Pata Negra Saga Chapter 6
The arrival of August brought about an unseasonable amount of fair weather with low humidity, making way for a more lucrative month than I had anticipated. I planned for a week off at the beach, doing nothing of course, but all was contingent on making the numbers in three weeks instead of the full four.
At Ostia, I had other pressures. My manager Gabriel has been doing an excellent job across the way, maintaining the flame that I lit at my first restaurant venture in the West Village. But a crazy summer of bartending and managing brought about a natural response – burn out. He announced his resignation, and I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Who would I hire next? When would I train that person? Is anyone with a pulse available who’s crazy enough to take that position?
Yes, people work in the biz for money, but unless you’re into long hours, no life, crazy bosses, and the endearing public, you should probably send your resume to Citicorp instead. My new business still needs me and I can’t just go over to Ostia to straighten things out. Unless I hire a manager for Pata Negra…
I asked around, and had one person in mind. She was highly qualified and told me she was looking for something cozy having worked at Gotham Grill, but I couldn’t get the timing right and figured I couldn’t offer a competitive enough salary commensurate with her talent (I hear she’s at Gramercy Tavern now and wish her the best).
On top of that there were staff issues, as two of my best left of personal differences. Boy the crew was turning skeleton in a heartbeat. True to his word, Gabriel said he would stay as long as it takes to get the place in top speed before he ultimately leaves, and I just gotta sit back and have faith.
To his credit, he has installed salsa night on Sunday evenings, and the turnout and band was fantastic. Drop in if you like live music.
I did indeed close for ten days and spent some QT at Long Beach, just eating lobsters and scallops and playing poker and doing nothing just the way I like to.
I’ve got some plans for the fall menu, but will unveil that in October.
I had barely taken the fresh Cuban cigar out of mouth, before January’s cold, brutal weather hit us. Business was very slow. Then across the street another tapas bar opened with a modern sleek Gaudi type of look called Tasca. They had ammunition and a press junket. I had word of mouth and friends. They had urbandaddy.com. I had a makeshift staff and chef I had to let go in the kitchen. They had an army of dainty servers in sleek black attire with a basement big enough for ten kitchens. I had Lolo squeezing another fridge upstairs because we have no basement.
One night the chef comes over for a drive-by, orders everything on the menu and pretends to chat me up. I smelled it a mile away. He was gregarious, pompous, and arrogant. He gave me underhanded compliments and bragged about how busy Tasca was night in and night out. Some nights I would step out of Ostia to look across the street and they would indeed be filled, people spilling onto of the streets.
It was a daily struggle. We looked for another chef and endured the snow. I tried to hire staff interested in enduring the tough start, but I lost many. Lolo became nervous and more demanding. I wasn’t even earning a salary, despite the 100 plus hours. And while Diego suggested Lolo take up knitting, Lolo fired Diego, a signal of the beginning of the end. We had no exec chef, no chef, and Lolo in the kitchen undoing everything Diego accomplished.
Then Lolo pressured me into withdrawing my partnership with a very smart play. Sensing defeat and a restaurant on the ropes, he told me he was withdrawing and that I had to buy out his shares. I told him that I couldn’t financially afford to do so, and he said them I had to give up control. I didn’t know what to do, and I knew that I didn’t want to leave the baby I had just created. I believed it was going to work. But I had no choice.
I asked for my investment money back, a salary to work and ten percent of the business after six months time. My partners Farias and Patricia mediated the meeting and agreed. They paid me a lump sum for work that had been done. I was given a $400. per week salary plus ten percent of the tips as a maitre d’hotel (my wine service to the tables and overall good cheer basically). Lolo said I had to prove myself to be paid more money. I also had to take care of all the p.r. and ordering of booze, wine, and food, as well as coordinate with the kitchen chefs and staff, as well as be on the floor for all service. When business got better, I would be compensated more. I knew that things would work, and that I would need three months to do it, despite Tasca.
I figured that Lolo would not be around enough to matter, and that I would still be running the show. For the most part that was true. He would breeze in unannounced, ordering me around, and I would yes him to death, wait until he left, and do exactly what I wanted. Lolo installed a couple of spies, but it was so obvious, I didn’t worry. I hired my own staff. Lolo poached two cooks from Degustacion. I understand that the owner, Jack Lamb, caught Lolo in his restaurant one time too many and confronted him about it. Jack called him a thief and threw him out and Lolo denied it all. Meanwhile, those cooks of Jack’s are pretty darn good.
In January we had to cough up the rent as we did not break even, and I was hell bent on making sure we could survive February without having to cough up another cent. They say that a restaurant doesn’t break even for six months to two years. I wasn’t gonna wait that long. I was determined to make Ostia work, and prove to Lolo that I could run a successful restaurant in the West Village just like Sinatra sang, “I did it my way.”