Sunday, December 28, 2014

My 2014 Wrap-Up

Have a Happy New Year Everyone!
This year has been one wild ride. If someone had asked me a year ago where I saw myself today, I guarantee I never would've imagined this.

It has not been an easy year. To be honest, it has probably been one of the most difficult years of my life thus far. I feel like I've been tested time and time again and some days it's been really hard to see whether I'm passing or failing. But if there's one thing I've learned throughout the year, it's that it doesn't matter. What matters is that you try. You give it all you've got. So many people let fear run their lives and it keeps them from experiencing everything this world has to offer. In the end, not trying is the biggest failure of all.

Last year, my grandfather passed away. While I've had other people I've known pass away, this was the first time it affected me as greatly as it did. When he and my mother-in-law both passed, a huge part of me shut down. Suddenly I realized how short life really was and I couldn't help but think about all of the people in my life right now who one day, won't be here. This feeling was so strong and caused me to push away from those I love dearly and dreams that I once had. After all, in my mind, why does it all matter if you can't trust that it will always be here?

In the past few weeks, I'm not sure how this realization finally came to me but it did. I realized how much it does matter. Doing things you dream to do and being with the people you love matters. It's the reason why just weeks before my grandpa died, he looked at an album of his life and said, "I really did have a wonderful life." I realize now that when he passed away, there was no fear. There was no regret. He passed away with a smile on his face knowing that in the almost 89 years he was given, he succeeded. He had a million stories, a family he loved with all of his heart, and a lifetime of memories. The good, the bad. It doesn't matter. In the end, it's all just one long story. So where does it lead? What is it all for? I guess those are just two of life's many unsolved mysteries. We don't know and we probably never will. But if everything in life leads somewhere, than maybe death isn't an end. Maybe it's a new beginning that we just can't see.

This year, I've gone through so much change. I feel like I've been spending months battling where I am in life. Am I enough of an adult or am I too adult? I'm 23 years old and I feel like I've been having a far too soon mid-life crisis. The truth is, there is no timetable on who you are or where you are. You just are. Some days, I want to feel like a kid. I want to talk for my stuffed animals, watch "The Little Mermaid", and daydream about my future. Other days, I want to feel like a teenager again. I want to walk around in my shorts and crop top, film a wacky video, and play The Sims. And then other days, I want to feel like my "grown up" self. I want to dress in my fancy clothes, manage my business, organize the house, and run errands with my husband. I don't know if this is what being 23 is all about for everyone. But for me, this is where I am in life. I'm a little bit of everything and maybe that's okay, because maybe, I'm supposed to be. In the end, this is me.

The conclusion I've come to as this year wraps up, is that it's time to stop running. I'm an adult, I'm a kid, it doesn't matter. I am who I am and I'll continue to grow and change. At the end of the day, I think adulthood is just about accepting responsibility and allowing yourself to grow. We spend all of our childhood and teen years fighting adults because we think they're holding us back from growing up. And yet, when it's time to truly become an adult, the only person holding us back is ourselves. It's a scary world. No one's ever going to argue with that. But at some point, we just each have to take that leap and allow ourselves to experience whatever the future may hold. Because in the end, not experiencing it is far more terrifying than anything else.

Every year since 2005 on December 31st, I've filled out a recap of the year. My recaps include everything from fun facts like my favorite TV show and how we spent the holidays to heartbreaking moments and greatest memories. My favorite part, is that every year I fill out a prediction titled "Next year will be the year of...". I never look at my recaps or predictions again until the year comes to a close the following December.

Here's what I wrote on December 31st 2013:
"Next year will be the year of...accepting adulthood, moving forward, and becoming a stronger woman."
It took me almost exactly a year to get there, but somehow, through all the struggles, the tears, and the doubt, without even realizing it, I did.

If I had looked at that prediction three weeks ago, I would've looked down, closed my eyes, and wished that it were true, but I would've known that it wasn't. It's weird how the heart and mind heals when you least expect it to. I don't know how or even when it happened. But just like everything else in life, it just did.

In almost every way, this year was full of the unexpected. Yet somehow, in almost exactly a year, I got to exactly where I wanted to be.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Where Did "White Collar" Land on My TV Show Finale Scale?

On Thursday night, as I prepared to watch the White Collar finale, I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. I was hoping for the perfect ending and praying that it would not be another "Dexter" fiasco, or "How I Met Your Mother" for that matter.

I've studied TV shows for a long time. I've studied them for their patterns, their stories, and I truly believe that if a viewer loves a show so much, they should, without a doubt, know how it will end. The truth is, the point of the entire show should come full circle. You should know these characters so well that you can look at the finale and go, "That made perfect sense."

And "White Collar" was exactly that. The perfect finale. Did I see the ending coming? Yes. In fact, an hour before I watched, my mom asked me on the phone what I thought would happen. I told her, "I think Neal and Mozzie may steal the money. I'm not sure if Neal will take it in the end though. But I think he's going to fake his own death and then the show will flash forward a year later, show Peter and Liz with their baby, and then show that Neal is alive and well."

Do I mind that I predicted this finale? Not at all. I gave a lot of thought to the different endings, and truthfully, nothing else made sense. The writers were never into the heavy, heart wrenching drama, so they weren't going to kill Neal or Peter. I didn't see the writers ending it with Neal off his anklet working for the FBI...that seemed too "Beverly Hills, 90210", everything ends with a neat little bow. The ending "White Collar" gave was perfectly bittersweet.

Now, my main point of this blog post is not to just talk about my love for the finale. The point is, before I watched, I texted my parents (who were watching it before me!) and asked them, "Please tell me if this finale is a Dexter, a Chuck, or a Buffy."

Yes. I have a TV show finale scale...and this is it.

A Perfect Ten

Tears were shed. Lives were lost. Favorite characters died. But the battle was epic, the writing was top notch, and the characters ended exactly where they were heading. The tone of the show always set the stakes high (no pun intended!) and it was no shock that they would kill off some favorite, main characters. It wouldn't have made sense to kill Buffy because Buffy already died twice and came back. We all know she'd risk her life for the greater good. Buffy, since season one, had always wanted to be a normal girl. She never wanted to be the only chosen one with the weight of the world on her shoulders. And thanks to Willow's spell, she never had to be again.

The Full Circle You Didn't See

It took me a while to accept the ending of Chuck. However, once I accepted it, I realized how perfect it truly was. The show was never going to end with Chuck and Sarah running into the sunset together, quitting the spy life. That's not what the show was about. In "Chuck vs. the Honeymooners", the writers made it clear that Chuck and Sarah were spies at heart. But for five seasons, the other thing the writers made incredibly clear was that they were always there for each other. No matter what, they'd always come back to each other. Since the very first episode, Sarah sat down with Chuck on that beach and asked him to trust her. From that moment on, he trusted her with his life and she helped him become the confident spy and man he was meant to be. Flash forward five years later to Sarah having lost her memories. They're now on that same beach and Sarah is feeling as lost as Chuck was five years earlier. Now, Chuck is asking the same from her. He's asking her to trust him. Now, it's his turn to help her become the amazing woman she's meant to be.

This Is a Joke, Right?

Oh Dexter. As far as TV dramas go, this was the most devastating finale, EVER. For eight seasons, the show was about Dexter trying to rid himself of his dark passenger. It was about him realizing, or trying to convince himself, that he was more than a serial killer. Maybe he could be human after all. The show should've ended with the camera zooming out from his eye and revealing him on the electric chair. He had been caught, or he turned himself in. The viewer has to go with what they believe. But either way, he had spent this time on Death Row, reflecting on his past. Reflecting on what led him to this moment. Then, the moment he dies, he is finally, once and for all, at peace and rid of his Dark Passenger. That would've been perfect. But, oh no. They had to make him a lumberjack. And that was not, and will never be okay.

Those three shows are my basic scale. Of course, going more in depth, I have other shows I like to include too:

Everything is Too Perfect

For a show full of crazy drama, they sure had the least dramatic finale! Donna and David get married, Valerie is no longer evil and all smiles with Kelly, Felice throws her daughter a bachelorette party, Kelly and Dylan are meant to be after all, and the show ends with them all hugging on the dance floor with the theme song playing in the background. This is the perfect example of what happens when you get the "happy ending" finale. It's just not right. Of course, I'd love to analyze how the show could've come full circle but for that, Brandon and Brenda would've still had to have been there. Since the show changed over and over again, I honestly don't have a clear vision on how this one should've ended. Maybe the writers didn't either!

This Breaks My Heart but OMG YAY!

It was crushing that Jen died. It was not something you saw coming. However, in the end, it led to Joey finally choosing Pacey...and seriously, what was more perfect that Joey choosing Pacey? The show from day one wasn't about Joey and Dawson falling in love. It was about can their friendship survive their hormones and the ups and downs of adulthood? It was also about Dawson's obsession with Spielberg. It was only fitting in the end that Dawson got the meet Spielberg and also could finally be happy for his best friend. Truthfully though, the show changed direction in Season 3 and became about Joey and Pacey. Dawson became the side character... Look, I'm going to come up with any reasoning I want for this ending because seriously, Joey and Pacey got back together and that is, and always will be, the only thing that matters.

This Can't Be a Series Finale

The writers of Veronica Mars knew the show was most likely not being renewed, which is why this finale was so upsetting. The writers knew but they still wrote this episode as a season finale. It didn't wrap things up and everyone was left in a state of despair. Veronica thought she ruined her dad's career and Logan and Veronica were kaput. This ending made me hate the CW for the longest time and fear watching shows that didn't get proper wrap ups. Luckily, the movie wrapped the show up and I can now watch the series finale as the season finale it was written to be.

This Is the Main Purpose

I know a lot of people weren't satisfied with the Angel finale. But in my head, there were only two ways it could've gone. The way it did or with Angel shanshuing (becoming human). However, from the first episode, Angel's point was that he wanted to help people and he would always fight for the greater good, no matter what. In the end, it didn't matter if he lost or won the final battle. If he lost, that was it. The show was over. If he won, maybe he'd shanshu, or maybe he'd just fight the next battle that came his way. Either way, the final words, "Let's get to work", made perfect sense. There is nothing else he would've done.

Now...where did "White Collar" fall on this scale?

For me, when my parents told me the finale for "White Collar" was bittersweet, I'm not sure why, but I immediately expected a Chuck. Maybe it was because I was praying it wouldn't be a Dexter but at the same time, I didn't want to be devastated if it wasn't a Buffy.

I am pleased to say that the White Collar finale was most definitely a Buffy. Neal wanted his freedom from day one but he's also always cared about protecting the people he loves. Of course, the ironic part of this finale is that I don't agree with the creator's view on what happened. The creator believes that Neal went off to Paris to rob the Louvre because he couldn't change in the end. The creator also believes that Peter smiled because he's excited about the chase beginning again. Luckily, the show ended in a way where I can believe that Neal is helping the Louvre improve their security measures because he truly has changed. I can also believe that Peter smiled because his best friend isn't dead. That to me is how the show ended. And to me, that was perfect.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: The First Busy Weekend

We're two months in. Two weeks ago, during the World Series, I was feeling incredibly down because of the lack of customers. We knew it was because of the games but after only a month and a half of being open, you can't help but worry when you have slow nights! When this past week began, I was fretting over the number of customers we were having a night. We were hitting the numbers we needed to in sales thanks to some large groups but we didn't have a whole lot of customers. On Thursday, I was emotionally all over the place. After a week of having multiple staff members unable to make it in, our GM on leave for personal matters, and a slow flow of customers, I felt like I was hitting a wall. Keep in mind, I've never been in the restaurant industry before so my husband can tell me all he wants about how things will "even out" but it's impossible for me to believe it until I experience it.

Then Friday hit...

Honestly, I can't even remember what Friday lunch was like. I don't think it was packed, but it's all a blur. Friday evening on the other hand, was far from expected. Don't get me wrong, we knew it was going to be a good night when we had 28 people already reserved. But we didn't know we'd do more than double...and we definitely didn't know it would all be within about a two and a half hour time frame!

Friday Night, Full Patio!
Lets start with a little back story: since we opened, our staff has been taking tables on rotation instead of sections. Originally, this was because when we did sections, one server would end up with ten tables and another would end up with one. In the end, rotating seemed like the best idea. So on Friday night, we did what we always do. We rotated. Our three waiters rotated to tables covering the front patio, the back patio, and the inside. To make matters even more confusing, they had to remember the front patio was there, as we only added it this week and this was the first time people sat there! All of this resulted in each of our waiters running from front to back to take care of their randomly interspersed tables. Needless to say, it was not easy. As the one hosting for the evening, I had to track each of them down every time there was a new table and tell them who had it. It was a good thing I wore my tennis shoes that day! Being quick on my feet was definitely a must.

Back in the kitchen, Gwith and Noe (our Sous Chef), were training our new lead line cook. He had trialled with us earlier in the week on a very slow night, but this was his first night really learning a majority of the food! What a night to learn! He did a fantastic job but again, as he was still learning the menu, it was definitely a feat for the kitchen to get about 65 customers fed in a timely manner within a short time frame!

On Friday night, we didn't really get to talk to the customers because it was such a hectic night. Our waitstaff didn't hear many complaints though and the customers we did chat with were all very happy. At the end of the evening, I couldn't help but feel anxious because I didn't get the chance to really know how the customers POV was. For us, we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off. With that said though, any previous time the staff has felt overwhelmed, the customers have rarely noticed. Regardless, I still hope the customers were overall happy despite any hiccups that may have happened! It was the first night our two patios were packed and like always, customers like to show up at once! The majority of our 65 customers showed up between 6:00 and 7:30 pm. It was incredible to have some regulars show up, ask for the back patio, and have to inform them the tables were all reserved or taken. They were as surprised as we were. Last time they had been at the restaurant, there were always plenty of tables to choose from! Note to all of our future guests: I think it's time to begin making reservations for Friday and Saturday night...

Oh yes. Now onto Saturday...

When Saturday began, we already had 32 people reserved (more than we had on Friday). After learning some things from Saturday, we made changes to the front of house. This time, each of our waiters had sections, except for the inside. Because our patios are such a hit, the inside rarely fills so we rotated that area instead...I think you know where this is going. Of course, Saturday had to be the first night that we not only filled the back and front patio, but the inside filled up as well! For the waitstaff, I'd say the night overall went a lot smoother than Friday. It was still hectic and busy (we probably need to add a third runner/busser for these busy nights!) but at least our waiters weren't running from the front to the back to find their tables. Next week, I'll probably be sectioning off the inside too. For the kitchen, however, things were almost the same at the previous night, except besides training the new line cook, our other line cook was tired and under-the-weather. In the end, as far as we know, there was only one table that waited far too long for their food. The ticket got pushed aside and the food took an hour to come out! We felt so bad and of course comped their main courses. Luckily, these guests were incredibly nice and weren't angry or anything. We were definitely grateful for how understanding the customers were throughout the evening.

In terms of staffing, we will have to wait to see how things go again next weekend. The front of house should be a lot smoother with sections, and if we get an extra runner in time, while not necessary, that will definitely help them out. The back of house, we won't know if we need another line cook in the kitchen until we see how everything flows once our new staff member knows the menu. We still may need an extra hand but again, we won't know until everyone is at their smoothest.

When we could, Gwith and I managed to get to at least 50% (if not more!) of our guests for the evening and all of them were happy with the food and service. As the evening came to a close, I felt far more relaxed than Friday night because I knew the customers, overall, had a great experience. We only had two truly unhappy customers who complained to us directly all weekend and we are so happy that it was only two considering how crazy it was!

The Aroha staff celebrating a job well done on Saturday night after service!
So Friday and Saturday came to a close. And yet through all the madness,
It never could've prepared us for Sunday...

For Sunday we open for brunch. Brunch is never busy. Brunch is normally dead. We know its going to take a while to build but honestly, some days I second guess if we should even be opened at 10 am for brunch! In the kitchen, the two line cooks both called in, unable to make it. So, Gwith had to in list one of our waitresses for the shift, who also doubles as a line cook other days of the week, to help in the kitchen instead of on the floor. In the meantime, until our other server arrived, our busser took the tables that came in. It was a slow amount of tables and everything seemed okay. At around 11:30, our other server was supposed to show. When our server didn't, our busser continued to serve the tables. Forty minutes went by and Gwith and I sat down, while I ate, and we happily said to each other that we were glad it was slower today. We were both so tired from the previous two days and because we were short staffed, it would be quite a challenge if we were busy...Why we said this, I don't know. Everyone knows that once you say something like that, you jinx yourself. Because right then, the fates clearly heard us and said "Challenge accepted!". At around 12:30 pm, in walks a party of eleven. Yes, eleven. And then a bunch of tables of two. Our busser who had never served before ended up being a one man show and serving (and bussing!) what ended up being 30 people on his own, while Gwith ran in and out of the kitchen to help serve, bus, and cook, and Becky was the one woman show in the kitchen. I ran around trying to clear tables, check on customers, and seat people. Needless to say, it was a madhouse. Thankfully, we managed to call in our other busser, who willingly came in to help. Still, he didn't arrive until about an hour later, so Gwith was on the floor and in the kitchen for quite a while before he could truly help Becky out.

Sunday night was a good night, customer wise. Although, my husband may have a different opinion! We had some large groups, about 35 people in the end, and for the front of house, even when short a server and our GM, things ran pretty smoothly. For the kitchen however, it was another story. It was just Gwith and Noe cooking three course meals for 35 people in about an hour time frame, because again, everyone always comes around the same time! They did it but apparently they were running around quite a bit to get it all done!

It would be an understatement to say that we are SO GLAD it's Monday, and we're closed. We look forward to future busy weekends but hopefully we'll actually have a full staff of employees for those!

Thank you to all of our guests for being so understanding and fantastic! We look forward to seeing you all again soon. And definitely, definitely, make reservations if you want to come in on a Friday or Saturday night, and request indoor or outdoor seating. We will do our best to accommodate you. The earlier in the evening your reservation is, the easier it will be to hopefully give you the seating location you want!

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: Breeders' Cup Taste of the World 2014

On Friday night, Gwithyen and I had the honor of representing New Zealand Cuisine at the 2014 Breeders' Cup Taste of the World event hosted by Bobby Flay! It was an incredible experience that will stay with us for a lifetime.

The past two weeks leading up to the event, nerves were definitely flying high as Gwith prepared and had to focus his attentions fully on Taste of the World, rather than the usual day-to-day service at Aroha! His sleep became less and less as he got ready for the restaurant's biggest event thus far. During the days leading up to the event, Gwith had some of our team members in the Aroha kitchen help prepare, including Becky, our line cook (and also server), who sliced the majority of our venison carpaccio for the event!

On Friday afternoon, we arrived at the Huntington Library's prestigious East Lawn, where we, and five Le Cordon Bleu volunteers, unloaded all of the food from the car and brought it into the purple decorated tent. As we wandered in towards our booth, we looked from side to side reading the names of the other 14 world-renowned chefs representing their countries, including Iron Chef Eric Greenspan, Michelin star restaurant chef Brendan Collins, food writer & TV personality Martin Shanahan, and award-winning pastry chef Francois Payard. We felt so honored to be representing New Zealand Cuisine among this talented group of chefs.

Gwithyen platting his Venison Carpaccio

After setting up his station, Gwithyen wandered over to the Irish table and introduced himself to Executive Chef, Ed Cooney. Just moments into the conversation, they discovered they had a mutual friend in common. Gwith worked under a talented chef in New Zealand who also happened to be Ed's Sous Chef in Ireland! It's crazy how small this world is! Ed, who has showcased his food for multiple years at Taste of the World, gave Gwith and I some helpful information, including how to pace ourselves. He let us know that it would start out slow and steady and then we'd just be hit for two hours straight. And wow, he couldn't have been more accurate!

Gwithyen Thomas and Ed Cooney
As the doors opened at 5pm, people slowly started trickling in. As I stood there, I even began thinking, "Maybe we shouldn't have plated so many dishes right away! There doesn't seem to be enough people." Within a blink of an eye though, I ended up eating those words. Before we knew it, hundreds of people started approaching our table. Our team couldn't plate fast enough! We would set 40 plates on the table, Gwith would turn around to begin plating more, and within two minutes, I would've handed off all 40 plates. Not only were people loving Gwith's venison carpaccio, they were coming back for seconds and thirds! Throughout the evening we had people telling us our venison was the best dish at the event and guests were recommending our table throughout the crowd! Among all of these other established chefs, that was an amazing compliment. The chefs from the other tables began approaching us as well and snagging a plate or two. My favorite moments though were when a guest would come over, read "venison" and shy away. Every time this happened, Gwith told them that once they tried it, they'd never look back. And sure enough, they'd each try it, and their faces would fill with joy as they swallowed their first bite. Within moments, they would turn around, walk to their group of friends, and bring them back to the table!

Amongst the 1,200 guests, we eventually had host and celebrity chef, Bobby Flay, come over to the table. He thanked Gwith for being there and after a short conversation, walked off with Gwith's venison carpaccio. The following day, Gwith chatted with him again. Not only did Bobby remember Gwith's dish, he said it was "excellent" and he will definitely be visiting our restaurant in the future.

As the night progressed, things only became crazier! At times, we would run out of plated food and guests would begin lining up at the table, with forks in their hands, waiting for the next plate. It ended up getting to the point where Gwith was plating a single dish at a time, handing it to me, and I was handing it straight to a guest while he'd begin plating another one. I even tried speeding up the process by drizzling olive oil on the plates and garnishing the dishes myself...which speaking as a non-chef, I have NO idea how Gwith drizzles olive oil while covering up the nozzle with his finger. I tried it and all I got was olive oil on my hand...not the plate. Clearly this is one of the many reasons I'm not a chef! Part way through, I looked at my phone to get a glimpse of the time. I was thinking, "Surely we only have another hour or so left! We've served hundreds of people, time must be flying by!" Ha. We had only been serving the flood of people for about fifteen minutes and we had about 3 hours left to go! By around 8:45 pm, it finally began to calm down. The tent slowly cleared out and we began having a steady flow of individuals stop by to taste the food, or return for their second, third, or fourth serving!

As the event came to a close, we packed up, and headed out of the tent into the pouring rain, where we were driven back to our car by a golf cart. The next morning, we got dolled up to go to the Breeders' Cup World Championship and hang out in the VIP Trophy Lounge. We had lots of fun placing a few bets (that we always lost on, of course), and chatting with the other chefs. Around 2 pm, we headed to the Winners Circle where group photos were taken of all the chefs and the BC Turf Sprint winning horse and owner, Bobby's Kitten, were awarded their trophy from Bobby Flay. In the meantime, my parents and sister stayed at home watching the Breeders' Cup on NBC Sports. While they caught glimpses of Gwith and I on the TV during the Winners Circle, we were most excited to see Gwith's venison during the Taste of the World segment. I later discovered this segment was also on the regular NBC network too! Besides being on NBC and NBC Sports, Gwith (and his venison!) were also on HRTV.

Gwith and I on the Trophy Lounge's Purple Carpet at the Breeders' Cup World Championships
Needless to say, these past few days were amazing and we hope to experience it again in the years to come! If you'd like to try Gwith's venison, make reservations online now at our restaurant in Westlake Village, California.

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: The Yelp Effect

Before I go into this blog, let me start by saying that these first three weeks at the restaurant have been great! Our numbers have been increasing, we already have a large sum of regulars, and at least 90-95% of our customers have been happy with the food and service; there will always be those couple individuals who don't understand our concept (casual fine dining) or enjoy the food, as is the same for any restaurant in this world.

Since we've been opened, we've had a handful of Yelp reviews. For the most part, we've had a lot of 5 star reviews, and all but two are from people we've never met before. The people we know who did leave reviews, didn't leave them because we asked them to. They left them because they genuinely liked the food and their experience. They have been full paying, repeat customers, who live in the area and deserve to voice their opinions like everyone else.

The most mind-boggling thing to me is why other people who didn't enjoy the food feel the need in their reviews to accuse the other reviewers of being fake. Is there no room for different opinions anymore in today's society? Does everyone have to announce that they know best? The truth is, when we receive a review from a customer outlining a negative experience they had or witnessed, we take it seriously. We want to deal with every problem head on and fix it. When a customer has an issue at the restaurant and tells us, we always do what we can to turn their experience into a positive one. Because we always make sure to take care of customer complaints, I find it incredibly upsetting to see a customer bash our restaurant on Yelp without letting us address the complaint while they're at the restaurant.

We're a new restaurant, and like every new business there are always going to be a few hiccups. Unlike a lot of other businesses though, we want to see the hiccups. We want to deal with the problems and make everything as perfect as possible. However, without constructive criticism, it's impossible to truly know what is an issue and what isn't.

For example, if someone complains in a review that everything they ate was bland and not seasoned to their liking, while more than 95% of our 930 customers are all satisfied, does that mean that this individual's food wasn't done right in the kitchen that night, or does it mean they just prefer spicy food and all purpose seasoning? The truth is, without being told the complaint at the restaurant, we have no way of deciphering the root of the problem. Had this complaint been heard, we would've comped the meal, returned it to the kitchen, and the kitchen would've checked the food to see if there was something they did wrong. If they did it wrong, they'd know for next time. On the other hand, if it tasted as it should, that may just mean our food isn't this customer's cup of tea. We would still comp them the meal. People aren't meant to like all of the same things. If everyone was supposed to like the same thing, then every restaurant's menu, according to my tastebuds, would only offer salmon and shrimp sushi, a half rack of ribs with french fries, duck, and gluten-free pineapple-coconut fried shrimp. For some odd reason, I've accepted the fact that, lets say, the Cheesecake Factory hasn't added these food items in replacement of their 20 page menu that I can't actually eat anything from.

Some complaints are easier to deal with then others. On one hand, certain complaints about portion size we want to deal with, to satisfy our customers. However, it can certainly be confusing when 60% of your clientele tells you they're happy to finally go to a restaurant and not get an oversized portion they can't finish, and the other 40% tells you they're still hungry and need more. We're working on finding that happy medium for these customers but I'm sure it will take a little time to figure out. Because these comments are constructive and customers have suggested different things they'd like from more vegetables to giving amuse bouches, etc., we're actually able to look into the issue and work on solving it. We're not just given a string of complaints with no solution. I really appreciate the customers who have taken the time to give us these constructive critiques and help us try to improve our business.

At the end of the day, I have to remember to just listen, breathe, and understand that not everything is for everyone. I'm not going to lie. At 23 years old, I may recognize that that's the way the world works but it's still definitely not easy to hear someone bash a business you've put your heart and soul into. It makes it hard to sleep at night and because of my health issues, it can also make it hard to eat somedays. It's a lesson that I'm still learning and something I have to come to terms with. In the end though, I appreciate every single customer whether they have loved our restaurant or they haven't and still have constructively told us what positive changes they'd like us to make.

To those who have dined at our restaurant already, thank you! We love seeing your smiling faces and it's a pleasure to serve you. And for those who haven't, we hope to see you there and hope to make your experience a positive one. Remember, if you do have a critique, let us know. We want to hear from you and we want to make your experience just as magical as we have for our other guests!

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Aroha: An Incredible Week Thanks to an Incredible Team!

It's funny. Every day for the past 7 months, people I meet have been scaring me about the restaurant industry. I have literally had people tell me that once the restaurant began, my life would be over. As someone who hasn't been in the industry before, I couldn't just shake off these comments. Part of me, a large part of me, constantly believed them. I was having panic attacks day and night, trouble sleeping, and even trouble eating.

Well, we're one week into this crazy industry and there's one thing I now know.

Everybody was wrong. My life isn't over. As a matter of fact, it's just the opposite.

My life is only beginning.

While it's been a lot of hours and a lot of work, I look forward to going to the restaurant every single day. Honestly, I crave it. Every single day, I get to go to the restaurant and feel lucky enough to work with such an amazing team of people.

Someone once asked us why we started a restaurant. And before we could answer, he said it was to make money. The funny thing is, that answer has never sat well with me, because honestly, that's not the reason we started a restaurant. Sure, to be successful we have to make money. I get that. But do you want to know why I always wanted to start a business? To prove to the world that you can run a successful business just by treating your employees right.

Gwith and I have both had such awful work experiences over the past five years. These employers believed that disrespecting their employees and yelling at them was the only way to be respected as "the boss". Ever since we hired our staff, we have taken a very different approach. We've had both smiles and laughs as friends and nightly meetings as team members. And guess what: We've been open for four days and we haven't had a single customer complaint. Not one. Everyone has raved about the food and the service. Not a single item has been sent back to the kitchen. Not a single customer has complained about the waitstaff. I've never owned a restaurant before so I don't know if that's normal, but Gwith seems pleasantly surprised every single day. I'm assuming that he's never experienced that before in all of the restaurants he's helped open.

Grand Opening night on our patio!
Right now, no matter what ever happens, I just want to say THANK YOU. Thank you to our amazing team who has helped make our dreams come true and already, worked so hard to make Aroha a success. Your enthusiasm and hard work warms my heart every day. To be able to come to work every day and see friendly, happy faces, is everything I could've ever asked for. And THANK YOU to our guests who have come in these past few days and discovered our restaurant. It was our pleasure to serve each and every one of you. We are thrilled that you enjoyed your experience and that we could make your day/night a memorable one. I can't wait to see what the week ahead brings! Please join us this evening for dinner and tomorrow for our very first Sunday brunch starting at 10 am! We hope to see you there!

Relaxing After Hours with our late night team: (left to right) Lexi Medrano, Brian Smith, Gwithyen Thomas, Christian Stolp, Ben Schlesinger, and Justine Thomas

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: One of The Best Days of Our Lives

Do you ever have one of those days you wish you could put on repeat? Yesterday was by far one of the best days of our lives. It started with hectic prep work, continued into an amazing function at the restaurant hosting the New Zealand Consulate General and his guests, and finished with possibly what will be the best surprise of our entire lives.

To begin with, we couldn't have asked for a better first trial run at the restaurant. The Consulate General, Leon Grice, and his 20 guests absolutely loved the menu we offered. While Gwith was busy working, I got the pleasure to dine at the table and hear all of the rave reviews. I heard everything from, "I usually never take pictures of my food but this is picture worthy," to "It's been such a long time since I had a memorable meal" and so many more compliments. Needless to say, every item we served was a huge hit, as well as our New Zealand wines. One lady wanted to know where she could get a bottle of our Sauvignon Blanc. Our sommelier had to let her know that as our wines are primarily from boutique wineries, most of our wines can only be found at our restaurant.

Us with Leon Grice and a few of his guests
Throughout the meal, we had at least thirty local customers walk up to the door asking if we were opened. We also started taking reservations this past week for our September 10th grand opening and our September 9th soft opening for locals. We're only seating 40 people for our soft opening and we are already 90% booked. I know everyone is dying to see the menu, and since I'm in such a good mood today, I'm going to release a couple more items! We have already announced some highlights on our website, but I'd love to mention two more items that we served yesterday.

Crispy Pork Belly with butternut puree, roasted feijoa, baby cress, and a vanilla-champagne dressing

Raspberry Creme Brûlée served with coconut and a raspberry-passionfruit sauce
This week, we also release a photo of Gwith's Venison Dish:

Award Winning Venison pan roasted with sweet potato, cherry compote, pistachio, and a vanilla parsnip purée
We will be releasing the full menu soon, but I have to say, I'm loving releasing teasers at the moment! It's exciting to give everyone an idea of what we're serving without giving too much away too soon. Before I move on to the next amazing part of the afternoon, I must thank the staff that we had on board yesterday: Noe Lopez (Sous Chef), Jordan Greig (Sommelier), Brian Smith (Shift Leader), Alan Treitman (Junior Line Cook), and Miguel Villalpando (Dishwasher). For a first trial run, everyone did an outstanding job and we couldn't be more excited to have you all on our team!

Shortly after the last guest left, my parents and sister stopped by to say hello. Little did we know, we were about to get the best surprise of our lives. As we're talking to them, Gwith received a call from his sister, Muirie, in New Zealand. He talked to her briefly and then the phone was passed around to me. As I'm talking to her, the phone suddenly cut out. A second later, I glance at the front door and Muirie is walking in with our niece Alex!!!! It's been 10 months since Gwith saw them last and over a year since I've seen them. We were expecting them out in a couple of weeks but they surprised us early. Gwith's expression was amazing. If things couldn't get any better though, just moments later, our brother-in-law, Marcus, and Gwith's brother Rohan, also came walking through the door! While we expected Muirie and Alex in a few weeks, we were told Marcus couldn't make it. As for Rohan, he's never been to the US since Gwith moved out here, so that was incredibly unexpected, to say the least. It's impossible to describe how amazing their surprise was. I'm still tearing up just writing about it. The fact that they came out here early to surprise us and show their love and support for us and the restaurant is indescribable. We couldn't be more grateful to have such an amazing family and so much aroha around us.

When my family first walked in, my sister came in with her camera. Frankly, Raishel loves to take pictures of EVERYTHING so Gwith and I didn't think anything of it. We are so grateful that she captured this amazing memory on video:

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: Floors are In, Sign is Up!...What's Left?

The clock is really ticking down now! Later this week, we'll be announcing our official opening date, along with a few signature menu items. I am eager to announce it but I also know that once we do, everything else has no choice but to fall into place.

For those of you wondering where we're at right now and why we haven't announced our opening date yet, here is what we're waiting on:

• The gas company. We've been in contact with them for the past month to have the gas line run to our restaurant so we can use our stoves. This is probably the most important thing on our list right now, as you can imagine! They're working on it and hopefully this week it will be completed.

• Internet. We're waiting to get the lines installed. Again, this week should be the week.

• Our Furniture. This I can give a definitive time table on! Our indoor furniture will be ready tomorrow, and our outdoor furniture will be ready on both Wednesday and Thursday!

This past week has been incredibly intense. As the countdown begins, it feels a little bit like an episode of 24. There's only so much time left in the season and still so much we need to complete by the end. It's all absolutely doable. If it wasn't, we would hold off on deciding our opening date. However, we have a date in our heads, and we are 95% sure that we'll be ready to open by then. It still doesn't stop us from having that ticking clock sound in our heads, though! In reality, our list is a lot less than it was a month ago. We started last month with a list of at least 40 reminders and this month, we have about 10 to complete. The hardest part for me is most of the things we're waiting on now, relies on other people. As confident as I am (deep down inside!) that they will be done by their deadlines, relying on other companies to get a job done always feels like a wildcard to me. But honestly, there's nothing I can do at this point to make these things happen any sooner, and I have to accept that.

Last week, we had our first round of interviews and I am beyond excited to say that we hired the shift leader for our front of house team! We will be interviewing a lot more employees this week and can't wait to have the full team together. In other news, we also met with our supplier and rep from World Wide Produce, Lynde, and gave her a list of all of the items we're going to need. There were some very interesting garnish items she had that we are also eager to try and hopefully serve to our customers! Last night, we received a copy of our wine list. We're ecstatic to announce that 60% of our list will offer New Zealand wines and all of our By the Glass wines will be from New Zealand! Besides a 60% New Zealand wine selection, all of our beers will be from New Zealand, as well as our soda and juice selection provided by Aroha Drinks. Speaking of, we got a sampler pack in the mail over the weekend:

Aroha Drink flavors include Sparking Blackcurrant, Sparkling Feijoa, Sparkling Rhubarb,
Ginger Lemon & Honey, Sauvignon Blanc & Saffron, and Elderflower & Green Currant
Construction wise, the flooring has all been installed, the LED lights are up on the soffits, the outdoor fountain is up and running, and the fencing has been put in for our patio! In the upcoming weeks, we will be getting our countertops, shelves, cabinets, and host station! We also received our menu booklets the other day. Our pet rabbit, Willow, is excited about all of the boxes of menus in our entryway! She's been enjoying climbing on them and even tried to open them herself.

The outdoor fountain

Over the weekend, we set up our phone. We had quite a fun time trying to get the answering machine to work! After Gwith recorded the greeting five times to get it perfect, we realized he recorded it in the wrong spot somehow. So, it took another five to ten tries just to get it right! We are happy to say the recording is finished, our phone is in, and it no longer makes loud obnoxious noises and speaks when someone calls to leave a message! YAY! The unfortunate part is, once we announce our opening date, we'll have to re-record the message...and then re-record it again when we open. It's okay though. He's doing it, not me...which means I just get to stand next to him and be entertained!

The best news of the week however is that our sign went up on Friday! We are so pleased with how it turned out! When we first looked at the property, this was the very first thing I envisioned. It's been amazing watching the entire vision of the restaurant come to life but seeing the sign, exactly where I pictured it back in March, is amazing.

As of today, this is what our restaurant looks like, pre-furniture (except for the outdoor couches and end table currently sitting inside!), with the complete wood floors and LED lights turned on!

We are so excited to finish the construction process and focus on our future customers and service! Stay tuned for the opening date and soft opening announcements!

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: Entering "Little Blossom" Mode

We're getting down to the wire now and I'd be lying if I said things weren't feeling intense. As a business owner, you never want to show your weakness because, supposedly, people may use it against you. But at the same time, if you willingly show and discuss your weaknesses, doesn't that make you stronger in the end? Doesn't it remove the shield and let you grow? It can be such a fine line. When interviewing employees, we've asked them what their greatest weakness is. If we expect our potential employees to confidently tell us their weaknesses, it's only fair that I'm able to confidently tell people mine.

So what's my weakness? I always want everyone to be happy and successful. The biggest things I agonize over with the restaurant is the worry that we'll hire that one employee that will seem perfect and then cause the biggest trouble or that we'll have food come out wrong at some point and disappoint a customer. The truth is, I know how to handle these types of situations, but I still don't want to experience them or have other people experience them. The hardest thing is that I want everything to be perfect and the realist in me knows that nothing is ever perfect. Even "perfect" people have their days. And that's okay.

You might be asking what got me into this reflective mood. Well, I have this app on my phone, Timehop, and I was looking at it this morning. Five years ago this month, my sister, my friend Rhiannon, and I began filming our TV pilot, Little Blossom. To be honest, reading those old posts has been inspiring. Why? Whenever I'm in crunch mode or business mode, I call it "Little Blossom Mode". It was the first time in my life that was exhaustingly strenuous and yet, undeniably exciting all at the same time. I worked 18 hour days, rarely slept, dealt with crisis after crisis, and yet loved every single moment of it. Why? Because I loved the feeling of positively leading a team.

Little Blossom Intro

Little Blossom was my first foray into management...and I don't just mean a few people. We hired 40 cast members, 15 extras, and 10 crew members... I was in charge of all of them. When we casted for Little Blossom, I was only 18 years old. Yet, I was casting and managing people from ages 13 to 65 on that set. It was a tough learning curve and I learned a lot throughout the experience. I learned that even if you want to be the nice boss, you still have to know how to take charge.  I had to turn down friends who auditioned for roles and I had to fire a friend during filming. It certainly was not an easy time. However, I would say that 92% of the cast was fantastic to work with. They understood that we were in charge and they respected us, therefore, we respected them. The other 8% was far trickier. The first time we ever had to deal with firing someone was absolutely insane. A week before filming, one of our leads decided that she wanted to change her entire character's personality. With only days to go and no time to audition other actors (this was Colorado, not LA!), my sister and I, in 24 hours, took out the ensemble cast script, removed her character entirely, and wrote in some new replacement scenes. Afterwards, we fired her. On a daily basis throughout the filming process we dealt with a small handful of actors trying to change the schedule, having mental breakdowns from the long strenuous days, or just refusing to get out of bed and come to the set. However, aside from those select people, we had an otherwise amazing cast who respected our schedule, the project, and us. These other 37 people worked hard and had a lot of fun because they gave us no reason to stress out about them or their work ethics.

Little Blossom Blooper Reel

The bottom line is, I believe in a respectful working environment. No employee should come into a job having to "earn" their bosses respect. Gwith and I believe in respecting everyone from the beginning. It is my hope that every person we hire for Aroha is a warm hearted, hard-working, and respectful individual. We want to be able to give people normal work days and time to spend with their family. We want to be able to create an environment where everyone enjoys coming to work and it doesn't feel like a chore. A work environment where our employees feel respected and are genuinely happy. I truly do believe this is all possible. If our employees are just as respectful of our business and us as we are of them, I know we can make Aroha a fantastic place to work!

In the upcoming weeks, there are going to be a lot of changes. The restaurant is going to be finished, our employees are going to be hired, and all around, things are going to get even more hectic than they are right now...if that's even possible! It's scary. It's intense. It's exciting. It's amazing. And it's August. It's five years later, and it's time I get back into that mindset. I'm entering Little Blossom mode. It's time to begin the ride.

Little Blossom Premiere

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: We're Opening in September!

Hi everyone! It's insane how busy these past couple of weeks have been. I've barely had time to think, let alone type a blog. So much as happened. I barely know where to begin with all of the updates.

Our past few weeks have been primarily focused on the final stages of the restaurant's construction. We made our final decisions on the floors, the wall colors, etc., and we've purchased our equipment and 80% of our furniture. We decided to forgo vinyl booths for the outside and instead have beautiful couch-style banquettes surrounding the back patio. We have a meeting next week for the shade sails that will be installed above the front and back patios...and then we have to find misters. We're still searching for our tables and chairs for the outdoors, which is why we're holding off on announcing our official opening day. We have an idea in our minds, but we don't want to make it official until we know our customers can actually sit and eat!

The completed walls and ceiling!

Aesthetically, the walls and ceilings are now complete...and our 10 foot long water feature has been delivered. Yes. I know I kept saying it was 8 ft but apparently a mix up made it 10 ft. Luckily, it fits. It did take six guys though to move it, and it was not easy! Gwith was actually too scared to watch.

The 10 ft long water feature being delivered.
The kitchen's tile floors are also done and the speaker system has been installed as well. We spent about an hour this week just searching for and downloading over 24 hours of Kiwi music. Our most exciting news however, is that we now have two completed rooms! The bathrooms! They are fully tiled and painted, and they look awesome.

Interior of the women's restroom.
This week, we also picked out our plates, silverware, and glasses. Gwith entering that shop was like a kid entering Disneyland. There were so many types and shapes to choose from. I have also ordered all of our menu covers, which will be a nice black leathery material, with our logo in silver. In bigger news, we purchased our POS system, which will be complete with a Guest Services System where we can take down our customer's allergies, preferences, birthdays and anniversaries, etc. With this system, we are excited to be able to implement a high level of customer service at our restaurant. Our system will also feature a large number of dish modifications so we can easily let the kitchen know about allergies.

This past month, we also brought on board our awesome wine director and sommelier, Jordan Grieg. He is searching far and wide to ensure that we have an amazing wine collection, with 50-70% of our list being from New Zealand. It's not easy to find in the USA and he is working his hardest to make this happen.

Throughout all of the craziness, something had to fall through. As I mentioned in the previous Aroha blog, we were hiring a muralist to paint the Auckland skyline. Unfortunately, a situation arose and this hasn't been able to happen. We are still hopeful to get a mural or large canvas painting done for the restaurant before opening, however, getting everything else done is our first priority!

We're getting down to the wire here and will be placing ads for our employees very soon. In between all of our meetings and decision making, I've been writing the employee handbook and training manual. It has been time consuming but I think it will pay off to have those available.

I officially feel confident now in announcing that Aroha will be opening in September! We have a majority of the furniture and equipment arriving by mid-August, and once we have the rest of our furniture ordered and begin hiring employees, we will officially announce our grand opening date.

That's it for our latest Aroha updates! We are so glad we got to get away to Catalina Island earlier this month. The vacation time was much needed and refreshed us for at least the following 24 hours! I would love to say that I'm only kidding, but it's actually kind of true! Hopefully within the upcoming days, I'll be able to blog about our Catalina trip, as well as continue my European Adventure blogs!!

Catalina Island July 2014!

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Aroha Restaurant: Our Westlake Magazine Cover & In Other News: Interior, Meetings, Phone Calls, Repeat

This week has been one of the craziest, if not the craziest of the summer. I'm trying to think of the last day we weren't in constant meetings or on lengthy phone calls regarding Aroha.

We began the week meeting with our good friend and mentor, Elie Balas, of Menchie's Frozen Yogurt. After weeks of going back and forth on whether or not we'd need to hire a general manager, Elie's advise convinced us that we could in fact run the restaurant on our own. It's funny. That was our original plan. However, somewhere amongst the hectic summer days, we began to question if we'd need another hand. When there's enough time to overthink everything, plans can change drastically. Thankfully, Elie brought us right back to our original focus. We honestly couldn't have asked for a better mentor and are so thankful we met with him before this hectic week truly began.

The rest of this week has been a lot of running around and a lot of interior design. First of all, we found a fantastic muralist here in LA to paint the Auckland Skyline within our restaurant. He begins sketching it on Monday and we cannot wait to reveal it! Our 8 foot long water feature is also nearing completion. For the last two days, we drove back and forth around the valley looking at flooring, picking up samples, checking out equipment, meeting with various people, and spending our in between time on the phone or emailing. Among other things, we picked out the bathroom tiles and stalls this week. It's funny how when you plan to build a restaurant, there are just certain things you don't think about in terms of the design. I'd have to say that bathroom stalls were definitely one of them! Who knew there were so many different types and colors to choose from?!

We also picked out our beautiful floors and walls. We are still working on figuring out the cabinets and counter tops! Luckily, we're not quite there yet, so we have a little bit of wiggle room.

We are currently making many decisions about the interior design at Aroha Restaurant in Westlake Village. This week we picked out the floors and walls! We are still working on the counter tops and cabinets!

On Monday, the wires for the sign will be installed. We are still trying to determine when we want to put the sign up. Originally, we were going to wait until opening, however, with all of the buzz, we're now starting to think we should put it up sooner.

Construction wise, everything is progressing like crazy! At the beginning of the week, the crew was working on installing the air conditioning and heating system, as well as finishing the walls. By yesterday, half the ceilings were already up and the hood system was being installed! We are currently talking with someone to install our sound system and will hopefully have that underway next week. I am so excited for everyone to see the restaurant when it's completed.

The walls are being put up and the air conditioning is currently being installed at Aroha in Westlake Village.

The ceilings are currently being installed at Aroha in Westlake Village.

Typing all of this, I'm still not sure how we've done so much in just a weeks time. Besides everything mentioned above, I have also created all of the employee job descriptions. They are now ready to go and we will most likely begin our search within the next two weeks. As of yesterday, we now have a very talented man creating our wine list.

Next week, we will be looking at more equipment, as well as picking out our seats and tables! We're cramming in a whole lot on Monday, as on Tuesday, we're taking off to Catalina Island for our final three days of relaxation.

If there wasn't any better way to end this crazy week, our cover story in Westlake Magazine came out yesterday! We are so pleased with the article and would like to thank everyone involved for this incredible opportunity including the magazine's founder Rebecca Grossman, writer Charly Emery, photographer Jane Gibson, makeup artist Nicola Gerboc, reporter Robyn Flans, and Liz Barrett from the Chamber of Commerce.

July 2014 Food & Wine Edition of Westlake Magazine featuring Gwithyen and Justine Thomas of Aroha Restaurant, New Zealand Cuisine

July 2014 Food & Wine Edition of Westlake Magazine featuring Gwithyen and Justine Thomas of Aroha Restaurant, New Zealand Cuisine

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.