Thoughts on Reports

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I often do my best thinking on my bike ride home from work when I’m really tired. One night I had a thought come to me that I wanted to share with the management group. When it comes to the daily reports, we all know the primary purpose is to give our bosses a picture of the day in terms of sales and service, as well as our team (FOH managers) and the BOH team (chefs) an idea of what the day was like and anything interesting that happened.

My thought was that the secondary purpose of the daily report is to create a record we can look back to next year. We are writing these reports for our future selves, so that next year we can better anticipate what will happen. When I write reports now I am trying to encode interesting information (what was the weather like, what times were the peak busy times, what causes (large orders) lead to what effects (traffic jam of to-go orders)… so that next year I will be able to have even more detailed information to make predictions.

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By using a consistent email subject line for these reports, it will help you access them easily next year. For example, I just used Xoco Wed 9-17-14. All I have to do is search my sent emails for “Xoco Wed” in quotes, and it will bring up all the reports I emailed out on Wednesdays, and then just scroll back to the day I want to look at.

The restaurant business is highly cyclical. For Xoco Wicker Park in particular, coming around the year for the first time, encoding in the reports information about what the weather was like, when the peaks were, what was selling, etc, will really help you next year. The better information you have, the better you will understand the numbers… and you will be able to make better pivots to ratchet up the sales!

Trattoria Stella

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We did a lot of reading about the dining scene in Traverse City and the greater Leelanlau Peninsula before our visit from Chicago. Maybe it was all the mentions of Chef Mario Batali that carried us towards Italian, or just the quantity and enthusiasm of recommendations to try Trattoria Stella: either way, this place is a gem.

Located in the basement of what was an insane asylum, and has been historically preserved, we ate at a private table, in a small, cave-like room, that used to house the asylum’s dry storage. The server assistant joked that when folks ask him what happen to the asylum’s patients, he says they are still here, working.

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The menu, printed daily, highlights so many fantastic local products, meat, vegetables, cheese, wine. This restaurant is practically a reason in itself to believe a transformation to the American food ways is well underway. Many of the small plates feature parts of animals rarely used, and for only four dollars, we elected for the Chef’s Choice, which that night was small empanadas of pig’s heart enhanced by the acidity of summer’s end tomato.

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Etta had a negroni-esque cocktail that was superbly made. The house-made soft cheese was fantastic and the entrees well seasoned. What really stood out for me was the best panna cotta I have ever had. The server complimented us with small (super small for me, the nondrinker, but a sucker for dessert wine) tasting portions of Moscato d’ Asti, which was the perfect pairing and really made the panna cotta, itself adorned with blackberry and adrift in lime, sing.

Van’s Beach

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Etta read me the story of a visitor to the Leelanau Peninsula who found the beauty of the setting sun over Lake Michigan so overwhelming they broke down in tears.

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I have seen a lot of beautiful sunsets over the lake in my days as a visitor, but I think they may be on to something. Of all the photos of Michigan sunsets, I took my favorite ones at Van’s Beach on the autumnal equinox.

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This public beach is located at the end of Cedar St., just off the main drag. Van’s Autobody is where you make the turn, but if you are parked in town, it is close enough to walk.

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There water is shallow and the sand is soft and fine. In one direction lies the natural vista of sand and water, and in other, Fishtown’s pier.

200 Year Old White Cedar

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I really felt far out there when I visited the Leelanau State Park.

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On the very tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, the historic Grand Traverse Lighthouse a beacon for many years to those entering the bay…

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…this is about as far from Chicago and the civilized world, about as far back in time, as its possible to journey on Lake Michigan.

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The light, mid transition summer to fall, was so dramatic…

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…Etta and I stayed out along the shore for over an hour taking photographs…

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of the seagrass and stones as they slowly turned colors.

Christmas Cove

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Etta and I arrived at the small town beach called Christmas Cove by complete mistake. GPS had gone down on my smart phone, and at a crucial fork in the road, I turned left, blindly following a sign promising 10,000 antique Coca Cola bottles. Instead of the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, we ended up at Christmas Cove, just south of Cat Head Point.\

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At the end of Island View Dr there is a parking lot and a 200 foot town beach. The waters of the lake were a color blue I have never seen before. The color seemed to permeate even the texture of the water.

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There is not much mention of this place on the internet. Christmas Cove must be one of the Leelanlau Peninsula’s many hidden gems.

Village Cheese Shanty

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I was reading about our trip to the Leelanlau Peninsula, and one story captivated me, probably because it was about eating. It said take the driving tour along the national park, and then head up to Fishtown for a sandwich at Village Cheese Shanty. After doing just that, I can’t think of a better combination.

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The sandwiches are amazingly fresh and feature house-made pretzel bread. My sandwich, the Fishtown, was the vegetarian option. The dill cheese was delicious. The selection of local craft beer in can and bottle, along with many nonalcoholic options, was on point.

On a sunny Monday in late September, there was no line, and we easily claimed one of the tables out front. I can’t believe my sandwich included avocado and was only $6!

Carlson’s Fishery

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Carlson’s Fishery has been in the hands of the Carlson family for generations. The owner, one of the brothers of the current generation, talked to me for a minute about the volume of fish that comes through their doors. He and his brother had been out on Lake Michigan that very morning at 4AM.

The fishery itself is spotless clean, and right behind the counter is where the action happens. Even though we were there in late afternoon, after any catch had come in, I could still feel the energy of the facility. I really like the idea of buying some fillets while fish are being filleted right there.

The products were top notch. I had never had whitefish pate before, but we ate a whole container in just a couple days. The smoked fish sausage was also a first for me, and it was delicious, a must-try. The beef jerky was really tasty too, although it gave Etta smoky jerky breath for a few hours.

On a nerdier, restaurant-business insider note, I appreciate the way Carlson’s has taken steps to modernize the family brand. The fish logo, and presence on instagram, shows that the owners get it.

I posted a photo of Fishtown online and my friend from growing up in CT, Dave Stender, who I haven’t really talked to in about a decade, commented, “Obviously you got the smoked salmon and white fish!” Carlon’s is legendary.

Fishtown

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Fishtown is one of those places that are hard to imagine unless you actually visit them. This is a historic fishing site on the Leelanlau Peninsula, that has been preserved for hundreds of years.

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The local businesses along the pier include a sandwich shop, fish market and craft gifts. Fishtown is one of the places my aunt would love to visit on Lake Michigan. Small, historic, quiet, with quality food and shopping.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

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Man I am surprised that I made it to Painted Rocks, a national park further away from Chicago, before I ever made it Sleeping Bear. I was saving it for a special trip, I guess. About a week ago I took that trip to one of the last remaining wild refuges of rugged shoreline left along Lake Michigan.

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Etta and I did the driving tour, along an approximately 3 mile loop, with stops for photos. The sky was overcast, but that looked to be changing. I stopped for a locally made (Leelanau Pie) apple pie and newspaper (Leelanlau Enterprise). By the time we got to the first stop the grey was giving way to blue.

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The dunes are immense. The scale of sand helped me reach an epiphany. I am obsessed with the history of glaciation, but I could not truly picture a miles-high ice sheet in my backyard until I saw that sand. For the first time, I could see how the sliding ice would pick up boulders and stones, and grind them down.

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Over many cycles of advance and retreat, along the deeper basin of the Great Lake, all this sand was deposited, replenished by prevalent winds. The warning sign said to stay away from the bluff, steep and hundreds of feet down to the lake. A family of foreign visitors may not have been able to read the sign, and descended far down.

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Fortunately they made it back up. The need for the sign speaks to those who were not so lucky. It was September, and along with overseas tourists, the only other visitors were blueheads, groups of seniors, who in their isolation from the rest of society were as rowdy as teenagers.

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The bottoms of the clouds scraped by this borderland of ghostly glaciers gone-by, leaving behind in their wake sunshine and blue sky stretching to the horizon. The tops of the dunes, a habitat uniquely their own, smelled piney, herbacious.

Mission Table

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We rolled up the dirt driveway and parked next to a Chevelle from the sixties. The parking lot sits directly next to wine vineyards. I imagined the old muscle car belonging to one of the Old Mission wine barons.

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Mission Table, housed in a historic, sprawling building that renowned Michigan breweryJolly Pumpkin calls home as well, could not have been more cozy. There were comfortable chairs beside a roaring fire. The dining room had its own fireplace, and windows on the lake.

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Etta and I loved the food here, one of the best meals I have had in Michigan. Mission Table pairs classic technique with local ingredients, and the resulting dishes are high quality and flavorful.

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We had lake trout in a light, acidic tomato broth, and steak in a rich sauce of beef shortribs. The locally grown vegetables were shining, at this time of harvest. My girlfriend enjoyed her cocktail. An interesting part of the restaurant is that they make all their own beer (Jolly Pumpkin), wine and spirits.

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Right before the entrees arrived, the sun burst through the grey pall blanket of clouds on its descent. The bottoms of the clouds caught pink reflections. The resulting contrast was so surprisingly beautiful many of the diners, including me, stopped eating to step outside and see.

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