Been awfully quiet 'round here...we know. Truth is, any time the blogging slows down, it usually means that we've been away on vacation or busy as hell. These past five weeks the latter has consumed us. We launched a soft dinner service, an experiment that proved equally as taxing as it was instructive. After five weeks of service we have decided to take a sabbatical from dinner while we contemplate the positives and negatives of the entire experience, and how we can improve upon our efforts in order to create a more cohesive service in the future. Additionally, we need to create some free time for ourselves in order to take on more immediate and important tasks (see below). Our plan is to "re-launch" dinner by extending our regular business hours into the early evening beginning in March, and extend our hours again mid to late spring. So "seasonal hours," isn't that what they say?
Though our "dinner" was only served three days a week, the experience proved incredibly taxing. Serving food at night is a whole different ball of wax than running a breakfast/lunch service, and as a result of testing the waters I have gained further respect for the many crazies out there who take on this task night in, night out. For example, the hours. In my experience, breakfast/lunch is a part-time endeavor compared to the time it takes to serve food at nighttime. One might think that serving two meals a day versus one might be more difficult, but such is not the case. With breakfast and lunch, your day begins early. Ironically, the earliest I get up throughout the week occurs on Sunday, the day we open the cafe LATER than any other day of the week (9am). On Sundays I usually awaken sometime around 4:30am so that I have ample time to bake biscuits for our brunch service, as well as do the necessary rearranging of our kitchen that is required in order to carry out a menu which is slightly larger than that which we offer Monday through Saturday. After the day is over, cleaning the cafe usually takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, and on some days we have to run around and do some shopping for specific items. When the shopping is done, we may have to complete one or more random tasks that, as owners, fall on our shoulders, such as replying to emails/phone calls, organizing mail, filing paperwork, making trips to the local copy store, bank, etc. You know, the fun stuff (insert facetious tone of voice here).
My point is that with a breakfast/lunch service eventually the work day ends, and on occasion we actually end up with free time which we can use to relax, eat, sleep, or take care of any number of life's chores that do not involve work. This, in my mind, is the good life, the easy life, a life made in the shade. Dinner, which we only recently discovered, is an experience unto itself. You see with breakfast, you don't have a choice; your day starts early because you have to be ready to serve others who need their drug, er I mean coffee and food so they can get their day started. With dinner, even though you ain't serving anyone until the evening hours, one still has to start their workday shortly after they awaken. In order to serve food in a timely manner there is a great deal of prep work involved, and if one is to be ready for the hungry masses that arrive once they finish work, one has to be on top of their game. This means: get out of bed and start prepping.
Orders arrive throughout the day, and as the day flies by, one keeps themselves busy trying to get ready for dinner. Then dinner comes, and in a flash, its over. Now it's time to clean. Even if one closes early (such as we did, flipping the CLOSED sign around at 9pm) it's still quite common to be serving dessert at 9:45pm, which means you're lucky to be all cleaned up by 10:30, and more often than not, you're locking up the shop around 11:00pm or later. Call me crazy but after a few hectic hours of serving food and drink I often found myself pretty amped up and not exactly ready to hit the hay upon returning home. Throw in a couple hours of "unwinding time" and before you even realize, it's already 1:00am; which means that even if you're not ready to go to bed you'd better at least force yourself to try. And so begins the vicious cycle that is dinner; get up, work all day and night trying to simultaneously prep for both services, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. Which brings me to the point of this most current rant (rant #416 in 1,000 Things That Get Evan All Fired Up, available in bookstores everywhere December 21, 2012), which is that breakfast/lunch is WAY easier than dinner service. Again, to all you out there who make a living serving dinner, give yourself a GIANT pat on the back; you deserve it. Know I'll be savoring these next few weeks as we try to figure out how to make our own dinner experience more manageable.
...big sigh of relief...
On top of all of that (hope you didn't take it the wrong way, we really love what we do; apologies if my dramatic attempts at self-deprecating humor come off as erratic) Ali and I have labored a great deal trying to determine the future of our beloved cafe. During the past few months many customers have asked us if we plan to relocate the Bike to another part of the city. I would like to take this opportunity to answer this question, as well as clear the air regarding why we would even contemplate leaving the neighborhood (our neighborhood), and the people who have helped make our dream of owning/operating a restaurant possible during these past two and a half years.
I would like to begin by stating the facts: our current sublease agreement which concerns the space we currently occupy is scheduled to terminate June 22, 2010. During the past ten months we have received a great deal of correspondence from our landlord, all of which resonates with a concise message that I think is best summarized by the following statement: "You are not wanted here, get out!" My words, not theirs, but I think you get the picture.
Which brings us to our most recent challenge, one that occupies a great deal of our time, and from conversations I have had with a number of customers, a question that concerns at least a few others beside Ali, myself, and everyone who works with us: What is to come of the Little Red Bike Cafe? This question has resulted in more than a few sleepless nights for Ali and myself, and thus far, the hunt for a new location has shown only glimmers of hope. We did come very close at least once. Prior to leaving over the holidays we thought for sure that we had found The Space, only to later discover that our interpretation of the deal varied greatly from that of our potential new landlord (not to be confused with the Dolly Parton song of nearly the same name). No hurt feelings, just disappointment (huge disappointment).
In order to assess the potential of a given location one has to picture themselves occupying said space, however, in imagining the possibility of taking over a space it is impossible not to get attached to the idea of actually moving in. It's a strange phenomenon, and a predicament we wish we didn't have to be facing right now. It's a tough process both emotionally and physically. One that makes us feel as though we're starting all over again, despite the insurmountable amount of love and effort we have put forth in building this business in the first place. At times we have been left feeling that it has all been for not; that despite our efforts in trying to rectify the situation, we have been left with nothing. I know I touched on this earlier folks, but please allow me to reiterate our point of view so that you fully understand where we are coming from. We do not want to leave our little home on the North Portland Peninsula. It is difficult to be facing the task of finding a new home after working so hard to get to where we are today. This crazy ride began five years ago when we first hatched the idea of starting a restaurant while traveling through Takaka, New Zealand, and visiting the Wholemeal Cafe, the point of conception for our current journey. I'll never forget the chills that ran up and down our spine when we cracked the pages of the Wholemeal Cafe Cookbook and read that the owner had been inspired to start a cafe in his home country of New Zealand while traveling through Oregon, USA. Though we had never (and still haven't) met the owner, we felt as though we were of the same spirit, living out a parallel reality on the other side of the planet. Some people our age and in our situation choose to have have kids...we chose to start a restaurant (some choose to do both, and boy do we LOVE the hell out of them!). And now please take a moment to assess how we feel knowing that "our baby" is on the brink of being taken away from us.
Until now we have chosen not to share any of this with you because it's hurtful, and it's ugly, and we generally shy away from putting anything negative out into cyberspace in fear that some kind of web-karma might come back to bite us. However, the inspiration for sharing this with y'all is not to gain your pity, nor are we attempting to reduce the backlash that might very well ensue should we have no other option than to take up residence someplace other than our own 'hood. This is a call to arms. We need your help, and at this point we feel we can use all the help we can get. Everyone keeps telling us it's a good time to be a tenant in search of a lease, but from what we can tell, there ain't a lot of options for potential tenants who have run their business based on LOVE as opposed to the bottom line. More truth: we still love what we do. It's a roller coaster and we're addicted to the ride, both the ups and the downs. Along the way we've accumulated some fellow addicts who help keep us afloat as we sail the high seas aboard this ship made up of fried eggs and ciabatta bread. Please know that this is their livelihood and passion too, and we'll be damned if this whole thing isn't going down without a fight.
Thanks for allowing us to escort the elephant out of the cafe (and you thought it felt cramped in there at 10am on a Saturday). Apologies for not being as open and honest with you as we could have been (will you still be our Valentine this Sunday?). Whew, I know I feel better already putting it out there and finally making it known that the LRBC is (forcibly) on the hunt for a new location. But until we find a solution, we're currently weighing all and every option.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 2:13 PM