2.11.2010

Weighing Our Options


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.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

I do not know you, nor have I had the pleasure of an LRBC egg sammy, yet, (which is sad considering how often I read your blog!); but I wanted to say, you two are so inspiring and thoughtful.

Good luck on your search, and I'll be sure to enjoy the Lombard spot before you go!

Ellen W.

PS: The southeast would love to have you!

Michael Russell said...

Are there any placed available in Kenton? We'd love to have you, even though I'd miss the morning walks through Columbia Park.

Deanne said...

We love you guys and support you in whatever decision you end up making, even if it takes you out of our backyard (and your own).

D & J

Stephanie said...

Please come to Alberta!

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, kids. :-) We'll follow LRBC wherever it may go. Come up the road to St. Johns, we'd love to have you! Should I lay eyes on a good potential spot I'll be sure to pass it along.

Molly said...

What about the newly vacated Encanto/Cafe Cubano space just down the street? Don't leave us! I'm sending you all nothing but good egg sammie vibes!

Memry said...

Your 28th & Glisan contingent has officially been mobilized. x!

koprime said...

I don't know you, either, but it sounds like I've purchased breakfast from you a time or two. You have one of the most inviting breakfast places I've ever been to, even at 11am on a Sunday, I've never ever been sassed or treated like I should be lucky to be in your place (which other breakfast places should strive to accomplish). Your homemade veggie bacon is one of the best foods on the planet. GOOD LUCK in your search.

nopo steve said...

Nooooooo!!!! You can't leave. You guys are the best part of the neighborhood! (Frankly, it was one of the reasons we just bought a house here. Seriously.) Why would your landlord not want you here?? That is insane!

I'm going to be so bummed if we don't have the LRBC to stumble up to on Sunday morning for those amazing biscuits and gravy. Is there anything we can do to convince your landlord to keep you here??

I was actually hoping you guys would attract other great shops and restaurants to the area, but I guess it clashes too much with, what, the Taco Bell? That is so lame.

Amy said...

Passion is such a big part of making things work - and you two definitely have that going for you. Just look at the length of your post, hehe.

I know it will all work out. You have my word that I will travel to get my fix. So will the masses, rest assured. What a great opportunity to collect more supporters (coffee mug half full). :)

kati said...

oh sad, we will miss you. :(

Stephen said...

We would of course be heartbroken if you had to leave the neighborhood (only three blocks away!), though we would certainly find a way to support you no matter where you landed.

I will second the suggestion regarding the old Encanto/Caribe space. Word is that the landlord is interested in working with you guys. It would seem to be an ideal, larger space for what you guys are doing (and doing better than just about anyone, I might add).

We're pulling for you - best of luck!
Stephen, Doe, Hanna, Thea

satsumalynn said...

Sending lots of love and good thoughts your way, just like everyone else here. Know this: if I will drive 90 minutes for my LRBC fix (granted this doesn't happen as often as I'd like, but you know I make it a point to come by whenever I'm in town), there are many who will follow you wherever you end up in Portland :)

xoxo.

Pekio said...

Do you know the old addage...one door closing, another opening, yadda yadda?...it's trite, yes, and i know that transitions like this are tough, but given your passion, commitment and that fact that you are doing exactly what you were put on this planet to do, i know that a year from now, you are going to see full well that this is a blessing in disguise. i can't wait to witness (taste!) all of the wonderful things you're going to do.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Encanto/Caribe space could be a great LRBC spot!

k a t said...

I live in Seattle and make it to LRBC as much as I can, which is just not often enough. Just know that I would follow you anywhere in Portland and if you wanted to move North that would be welcomed also. Best of luck with your search for the new perfect place.

Chris Forrette said...

You guys are amazing, nice people working extremely hard day in and day out (and people don't need to read a blog post to know it!), and you're doing it all to share your passion with the neighborhood/city/world/universe so I know things will work out great for you.

I was going to point out the recently vacated Cuban restaurant but Molly beat me to it, heh. It would be perfect location-wise (in my opinion anyway) but it seems like it might not have the soul you're looking for.

I can't tell you how much Ashley and I love visiting the cafe -- it feels great to walk in somewhere that's warm, welcoming, and comfortable, you guys know us, we know you (sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, you know?), it's great to catch up, etc., and on top of all that the food and coffee (and now booze!) are AMAZING. The cafe is a genuine source of pride for me, being a NoPo resident. I'd love to help you guys in any way that I can (and, ideally, keep you close :) ) so please feel welcome to reach out to me if there's anything I can do, and I will keep my eye out for empty spots. Other than that, I wish you guys the best in your search for a new place (and a less taxing schedule!) and I will definitely be seeing you soon!

Ali and Evan said...

Dear Friends,

Thank you for all of your support, encouragement, suggestions, and battle cries! It means so much to us. You never fail to humble us with your love (*blushing*)

We did want to take the time to respond to one specific (and popular) suggestion, that being the former Encanto/Cafe Cubano/Caribe space. Moving one and a half blocks to the west would be an ideal and natural relocation, however we did have an opportunity to meet with the property owner a few weeks back, and while it is a very lovely space close to our hearts (it was our dear friends, The Martinez Family, who originally opened a restaurant there) the deal and space do not work out for us financially.

Please keep in mind we "make our living" selling $6 fried egg sandwiches. That said, we have very little cash flow to put into starting a new business all over again and building out a space. (In fact, we already did this once and got burned in the process.) That is why this space and some of the other space in the more "trendy" neighborhoods are out of our price range.

Thanks friends. You give us the will to persevere. Again, we appreciate the helpful suggestions. Rest assure we're scouring the streets and craigslist ads feverishly on our days off. Please keep us informed if you know of something or if a friend of a friend knows something or someone who would really like to help out this dearly beloved cafe.

XO,
A&E

University Park Resident said...

Have you tried contacting the local neighborhood associations? Maybe they can send a letter to let the bldg owner know how much the community appreciates the LRBC. Hang tough - the neighborhood wants you here.

mczlaw said...

Hesitant to jump in, but quick thoughts:

In my experience landlords want to retain good tenants. . .those that pay their rent on time and are generally reasonable to deal with. If this fits you (I have heard many nice things, though don't know you personally), it hardly makes sense that the LL wants you to leave. It's expensive to have a space sit empty and expensive to re-let (with costs to clean, do tenant improvements, pay realtors, etc.). Plus, if the LL is not interested in having a tenant re-up, they don't usually mince words about it. I don't know, maybe you have an unusual and very wealthy LL. But the opening premise of your story is difficult to fathom for a long-time (now former) restaurant dealmaker like me.

Beyond that, it's an inescapable truth that your enterprise may be a labor of love, but it is a business nevertheless and things like the "bottom line" inevitably are part of the package. No avoiding it.

I can't give formal advice, but I still have a big soft spot for entrepreneurs in the food service trades. So feel free to get in touch if you feel like chatting about options without any sugar coating. I won't provide my contact info here, but plenty of folks in the trade know how to get a hold of me. And if you choose to make your own way, I wish you nothing but the best.

--mcz

Amber said...

My husband and I recently moved from Phoenix, and rented and then subsequently bought a house in University Park. We discovered LRB on our second day here - it was the summer that you guys were serving ice cream in the afternoons at the bike through window. We loved your cafe and your blog right off the bat, and we consider LRB to be among the first friends we made in our new city.

Know that we will travel anywhere to dine from your phenomenal menu. Having said that, know that we will do anything to keep you guys in our neighborhood! Being able to walk up the street for a boozy Sunday brunch is one of our favorite things, and a genuine factor in our choice to buy a house in this 'hood. How can we help keep you here? Can we plead with your landlord? Start a letter-writing campaign? Contact the local news? Get the University Park association involved? We will of course support whatever decision you make, but I was always so pleased and proud to have one of the best menus in town in our our backyard.

If there is any task we can do - no matter how small or herculean - to help you guys, we are up to it.

Ted and Lori said...

I wish you guys could find a way to take over the Hollywood Burger Bar. What an amazing location to be currently wasted (in my humble opinion) on greasy burgers and odd hours (not that I'd eat there anyway). The LRBC spirit could bring so much to that corner of Sandy Blvd...

Rachel said...

I think I'd be there every weekend if you moved to Kenton. Surely there's a suitable space, and with the city putting in new sidewalks and planters it's shaping up to be a nice neighborhood.

Wherever you end up, I'm sure it will be worth the drive. My husband and I love your breakfast sandwiches and the love you put into your restaurant is obvious.

Anonymous said...

This might sound strange, but though I have only been to your cafe once (for the pleasure of the best cinnamon roll I have had in I can't remember how long), I read your blog often; and I think that you are due for some good luck! I can't imagine anyone who deserves it more. I hope you find your new home. Fingers crossed for you.

Velomann said...

Many tears ago my wife and I decided to move up to the Mount Hood area and found a lovely little rental in Brightwood. Our son was born shortly thereafter. Several months later I returned from a stellar Mount Hood climb to the news that our landlord had sold his business in Chicago and needed to move into "our" cabin. We had 6 weeks to get out. As Traumatic as this was, it ended up being the kick in the butt we needed to become homeowners, and it took 9 months of living with my parents, but our next cabin was truly ours.

Now we live in the Montavilla neighborhood. I can guarantee you that LRBC would be welcomed with open arms here. I know it's a long ways from where you're settled and your loyal fan base, but you should at least check out SE Stark, from about 76th-81st. You could be part of the renaissance.

todd said...

Dudes...so sorry to hear this! Te mando toda mi energía positiva y cariños. Que lata, pero ojála toda va a resultar por lo mejor! But something to consider, something that I have mentioned several times...most selfishly to add...which is not just a change of ´hoods, but a change of hemispheres. El sur para estar preciso. Viña del Mar is in desperate need of bomb-diggity egg sandwiches...and to be more precise...me! It has now been 7 months, 3 days, 18 hours and about 35 minutes since my last, and I really dont see myself waiting one minute more. Oh and by the way, ticket home has just been purchased, I think Neil just sold his extra ticket to cheese, but whatevs, I´ll get in on way or another, but last weekend in July...go time...meeeaaawwww! Love you guys, big ups, buena suerte con todo, y piensanlo bien...Chile...playa todos los días...el gringo loco molestandote diaro...nada malo! Les quiero mucho.

Anonymous said...

FOOD CART


or perhaps even

TWO FOOD CARTS, NEXT TO EACH OTHER, WITH SOME TABLES


simplify!

Anonymous said...

If your landlord doesn't want you in the space s/he is an assclown and doesn't deserve your awesomeness.

On the Montevilla idea, have you checked into Milepost 5? They've been talking about getting a restaurant into the old building (to be renovated), but as far as I know it hasn't happened yet. www.milepostfive.com/restaurant

Quinn said...

hang in there guys. Katherine and I are thinking of you and sending you a bunch of positive energy. I like the Montavilla/Stark idea, but that is because we live just a few blocks away. We've been in a similar situation and we are always here to chat.

Cheers!

Quinn

Lemolo Bags said...

let me know when you need help moving! i have a little truck with a big heart and as soon as i get it back from the shop (cars... whaddya gonna do) we're ready to help.

love,
eli

gerry said...

23rd has quite a few empty locations...