it’s all in the details….

  • When do you add the garlic to the dish?
  • How you sort the heirloom baby carrots by size so they cook evenly and can be used best on each dish?
  • Which light bulb goes over the tables (50 watt, 12 degree spot) and which shines on the artwork on the walls (35 watt, 20 degree spot)?
  • Do the plants need to be cut back, deadheaded or watered or fertilized?
  • Is the second handle for the espresso machine cleaned and left on the top of the machine to stay hot for the next order?
  • Are the filters changed in the AC units?
  • Is the online menu up to date?
  • Are the walkin coolers clean and organized?
  • Are the fish bins clean with fresh ice?
  • Are the togo container’s stocked?
  • Are the oysters getting breaded carefully?
  • Is everything clean, clean and cleaner?
  • Are all the light bulbs working?

You have 30 minutes……

New Linens

atlanta french foodOur linen company (Company #1) was bought out recently by another company. Most linen companies work on a par level which means the restaurant sets how much of each kind of napkin, cleaning towels, tables cloths we will need each week. We use cotton napkins, bar towels, 42 inch table cloths, 52 inch table cloths, 62 in table cloths, kitchen bib aprons, and a few black polyester napkins for customers who don’t want the lint from the white napkins on their clothes.

On the par system, if our par is 2000 cotton napkins a week and we only use 1800, then the company will deliver us 1800 but charge us for 2000. If the company is nice, they will let us call a day in advance and “lower” our par to 1800, so they only charge us for 1800.  Company #1 was nice about this.

The new Company (#2) showed up for delivery the first day with the pars from Company #1. But no cotton napkins, just polyester, no 42’s, just extra 52’s. Apparently we are one of only a few restaurants in Atlanta that still uses cotton napkins. No one wants to provide them anymore because they wear out and are hard to clean. I took the order having fully expecting all these problems.

My waiters had a fit with the polyester napkins. The polyester does not work for polishing silverware and when they used them for wine service, the wine would dribble down the cloth onto the floor. I was told that the cotton napkins were on order as well as the 42 inch table cloths. Meanwhile Company #1 had raised our prices in January and I hadn’t caught it, so company #2 is charging us more, especially for those cotton napkins, which I hadn’t received.

So doing what everyone in the business does, I contacted another company. So now this is company #3. A rep came in and we discussed our pars. They don’t want to do cotton napkins either but will for a penny more a napkin. I mentioned the waiters reaction to the polyester and the rep ran out to his car and brought in a “glass cloth”. It was great, can be used for polishing silverware, wine service and have a nice blue and white stripe. I mentioned that I would love to use them as napkins and he said “no, wait”, and ran out to his car and brought in a white napkin with a blue stripe that is called a “Bistro Napkin”.

He suggested that we not use the “glass cloths” as our guest’s napkin because some restaurants use them to clean up spills, even though we’re supposed to use “bar towels” to do that, and they can’t guarantee that they will be spotless. The “Bistro Napkin” is a polyester blend, but was more absorbent than the regular polyester napkin, but not as good as the cotton. I did a water test on both. I mentioned that I loved the blue stripe, but think I have more red in the dining room and he ran out to his car again, but this time came back empty-handed. The “Bistro Napkin” comes with a red stripe, but he doesn’t have one. He’ll come back the next day with a pack of 100 red stripe napkins and we can set the dining room with them and see how it looks.

Meanwhile, I am to contact Company #2 to see how long my contract (which they bought from company #1) is in effect and what the cancellation policy is with them.

So he brings the red stripe napkin. We set the dining room. I call Chef Justin out, he likes them. My dining room manager likes them. My sous chef, saute cook like them.
My host does not. I send a photo to my daughter and she hates them. My husband likes them.  90% of the customers like them.  A few prefer the white cotton. Meanwhile my waiters are fighting over the glass towels that were left for us.

I call Company #2, tell them I want to discuss cancelling my contract.  This gets me to a district manager who tells me to give them more time, he has the red “Bistro” napkin, the glass cloths and now the 42 in tablecloths in stock. He tells me about another restaurant down the street who switched from Company #3 to them. He doesn’t know what my contract says about cancellation.  He will have to pull records from another office.

I call the restaurant down the street and speak to the manager. He tells me he had a lot of quality problems with Company #3 and they were not able to solve them, so they went to Company #2. The prices are very similar.  Five cents more for kitchen apron, 5 cents less for glass towels.

atlanta fine diningSo here I am. I am sticking with Company #2 for now.  I called and changed my pars and orders. We will see what happens.

Kitchen aprons, bar towels (for the kitchen and cleaning), red stripe Bistro Napkins, glass cloths, 42 inch table cloths, 52 inch table cloths, 62 inch table cloths, black napkins.

And I should return one bundle of the red stripe Bistro Napkin to Company #3.

Chef Justin Kurtz

Chef Justin doing what he does.

Chef Justin doing what he does.

I hired Justin Kurtz as our chef several months ago. I was at a crossroads with Babette’s and my own role in the restaurant.  I had turned over the kitchen a couple of times over the years to people who had been on my staff and they took the role as Chef de Cuisine or as my Sous Chef. I was out of the kitchen most of the time, but I had always been responsible for the menu.  These people had done a wonderful job for me

But this time I needed to hire a peer. In walks Justin. We hit it off immediately. He had come up through the ranks of the Ritz Carlton, had held a couple of executive chef positions. His references were perfect.  He is friendly, cheerful, smart, funny and creative and is not afraid of the hours or the demands of the restaurant.

We talk food. I tell him what works for Babette’s, what doesn’t. I glance in the kitchen on his days off, but he doesn’t want me there. Do I miss it. Very much. But I can’t do it anymore. I’ve been cooking for 35 years and he is 35 years old. You can do the math.
I don’t have the stamina or the patience. So it’s his. I try to stay out of the way.

Chef Justin and Mel

Chef Justin and Mel

I’m back out front with my service staff. I visit with our guests. I do the marketing and pay the bills. I hang Christmas Lights, fix thermostats, work on events. I feel like I’m working as much as ever, but sometimes  I sneak out early. I visit family that I haven’t seen in too long.  I’ve been able to help my mother after an injury. I got a call from the alarm company and had to go check on the place with the police halfway through this post.

Justin has brought new energy to Babette’s, not just to the menu, but to all of us.

How to Start a Busy Weekend

IMG_6460It’s going to be a busy weekend at the restaurant. We’re fully booked with people who preplan – thank you – this weekend for Valentine’s Day

A busy weekend in the restaurant will end better if I start with comfortable shoes. They might be ugly though.

Thermostat Emergency at a Restaurant in Atlanta

The glamorous life of a restaurant chef/owner…

Sunday: A thermostat for our heaters on the back deck was not working very well. The heaters were clicking on and off. We’re a restaurant in Atlanta, in January. We need our heaters if we want to use our lovely deck.

Monday: I called my Heating & Air man. He called back to say he was out of town, I needed to call someone else, but to check the battery first. No Battery. Hardwired.

I called my electrician and scheduled his assistant to come out the next day and check the thermostat.

Tuesday: Luckily I was there when he came because the assistant started to take apart a connection box to rewire instead of the thermostat. I had even suggested he pick up a new thermostaThermostatt to bring with him.  He found a loose wire. It was fixed but I was given a warning that if it happens again, I might need a new thermostat.

Friday night (you know we’re open on Friday nights, right?): I turned on the heaters and the clicking started again causing the heaters to turn on and off. One of my servers told me it had been doing it the night before, but hadn’t told me.

So now it’s Saturday. The temperature is dropping, it will be raining, we need the heaters. We’re booked. I stop by the hardware store (ACE) where someone can help me select one. I read the instructions, took the old one off and replaced it. Held my breath, turned the heaters on and bingo. It worked. Took me longer to attach it to the stucco than to rewire.

While I was out there, I climbed a ladder and cleaned the gutters, in tights, a skirt and real shoes.

The deck is ready for you.

Because that’s what chef/owners do.

The Close of Sunday Brunch

It is with great trepidation and the utmost respect for all of you who been my champions over the years, that I announce I am bringing our Sunday Brunch to a close.  Our last brunch will be October 26, 2014.

It is also with a little glee.

I’m looking forward to CBS Sunday Morning in pajamas, Sunday afternoon dinner at my father-in-law’s home with my extended family and an occasional visit to church with my mother.  I have worked almost all of our Sunday Brunches over the last twenty two years and though I still get a thrill patting out scones in the mornings, I would rather give dinner service my full attention, stamina and excitement.

Oh, and it is not all about me… staff is ecstatic!

Shopping for Chairs

My friend Julia, is always nagging me to blog more.  It’s hard to find the time and mental space.  I showed her the new chairs I purchased for the deck at Babette’s.  “Well, you should blog about that!”  OK, I bought new chairs.  It’s a little more complicated than that.

It took me five months.  It’s a big deal for me to spend $4000.00.  We live on a very tight budget at Babette’s.  We were needing to buy more chairs.  I was having trouble with the fake leather on the current chairs splitting.  I had many of them reupholstered and the gentleman informed me they would never hold up well outside, even on a covered deck, because of the change in temperatures. The heating and freezing will split the fabric.

OK, I would first look for outdoor chairs.  Metal are too heavy and uncomfortable.  It wasn’t until I was in Turkey and Greece this summer that I came upon resin chairs. They were EVERYWHERE!  They looked like wicker, but for anyone who has owned wicker, it’s not very strong.

So my search started at the end of June.  It took me a month to find styles that I liked. It took me a week to narrow down the field to commercial chairs (good to 300 pounds).  It took me another week to research the details on the height of the seats.  There is nothing worse that sitting at a table with the chairs too low.  This eliminated 80% of the options.  I studied the spec sheets with a microscope.  I measured the distance from the front of the chair to the back of the incline.  A lot of the outdoor chairs tilt back.  The sales reps say that is so people can lean back and relax and drink a beer.  Well they are supposed to be dining chairs not lounging chairs.  They are shown in the pictures as being pulled up to dining tables.?????

The first chair I fell in love with was very expensive, custom made.  And believe it or not, no one had a sample.  I would have to order and pay for one, wait 10 weeks and then decide if I liked it.  Not in the plan, wanted them by September.  You know…fall…nice weather…everyone wants to sit outside….

I returned to search for chairs that weren’t made to order.  I contacted 12 companies through their websites, .  It took three weeks of me calling them several times a week to ask about models and samples.  No one in Atlanta stocked samples.  With all the hotels and restaurants in this city, I can’t believe no one had samples.  I guess most businesses have designers and purchasing agents that do all this.  I even considered flying to New York to see a showroom. I would have to order a chair, pay UPS to try it out. Shipping the chair back would cost as much as the chair itself, so I would just keep it.  I envisioned my back porch at home being littered with a half dozen mismatched, uncomfortable or ugly chairs. When I spoke directly with the manufacturers or importers really, I was told I had to go through a local distributor.

I found one rep in Atlanta, so I latched onto them.  No, they didn’t rep the ones I liked most. No, they didn’t have samples of the ones I liked next.  They did have a couple of samples of something that might work. Now it’s mid August and fall is just a couple of weeks away. The rep came.  Well he didn’t have exactly the chair I wanted with him. He had an arm chair that was only 17 inches tall.  But the side chair, which I wanted was 18 inches tall and could be ordered.  The armchair tilted back a little, but the side chair looked like it didn’t as much.  They were a little taller in the back than I wanted. They no longer had the color I wanted, (it’s August…the end of the season).  They were a little wider in the seat than I wanted.  But here I was with a real chair to look at.  It was in stock and delivery was two weeks away.

I double checked the specs with the rep.  The side chair was 18 inches tall.  My local supply company carried them.  I even had 30 day credit with them.  Yippee.  I ordered them.  I was so excited.  My staff kind of smiled and nodded, knowing that I am so often disappointed.   What are they talking about?

One of my managers, David, walked in when they were delivered and the first words out of his mouth were “Do you hate them?”  Well yes, David, I do.  I had pulled a couple off the stack and set them up.  The table top came to my boobs.  The seat tilted back.  I thought of buying pillows so people could sit up and eat.  More money, more replacement issues.I had my kitchen staff sit in them.  The tall boys, who lean back and drink beer liked them. The girls did not.  They would not work.  I measured the chairs.  They were 18 inches IN THE FRONT, but tilted to 17 inches IN THE BACK.  Not one spec sheet showed this.

I sent them back.  My local supply company was very cool about it.  I used the spec sheets as my reason.  The manufacturer was called.  He reluctantly accepted them back because I had not unpacked them completely and we had kept all the shipping materials.  I was not charged a restocking fee, and I offered to pay the shipping.  I’m not unreasonable. I should have ordered a sample, but now it would be sitting on my back porch at home.

Now I’m pissed, “over it” and really need chairs.  I got back on the web, looked for a chair that was FLAT. I started looking at more expensive chairs as I have found that more money usually works.  I contacted a manufacturer for a really pretty and expensive chair and told him my problem and what I had been through. Low and behold, I found a customer service person who gave a darn.  He talked to me about which chairs really were flat.  He went back and measured the one I liked while I waited on the phone.  I told him how much I had wanted to spend and these were 30% more.  He offered them to me at the lower price if I ordered directly from them.  “I thought I couldn’t order directly from you?”, I asked.  “Well, sometimes we do it.”

Now it’s mid September.  Despite the delay, I ordered a sample.  Lesson learned.  I paid as much in shipping as the chair.  Lesson learned.  It was perfect!  Ordered the remaining number needed.  Delivery was great.  The chairs are a great color.  The fake wicker doesn’t look too much like plastic.  They sit almost straight.  The width of the seat is good for when we have to put tables together for a “build”.  And the customers like them!

21 Years at Babette’s Cafe (Best French Restaurant in Atlanta)

On October 13, 1992, I opened Babette’s Café.  Makes you feel kind of old doesn’t it?Many of you have been with me since the beginning.
Some of you were in grade school.

I’ve married, raised a daughter and sent her off to college.
I’ve been sued, robbed, burglarized.
I’ve worked through broken bones and back spasms.
I’ve been rich and I’ve been broke.
I’ve celebrated good reviews and been humiliated by bad ones.
I’ve scored a building permit from the city.

I’ve laughed with my staff in the kitchen until I fell over.
I’ve tossed my keys to an employee in a rage, and gone home.

I’ve dropped 3 gallons of hot soup on the floor of the cooler on a Sunday afternoon,
cleaned it up and made it again.  I’ve worked the line pregnant.  I’ve made dishes that were so exciting, I jumped up and down.  I’ve created items that I hated after two hours on the menu.

I’ve stirred, whipped, sautéed, broiled, baked, curled, basted, filleted, strained, and sifted.  I’ve spackled, scrubbed, puttied, mopped, planted, sanded, caulked, drilled, and not to mention hung enough Christmas lights for a whole neighborhood.

Two-hundred and fifty employees have passed through the doors to join me in these endeavors.  Some have babysat my daughter, taken me to the emergency room, or come to my home to fix my computer.  One was my Lamaze coach.

We’ve hosted joyous engagement dinners, birthdays, and anniversaries.
We’ve held wakes and memorial services and divorce dinners.
One customer even left a 30-person dinner at Babette’s in his will.
We’ve seen tragedies happen to families, and had tragedies happen to us.

The reward of all this?
Enduring friendships with many guests and a rich family life with my staff.
It’s been one heck of a ride!
I’m not closing, just saying Thank you to everyone.


This week’s to do list

I haven’t had time to blog….this is why.

My current to do list for this week

New Door Handle for walk-in cooler
Reorder outside lights
Call landscape guy to clean up beds
Spray for Mosquitos
Order from Atlanta Fixture:  Ramekins, (2) 1/2 plastic hotel pans 6 inch deep, (2) slim jims, high heat rubber spatula, 10 inch pan, 12 inch pan, water glasses
New Menu items
Ferns for out Front
Have carpet Shampooed, dried and stored for summer
Rehang Planters on porch
Gutter Cleaning
Gutter Repairs
Hire new line cook
Design new birthday emails
Mail out birthday Cards
Bid out hood cleaning
Close vent over dishwashing station
New vent for makeup air in kitchen
Organize deep cleaning of kitchen
Order pens
Order new Cuisinart blade
Check on status of blender
Order Stamps

In addition to working the restaurant.