I lock eyes with Razu, (friend, partner, over all aces) as he makes a face; highlighting the fact the person to my right can't shut up. His chatter had all become background noise as my attention was focused on, "Mr.., just flew in" and "I am everyone's boss at the table" suit. This meeting was for the possibility, we could be opening a place next to the new stadium, which I wont name, and we are sitting with the corporate real-estate management group of company which I wont name. In the sea of things we wont name I hear my name.
"Chef Petro", he inquired, "what do we have here?"
"This is a offering of Indian, Bengali, and Greek street food culture, presented before you is an mini version of an example wrap. Fresh house made pita bread to order, laced in olive oil. Chicken Tikka Masala gyro, accompanied by fresh garlic cucumber yogurt. We also have a lamb variant, accompanied by a walnut garlic balsamic paste and roasted cauliflower. Enjoy."
I caught myself saying enjoy again, even though I mentally am trying to break the habit that was instilled while working for Marriott. As of late, I am finding it more and more awkward to force an enjoy after I lay a dish, feels canned. A response all be it polite, still leaving sense of robotic hospitality.
As they sit eating, I am getting great looks from the younger people at the table, and my partner Razu, shipping me the thumbs up, no thumbs of course, just nods. They finished the tasting, so we sat for a quick Q&A where I was bombarded by questions of concept and capability. Par for the course on endeavors this size, they wanted to know (well Mr. Suit wanted to know) if I knew how busy it would be. With bellowing ring of self grandeur we were delighted with stories of traffic studies, and estimated sold out dates, all well in good. Did you think I would be interested in 2,000 sq. ft. next to a new stadium because I thought maybe we could get by?
Of course I knew the numbers, how many we could serve daily, staff needed, estimated gross, the endless uppers, downers, swirls and loopy loops of corporate instilled awareness of P&L statements, labor and food costs that had made my other ventures work. My kids are getting fed, I can do this. In-fact, as we spoke that very moment Republica began to fill up, per usual around 6pm, and so began the swirling dance of service staff around us, executing good feelings and comfort food to my friends and first-timers. Plates of food started to make there way to tables, flaring up my involuntary expediter muscles, wondering if that burger was cooked right, or possibly not enough house fries on that plate. We were getting busy.
Its at this time, the Suit was getting impatient, grabbing his glass, and shaking the cubes. I could see the bussers needed help, so I got up to grab the water pitcher and fill the glasses at the table. As I walked away, I heard a service complaint from Suit, words like hot oil pouring to the person to his left and around the floor, so slick I almost tripped and slid on the ground. Coming back to table to fill the waters Suit turns to me and says,
"Next time you have a tasting, you should wrap them up in foil and cut them into pieces, the small bite format was hard for me to eat, couldn't get all the flavors in one bite. Which is why I was confused on some items, you really need more seasoning".
Took a couple of days to grab the butcher knives out of my neck; where Suit had placed them. I was was sulking, on the corner Griswold and Grand River, cup of Urban Bean resting in my hand. Razu shimmies up to me...
Ok he didn't shimmy, but for purposes of great story imagery of a slick hair Bengali dude rocking his hips back and forth in a pseudo Bollywood skit, snapping his fingers like a long lost Detroit member of the sharks, is what I needed here.
He comes to tell me that there's a sign up, over at Cass and Peterboro, for a new restaurant food hall.
Fast forward two weeks, now its afternoon at Republica, and Suit in this story has been replaced with Jeans and another guy with a broken leg; Jeans and Leg. Jean's name is Jonathan Hartzell
I bring out the offerings, this time I wanted to showcase some cool canned seafood, and some interesting flavor combinations for what I think to be an awesome sandwich concept that never was. Leg is stuffing his mouth and John turns to me and says, this food is great.
Then he begins to tell me that there is already a sandwich concept in talks, and their sorry but cant have 2 of same concepts.
Which I totally get, and that jump starts the vision of myself selling hotdogs out of a cart in front of the court house, downtown, you know , doing gods work. Because I knew, I needed to be back in the city at all costs, no matter what; slinging hotdogs or haute frogs. I just want to make tasty food, but its 2016 and that's not enough, you need to make food that matters, for people that matter from suppliers that matter.
Jeans turns to me and says, "can you do another food?" "My partner Jim likes tacos"
I can do tacos jeans.
I can do tacos.