Rarely am I excitable.
Know this: I am a passionate person. My friends and enemies, for better or worse, will tell you the same. I get fired up about things that I needn’t, and emotional over things that deserve no such attention. I like history, and enjoy stories of presidents that weren’t afraid to take chances. Music sways me, no matter the genre, to imagine that there actually are people with bigger issues than my own. Art in any media, my most recent love of which is painting, is unmatched in our existence as humanity revealed.
But I really, really love restaurants.
I love the way that restaurants feel when they’re empty, right before the staff arrives in the morning. In my time, I’ve been privy to opening and closing many times on the same day, when the kitchen still smells like the cleaning solution from the night before had a baby with the chicken stock that has become foamy in the giant rondeau on the side burner through to after every last cook has had their PBR and the servers have finished complaining about guests over their shift drink. In most restaurants I’ve been, I’ve slept on the floor of every dining space before we opened, at least once, to try and become a part of the room. I love the gossip, true or false, and the way it flies around me. I love staff meals, prepared by the newest pigeons in the kitchen and containing most of the pieces that aren’t going to the paying diners, and I love the sticky coffee in the bottom of pots at the end of the night that ensures I won’t fall asleep within the first two hours after I close the doors.
During my last opening, my Chef (and the owner of the restaurant) lived in the same cramped little apartment as I, not wanting to move his family until after the school year that had only a few months left. We’d generally come back to the apartment 18 hours after we left it, not tired at all, and watch food movies or talk about what was next. We’d cook (meaning I’d occasionally join in to the event of HIM cooking) the standard late-night fare of restaurant folks: whatever the hell we craved at 3AM. Then we’d keep talking until 6. Cookbooks were everywhere, opened and marked, and theories of service and satisfaction abounded. When we finally headed to our respective rooms, you could hear both of us, were you in the hall, clicking away and flipping pages asking ourselves, now alone, what was next.
Although I’ve been in restaurants around the world, and worked for and with some of the best, the experience he gave me in that time was the best I’d ever had. It was the best restaurant experience of my life.
I’ve spent years learning from great people that will always be better than I in this business. Chefs Thomas Keller, Michael Mina, Charlie Trotter, Ferran Adriá, Tyler Anderson and Tory McPhail are only a few. Mark Neubert, Don Strunk, and Jim Dietz were influential in creating in me what was the life-force that makes me get up every day now. Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, some of my very first inspirations, have for over two decades been a source of fire and motivation. And now, as the time comes for my dream of creating the perfect restaurant comes to full realization, I’m remiss to not talk of my friend and business partner, Benjamin Goldman, who continues to remind me of the perspective beyond the walls, and has in the first few months of this journey become one my great confidant and friend.
It’s with this long introduction that I begin my journaling of The Velveteen Habit, of Ogunquit Maine, from the closing this past week until the day that we open. We were simply blessed to be given such an opportunity by the former Arrows Restaurant owners Mark and Clark, and I am more than lucky to have Benjamin give me the chance to help create the vision. It’s not a manual on how to open a restaurant, nor is it a story designed for humor or enlightenment: simply, it is precisely what Ben and I want The Velveteen Habit to be – our experience, brought to you, in a way that makes you feel as good about it as we do. I want to share this next best experience of my life with anyone who wants to hear about it.
I hope you’ll enjoy the next few months, and come shake hands with us over a glass of Jura as soon as we unlock the front door to the public.
This time, I’m excitable.