My experience with restaurant kitchens was minimal, to say the least. And building one in this dilapidated space was a culinary education involving equipment, logistics, and systems. The learning curve was a wicked trajectory.
I’m going to need some professional help
While bartending at a few restaurants and bars, I did take advantage to observe the kitchen set-ups. Not the best exposure as it wasn’t hands-on, but every bit helped.
So, I relied on the kitchen equipment company to provide the schematics and equipment requirements based on our menu and seats. The building configuration restricted the ratio of dining room to kitchen. This resulted in the kitchen occupying more space than required to serve the dining room and bar. Not cost effective as the kitchen doesn’t generate revenue; dining room seats do. The burden of making this vast space into a viable eatery with the proper infrastructure was ever evident.
The setting was unique
How many restaurants have a kitchen with a 20 ft ceiling and skylights? This would go a long way to establishing a positive work environment that had a wellness factor for kitchen staff. Commercial kitchens are generally hot and cramped. Conversely, our setup was definitely a plus to work in.
It did affect the air system requirements as the cubic feet was double of a similar space due to the high ceiling. Skylights contributed to the heat as well. A swamp cooler was added on the roof that cooled the air in an efficient and cost-effective manner. It did add another piece of equipment that required close monitoring and maintenance though, especially during our frigid Western Canadian winters.
Due to the overall configuration of the building space, there was sufficient space for all server workstations, the line, prep area, storage, dishwashing, and a staff area. Cramped quarters were not a concern on any front. Even deliveries were trouble-free from the adjacent parking lot.
With the extra space, we added new types of equipment, such as a stock burner. This allowed my brother Bill the ability to make our own rich chicken stock as soups were a popular menu item. The stewing hen’s meat was also tender enough to be used in soups and sandwiches.
A menu item that opened the door to other possibilities
One outlandish idea was to serve a “palate refresher” before the main courses. This resulted in acquiring an ice cream machine. We used grapefruit juice with minimal sugar and I admit that it was quite good. The link above is for a lemon sorbet, which is more common. Regrettably, it was an added cost and an extra task for the servers. This item reflected my desire to do innovative food offerings. Not smart as the cost of the little serving cups couldn’t be used for anything else. I don’t think this practice made it past many months.
However, my brother Martin who was the kitchen manager, took all the candy canes left over from Christmas and made peppermint ice cream that we served as a dessert. Experimenting didn’t end there. I added peppermint liqueur and made a refreshing smoothie.
Encouraged, Martin added Horlicks malted milk powder to the ice cream base and voila, we had a very rich malted ice cream. The logical step was to add Baileys Irish Cream with a bit of whiskey. It didn’t get any more delicious or decadent than that.
A commercial kitchen is a setting for serious fun for any chef with an imagination.
We were getting close to the finish line
We took the kitchen for a test drive a week before our grand opening by inviting the landlord and a group of his friends and colleagues for a night of eating, drinking, and socializing. Consider it an exhibition game. It was successful. We now needed a week to fine tune everything and prepare for the regular season.
A major hiccup
A couple of days later the health board did the required inspection and wouldn’t permit the kitchen ceiling. We had painted the wood slats with a thick glossy paint that could be easily cleaned. It still wasn’t acceptable and a false ceiling of a washable material was required.
Additional construction was now needed and this was not only a delay in opening, but it also added cost. I needed to generate a revenue stream soon as monthly bills needed to be serviced (bank loan, rent, salaries).
Fortunately, the false ceiling was installed easily. Unfortunately, the construction made a mess in the kitchen, and it required another major cleaning. The hits just kept coming. But now I had a working kitchen.
Next post (Part 5) in the construction mini-series – The Furnishings.
Part 2 – The Architect & Contractor