first chef job



Hi everyone!

I have recently been hired to be the Chef at a vegetarian cafe attached to a health food store about an hour and a half outside DC. The cafe suffered an arson fire last winter and the owners decided it was time to expand their menu and premises and "have a real restaurant".

First a little background on me.

I am a midlife career changer moving from the medical field. I graduated culinary school at the age of 40 and went to my externship at a small bistro in a tourist town on the banks of the Potomac River. I left that restaurant two years later when my last position (pastry/sous chef) was eliminated. In other words, I made more money than anyone else there so I was the one who went. It hurt but there are no burnt bridges and I do occasionally fill in there in various capacities when needed (large dinners). Online reviews of my desserts were positive. Through local industry networking events, I made alot of contacts which led to the offer to get this new venture started.

Here is the basic specifics of the restaurant:

40-50 seats

hours will be 11-7, six days a week with various late nights for music on weekends to include local artists. This will be a nice draw as we have an excellent music scene in the area and can also draw artists from the DC area. The owners have many longtime music connections.

Basic menu (to start first two-three months):

2 soups (always 1 vegan) and veg chili

3-4 sandwiches - vegan/vegetarian rueben; power sandwich (hummus sprouts avocado) cheese panini and special

3 salads - not chicken ceasar, house, and seasonal (fall - apples greens candied nuts and roquefort)

Gluten Free mac and cheese and PB&J with apples or dried fruits

Quiches and frittatas (seasonal fillings)

2 side salads (quinoa salad and vegan potato)

weekly special veg stew or curry or moussaka

a variety of Gluten Free muffins cakes scones as well as vegan sweets (pastry chef who specializes in that style and is excellent btw)

quality sodas, spritzers teas coffee organic milk boxes for littles and iced tea

The kitchen is going to be a challenge, no professional cooktop/traditional line, storage stinks, reach ins only and a new line cooler that will be about 3 feel wide (if I'm lucky)

Employees currently include me, pastry chef, owner who will do some prep but mainly her specials that people love, one server that I have yet to meet. I am thinking that I will have to hire two more prep/line cooks and two more servers at least simply to cover the hours.

My main concerns are:

Opening date is 10/30 with a concert and limited menu with a halloweenish theme

Construction: The section of the kitchen that is being rebuilt includes the dish pit and some storage as well as the service lane and wait station. Drywall should be going up as we speak painting to start this week so I can get into the dish/service area to start organizing. I'm guessing that will be really ready in a week. I know that there will be alot of smallwares to purchase, sheetpans, pots and pans,etc. I don't think they currently have enough tableware to handle a full seating. I can get what's needed at a nearby RS store but I dread having to go in and tell them about spending more money. 

Food Costing and tracking: Owner has in the past bought her raw materials from the store side of the business, Costco and local farms. I would like to move purchasing to a natural foods distributor and a larger produce supplier. we will be using organic as much as possible.I will not be using the huge distributors such as the one that rhymes with Crisco. In the past, there was no food costing or tracking done at all so I have nothing to compare this time last year to now. Our menu will be flexible and seasonally based. 

Employees: I am thinking that I would like to hire a few FOH people even if it's on a sub-contracter basis for at least opening night (oh yeah, it will not be advertised as such therefore we will be having a soft opening of about a week before announcing the big opening)

I want to be able to start prepping and working on procedures at least a week before the soft opening. Am I wishing on a dream there?

Most of all, I think my primary concern is can I do this? I am a mature responsible person with loads of mentors to talk to, I know how to find information when I have a question, I'm willing to work my butt off, and this is a culinary area that I am very interested in and experienced with cooking. On the other hand, I've never been fully in charge, I know I haven't had nearly enough experience with daily running of a restaurant and have a LOT to learn. I'm good at organizing but not so much at managing.

So what do you all think?
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