  Unless the restaurant owner is also the building owner, I don't think many restaurants are going to be in the position to expand this way until the economy improves.  Currently many restaurants wish they could somehow shrink their capacity, with unused, large private dining rooms costing owners rent, real estate taxes and utilities without generating enough sales to cover these expenses.

The most expensive and highest risk move is to expand a restaurant concept into multiple locations.  This should only be done with a revised business plan if your original plan was for only one location.  Because the mathematical equation that equalled financial success previously is altered - repeat, is altered - with multiples of the same concept.  A poor second location can bring down a successful first if the service, food, volume of sales does not hold the same at both.   You also have to adjust for higher administrative and management costs to oversee two locations properly.  It's not that it can't be done successfully, obviously many have done so, but to maximize the chances for success take the time to put down on paper a "best-middle-worst" scenario as a guide.

This isn't to say that there is only one way to build restaurant, but for those who can find a way to increase their capacity while the economy is decreasing dining dollars, it may mean success in a time of loss.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fun-Raising Friday, Chapter 2 - It's in the Mail

Whew, this month I've done three separate batches of gift certificates for charitable donations.   It's one of my favorite duties, kind of like Christmas each time you send those envelopes out.  And since this took up so much of my time, and in the interest of letting neighbors know, I'll share with you the events that are on the calendar so far:

January:  SPCA Paws Cause (1/24-reports Karol Wilson, "It went very well"), The Stewpot (1/26 - see story below), Holy Trinity Catholic School (1/31).

February:  Kramer Elementary (2/5), American Red Cross, Dallas (2/6), St. Rita School (2/6), Moss Haven Elementary (2/6), St. Monica School (2/7), Dallas Wind Symphony (2/13), Ursuline Academy (2/13),  Hillcrest High School (2/27), Greenhill Gala (2/27), St. Mark's School (2/27), Les Dames d'Escoffier (2/28).

March:  Hyer Elementary (3/5), Parish Episcopal School (3/6), Hockaday School (3/6), Good Shepherd Episcopal School (3/6), Dallas Lutheran School (3/6), Lamplighter School (3/6), Junior Charity League (3/26), Jesuit College Prep (3/27).

April:  TX Neurofibromatosis Foundation (4/7), Junior League of Dallas (4/8), Dallas Symphony Orchestra League (4/10), Highlander School (4/20), Bradfield Elementary (4/23).

Let me apologize if your charity is not on this list.  In general, we find something to give to almost any verifiable charity that asks.  Sometimes these requests get buried, after all some come in as much as 6 months before an event (too early, people).  Sometimes it's how you ask, in which case I have a few tips, here, on how best to achieve a "yes".   And then there are the certificates that are supposed to be picked up, yet stay in our files until we have to throw them away, months after the event has taken place.

Glad to see there's still so much good being done around Dallas.

Sevy's Scotch Club Tasting #5

Join us on Tuesday February 9, 2010 from 5:30- 7:00 for a delicious pairing of some of the finest scotches sold today with four courses of specially created dishes to compliment.   $44.95 per person (plus tax and gratuity), reservations for this limited-seating event are required (no OpenTable reservations, please).  Contact Jimmy, Stefaan or Amy M. today to save your seat at (214)265-7389 or

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes Wrapped in Prosciutto with Red Pepper Aioli
Strathisla, 12 year

Tuna and White Asparagus Skewer with Rosemary Lemon Dressing and Caper Berries
Chivas, 12 year

Lamb Meatball with Caramelized Onion Cup
Chivas, 18 year

Grilled Sirloin Steak with Arugula and Blue Cheese Butter
Chivas, 25 year

Fun-Raising Friday, Chapter One - Super Soup

What do you get when you have seven of Dallas' top chefs making soup for 600 of Dallas' top-givers?  Approximately $250,000 according to Brian Luscher of The Grape, who headed up this year's Soups On! fundraiser for The Stewpot Alliance at the Bridge.  The event was held this past Tuesday at Union Station, and Pegasus News has some delicious photos of the dining room, the beautiful art auctioned off and the guests.    The theme of the event was Campbell's Tomato Soup, and it made a delightful visual of red and white, which was handy because all those cans of soup could then be used to help feed the homeless.  Brilliant.

My photos were of the group in the back, putting final touches on their soups, checking out the great kitchen Wolfgang Puck Catering has installed, waiting for the seating.  Then all of a sudden, BAM! (Sorry Emeril) they had to dish up and garnish 600 bowls within 10 minutes to serve to the guests.  Helping make this a great event were Chefs Brian Luscher (The Grape), Jim Severson (Sevy's Grill), Marc Cassel (Park), Joel Harloff (Dali), Keith Hanks (Capital Grille), David McMillan (Screen Door), Abraham Salum (Salum).   Wolfgang Puck Catering supplied some warm-from-the-oven breads and a delicious smelling Asian-themed salad.

I didn't get the names of any of the soups, one was a coconut milk-asian flavored vegetable soup, there was a gumbo, a mushroom bisque, and for the vegans (and gluten-free) a special tomato-basil soup was made - all were terrific.  We served our Corn Chowder, which Sevy garnished tableside with some butter-poached lobster. (Was that a chest-bump with the mayor - where was my camera?)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Diploma, Diploma, Who's Got the Diploma?

That little devil Lucian LaBarba has it in his mind to one day do a scholarship fundraiser in Dallas for that new culinary school growing up down in San Antonio.   What a meal that could be, I'll help.  

The CIA (Hyde Park) alumni I know of here in Dallas are at some of the finest joints in town.  There's Sevy, Kevin Garvin, Dean Fearing, George Brown, Anthony Bombaci, Samir Dhurandhar, Doug Brown, Sharon Hage, Brian Luscher, Joel Harloff.

I know there's quite a few more, so if you know of any feel free to leave their names here.

UPDATE:  Shi*!  Holben - David Holben.  I am so sorry!

UPDATE UPDATE:  Katie Brown, again, apologies - I should be shot for missing that one.

A Modestly Great Guy

Sometimes internet fishing can bring up some delightful results.  Chefriend Kevin Garvin never once mentioned winning this award to his friends - and we were all with him at the Cancer dinner he was in Napa cooking for. 

He's a great guy, a marvellous chef and from his appearance on this video, CEO quality.

More News on the SA CIA

Heard back from Chefriend Dr. Victor Gielisse about the future plans for the San Antonio Culinary Institute of America (they call it CIA, SA - but SACIA translates from Spanish "to satisfy", so I prefer my way).   He says "the location is fantastic and we believe we have a real opportunity being in Texas to grow and extend the CIA Brand".   Gosh, San Antonio, Riverwalk, great food, Schlitterbahn - I'd go to school there!

I'm not sure that there is any other culinary school in the middle of the country that offers the extensive programs the CIA does.  Looking up culinary schools shows the top of the list located either on the left or right coasts.  So should this venture become a success, it would be a real draw for students to San Antonio - with most graduates likely looking to start their careers in the Texas region.

This also marks the CIA's efforts to recognize and elevate Latin foods to the stature of other cuisines, the growth of the Latin restaurant market has been strong with 33% of ethnic restaurant sales (Asian 32%, Italian 25%, Technomics survey).  In some cities up to 63% of foodservice workers are Hispanic, and their working trend is moving away from menial jobs to leadership positions.  

Further, there has been a gap between consumers interest in Latin American foods and their education in the nature of these dishes.   Many "traditional" recipes have been changed as they migrated North, but the original dishes are of value educationally.  Teaching preparers and diners in these subleties will raise the standards for foods of Mexico, South and Central America.

Based on the low number of Hispanic culinary leaders in the country (as compared to the large number of Hispanics in the workforce) this program can help elevate future Latin American chefs to a creditable level of competence in their native cuisines.  Currently the 30-week certificate program offered has a goal of 50% Hispanic student enrollment, so far 75% of the students who have been through the program are Hispanic.

So what is this 30-week certificate, anyhow?  It is
designed to blend a love of cooking with culinary discipline and fundamentals creating an opportunity for aspiring chefs to develop the skills hey will need no matter the type of cuisine they ultimately cook.  The program includes courses that are equivalent to the first year of education at the CIA and is taught by chefs from the CIA in Hyde Park and Greystone.
Now, about the location, 22 acres along the banks of the San Antonio River.  Plans are to transform it into an urban village with retail, restaurants, art galleries and traditional open air produce mercado.  And an events facility and the Center for Foods of the Americas.  Visiting chefs from top restaurants in Latin America.   San Antonio I hope you are drooling over how delicious this could be!

Artin's Grill in Plano is Open

Dining out anonymously in Plano can be a challenge for a chef/owner who's been around for 25 plus years.  Sevy and I went on "date night" last night with Richard  Chamberlain and wife Lisa, and they knew people at both restaurants we were checking out.    Not just staff, but guests came by to say "Hi" to this great guy - and he doesn't even have a TV reality show!

We had intended to have some appetizers at Coast Global Seafood, but on the walk from the parking  garage noticed a new place had opened directly across the street.  Artin's Grill, according to Chef Christopher Short (who knew RC) it has been open for one-and-a-half weeks.  And he confirmed after we took a gander at their menu, they are directly positioned to compete with Houston's, their menu style and layout is very, very similar.  I would describe their decor as, Tall.  But I don't review restaurants on this blog.

I didn't try either of the appetizers the boys ordered at the bar (Calamari $9, Taquito's $9), my calories were devoted to wine (Mer Soleil $16) and I don't know if the Absoluts the boys drank ($7) were a good price or not since I (rarely) drink vodka.   LC was our designated driver and had water - good girl.   They do not seem to have a website up yet.  The only two guests dining stopped by on their way out - their daughter had graduated with the Chamberlain's daughter last year.  Does everyone up here know Richard?  It appears so.

We couldn't stay long - we were hurrying back to catch Chefriend Kent on the Channel 5 news.  Boy does he look wonderful with his new hip!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Culinary Institute of America Cooks Satisfaction in San Antonio

In the early 1980's Jim worked at Cafe Pacific, it exposed him to a new level of food and helped him decide that his career needed a more formal education (thank you Jack Knox).  So at the "late" age of 26 he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, requiring a two year commitment to living around Poughkeepsie/Hyde Park, New York.  Back then most of the top culinary schools in the U.S. were either on the left coast or the right, and for those in the middle it required moving to one or the other sides of the country.

I was not enrolled, I just hung out and listened, drank beers with the group at Augie's, (occasionally) snuck into the school Cafeteria, and participated where possible (basketball cheerleader chant:  Mirepoix, Mirepoix, Roux, Roux, Roux.  Chop 'em up, Dice 'em up, Throw them in the stew!).   It is a group-based educational process, and Jim's two-year group was an amazing mix of people from around the states and the world, they spent more than just classtime together.  I like to say we "took big bites of life", we were poor but managed to travel, to enjoy and explore food and life together.

For those not familiar with the educational process by which this school trains their students, I could recommend a great book that details the expectations and sacrifice it takes to earn a degree from this institution.   It was (back then) a mix of old-school "hands on" European apprenticeship (up at 4 am) with modern educational techniques, textbooks, tests.  But also stressed with the classical learning was the training to see food as an art form, visually and flavorfully, and to keep innovating the shape of that form.  They strive to teach the love of the art, as well as master the technique of the art.

Word came last night via Lucian LaBarba that there is a new branch of the CIA now open in San Antonio.  Financed by a very large ($35 million) donation from a SA gentleman, Christopher Goldsbury wanted to take the "This stuff's made in New York City!" chant to a new level.   His four year campaign finally convinced the school that the city of San Antonio could well represent the Center of Foods of the Americas.  His donation helped finance the San Antonio site (which currently has a 30 week program), establish a program of Latin Food studies at the Hyde Park campus, and provides full 2 and 4 year scholarships for those who finish in the top of their San Antonio class to continue their studies in Hyde Park. Longer term plans for the SA campus is for expansion into a degreed program for it's students.

I wonder if they know their initials, SACIA translates from Spanish, "satisfies" or "to satisfy"?  How fitting.  According to their website,
Located at the gateway to Latin America, the CIA, San Antonio attracts a unique blend of students: future chefs, food lovers, and established culinary leaders. Through educational programs our goal is to elevate Latin American cuisine to its rightful place among great cuisines of the world.
Set among restored 19th century buildings once part of the Pearl Brewery, the CIA, San Antonio campus is as diverse as the culinary world itself. Located on the San Antonio River just north of downtown, the 20-acre Pearl Brewery site is developing into a exciting center that will be filled with caf├ęs, schools, lofts, services, and events. The CIA classrooms and kitchens are state-of-the-art, dedicated to real-world experiences, creating an ideal setting for learning.
A strong Dallas link to the CIA is former restaurateur/chef (and now Associate VP of the Culinary Institute of America) Dr. Victor Gielisse, C.M.C, C.H.E..  Many Dallasites remember Victor's restaurant, Actuelle, a 5 star world-class restaurant he owned with his wife, Kathryn and partner Clive O'Donoghue back in the late 1980's.   Both of his cook books, Cuisine Actuelle (by Victor) and In Good Taste, A Contemporary Approach to Cooking (co-authored with Kathryn and Mary E. Kimbrough) are in The Collection.  Hey Victor, old buddy, we've got lots of interested students here for the school, as well as some excellent scholarship opportunities - let us help get the word out!

With over 35 chef graduates from the CIA in the Dallas area, what a fun time we could have!   Road trip on 281 anyone?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Just In - Dairy Palace Avoids Being Killed By Tornado

Interstate 20 and Highway 19?!!!  Next to that Canton Chevron station seen on TV slightly squished and battered by yesterdays (tornado?) is a restaurant beloved by several Dallas chefs, the World Famous Dairy Palace.  My heart rate doubled as I pictured a drive to Canton, Van or Shreveport without a stop at this favorite family-run place (open 24/7, by the way).

I spoke with Carlos, an employee at the restaurant this morning, and he said while the building sustained a small amount of damage, they will resume operations as soon as the electricity is restored.  He is hoping by noon today.
All these folks are believed to be alive and well after
yesterdays weather event.  Perhaps saved by
the spirit of their hanging sign?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January Food & Wine Dinner at Sevy's

Take an evening to travel, without leaving Dallas. Join us on Monday, January 25th at 6:30 p.m. for our first Food and Wine Dinner of 2010, featuring
a four course dinner especially paired with delicious wines to compliment each dish, $59.95 per person (plus tax and gratuity). Seating is limited, reservations are required, contact Jimmy, Stefaan or Amy M. at (214) 265-7389 or . As always, your enjoyment is guaranteed.

Marinated Olives and Paprika Spiced Almonds
Sangria Blanca

Panfried Manchego Cheese with Romesco Sauce
Auratus Alvarinho, 2008, Moncao, Portugal

Grilled Honey Caper Shrimp over Saffron Rice
Margerum Pinot Gris, Alisos Vineyard, 2008, Santa Ynez, California

Sherry Braised Veal, Potato Gratin and Wilted Spinach
Alvaro Palacios Petalos, 2007, Bierzo, Spain

Warm Almond Cake with Citrus Ice Cream
Lustau Amontillado “Los Arcos” Sherry, Jerez, Spain

8201 Preston Road, Dallas 75225
(214) 265-7389 * *

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hi Girls - What's New?

Girlfriends Tracy Rathbun and Lynae Fearing were on Good Morning Texas this morning, I missed it but found the link.  See what's going on at their delicious Shinsei Restaurant (disclosure - Tracy and Lynae are long-time personal friends and have previously given me a free Shinsei t-shirt, so when I mention that they have some of the finest Asian inspired food in Dallas, consider that).

Hey girls - see you tonight!

UPDATE:  If you can't get the above to work (like me), try this link.

The First Day of Fifty, the Last Day of Forty-Nine

Richard Chamberlain and I almost share a birthdate, it is only two days apart.  And this one is an extra special number, while some would call it middle-age, I'd say hell honey, I passed the middle at 30.  And I think we've aged well, umm, at least we haven't spoiled.   So tonight we're having dinner with a group of chef friends and I've pulled out pictures spanning 25 years to look back and laugh.

While I rarely post pictures of myself, I found the picture above, and decided this will one day be my obituary picture.  Because if you had it, flaunt it.

Now Testing

Amy's Completely Unpatented Citrus Tree Warming System.   After much reflection about last years protective covering system, which required too much time and the purchase of a PVC pipe cutter among other things, I was convinced that there must be an easier way.  So far (approximately 5 weeks) the coverings I've placed this year on my Mandarin orange, Mexican lime and Key lime trees has kept them warm and green through some amazingly frigid Dallas weather.  And it was easier and cheaper.  The real test comes over the next few days....... 

So what is needed for you to build one for your cold-sensitive tree?  First, Christmas tree lights (multi-colored and non-LED) were wrapped around the tops of the trees and down the trunks to provide some low-level, non-scorching heat.  Then I purchased from Lowe's the thickest opaque plastic painters covering they had and some small stakes.  For these three trees I purchased two 9' x 12' sheets, cutting one in half for the two smaller trees.  Finally you need a stapler, just a regular stapler and extension cords long enough to reach to each tree.

For a good fit (not too loose or the wind will blow it off) you may have to trim or bend (if branches are immature) the branches to fit inside , but leave plenty of room for good air circulation because you can leave these on for the entire winter (at least I'm planning to).  I measured the plastic to equal the height of the tree plus three feet and the width of the tree time 3 - this seemed to allow plenty of room for the seams and bottom.  Fold the plastic in half width-wise, and beginning in the fold corner, across what will be the top you will begin to staple across.

Here's the important part - you want to staple, fold, fold, staple.  In other words, first staple the sides together, fairly close to the edge (maybe 1") every 6 inches, then fold the plastic over twice and staple the fold again.  This will prevent drafts and heat leakage as the winds try to find their way in.  Kind of like a restaurant entry vestibule. 

Once you have the top finished, throw the point (clarification - corner) over the top of the tree, this will give more room for the branches, then start closing the long side.  When you get to the bottom, plug in the Christmas lights and stake the plastic to the ground.  One of my trees kept pulling up the stakes, so I wrapped an old blanket around the bottom to help hold it in place.

I checked inside the Key lime tree enclosure yesterday while it was in the mid-40's outside, a big puff of warm, moist air escaped so I closed it back up, and the tree looks pretty healthy so far, no paled leaves or mold.  We'll see how it ends up after this Blue Norther comes to greet us.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Now This Could Be Fair Food

Unquestionably a high-quality dark chocolate was used to make the chocolate bar we received in a gift bag from friends.  From the packaging of this delicacy, one assumed (at least I did) it would be more like a strip of bacon dipped in chocolate.  But it wasn't.  In a perverse way the flavors worked, but the execution didn't - it was more like a bacon-bits Crunch Bar.  I asked Ann Connally of Canyon Specialty Foods why it would be like that, she explained to use bacon and have any kind of shelf life you first have to render all of the fat from the bacon.  Which raises the question, do we eat bacon for the fat, or the meat?

I confess I'm about the fat, not so much the meat, but imagination ignited I thought what a marvelous Texas State Fair Food this could be if made fresh, deep frying the bacon and then dipping-to-order in chocolate.  2-3 slices could sell for....$6 ?  Cost maybe $1?  That's as good a margin as the Fried Green Tomatoes trailer out in Canton.  Maybe that's what we need at the next State Fair, a Fried Green Tomatoes and Chocolate Bacon stand - the deep fryer would flavor the fried tomatoes with bacon flavoring as well, yum..  Anyone up for that?