Pedaling Forward

He may looked surprised about it but oh, how I do love this man. Because of him I am typing this blog post in bed, where I have been lying for the fourth day in a row, away from the cafe. "Doctor's" orders.

As I mentioned in my previous post the last couple of weeks have not been my best. Just when I thought things might be turning around, Monday my cold returned. With vengeance. Although at the time, I was not so sure this really was just a cold. Six years ago, while living in Honduras I was viciously attacked by a mosquito carrying the dengue virus. Dengue fever, otherwise known as the bone-breaking disease left me bedridden with debilitating pain and a high fever (not to mention a few more unpleasant side effects) for over a week. The reason why I mention this incident is that if I didn't know any better I might think I was stung twice by the same bug. My body ached that bad. My fever spells have been that intense. However, the reason why I do know better is this: a) Dengue rarely (if ever) stretches beyond our border with Mexico and when it does enter the United States it prefers tropical environments and b) My doctor told me that the exact symptoms I'm describing have been going around for the past three weeks and c) I was informed that if I ever received another bite from an infected mosquito I would be prone to bleeding to death from the inside out. Hummm...I feel bad but not that bad.

And the good news is that upon waking up this morning I realized that today is the best I've felt in over a week. My battery finally, after weeks of running on empty, feels recharged. Yes, I guess you could say I have treated this break from the cafe like a mini vacation. For example, I was finally able to listen to the entirety of Philip Glass' Glassworks while sitting in a hot bath, something I've been dreaming of doing for years. Sure, the purpose of doing so was in an attempt to ease the pain in my lower back but I still did it. I was finally able to sleep for hours and hours on end. Sure, much of it was spent in a self-induced NyQuil coma but I think that is exactly what I needed. Evan, as he always does, knew this. He gracefully ordered me to stay home, to sleep, to bathe, to drink echinacea tea and to get better. And so I did. And while doing so I have been able to devote a few hours to thinking about the future of the cafe.

Since opening we have consistently brought you weekend specials, like the French Dip you see below, with cheddar cheese and caramelized onions on Fleur de Lis ciabatta. We served this two Saturdays ago with a housemade au jus & sweet potato salad (my grandma's recipe).
While I try not to, (okay, now that's a BIG FAT LIE) I have been prone to reading the buzz out there about us. From what I can gather, the biggest complaints regarding the cafe are our "limited" hours (7am-3pm) and the smallness of the menu (three breakfast sandwiches, a honeyed granola bowl, various breakfast pastries, and nine lunch sandwiches). My response to these two concerns are this: Being open from 7am to 3pm equates to much more than just an eight hour day for us. The reality is that on average Evan and I find ourselves putting in fourteen hours/day. Not a minute goes by in our day or night that isn't devoted to thinking/talking/doing cafe. Our dreams are not even free from the invasion. In short, there is so much more to a cafe than its posted hours and its various menu items.

While it sounds nothing short of a dream to have a magical truck pull up and unload all of our products directly to the cafe, we made a commitment to ourselves and to our customers to source our menu locally, to support other small, like-minded businesses and to make long-lasting personable relationships with real people. What this means is that we do not have a huge truck from Sysco or FSA dropping off the majority of our items. What this means is that rather than having one or two distributors/vendors we have much more. What this means is we rarely make delivery minimums and that we have to physically go and pick up many of our items, like our tuna from Provvista or our produce from New Seasons (yes, we have to buy retail-which equates with retail prices but hey--at least we can guarantee our fruit and veggies are local and organic). Are we making things harder for ourselves? Of course; we'd be the first to admit it. Sure, we could get generic produce, meat and fish. We could get mass produced baked goods. We could rely on any old egg and any old pad of butter to make our fried-egg sandwiches. But if we did these things it would mean we wouldn't have the opportunity to work with some of Oregon's greatest producers and distributors. We wouldn't have the enormous pleasure of working with Angela and Franz from Noris Dairy, with Greg and Lisa from Fleur de Lis, with Joel from Courier Coffee Roasters or with Morgan from Dovetail Bakery to name a few. It would mean our meat wouldn't be free-range or hormone free, our fish wouldn't be local or line-caught, and our eggs wouldn't be cage-free or vegetarian fed. But then reality would be that Evan and I wouldn't eat our own food. We only serve what we ourselves would feel comfortable eating and so we do what we do. It equates with more work. More time spent away from work getting things for work. But the rewards are so much more. Our food tastes better. We have made friends out of vendors. And in the end those two things matter more to me than anything else.
Does this mean that in the future we won't expand our hours or our menu? Of course not. In fact, we have our very first dinner in the works. But it does mean this: we are doing our best with what we got. It means despite frequent requests, we do not plan on knocking down any walls and expanding the dining room any time soon. It means we are still taking it one day at a time; we're still learning; and we're still trying to get our bearings. It means we are dreaming big and thinking about our newly acquired liquor license, future family-style dinners, longer hours, and more menu items. But in the meantime it means we will bring you as many specials as we are physically capable of producing. It means we appreciate your patience and your support while we figure all of this out. I promise you, we'll make it well worth the wait.

And on an ending note, much thanks to Dekin, Jo, and Evan who held the cafe down while I was away this week. Dekin literally filled in for me by arriving to work earlier than his scheduled shift, Jo dished out an amazing rendition of our Farmers Market famous North African Sweet Potato Peanut Stew, and Evan, aside from waiting on my sickly self hand and foot (the drawn baths, the tea, the back-rubs, the medicine inductions, the renting of various episodes of The Wire, etc. etc.) managed to even whip up a Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream. Lord knows kids, we couldn't do it without you. My deepest and utmost gratitude for all of your existence in my life. XO


Tim D. Roth said...

Good for you taking some time out, Ali. I'm sorry I couldn't be of more assistance at the café this week, I've just served myself up an equally full platter of schoolwork unfortunately. I hope this recharge will last you for a while, 'cause we can't have those amazing specials tapering off just when they were culminating in items like the Pain au Chocolat bread pudding!

And thank you for going the extra mile for quality, socially responsible ingredients and vendors. It really does make all the difference, both in feeling great about what we're eating and the flavor of all your menu items.

It can only get better from here as you have already conquered most of the major obstacles to operating a superb café. Never mind the complaints about space and hours, you guys are two human beings trying to satisfy what is not unlike the insatiable horde of the infected in 28 Days/Weeks Later (not that we don't appreciate the horde, it's just not possible to make everyone happy all of the time), and there is only so much food and coffee we all have the energy to sling in one day.

You guys are doing a splendid job and have made the cafe a great place to work and satiate our cravings for great food and drink.

Metolius Mark * Student of...Everything said...

What can anyone say but: Get well quick and 'nice post'.

Ali and Evan said...

Thanks Tim...your likening of the cafe customers to the infected horde in 28 Days/Weeks made me laugh out loud. Obviously we know you're joking, hopefully the infected do as well...

Anonymous said...

Get well soon, Ali! I missed your smiling face this morning!

Oh, and, um, "Rawwrrr!!!! Must have infected braaaaains!! And organic miiiiiilk!!!! Rawwwrrrrr!!!!"

vj said...

Hey Ali -- so sorry that you've been so sick, and I'm glad that the doctor (and Evan) ordered you to rest.

I think you guys are incredibly wise to only be open the hours you are. I mean, A) look how hard you're working -- you're working so hard that you are getting really sick. And I really do appreciate the focus on details that you guys bring to this operation.

While I'd be the first to admit, as a client, your popularity freaks me out (because I'd like to have you all to myself), I am so glad you are popular, and it's a very nice proof of concept, isn't it?

So I guess my thought is, take it slow. I want you guys around for the long haul. I don't want you to burn out. I love what you're doing and I love the kindness that you seem to be extending to everyone who comes in.

Get well soon, Ali!

Kendal said...

aw I hope you feel better Ali. Kenneth and I missed you when we came in for scrabble and ice cream today. It seems like these are downtime days, anyhow. Rest while you can. btw, the pumpkin cheesecake ice cream did not disappoint. It's hard to find good homemade ice cream around here and you guys are picking up the slack.

If the main complaint about your store is not enough space and not enough hours, it seems you guys are doing a pretty dang good job. Enjoy hot baths, hopefully we'll see you soon!

Ali and Evan said...

Awwwwww, thanks ya'll for your kind words. I will be making a triumphant return to the cafe tomorrow--sickness be damnned.

Diana said...

Who needs an expanded menu when each of the items that you have now are so divine? I had breakfast at your cafe today and it was delicious. The coffee is perfect and I love the ambience. I was bummed that you turned off the WiFi on the weekends, but I understand since it is so packed. Be encouraged, your cafe is my favorite breakfast place in Portland.

sarah said...

glad you're feeling a bit better ali. you guys have been rocking the house & probably running yourselves ragged in the process. i say do what works & the people will (continue to) come. i myself will never tire of the messenger sammy.

Unknown said...

Belatedly adding our two bits, we strongly support the direction you're taking. When we "brag" about you to others, it's because you haven't succumbed to the temptation to expand too fast or to take short cuts on ingredients. Thanks for being such a great addition to the community.