We recently announced the release of How to Open a Restaurant, OpenTable’s complete digital guide to starting and growing a restaurant business. We partnered with hospitality consultant Alison Arth to share tips, stories, and best practices from the best in the business (think the groups of Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer, plus restaurateurs Gavin Kaysen and Aaron London). PLUS: we’re giving away a $38,000 prize package to help one restaurant industry professional fund his or her dream project!
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be excerpting some of our favorite (and most valuable) content from the guide. Today, it’s Aaron London of AL’s Place in San Francisco on post-opening staffing woes and finding the silver lining. Read on, then get the guide and enter the contest here.
I had one cook who left a couple months after opening. He was super green but had some potential, so me and my sous chef really tried to take him under our wing and train him, but we also pushed him hard and he kept f*cking up. He came in one Sunday and was not even remotely prepared and I laid into him pretty hard. Thirty to 45 minutes later, my sous chef comes in and he’s like, have you seen Kevin? We looked around and the guy had walked out. So, that was the first day that I ever worked a station at my restaurant.
I didn’t get to the station until 2 p.m. and there were only two other guys in the kitchen — my sous chefs. I went through his station and emptied all of his mise en place and made myself a new list of what I absolutely had to do in order to be ready for service and just crushed it out and worked service. We got through that night and then we tried our damndest to hire people. We had people stage that I just couldn’t hire.
For two months, it was me and my two chefs and no cooks. I would come in at 8 a.m. and do all the receiving and all the bulk prep ‘til 10 a.m., then from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., I would do all meat and fish fabrication and portioning. At 1 p.m. I would move to cold station and start prepping out cold station and set up for service. Then I would break to do the menu with the GM, go back and finish setting up the station, break to do line up, then go back in the kitchen and work service. Anything that I had to do besides working a station, I would do here on Monday and Tuesday, both 16-hour days for me, when we were closed just to catch up. It was gnarly.
The worst thing about it wasn’t the work or the hours, it was that I felt like it wasn’t my restaurant anymore. I wasn’t seeing the food going out, I wasn’t seeing the guests, I wasn’t seeing the interactions on the floor and I wasn’t a part of anything other than working a station. So that sucked, but it also fast tracked me back to remembering how to work a station and being very confident with skills and what I want and how I want things done.
I almost think a year from now, I’m going to go on stage and thank Kevin Cabrera for walking out because it may be the singular thing that made AL’s Place better faster. That was actually the singular best thing that’s happened to me since opening AL’s Place.
— Chef Aaron London, as told to Alison Arth