Saturday, December 18, 2010

Our track history together

Teresa and I have worked on two projects since we met in the summer of 2009. We started the Border Grill Truck in June with two employees (ourselves), and by December had ten employees and two to three trucks running almost everyday. Financially, we broke even in the third month and brought 28% profit to the bottom line. This is our truck from the Mundo Management offices in Downtown LA (look closely and you can see me in the driver's seat):

We were incredible taco slingers, and could feed masses in tiny bits of time. I think our record was 3000 tacos in a 2 hour timespan for the VERY hungry staff of Legal Zoom. In a taco truck showdown for Nancy Silverton's staff party, we beat the infamous Kogi Truck. This is us in front of Mozza Osteria with Nancy:

Though a very interesting (and unusual) business opportunity for us, we are restaurant people at heart. When we moved to NYC for my job, I managed to convince Teresa to help me on the project of resuming dinner service for COLORS Restaurant, a struggle worker-owned cooperative restaurant that had a fine-dining theme and a steak-house feel. We completely reconceptualized the menu around the ideas of local sourcing, global flavors (to stay true to the culturally rich past of the restaurant), and small plates. Our customers seemed to like our concept because we accumulated about 70 reviews averaging 4 stars on OpenTable in four months of operation. This is opening night:

We brought an unusual management style to our project. Namely, we cross-trained almost every single person on staff, whether back-of-house or front. Our goal was not only to streamline operations (staffing was so much easier), but also to develop people through increased line skills and ultimately, an ownership mentality. Nestor, a barback we promoted into a bartender position, helped us develop the cocktail menu:

Our menu and style of service was what stole the show. Teresa conceptualized the entire menu in less than a month, and came up with 3 seasonal menus over the course of our project. Superior product, exciting flavor combinations, and elegant presentations were what we were all about. Nowadays, we judge a restaurant by whether we'd be able to eat there everynight. We ate off of Teresa's menu multiple times a night, as did some of our friends:
Because we served small plates, the kitchen dictated when food would be produced (according to what was most efficient), rather than waiting to be told by servers when to start cooking. Traditional restaurants sometimes have trouble producing food in a timely manner when servers put orders in all at once. Because of our reversal, there was no such thing as a "wait time" for food; it came out in a steady and consistent manner that left no table waiting.

The experience was a great one in the sense that for the first time, we had complete control over the food, service, and messaging of a restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant wasn't just underfunded; it had negative funds from the start. Despite the daily frustration and stress of running an operation I argued should close, we were fortunate enough to have developed some invaluable relationships. Namely, Ben King came up with our digital and print designs, Patrick Ashlock shared his love and knowledge of artisanal wines, and Ayla Anaya organized our books, provided a third perspective when we disagreed, and became one of my best friends in the whole, crazy process.

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