The Making of a Restaurant

Saturday, June 30, 2001

Here's another success story, that of Perry's. Nikki suggested we check this deli out because of the owner's trivia contests. Turns out we've already mentioned the place and its ban on cell phones ("If you are that important that you must use your phone, you should be eating in a much more upscale restaurant.").
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Friday, June 29, 2001

Two guys with no restaurant experience, 21 and 23 years old when they start, make a go of it. See? It can be done, given enough pluck and chutzpah.

Half-a-million dollars probably helps, too. Cough, cough.
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Thursday, June 28, 2001

The Harvard Business Review has a story this week that echoes my theory on the lure of the "second cheapest."

Imagine you’re in a department store to buy a carry-on suitcase. As you walk through the store, you notice the hefty price tag on a luxury watch on display. You have no interest in the watch, which sells for $2,000.

Does the high price of the watch affect how much you would be willing to pay for the suitcase? Would the amount be any different if, instead, you had noticed a much lower price on a display of bath towels?

New research suggests that incidental prices — prices for unrelated goods encountered during the purchase process — can affect what people will pay. Customers are exposed to such incidental prices without consciously making judgments about them. But these encounters, whether accidental or planned by the seller, can inflate or deflate a buyer’s willingness to pay for a given product.

By this reasoning, we should have on our menu a ridiculously expensive dish, perhaps something we don't even know how to make. Seeing our risotto priced at $35 may make customers more eager to pay $12 for plain shells in marinara.
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Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Mary Beth writes:

I will add this to your thinking cauldron: Our local pizza/italian food place/local bar has extremely eclectic stuff for decor. Mostly toys that strike the owner's fancy: a train that runs a ceiling-high track and circles the dining area before disappearing briefly into the kitchen; a bear that rocks on a tightwire. Some are oddities: a fishing pole, a ski lift with a manniquin, a group of bar mirrors, some clown (yeah - icko to think about but not as bad as it sounds) statues, a large chef statue near the door that has a chalkboard for soup of the day. I noticed recently that he's put a fishing dinghy up on the kitchen roof, visible only if you park in the rear of the parking area or sit at the outside picnic tables.

Oh and let's not forget the HUGE chinese gong by the wood-fired pizza oven -- infrequently rung thank goodness, but useful for calling errant waitresses for their orders.

As I write this I realize how cheesy this all sounds, but taken altogether it does create a certain ... uh ... ambience? And I think it's more successful than, say, the odd framed poster of pasta or vegetables.

None of this stuff is old, and the place isn't too grimy. But the reason I think it works is because it's true to the owner's view of what he wants. Yes, people find it amusing when they first come in, and it does make it nice for families -- lots of stuff to point out to kidlets. But it's not fake -- I am sure he doesn't see something and think "will this fill my decor needs at the restaurant?" He thinks -- wowser -- a harpoon!

This is exactly what I'm talking about. It's not knick-knacks that bother me per se; it's knick-knacks that have not serendipitously accumulated. This pizza place sounds great (I happen to like cheese with my pizza), but if it were a chain, each franchise with the same dinghy and the same gong, my gorge would rise.

Up with harpoons! Down with hokum!
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Saturday, June 23, 2001

Sandy and I beat the same drum on authenticity, whether we are talking about service, decor or food.

A few months ago, the Dearborn Diner opened downtown. This is what I wrote in my Reader rating:

The Chatterbox Cafe, it's not, but Dearborn Diner strives to be, winding up as a decent approximation of the old-time corner diner. And I am ambivalent about this. All the new furnishings are nicely polished and very attractive, but the setting feels a little synthetic. A good diner has grease on the walls and rips in the seats. The chairs should wobble. To flush, the toilets should require a particular jiggle known only to regulars.

But at Dearborn Diner, everything is just right, and that felt wrong. Our black-clad waiter had shoulder-length hair and a trim goatee, an appearance unbecoming such a joint. He was dreadfully polite. On the bright side, there's nothing about the Double-D that's "fake rustic," such as what one finds at Yesterday's or TGIFriday's. I'd much rather Dearborn Diner season for a few decades and develop its stains and idiosyncracies, rather than try to pull them from a kit.

The Diner charges $7.95 for chicken and dumplings, so it will be years before I go back, but I can't wait to see what grime accumulates.

The experience is much different at Potbelly Sandwich Works, which I finally tried this week. I'd heard nothing but raves about Potbelly, and, yes, my sandwich was delicious. But I was really turned off by the decor, which included antiques, clever hand-painted signs and ersatz cabinetry with that special worn look -- just the efffluvia I'd relish in an established neighborhood joint, but not in a downtown franchise open less than a year.

I think Sandy would agree that our knick-knacks should be authentic, that we should show no grime before its time.

But ...

Potbelly is a hit! People love fakery! People love crazy crap on the walls! It's like the lame people who pay $25 at Abercrombie and Fitch for a "weathered" T-shirt instead of paying $8 for a shirt at Sears and weathering it themselves. They have little regard, it would seem, for authenticity. People merely want the illusion of worn cabinetry and weathered shirts, just as the people at Disneyworld merely want the illusion of happiness. Walt Disney, after all, did not get rich playing to our appetites for sincerity.

So, at what cost are we authentic? If a consultant advises us that a fake fishing pole would really give our place the neighborhood charm we're after, will we put one up? What if flimflam is the only way we make it to that impossible fifth anniversary?

In short: Have we no sham?

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Friday, June 22, 2001

There are three ways to earn the coin we'll need for our endeavor. There is the slow, non-fun way, which is to earn it. There is the Chicago way, which is to steal it. And there is the American way, which is to fall into it like Alice into Wonderland.

Knowing this and being good Americans, we've been kind to our older relatives. Once a month I invest a dollar in Illinois' schools. And for more than a year, Sandy has been trying to get to Regis' Hot Seat.

This morning I did my part by trying out for "The Weakest Link." It began much like my last game show audition: About 120 of us would-be Weaklings were herded into a room at the Hyatt, where we filled out a brief questionaire that asked, among other things, what was so interesting about us. Number Two on my list, between my White House internship and my eating 14 bratwurst at once, was my ambition to run a restaurant. (Don't ask what numbers Four and Five were: I had an SAT flashback and cribbed off my neighbors. It was that or cite my Scrabble rating. Yawn.)

Next, the host (Whose name was Seven. "You're not a number," I muttered. "You're a free man!") had us stand one-by-one and give our names and occupations. The only thing more insufferable than being in a room of 120 laid-off dot-com workers and unemployed actors is listening to 120 laid-off dot-com workers and unemployed actors trying to be witty. Oh, the humanity! Oh, the inanity! Of course, I'd read up on what producers were looking for, so I, too, tried to show some -- ugh -- attitude. "Call me Luke. I'm a newspaper designer. That means that when you die, I decide how big your headline will be." Although, yes, helping decide whether John Lee Hooker or Carroll O'Connor gets bigger play is one of my job's perks, it's nothing I puff my chest over, and I hated getting snotty about it for the sake of -- ugh -- attitude.

An hour later, the test. I did pretty well, even on the girly questions, such as knowing the title to "The Bridges of Madison County." And I had no idea what the bangers in "bangers and mash" were -- I had finished "High Fidelity" this very morning, so I knew all about "bitters" and "loo rolls" -- but I guessed right with sausages. Of the 20 questions, I was certain of 17.

Nonetheless, when Seven returned with the graded tests, I was not among the 21 to advance. Apparently, cruel show that it is, "The Weakest Link" seeks more than mastery of trivia; it demands semblances of personality and good looks to boot. Just as with dating, my 1-for-3 was two too few.

Neither surprised nor crestfallen at the rejection -- again, just as with dating -- I left the Hyatt, headed north to Yum Yum Donuts and then back downtown to work, to continue the march toward our restaurant -- the slow, non-fun way.

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Let's talk a minute about authenticity. I recently spent an extended weekend down in Disneyworld, where fantasy rules all. Walking around the parks -- and even the streets of Orlando -- is like a stroll through the "city" of The Truman Show. The homes, the trees, the flowers, probably even the people, are pre-fabricated for your enjoyment. Nothing is natural. It's enough to make you want to retch. I was only down there to visit a friend who works for Disney, and he got us all into the parks for free. If I had to plunk down the cash to voluntarily subject myself to this junk, I'd have to seriously rethink my financial prudence.

There were little bits here and there that allowed me to reclaim my sanity. Places where the conversation I had with a "cast member" wasn't a trite, pre-scripted dialogue, but rather something sincere. One such place was a restaurant called Jiko. Most restaurants in the 'World are fast food joints dressed up in the decor of the surrounding themed area, but this one was different. Located in Animal Kingdom, Jiko serves "neuvo-African cuisine." (What's that mean? Traditional African meals updated for our wussy American palettes.) The waiter was intelligent, knowledgeable about both the food and wine menus, and quite personable. And my monkfish dinner was like nothing I'd have before. This was a place that really took its job seriously. And in contrast with the show that's incessantly going on around it, Jiko was a nice distraction.

I hope that with our own restaurant, we'll be able to offer a haven from the chaos that people constantly find around them. In the case of Disneyworld, chaos means dealing with screaming kids and the endless bombardment of happy, smiley Disney. In the case of Chicago, chaos is the grind of real life. I've said before that we want our waiters to be sincere. More than that, I realize now, we want them to be authentic. Their conversations need to be real, not an act. They, and we as owners, need to believe in the mission of our restaurant. And we need to show it.

If anyone has any questions about what that mission is, we can send them to this blog. I think it maps it out pretty damn clearly.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Per the recommendation of Roadfood.com, I had breakfast yesterday at St. Louis' O.T. Hodge Chili Parlor. I went with "Eggs in the Sauce," a variant of the region's famous Slinger.

It was a small place, maybe 15 tables plus five spots at the counter, and only two employees were on duty: a brassy waitress and a calloused cook. Nonetheless, it employed a computerized point-of-sale system, which seemed incongruous for such a hole-in-the-wall with its parking lot full of pick-up trucks. It also didn't work so well. In theory, the waitress would enter the order on a touchscreen and, six feet away, a printer would spit out the order to the cook. In practice, there were several exchanges like the following:

"You got my four-stack yet?"

"What four-stack?"

"Ah entered it. Di'n't you get mah ticket?"

"Nope. One four-stack, comin' up."

If we conclude that the Chicago restaurant market is too crowded for us, we could do a lot worse than St. Louis. It seemed like a very comfortable, laid-back place. I especially liked my hostel's neighborhood, Soulard, which was clean, quiet and interesting without being gentrified or bohemian. This was about a mile from downtown, yet there wasn't a Starbucks in sight. Chicago has nothing like it. The closest equivalent would be the Gold Coast, minus all the money, people and traffic, and with about half the density.

Judging from the hour I spent downtown searching for dinner and the bar food I ended up having, the city has unmet needs, though I wish I could have stayed for one more meal. I would have had it at the Eat Rite Diner, where six hamburgers sets you back $3.90 and coffee is only 35 cents. 35 cents!
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Monday, June 18, 2001

If there's one thing about cooking that I know for sure, it's this: Cooking is always so much more enjoyable when you're wearing an apron.
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Sunday, June 17, 2001

Just a few days after I posted thoughts on fun and danger, the Tribune Magazine has a story on adventure dining:

[T]he flounder filleted live at Heat has no choice but to recline on its bed of ice, flapping pathetically as some adventure diner dips chunks of its belly meat into lemon/soy ponzu. One feels compelled to muffle a heartfelt: Ick.

Ick, oddly enough, sells. Diners with fortitude can order tofu so odorous it's been outlawed at certain strip malls. Shrimp strangled before their eyes. Gorgonzola ice cream. Live fish, which, perhaps not coincidentally, transliterates from the Japanese iki-zukuri.

The sparse drama of the dish requires a certain bare-chested bravado generally lacking in the restaurant experience. For diners weary of being cooked for and served to, for those disdainful of jet-imported cheeses, unmoved by strawberries marinated three months in kirsch, eating out has tarnished. Who's impressed by crab-filled maki, if it's on sale at the Jewel? Adventure dining, like a cell-phone-and-Sherpa-included ascent of Everest, offers bragging rights, for a price. Minus the inconvenience of learning to rappel. Or fish. Or build a fire. Survival, in short, on a plate.

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Friday, June 15, 2001

Greg writes in: "You need cool matchbooks. Dick's Last Resort, in the Gas Lamp quarter in San Diego, has soft-focus soft-core porn from the '60s on theirs."

This is an excellent point, except that Sandy and I are fundamentally opposed to smoking. Maybe we can give away cool patches instead. A patch with soft-focus soft-core porn? Done!
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The featured job in the Tribune's Working section this week is Waiter/Waitress. The article explains that the job market is growing, which bodes well for my quest for experience. It also describes, for those who've been living under a rock for all of civilization, the requirements for acquiring such a job.

The importance of a competent waiter, as we've mentioned before, shouldn't be understated. As the president of the National Restaurant Association says in the article, "You have to be a salesperson. You're the advocate for the owner of the restaurant.... the front-line ambassador the restaurateur has in making sure the patron has a good experience."

I also found this quote particularly promising: "We have countless stories in this industry of people who began as hourly workers and went on to become salaried employees, or owners of their own restaurants." He doesn't mention the success rate of those restaurants, of course, but we can pretend.
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Thursday, June 14, 2001

Going in we were aware of the rap on Geja's: It's fun, but you may feel taken afterward. "Fifty dollars to cook my own food? I could do as well at home with a few dollars' worth of meat and a quart of Wesson." Indeed, were we to have paid our own way, we would have left feeling like suckers, too.

That's not to say we didn't have a ball. We did. In particular I liked the element of danger. During the main course, a pot burped hot oil and winged me near my eye. Then during dessert I dripped hot chocolate on the back of my hand, which blistered nicely. (If anyone asks, Tyler Durden scalded me with lye.) And while cooking my chicken, I kept in mind Keillor's story about the Lake Wobegon Lutheran youth group, which tried to cook a whole chicken in cheese fondue and had to cancel the ski trip after everyone got food poisoning.

So, what is our adventure's lesson? It's quite clear: People will pay $50 for $5 worth of food if you make it fun. They'll line around the block if you make it fun and dangerous. How do we do this? Here are some ideas:

  • Cook your own pasta. In the middle of each table is a large vat of boiling water. We give each diner a strainer and a bowl of her favorite pasta, uncooked, and she cooks it to her preferred doneness.
  • Catch your own shellfish. Dad would occasionally let dinner scramble around the kitchen. Now that was fun! Remove the bands from the claws, and it's dangerous, too. Many seafood restaurants let diners point to the lobster or crab they want. Let's take it a step further -- and make things more sporting -- by having diners reach their bare hands into a barrel crowded with gnashing, pissed off crustaceans. Maybe we blindfold them, too (the diners, not the crabs). Lose a finger, get free dessert.
  • Pick your own mushrooms. Fun and dangerous!

YANI: The Dangerous Kitchen


It was back in November when Luke turned me on to the Reader Restaurant Raters. Hosted by the Chicago Reader, the RRR is a system where the oft-unvoiced proletariat are given their turn to express opinions on the quality of local restaurants. A rater will rank a restaurant on a variety of scales, and then all the data from all the reviewers will get compiled together and averaged out to a final score that appears next to each restaurant's review online and in the paper.

Since we both started doing it, we've become skilled at creating opportunities to visit new restaurants. And while we do appreciate the thrill of helping out our fellow citizens, our intentions are also a bit more selfish: for every review we do, we're given an entry into the Reader's monthly raffle. The prize? A $200 meal at any restaurant of our choosing.

The winner is announced each month to the clan of RRRaters through a newsletter. It was originally a YACMI of mine to win the contest, and then list this blog as part of the announcement of my winning, thus bringing knowledge of this idea to many more people (thousands!) and hopefully trigger a positive meme among the very demographic we want supporting us: habitual restaurant-goers. Of course, I was only half-kidding myself, because I never expected to win.

But sure enough, my 12 entries for the month of March seem to have done the trick. Sadly, the Reader didn't follow my suggestion to include a link in the newsletter announcement. Alas. The good news, though, is that this past Monday I was able to take Luke, Colleen and Lilli to a lovely night out at Geja's Cafe in Lincoln Park, where the final bill, with tip, came out to just $12 over the certificate, requiring us to pitch in only three bucks apiece for a classy fondue experience.

And now... I'm off to do another review.
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Monday, June 11, 2001

We've both had our say about cell phone use inside the restaurant. Turns out we're not the only ones thinking about it. In Friday's Dining section, the Tribune's Phil Vettel listed five places that have a notable policy against cell phone use. Number four is a delicious, brazen kick in the pants to the phone jerks of the world. And while I'd relish putting something like that on our menus, it's this writer's humble opinion that not all of us are devoid of the basic etiquette that comes with cell phone ownership.

I'd like to see us have a policy that sits somewhere between number two and four, and hopefully we can do it without pissing off the schmucks who, sadly, are still needed to pay the bills. Later on, when we've been around for a while and have a more steady base of regulars, I'd have no problem seeing us get a little more snarky.
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Friday, June 08, 2001

Back in the days of summer camp, some counselors and I would occasionally organize a campus-wide scavenger hunt. Not ones to let the blandness of convention get in our way, we often wouldn't constrain our hunted objects to the realm of the realistic, or even the tangible. (I could list some examples directly from a nine-year-old Word file I incredibly still have on my computer, but I'm afraid most of the items are inside jokes.) One time, while we were creating the list, a counselor sitting next to me suggested we include "Oedipal complex." Being a meager 15 years old and not having yet reached The Odyssey in my high school curriculum, I was entirely unaware of the term. To me, it sounded like he had said "edible." It didn't make any sense, but my proud, adolescent mind wasn't about to ask for clarification. I typed in exactly what I thought I had heard: "edible complex."

After those looking on stopped their chortling and guffawing, they were too amused to not let the term as I had written it stay on the list. And as I recall, we got some pretty creative answers. One team arranged a bunch of french fries into the word "complex," and then ate them all in front of us. Still, for the rest of the summer, they never let me live that one down.
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Thursday, June 07, 2001

Fresh on the heels of my inspiring lesson in Italian cooking, I decided to try out my chops at making some risotto last night. I searched cooking.com for a fairly simple recipe. I needed to concentrate on getting the risotto part done right; adding fancy ingredients could come later.

Despite our hesitations about the evening before, I was surprised by how much of Michael's instructions became of use: Add the broth one spoonful at a time, allowing the rice to soak it up before adding more. Constantly stir, to avoid having the rice stick to the pan and to release the starch from the rice. Use a short and squat rice, which has more starch in it to begin with. Start to season midway through. Take the pot off the burner before adding the cheese, then beat to get it creamy. Use a wooden spoon. And all without my notes, too!

As the rice cooked, I was doubtful about the outcome. I've had plenty of good risotto in my life, and this stuff didn't have nearly the right texture, or taste, or flavor. But I dutifully followed the instructions -- of the recipe and of my tutor -- and by the time the final touch of cheese was added (we had to use romano instead of parmesan, despite Michael's warnings against any cheese made in the industrial pit of Rome), I had myself some pretty damn tasty risotto.

I'm convinced that if I had tried this recipe out before my class, it wouldn't have resulted in nearly the same kind of quality. This little experiment holds lots of promise for my planned attempts to gain experience by watching and working with others. In the meanwhile, maybe I'll attempt the wild boar.
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Next month, nearly three years after he began his quest, fellow dreamer Jami Zaminski will finally open his club in San Francisco. Three years!
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Like Sandy, I'm unconvinced I learned much of practical use from the Campagnola class, but it was still a hoot to watch (and taste!).

Three things struck me in particular.

The absurd attention to detail. To Altenberg, it makes a difference whether the scallops are diver-caught or trawled and whether a wooden or metal spoon is used to stir the risotto. He can taste the difference between Fleur de Sel sea salt and kosher salt, let alone table salt, and between cold-pressed olive oil and any other kind. I guess I have an underdeveloped palate -- I can drink Schlitz without squinting, after all -- because I don't think I can pick up on these nuances. It seems that most of a chef's effort goes unnoticed by even attentive diners. Perhaps this is why some places lean so heavily on presentation.

No measurements. When students asked how much of an ingredient he was using, he could only shrug, as if to say, "You use 'enough,' y'know?" This didn't shock me, but it was neat to see.

I refer again to "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," in which Pirsig talks about the importance of working without instructions.

Look at a novice workman or a bad workman and compare his expression with that of a craftsman whose work you know is excellent and you'll see the difference. The craftsman isn't ever following a single line of instruction. He's making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he'll be absorbed and attentive to what he's doing even though he doesn't deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. He isn't following any set of written instructions because the nature of the material at hand determines his thoughts and motions, which simultaneously change the nature of the material at hand. The material and his thoughts are changing together in a progression of changes until his mind's at rest at the same time the material's right.

This allows the chef not only to improvise, but also to react to environmental changes. Altenberg told us, for instance, that he'll adjust his procedures if it has recently rained, because the extra moisture in the air will tweak cooking times.

The long road to ownership. I was encouraged to see that Altenberg was a philosophy student in college. But then I saw that after that he got an associate's degree from Kendall College, and then it was nine years of apprenticeships and assorted gigs before he opened his first restaurant. And now, five years in business, he still feels his restaurant is al dente, on the fringe of making it or not.

Do we have nine years to spare? Would we have the patience to go another five before having any sense of security?
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Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Remember how we talked about taking a class at the Inspiration Cafe? Last night Luke and I (and Joanie) finally made good on it. The three of us, along with a couple dozen other "foodies" (as the I.C. staffer liked to put it), witnessed the rustic Italian stylings of Campagnola owner and head chef Michael Altenberg. Technically, Michael was there to instruct us, but I'll be damned if I can reproduce any of the meals he made. I know there was something in there about wild boar, and diver scallops, and fava beans, and artichokes, and morel mushrooms, but the way it was all put together is beyond me.

I don't regret going, because all the money goes to a good cause, and I got an exceptional meal included in the price of admission. But more than any cooking technique, I learned that I am woefully unknowledgeable about the art of food preparation. Classes like these don't do much to help, because they assume a certain level of expertise. What I need is some decent first-hand experience, and to get that, I think I'm definitely going to have to volunteer in Inspiration's Cafe kitchen.

Anne (the I.C. staffer I spoke of) told me that volunteering for for kitchen duty will give me a major ass-kicking -- sort of like boot camp for the culinary-inclined -- and it sounds like exactly what I need to get that experience we both crave.
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I've tried several ways to make oatmeal cookies, but they've come out "right" only when I use my grandmother's recipe. This goes for a lot of foods: There may be hundreds of recipes, but the only "right" recipe is Mom's. A few weeks ago I did her enchilades, and I was swept by the sensation that I'd just come in from Little League practice. And no matter how expertly prepared, I trust no lasagna but her's. All others are foreign, second-rate and just plain wrong.

Similarly, each time I catch a whiff of Reza's, I'm taken to my first week back in Chicago, when after a long day of apartment hunting I wandered in with my stomach empty but my pockets full of per diem.

Today's Tribune explains everything:

"Many authorities believe that the sense of smell has a more powerful impact upon the emotions than any of the other senses," says Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, a pioneer in research on memories triggered by smell. Hirsch talks of "flash-bulb memories," so vivid are the re-creations. ... Jacques Pepin, the French chef and television personality, adds: "It's immediate, unexpected and very powerful. You come into a kitchen, sniff something and suddenly you are 5 years old again." ...

A study Hirsch conducted, asking nearly 1,000 people, "Do any particular odors remind you of your childhood?" brought an 85 percent positive response. "Food and cooking" were cited by 38.9 percent of the participants, with fresh baked goods the odor mentioned most often. Odors from nature, such as trees, rain and hay, rated 31.6 percent. No other odor--including smoke and soap--rated even 7 percent.

Nostalgia, meanwhile, is playing with our psyches, Hirsch says. It is not just a yearning for the past, but "a longing for an idealized state, a sanitized impression of the past . . . with all negative emotions filtered out."

At one time I thought our restaurant's shtick could be using only our mothers' and grandmothers' recipes. (I even had a name: "Edible Complex.") But obviously such a menu would not trigger the same positive memories in our diners that it would in us. Perhaps we could solicit recipes from our regulars, each week featuring another diner's favorite family dish in addition to our regular menu.

We should definitely ensure that our place puts off a pleasant odor, either from the grill or perhaps fragrant landscaping out front. Each time someone passes, we hope, they'll be reminded of their first visit and its delights.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2001

YAPL: Another tied-house. This one's on Division Street, somewhere around Wood.
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Saturday, June 02, 2001

Did the Cheddar's tabs have the suggested tips listed, too? I thought just the sales tax was broken out by diner. In any case, yes, this was ingenious.

How do we do this without a computerized point-of-sale system? I'm not sure, other than to encourage the wait staff to take the extra 30 seconds needed to calculate individual diner's taxes. Perhaps we can design our own checks to make this easier. In a perfect world, diners will note this convenience and tip accordingly.

And I guess one can't rule out computerized receipts, especially once we really get cranking, unless one of us wants to spend three hours each night going over receipts by hand. We just have to do it in such a way that doesn't make the place feel like Denny's. By the time we open, for instance, PDAs should be affordable enough that we can give them to waiters, who can use infrared beams to zap orders to the kitchen and cash register.

Unfortunately, by the time we have the wherewithal to open a restaurant, not only will PDAs run under $20, but monkeys will be riding jetpacks out of my butt.
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Friday, June 01, 2001

I'll give Cheddar's props for one thing: their receipts. They provide a neat little gimmick for large parties who want to split the bill up per individual. The items on the bill are grouped according to the person who ordered them, and each group has a mini-subtotal after it that specifies, with tip, how much each person owes. It's an incredibly efficient way to avoid the inevitable hassle that comes with trying to split up a bill.

I imagine the billing software that performs this trick isn't hard to find. But when I pointed the gimmick out to Luke, he agreed that we should implement it, except we'll have to find a new way to do it, for we'll be using pen-on-paper receipts instead of the electronic, less personal kind. So... maybe we can print the breakdown on the back of the hand-written bill? Or maybe we'll have the waiters do it by hand? Or maybe Luke has something up his sleeve?
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