Tick Tock: A Day in the Life of ella

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Owner Michael Schwartz and TGHG Wine Director Eric “café manager” Larkee find common ground on sangria thanks to a chef favorite, the quart container.

As you get to know ella, so are we.  In fact, a job for everyone from cashier to owner is to learn what makes her tick.  This exercise will never end and will only get more difficult as time passes.  A good restaurateur knows what works and that he or she will have to look a little harder to see what doesn’t.

In the beginning, it’s as plain as daylight to professionals like Misters Michael Schwartz, Eric Larkee, and Bradley Herron.  Issues leap at them like Stereograms from the page the moment they enter a new restaurant environment.  There are the things that are obvious, maybe even to laypeople. Tables that need to be cleared, pastries that need to be stocked, maybe the garbage can needs emptying.  These are things that make up the daily routine, the rules of the road that make the restaurant function.  Employees are given “sidework” to ensure they happen in a timely manner.  Everyone keeps busy and the place runs smoothly.

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Roel Alcudia, chef at The Cypress Room, talks back of house shop with Bradley.

Then there are the unknowns — the things that reveal themselves as you go through the motions of operations and herein lies the fun.  How can the café work better and how can its employees work smarter? Sometimes, support staff has a light bulb, management listens and the idea is implemented on the spot.  A suggestion is made to maximize the efficiency of table clearing and free up the food pass so guests and servers can collect their orders without interruption.  Three small potted palms later, and ella has a new bussing station outside, stage left and conveniently waiting in the wings.  Find yourself with leftover croissants, as par orders settle in?  Skip a savory bread pudding special in favor of a tuna salad sandwich on one of the most delicious vessels True Loaf bakery has to offer.  It’s about finding rhythms and knowing when to make a change and test something that could be the next new rhythm.  Yesterday a Larkee breakthrough consisted of strip-tying fish boxes for a safe wine storage rig on the back room’s aerial metro shelving.  That’s a day in the life of a new restaurant.  Here’s what ella’s looked like yesterday:

7:45am —  True Loaf’s delivery of assorted baked goods walks through the back door, including wheat bread rounds, plain and almond croissants, and cookies like oatmeal raisin, phantom, and walnut-chocolate.  Staff arrives to the front door shortly after.

8am — Kitchen manager Vanessa Nunez is at The Cypress Room’s back door picking up ella’s daily order, including Roel’s Everything Bagels.  Meanwhile, setup has begun in preparation for opening back at the café.  The barista station is fired up and pastry displays are made pretty.  “If Chef is around and we have new items and specials to write out, he’ll be the scribe,” Eric explains.  “If he isn’t around, we do our best to impersonate his handwriting!”

9am– Doors open for breakfast.  Panther Coffee Cold Brew is the most popular espresso beverage and people love their fresh-squeezed orange juice. Toasted and served with Beet-Cured Salmon, heirloom tomato, whipped cream cheese, onions and capers, Roel’s everything bagels are the current contender for most popular item sold during the café’s breakfast service from 9-11am, tied with the buttered and extra-virgin olive oil drizzled (triple fat, the Michael Schwartz method!) Avocado Toast on True Loaf wheat.  These two items are also available on the menu throughout the day.  The most popular breakfast-only item is the Breakfast Sandwich with bacon, egg and white cheddar on a toasted Bay’s English muffin.  It’s perfect but only available during the two hour morning window.  Yesterday Bradley sold two at 11:09am, so there are exceptions.

ella_Chicken10:30am: The lunch transition begins.  Sometime between now and 10:50, Roel will hand deliver beautiful rotisserie chickens from The Cypress Room. Brad ordered 12 half chickens for Wednesday.

11am: Lunch begins and people order said chickens. They get a treatment of hemp seed pesto which is super fragrant and delicious.  A tasty, satisfying lunch with a side of bitter greens like frisée and radicchio. Yum yum.  This is a bright time of day for the restaurant, which is bathed in easterly sunshine until about 2pm.

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Ella at the ella pass with Tristan, shift leader.

1pm: The first sangria of the day should be ordered by this time and was thanks to Mademoiselles Fowler and Torres.  Take one for the team, ladies!  The current flavor is lychee-cucumber and the ratios are fool-proof, until Chef’s Sharpie directions smudge off their quart container due to use, which may also signal it’s time for the next flavor.  I hear blood orange Dry Soda will figure somehow into that mix which makes me happy.

1:30-3pm: ella is in the heart of her lunch rush, the busiest period of the day. The sun has begun to recede behind our building, and cooling shadows begin their afternoon march to the east through Palm Court.

Bradley and Eric, a 4:15 break and recap. Something about if we need to order a third cup size.

Bradley and Eric, a 4:15 break for reflection. Something about if we need to order a third cup size.

4pm: The terrace has cooled off quite dramatically and a cool breeze flows through our patio.  Larkee wants to pop open a bottle of rosé.  Conversely, Bradley says going into the Pack Rat at this time — the storage pod in our back lot affectionately referred to as the Rat Pack by the staff — is akin to baking in a sauna warmed by the western sun.  That’s ok because you’ve done your Pack Rat foraging in the morning for this very reason, and it’s time to start getting ready for the next day, communicating with vendors and The Cypress Room to place orders.

The 5pm chill,

The 5pm chill,

6pm:  The team begins winding down, doing pre-closing things like keeping things organized and stocking up for the next day.

7pm: Close for the day and lock-up.

What will today bring to the café?  A blue masa taco delivery from Taquiza, perhaps?  We shall see!

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