Becoming a Habit (Part 2)
It’s 48 degrees, and my breath is visible, but not in an oppressive way. Aside from that of the very gentle rain, there is quite literally no sound at all. There is no power, no running water, no cable, and nothing else to list – except for the splendid perfection of an 18th century farmhouse in Maine and the iceless Sazerac cocktail I just finished making (which is very different, of course, when not chilled or diluted, but I’m pretending that it’s what the 18th century owner of this home would have made, even though the house predates the cocktail). It’s the first night in our new home.
I just sent a message to Benjamin, who arrives in just a few days, telling him that it’s dark as hell in here right now. “On a scale of 1-10 for darkness,” I wrote, “this place is a 14.” But it’s different. It’s not scary or creepy the way that a farmhouse, in which a restaurant was named for the shutters that prevented attacks from the natives of the area, should be. Years and years of nurturing from our predecessors have made this a home, and not one in which you could feel threatened – even if you actually believe in ghosts.
The clock says 1130 right now in Cape Neddick and I’m reminded, as I sit here in this magnificent space, of every single letter that Chris Kimble ever wrote to his readers – to me – and every single breakfast that I cooked with my father. I’m reminded of every time that I considered the idea of doing something when I grew up that involved cooking the way that my dad did, and so for the way it felt. I think of the times that he took me to random pancake houses, and assorted barbecue places throughout New England – places that smell like what this place smells like now: residual smoke, wood from centuries ago, and the thought that you couldn’t be more comfortable if you tried. This is something for which Ben and I both are eternally grateful to the past, and for which we could never thank Mark and Clark enough.
This feeling is what we want to give to our guests at TVH, and one that I think will take more work than any other component of what we have going on in the space. How do you take a legacy, and combine it with a dream to create a perfect experience? How do you do that same thing with the same people night in and night out? It’s not unfamiliar, of course, because every restaurant worth it’s salt is striving for the same. Here, though, we have the advantage of being handed the house that can make the dream come true. It’s a leg up, so to speak, and we simply must make what we do here that much more special and important.
It will certainly start with our colleagues. The staff we hire, and the exhaustive 3-week training program. The purveyors with whom we partner, and the fierce diligence with which our chef demands only the best. The sense of community that we want to create within the building, theoretically, in rubbing elbows with our local community as well as those who come to visit from a little farther away, specifically in the “on-season” that the town hosts. Small updates here and there, finally, to wake up the restaurant that has been sleeping for a full season, should round that right out.
It will end with what every restaurateur hopes for: guests that want to play. Guests who are willing to give us their deservedly hard-to-earn trust, and take chances where we ask them to do so. Guests that want to run back through the front door, like a child headed to daycare, because there is nowhere else they’d rather be. It’s the setup for one of the best lines I’ve ever heard since I started in the restaurant world: “We’re not in the restaurant business to make money; we make money so that we can stay in the restaurant business.” Everything that we’re dreaming of right now is simply to put enough in the bank so that we can do it better, and make better mistakes, each subsequent service that we’re open – with the singular hope that people will come back as soon as they possibly can. Everything we do is for our guests – and it’s already starting, months before the first of you get here.
But enough of that for now, I suppose. I don’t want my Sazerac to get too much colder.