Tag Archives: restaurant biz

Rabanitos Style

5 rabanitos alfonso sotelo 3rdarm jamie sotelo pilsen mexican family owned restaurant 3rdarm arthur mullen

The photoshoot I had helped with at Chef Alfonso’s restaurant, when I met the bruja, had been for the Chicago Tribune’s forthcoming review of 5 Rabanitos. I have learned not to get too excited about a restaurant’s first review: when a restaurant opens, that’s when there’s the most room for improvement. First reviews are notorious for nerfing any highlights with a few negatives. #thestruggleisreal, at the least.

5 rabanitos alfonso sotelo 3rdarm jamie sotelo pilsen mexican family owned restaurant 3rdarm arthur mullen

The Chicago Tribune, however, must have LOVED Chef Alfonso’s food at 5 Rabanitos because they published one of the most effusive restaurant reviews ever. The business started to pick up in a big way. Having shed most of my darkness, and with feelings taken root and starting to grow in my heart, I turned towards the shining: I decided to stay in Chicago with Raven Beauty, and lend a hand to my friend Chef Alfonso.

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The March of the Strandbeests

wilfredo bravo arthur mullen mightyvine tomatoes tomato xoco chicago spring 3rdarm

Thanks to a large glass house (and Dutch technology) just outside Chicago, our restaurant was able to serve ripe locally grown tomatoes all winter. Chef Wil invited the managers and sous chefs to visit the facility, built and run by the company MightyVine. It must have been a tough weekend, because the only taker was this guy, former manager of Xoco.

wilfredo bravo arthur mullen mightyvine tomatoes tomato xoco chicago spring 3rdarm

We took a pre-spring Monday drive deep into the farmlands of Illinois (3 tolls deep, to be specific.) Once arrived at MightyVine, we were greeted by Renee, who used to work as chef at Frontera Foods, and some of the partners. To protect the tomatoes from contaminants, we donned sterile clothing. Seeing that the last hat had been taken, I put a booty on my head.

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Quiero Suerte

3rdarm arthur mullen roly poly geese migrating mexican blanket 3rdarm

With my job coming to an end, I was ready to take it easy for a month. The plan was to maybe help out Chef Alfonso a little, mostly by taking another photoshoot before the move to California. When I went to his restaurant, 5 Rabanitos in Pilsen, it was clear that chef was feeling the stress of his own business: he had lost weight.

3rdarm arthur mullen roly poly geese migrating mexican blanket 3rdarmv

Chef Alfonso asked if I would be interested in waiting tables, to help train his staff and make sure the front of house was running well. I was non-committal, but I could see the strain on my friend’s face. We were taking food photos in the sunlight up by the front windows, and a table asked to speak to a manager: chef sent me over.

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La Cumbia de Rambo

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless moon palace manager dinner glenn wang pork belly

Thank you Chef Rick and Deann (and Glenn) for the best manager dinner ever! Last night at the Moon Palace, my fortune cookie read, “The joyfulness of a man prolonged his ways.” Here is a link to the cumbia covers playlist I made for the party: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-ImBY5VB4brjamfpOBQcoO4q2zQufA0s

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless moon palace manager dinner glenn wang pork belly

When I started taking the food photos, I had my nice camera but I was shooting on automatic. Our Facebook fans trolled my early menu change photos and it was embarrassing for all involved. Instead of giving up on me, Chef Rick and Deann paid for my photography classes. Chef mentored my eye for food photography from the first to the last photoshoot. THANK YOU CHEF AND DEANN for your patience, generosity and believing in me.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless moon palace manager dinner glenn wang pork belly

THANK YOU CHEFS for having me as your food photographer, for trusting me with the dishes your put so much hard work, creativity and passion into. For the rest of my life, when I put the camera to my eye and point down at the plate, my thoughts will be Chef’s lessons on how to tell the story of the food through photos. On the media team, we call it going into “Rick mode.”

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Bright Eyes / Open Heart

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky maria pacheco maria cotorra

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For Maria, I have two pieces of advice on Xoco management. The first is to meditate on that Maya Angelou quote.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

The second may seem difficult or even downright impossible to do at times: try to keep an open heart. Whether it’s the inevitable stress and frustration of a hard service or the warm glow of accomplishment when guests have an awesome experience, allow yourself to really FEEL what you’re feeling.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Life at Xoco moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Chef Richard (my life coach) says friends don’t say goodbye. See you later!

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Get Lucky

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Tom Skilling Forecast: Wet Wednesday, flurries mixed with light drizzle.

Door: The all-day rain (knock on wood – at least wasn’t snow!) meant that web orders more than doubled in-house to-go. Looking out of the front pastry windows, it was like Xoco was going through a car wash for much of today. Our hosts, Nayeli and Miguel, were warm and extra welcoming for our dine-in guests who braved those conditions.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Service: Great day for service. Maria and I had an hour in the AM to go over training on ADP adjustments. We will have another pay period to review together before she is ready to take over. Tomorrow we will make a schedule together (which we will also get to do a second time) and put in the orders for to-go supplies (we will do this 4 times together!) Maria and I will be at the vision meeting (we have worked on the Xoco 2016 vision together with the chefs) tomorrow as well. With the slower pace, we went with a 6 person team (including hostess) in the AM, and again in the PM. One of those 6 was Guadalupe, on her first day on the floor she did a great job, not just with our customers and the sidework, but also I got about an hour of menu knowledge and testing with her and Giovanni tonight. They are both building on a great foundation of Xoco knowledge.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Guests: 3 Chicago police officers, including Officer Dan (check out our Facebook photo together!) Linda Berg. Older guest, friend of Linda (they ate at separate times.) Regular commuter from NYC. Kyle Patterson.

Mood Scale: This afternoon, while I was training with Maria on ADP, a guest called the HC about his web order. He was ordering for pick-up, planning on reheating the dish (ahogada) for dinner. We showed him how to order the meat and onions on the side, so that they did not sit on the bread until dinner time, and gave directions for reheating all the items separately. The guest really appreciated the extra care and instructions!

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Wide Open

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Tom Skilling Forecast: Mild weekend ahead, colder temps to follow.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Door: Much busier than the previous days this week: we really felt it with to-go during lunch, and dine-in during dinner. Nayeli was on top of greeting all guests with a smile, and handled some larger parties with grace during lunch. Jose showed us why he is the PM hosting ace, and delivered great hospitality throughout dinner.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Service: In our service meetings we reviewed the new menu with both AM and PM teams. Lupita and I trained on how to send menu change information to Roxanna. Guadalupe successfully completed all her new hire paperwork, and her penultimate training shift went really well. Guadalupe helped me restock beer and wine this evening, and I walked her through the chocolate-making process. I stressed how amazing it is to work at the only restaurant in the country making our own drinking chocolate, and how it is our challenge to tell that story in a fast-paced dialogue with many guests.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Mood Scale “The Case of the Missing Guacamole” Edition: Earlier this week we got a Rickbayless.com email about a guest who ordered on the web, picked up their order, and it was missing their guacamole. We apologized, refunded them and let them know we would take care of their next order for guacamole on the house. I sent them a text they could show the chef or manager to receive their complimentary guac, and they texted back, “Arthur this was the nicest response. You have a great upstanding business you are running.” The guest came in tonight and I got to talk with them: they were just as sweet in person as in that text. Over the years there have been a few crazy customers I will never forget… but I will always remember, from too many moments large and small (like this,) that Xoco has the best, kindest, most loyal regular customers of any restaurant I’ve ever worked at.

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Moment of Zen: I was watching this new music video by the Chemical Brothers, for their song, “Wide Open,” and there are credits at the end. The third or fourth credit is for the post-production company, “The Mill,” who happen to be one of Xoco’s all-time biggest web order regulars! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC2dRkm8ATU

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Catastrophic Soup Container Failure

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless

Tom Skilling Forecast: Gusty Northwesterly wind continues to pull cold air into our area.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless

Service: We got the green light to go to Blood Orange for the margarita in sync with FG/Topolo: I am going to use this small menu change to start training with Lupita, and then next month we will go through a full menu change together. We are also looking to structure the making of the cold brew café de olla into the PM coffee person sidework. Great job by both AM and PM teams finding small projects, for example the re-organizing of the to-go supplies, putting away this week’s order, for the more mellow stretches, and giving great service to our guests for both lunch and dinner. The staff is doing a great job of selling RW menus: today I think was the highest sold so far, 18 RW menus, mostly for dine-in.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless

Mood Scale “Another Amazing Email” Edition: This guest had a catastrophic soup container failure, losing their Pozole to-go. We apologized profusely, refunded them and offered to buy their next caldo. They wrote back a really nice email…

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless

“I really can’t say enough about how wonderful everyone involved in my experience was, before and after the soup spill. Every single person I came into contact with was not only polite and courteous, they seemed genuinely…happy to be there. Two cops hugged the hostess after their meal. The cashier wrapped the soup. The expo lady explained the metal spoon in my to go bag(very nice touch- I love the thought behind it) and now all the generosity thrown my way-it makes me proud to live in Chicago, and impressed that a restaurant still goes the extra mile, for guests and, very likely, for employees. And this, coming from a 20+year industry person, says a lot! You’re on my list of favorites. Thanks!”

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Mama Futura

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless valeria pacheco

Tom Skilling Forecast: Chance of remnant flurries early, then clouds and some mixed sun.

Door: Big day for to-go! We sold to-go at a 1:1 ratio with dine-in, and that boost (especially from one big order) made for $1000 over the same day in 2015. Warm, lovely energy at the door by both Nayeli and Miguel.

Service: Ismael (who now works FG service bar every Wed and Sat lunch) and I touched base about where we are with margarita prep: we have all needed ingredients and will be batching up Pear Mezcal and Cider Marg tomorrow, with already a good par on Xoco marg for the weekend. One guest who had ordered lunch on Caviar sent us two emails about the seasoning (not a fan of the salt.) I got in touch with the guest to apologize. They did not want a credit but we insisted. I said the bottom line for us was that he was not happy with his Xoco experience. Chefs Julio and Glenn confirmed the line was seasoned to our standard. Valeria (PM to-go) gets the MVP for taking orders at the table, going out into the dining room when she had down time and checking in. Valeria’s all-day focus on our guests Xoco experience was amazing even though it’s her 8th month of pregnancy!

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless

Mood Scale: We had a $700+ order for 11:30AM pick-up. Chef Julio and the AM team crushed it! We had asked the guest to provide feedback about the food and experience if possible, and in the afternoon received this email: “Thank you so much, Arthur. People loved the food – it tasted great! And everything was there – labels, food – very complete. Please thank your team. Thanks so much, we look forward to working with you again in the future!”

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Return of the Pambazo

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless juana cotorra lanie bayless

Tom Skilling Forecast: Blustery and moderately colder as weather system exits Midwest.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless pambazo

Door: Despite the winter business level we saw good energy for both lunch and dinner, with the peaks bunched around the highest volume / largest web orders… we had one for $200 at both lunch and dinner. Excellent hosting by Nayeli and Felipe.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless wendy santana

Service: Ismael made batches of Xoco and cider margaritas for the week ahead. Alejandra did a couple special cleaning projects for the team, including deep cleaning the agua fresca reachin refrigerator. Baker gets the MVP of the AM for helping with the photoshoot we had with Infatuation food blog during lunch. In the PM, Raven was very welcoming to guests from to-go, and took an order for a table of 6 at 31, who all appreciated her service on their way out. We had Guadalupe training on cash, and I quizzed her about the menu for a good while, she had great answers for my questions and also was willing to listen to my whole talk about the difference between the baja chicken and milanesa chicken tortas, and how best to describe those differences to a guest. Guadalupe is the MVP of the PM!

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless norma perez

Mood Scale: Nayeli and Alejandra delivered an order for 60 (!!!) classic hot chocolates and accompanying churros in a cab last week. We had asked the guest to provide feedback about the experience and today received this note: “Thank you Arthur. The food and servers were great. We totally appreciate your ladies taking the time to transfer the hot chocolate into our thermals. Again the food was awesome. Thanks for your quick turnaround on such short notice.”

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