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.