Saturday, December 4, 2010

Two months in.

It's pasty crimping in Virginia, being conducted by a Brit who is now part Aussie. I now admit to the full public audience, Nicola (alias the Queen of Dough - she is so good with our pastry) crimps pasties better than me. There, I've said and won't take it back.
Now we are 2 months in and everything is getting much smoother as we find our feet in the shop and solve all the little problems. We still have an issue with the HVAC. It wasn't working well for weeks and we thought it was just us not setting the controls properly. Then one of the pipes iced up, so we had an engineer look at it. The cooling coil was a complete block of ice. So we defrosted it, which wasn't simple. Then we had it serviced, then it did the same thing 2 days later. No it's affected the heat side, the furnace blower rumbles like a plane taking off.
Nick the landlord is now looking at quotes to replace the whole thing.
The funny part is, that even in the current cold weather, the problem we face is that the kitchen gets too warm. This affects the dough and makes it too soft to with, for now we just open the door and let some cold air.
Otherwise everything is doing fine.

Mike Smith is handling all the issues to get the cart on the road and down to Ballston for lunchtimes. This is one of major projects and will be a big step forward when we launch. Winter and freezing weather makes the cart work hard but it will be worthwhile in the long run.

Josh has the kitchen running really smoothly, so supply and demand is now nicely balanced. We have gone live with new soups, Prosciutto and Potato, this weekend we produced a stunning Chili. We have also answered the loud British demand for Cheese and Onion pasties, and contemplating an original with Rutabaga (Swede for Brits).

I have managed to get permission for a small amount of seating, so that's one tick in the box. Meanwhile I'm pursuing a solution for both local delivery and shipping. The shipping part will probably need a new website with an online store etc.
My biggest challenge is Quickbooks and the accounting system. It's starting to make sense now, but to start with .... let's just say it's a friendly package.

So lets see where it all goes next month.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

One month in.

Well we are 1 month in and still going, sometimes I was wondering if I would survive to the next day. The first 2 weeks were a little slow and tentative as we started out on our journey. The location is a little hidden away and can be hard to find, so people just didn't know we were here. Then the Washington Post featured us and it went a little bit crazy. We had been warned of the post Post effect, but the reality was something else. We were still working on the processes to make the wonderful product we had been selling this far. Then we got swamped and making them quick enough became a real issue. Everybody had to dig really deep to try and get over this peak, and the effort expended was outstanding. One night Josh and I just kept the mixer going to 01:00 am, gave the dough time rest and were back in at 06:00 to make more pasties. That weekend I thought we would never make enough to get through Sunday, but we did, just about.
I thank all the customers that were patient while tried to catch up with the baking and were waiting for their favorites to pop out of the oven. I definitely thank Josh, Mike (brother-in-law) and Nicola for pushing so hard to keep up with the huge demand, but a really specials thanks to my wife Jen for jumping into the breech at the front of the shop.
So far so good, things are settling down a little now.
I never knew there were so many Brits in the area, plus Aussies, Kiwis, and other savory pastry lovers. Then there were so many people who had tried pasties on their visits to the UK and were just loving the opportunity to try them again here, and making favourable comparisons to the UK product. On top of that were the people from Michigan and Wisconsin where the pasty is staple food.
All in all its going well. The word is out there, we just hope it keeps on spreading.
Time to prepare for the holiday season!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Opening - that was fun.

I'm not sure if the correct word is hectic or frantic, but that was wild and fun ride. The only analogy I can make is like tackling the toughest run in the ski resort. The preceding weeks were like the chair lift taking up to the top, probably followed by a hike to get really hard section. Then strapping on your board and looking down at something that is mighty more scary than when you suggested it over a beer at lunchtime. Then there is no choice, you just have to go. You have to give it your best shot because the alternative is just not pleasant at all.

So, on Thursday we had a wonderful party full of friends and family. Many were friends made along the Pure Pasty team (above). It's no longer just me with a wild notion about selling Cornwall's classic dish in the South East of the US. Joshua 'Head Chef' Andrus has been a stalwart now for months. Coming from Michigan he is no stranger to pasties. Mike Smith (my brother-in-law) has been ready to come on board from launch. Then Nicola just wandered into the shop, a Brit living in Vienna, complete with Chef skills and kitchen management (a god send). A certainly not the least; the ever supporting and loving Jen, who has suffered me banging on about pasties for years, then worked all the long hours of Friday, Saturday & Sunday to get us up and running
The party was a fun filled event, we got the bunting out that my mum had sent for the occasion. The British meet up group turned out in force which was wonderful support
. In fact everybody turning up was a spectacular effort as North Virginia's weather had turned from summer into torrential rain all day long. In
fact we had water dripping in from a number of places.

After the party we had to get up really early on the first day of 'go live'.
The problem was that we prepared well for the
party and had work doubly hard to make stock for day 1. We were late opening. It was 12:00 before we flung the doors open. I feared a slow day and having reassure myself that trade will pick up as we go along. The first customer, a wonderful lady, presented me a dollar to mount as my first earned in the business, and promptly ordered 12 pasties. That set the tone for the day brilliantly. We were playing catch up all day long, just making pasties as quick as we could and baking them straight away. As soon they were
coming out of the oven they were selling from the sheet pans, some not even getting a stay in the hot display that had caused me so much heart ache.
Jen did a wonderful job on the till with brother Mike, customer service skills sprang out that I never knew existed. Josh and Nicola were bashing out pastry and ingredients like crazy. Josh has been an absolute star in every aspect in the lead up. Now he was in his element and Nicola was just the support he needed. She even went home and came back with her daughter so she could work much later than we had agreed.
At the end of the day we were
all exhausted, but we had made and sold nearly 200 of little beauties, and Facebook had given some excellent feedback.

The next few days were still going well after the storm of interest on day one. All the local businesses are being really supportive, and we are getting lots of custom from the bike shop next door. A pasty is a great meal for a hungry cyclist after doing a long stretch of the Washington Old Dominion trail.

Now to clean the shop with Mike and close up day 3. Tomorrow is our scheduled close day, and time to sort out all the bugs in our processes.
For all of you who use Twitter we are now going to start tweeting when we get the cart up and running, plus when we start adding to the 'soft launch' menu. We only did 3 to start and intend to build to 6. Plus Sausage rolls of course, as so many people have requested.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Opening Oct 1st!

Last week was hectic, simply hectic. We completed all our inspections, and many thanks to all who assisted. Jose who made all the arrangements and then guided a lot of the inspectors around the facilities, and the inspectors for turning up on time and doing a great job. Paul (the architect mastermind) and I walked the certificate of occupancy application over to Vienna Town Hall on Friday, once that is completed we can serve the wonderful public.

So that means we are shooting for our first day of trading on Friday October 1st!
Our aim is to serve you lunch to go, so the doors will open at 11:00.
We will apply for permission for some seating but that change will come after we have obtained the certificate of occupancy. One thing at a time is the best way forward. After all the pasty is ultimate 'food to go' item.

Josh has been a star all around the place last week, and on Friday we capped off the day by baking some of our recipes. Our neighbor John (Bikes@Vienna) kept popping in to help with taste testing and was mumbling approval with a mouth full of 'Traditional Style - beef, potato, onion.

We had a few nervous moments as Vulcan ovens gave us a few teething problems. Miriam at Yas Bakery sprang into action referring a couple of great technicians who have sorted out those problems. However, that was a real scare and threatened our live date of October 1st.
Now we are fingers crossed that the gremlins are out of the system and we can just get on with what we love - cooking great food.

Our launch will probably be a soft launch, limiting our menu slightly at first, so we can give our full attention to a smaller number of our pasty options. Then the others will be added, giving people a growing choice, and nobody will get bored. Actually it's really difficult to get bored of pasties, ask all people in UP Michigan. One friend we spoke recently said that they out sell pizza up there. So I'm sure the wonderful people of Virginia will take to them really easily.

Must go there are 101 things to do today so we can hit that date!
See you all soon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

And the inspections roll on.

I took some snaps while we were waiting for some of the inspections to show how things are looking. On the left here we have the lovely retail area, and where the lovely pasties will be baked. The infamous warm display unit is now in place and I'm getting to like it now. Paul the architect likes it, but is still complaining about my acquisition of an old Quiznos open air merchandiser. I had to save money for that superb Vulcan oven in the corner, they don't come better than that beast. The hood above the oven and now all the air conditioning mechanicals have passed the final inspections so we breath a big sigh of relief.
Also you can see the drinking fountains are in place,
these were delaying the final plumbing inspection
but that is now all completed.
Then we are now hung up on the electrical inspection. We had been calling for final inspection all last week with no response. On Tuesday they came, but it appears we have to change some sockets to contain their own circuit breakers. That work was done immediately, we had to sit it out through Wednesday, and then today we got the little signed sticker.
Just as the electrics were all signed off, the Health Dept person arrived. Annette is great to work with, and all our work met with her approval :-) So today was a very good day.
It's not all over yet though, we have the buildings inspector to come tomorrow (Friday) and then the Fire Marshall. Both vital and important.

Anyway, on the right is the beautiful open kitchen, may it always stay in this wonderful state.
Except full of pasties being stuffed with gorgeous organic goodies.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Final Countdown

Oh look at the nice new signs! We now have the shop front all neatly decorated with new signs and I think it looks good. So when you all come to find me I should stand out a little. Let's tick that one off the list.

As many of you would have gathered, back in early August we set a target date of September 10th for opening, but we are a long way behind in getting all our sign-offs. Thankfully there are no problems in the work that has been this far, but the sign-off schedule keeps on extending.
We have been ready for electrical sign-off since Thursday last week and we await the inspector.
Paul added some more detail on the drawings for the Mechanical people and today we are requesting that they sign-off.
Plumbing is delayed by the late delivery of our water fountains, then the wrong one arrived, that should be sorted out by this Friday.
Once those 3 are finished we can have the buildings inspector in to check the construction work for one last time.
Then it's the Fire Marshall, and the Health Dept.

We are going to resist setting another date until we have have the green light from the Health Dept. We think we have got everything right and bang on to the original plan, but it's fingers crossed and hope it's all smooth running.

Meanwhile we are pushing for the internet and telephone connectivity to be completed, so we can talk to the outside world.

We have fired up most of the equipment, and after a few nervous moments with the freezer, all seems to be OK.

So the BIG question everybody is asking is WHEN WILL IT OPEN?
As soon as we have the go ahead with the Health people, you will be the first to know.

Of course PARTY invites will be sent to all for the evening before the first official day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Hood.

Ok. I agree, not the most impressive photo in the world, but..... This is the extractor hood that deals with the heat from the ovens. It is all an equation of temperature, air coming into the building via the HVAC and air going out via the extractor hood. It's not a subject that will make your day reach a crescendoof excitement, but to me this week it was very important.
That's hood over there on the left, at least the bit you see inside the shop, and yesterday it passed it's code inspection.
Hip Hip Hooray for the hood, or rather Jose and team who put it all together.
That code inspection is a major tick in the box on the schedule towards opening. So a big sigh of relief from me.

Next we have electric and plumbing, before the highly important health inspector.

The food warmer display unit, has been the subject of many headaches for the front of shop solutions. I had eventually had to settle on one that was a ready made option, rather than the bespoke idea I really wanted. Then when I ordered it, I nearly had a heart attack. At first the distributor company said all was fine and took the order. Then proceeded to tell me 4 days later there would be a 98 day delivery time. So I looked elsewhere and other places said it was in stock at the manufacturer, (nobody keeps stock themselves). Eventually it boiled down to confusion on their ordering dept regarding part numbers. The original manufacturer was Anvil and it had changed to Vollrath (aren't they a heavy metal band?) causing a change in id numbers and the sales people got confused and caused me a minor panic attack.

Panic never lasts long thankfully.

So onward and upward.

We have our shopping list for all the goodies that go into a pasty. So now let's go shopping.