There’re a lot to be said for writing things down. Releasing your desired reality out into the universe, having them in type — or in my case script — there to remind you. To look at every so often, sometimes more than others. And to be astonished one day that it’s time to make new ones because what you’ve set out to accomplish is now, seemingly suddenly, real. Growth is a thing you commit to and when you do, something magical happens where what was so unknown becomes the most familiar thing in the world.
We set goals here at The Genuine Hospitality Group. Our people do and so does our company. It’s hard to imagine that the idea seemed foreign just a year and a half ago. Now at the start of the year, it’s not just goals for our business, I set personal ones, too. Even hashtag them.
“It’s unfolding like an onion,” says Michael. He’s speaking about our new commissary kitchen, but I know it’s a metaphor for what’s happening now writ large. What unfurls when something is set into motion. “So many exciting opportunities will come from this project.”
Strawberries in the fields at Knaus Berry Farms. We want them all.
We got into the large space a month ago, and executive chef Bradley Herron will tell you we’ve already grown out of it. It’s not hard to imagine, I found visiting last Wednesday with MJ Garcia who is exploring “the savory side of life”, captaining the project at ground zero. But for Bradley, our MGFD pastry chef was just the right person for the job.
“Brad stitched me for the part,” MJ explains. “I’m learning how to administer and organize my time, figuring out how the proteins work, how to utilize the space properly.”
The journey began around summer’s end, and the understanding that there was opportunity to build out Michael Schwartz Events and our catering capability quickly became the realization that we could centralize production for our restaurants, capitalize on product at the peak of season and get as much of it and out of it as possible. For Brad and Michael this has opened up the potential to rethink how we do things, the possibilities for ingredients and sourcing, the development of people at this facility and at the restaurants that comes with increased efficiency. Imagine the doors this opens for creativity.
“Michael connected with Margie from Bee Heaven Farm and hashed a plan with the chefs,” MJ explains. “We bring in whatever she has leftover from the weekend market and in abundance. We take as much as we can and get to work preserving, dehydrating, processing things fresh, incorporating it into sauces, veal stock.”
After a space was identified and lease signed, Brad along with culinary assistant Megan Hess just started showing MJ the savory ropes. Recipes were dialed in, and once the space was delivered and equipment online thanks to heavy lifting from TGHG VP of Development Patrick Brown, programmed into a combioven which MJ swears could basically take care of her child.
“I put the eggs for the mayo in there, right in the crate. There is no movement, no breakage. And the time it saves! Brad built this operation for efficiency. Everything is big enough to climb into.”
Good coffee is the first item on the check list in any kitchen Brad and Michael are running.
“You don’t have service so you have time to pay attention to details and make sure product comes out the same way every time,” MJ continues. “We have a unique opportunity to basically work without the million variables at odds in a busy restaurant. The time pressure now is different. It’s scheduling and planning, forecasting the needs of the restaurants.”
She’ll say she’s slowly taking on more production, that she was terrified the first week getting into the space. But as an outsider to this process observing it for the first time, the progress they’ve made since the fear of January 2 is nothing short of astounding. In one month MJ has gone from fish out of water to conservatively comfortable, owning the first (and longest) cooking stages of the prep for proteins and so much more that she’s already hiring more staff to handle it all.
Combioven magic, no joke. This rig has been programmed to cook 3 cases of octopus in one day — that’s a week’s worth for MGFD which it will wood oven roast or add to the daily pasta set up. We can control temperature, humidity and pressure — basically every element of the cooking process.
“When they order I have to be ready,” MJ says of the constant communication with the restaurants as the process synchronizes. “Most of this is lead time stuff so by nature it requires forecasting. 8-10 hours of cooking overnight for most of the proteins like the pork belly, pastrami, short rib, pig ears… The bacon is just rubbed but I’m smoking it here so again, that’s a process that takes time. I’m still building up a base pantry and learning our pars but then again they’re going to change as we continue to develop new catering offerings. We are creating a pattern of what we need, don’t need, one thing at a time as I get my feet on the ground and understand the rhythm of things. We want to train and do things in the right way.”
Brad is guiding MJ through planning based on restaurant sales and previous orders, as well as weekly forecasts of covers. Then there’s the innovation that happens when the tail can wag the dog, maybe anticipate what the restaurants might not even know they need. Sometimes she’ll work special projects for Cypress Tavern if Max requests, like duck confit. She’s caramelizing the onions and slicing the chips for MGFD’s dip, cutting and crisping potatoes for fries and cabbage for the pastrami, building ella’s grilled cheese sandwiches for the griddle. The list goes on and will continue to grow when she takes on something familiar next month — pastry production with assistant Alex Sarria.
“I go every morning to check on the girls,” MJ says. “And then I surprise drop in and taste twice a week with the night crew.”
For Michael it’s not just about capitalizing on bumper crops for pricing and quality, it’s about investing in our people. That’s the thing about goals. By design they need to be measurable and achievable and to make them so, you time stamp and list who’s on the journey with you. Because you can’t do it alone, ever. We like to say we know more what we don’t want than what we do. And that’s perfectly fine too. Many thanks to TGHG Managing Partner and Harry’s Holdings CEO Sunil Bhatt for teaching us about goals. Onward and upward.