“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom...is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go." -Anthony Bourdain
Juliet is 100 days old today. Katrina and I made a commitment to work each one of those first hundred days. We did. Actually the way the schedule will play out we’ll work for at least 104. 107 if you count our soft opening days.
We had multiple objectives: lead by example, constantly test our assumptions, meet our neighbors, develop working systems before handing over responsibility, look for new opportunities and areas of immediate improvement, fix all the problems, make it perfect.
We also intended to keep a little journal about each of those hundred days. Again with a number of objectives in mind: remember the people we meet, funny things we overheard, ideas about the immediate and long term future based on how we witnessed guests (and staff) experiencing our little space. I thought we might even turn it into a book. I still do actually, although there is no journal. Not really. We forgot.
We became part of the backbone here at Juliet though whether it has been written down yet or not. Part of Katrina is in the neatly folded fire safe fabric on the shelves next to me that was our weather break. We sat through a series of icy meetings and then she sew’d it up herself, and hung it with the help of one of our favorite neighbors. It never had the chance to break much weather though, we opened just in time to not need it anymore.
On Juliet’s first day, I was sure we had made a big mistake. More like a lot of them. Juliet is small. Really small. A ticket spat an order out of the printer and I swung a refrigerator door into my knee because there wasn’t enough room to open it. I tried to take a step back and there was a stainless steel table in the way. I tried to hand a plate to a guest and couldn’t reach. A second order printed and I tried to remember which refrigerator to open to find the salad greens. Every plate needed a component from someone else to finish it. They each wanted me to tell them what to do: where to find what they needed, how to prepare it, arrange it, in what quantity. I didn’t know. John, our long time sous chef (now chef de cuisine) looked at me and said we’ve been through this twice before, tomorrow everything will be ok.
It wasn’t. But his purposeful reassurance got us to that second day. And by the fourth day, it was ok. Two days later we entered our first weekend and then it wasn’t again. Those first seven days we were open for 12 hours at a time but probably worked for 20. I know one day at least in the first 21 days we worked for 22. I remember that felt kind of funny.
On day 23 I ran out to the dining room with an omelette I had just made painstakingly without any color on it and gently plated it over a mound of my favorite dijon mustard. Twenty seconds later I was confronted by a guest wondering if his omelette was supposed to be cold. It wasn’t. By day 28 he was one of our favorite regulars.
Somewhere around day 24 I lost my ability to speak in complete sentences. That was scary. I like sentences, I think mine can be really special sometimes. I like to have meaningful, but generally brief, conversations with my staff and here at Juliet also my guests. We basically built our service style and designed our dining room (which is also our kitchen) with that in mind. Some of the newer people to our probably just assumed I wasn’t a great communicator but they had bigger things to worry about. Aly, who has also known me for years, and speaks fluent not quite native english but still questions her grammar on occasion; I caught her staring at me and her eyes were saying something like “should I correct his vocabulary?”
I got even funnier looks from a few guests as I attempted to spill out some sort of useful information about oil cured black olives or why we can’t seat the dining room for a prix fixe lunch, or what the hell a bread salad is. It wasn’t good. One of those guests turned out to be Andrew Knowlton. He’s the editor of Bon Appetit Magazine. Somehow he seemed to think it was good. That was a satisfying thing to read on day 25. But it didn’t cure my speech.
On day 45 we began serving dinner at Juliet, just Thursday through Saturday evenings, extending our service ours to 15 per day, but on the remaining days we abbreviated our service hours from 12 hours to 8. It used to take us up to 22 hours of work to serve for 12 but now we could serve 8 in 10, and 12 in 15. Much better. This allowed us time to catch up on some bills, and reply to some emails. To eat a meal outside of the restaurant. That’s also the day our consulting pastry chef, Katie, rolled her suitcases to work in the morning and then flew away in the evening. The next twenty flew by very rapidly.
On day 65 we pulled this heavy blue fabric down. It had looked perfectly nice against our white walls with bright light coming in through our windows facing the square. But then it started to obscure the line on the weekend mornings. 64 days prior a single ticket brought the whole system grinding to an immediate halt. The day the curtains came down our biggest service worry was simply whether to direct the line to the left or the right. Not that we didn’t have plenty of other worries, but at least we were getting that part right!
On day 76 I began a period of 4 days where I only worked half. Mostly just for oversight. The team did the rest. It was a busy, but perfectly successful, four days. On day 80 the team ran dinner service on their own while Katrina and I both left the building. I had to fight. I had been training for months to make my amateur boxing debut in front of a sold out audience at the House of Blues in Boston. Katrina went to watch. It was incredibly hard, but incredibly important to us for a number of reasons that you might not expect. We had another meal outside the restaurant that night, as the training team and some of our fans and friends enjoyed a little wine and some great food and conversation at one of our favorite places in the city, Eastern Standard.
More than a few friends told me not to bother with trying to walk away from dinner service so soon. It was a little uncomfortable. A lot actually. We knew we were sitting through our first professional critic review at the time. Did we really want to give up that control? We believed in our systems, and our people. We left. We did what we had to do.
On day 81 we came back to work breakfast. Everything was in its place. Including that review. It published that afternoon and it was good. A little too good. I cried a little out of pride, and also relief. No one saw me, I don’t think. But they should know.
Also on that day Katrina was named a finalist for Eater’s Young Guns Award. A national award celebrating individuals under 30 who are set to make a big impact on our industry. I can’t think of anyone more appropriate and we are proud to see her named there.
Days 76 through 82 were very good days.
On day 90 we baked our first house made croissants. On day 92 we baked a whole lot more and sold them all. We promoted our first sous chef as well. I thought of all of my past sous chefs and what they are doing now, and what these new ones might be doing in the future.
On day 97 I put casters on some baker’s racks that we had been carrying around the kitchen without wheels. It felt really good to have the kind of time in a day that allowed it to make more sense to just install the wheels and roll the rack instead of picking it up awkwardly and waddling it around the kitchen.
On day 98 I joked with my staff while they prepared 20 quarts of gazpacho de andalus for our first off site event, the Taste of Somerville, that we finally felt comfortable enough to attend.
On day 99 that event was postponed for rain.
On day 100, I sat down and wrote down a little bit of what we had meant to record from the start. Hopefully soon I’ll get around to a little bit more. I don’t see what could be the rush. We are just getting started. But don’t be surprised during the next hundred days if once in a while you stop in for your omelette, your coffee, your sandwich or even your dinner, and you don’t see both Katrina and me. Juliet is about us, but a little bit more now it is about our team too.