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.