The Victory Hour
It’s close to 2AM.
It’s been 154 days since we started the farmhouse ‘adventure.’ 3,969 hours. We open the restaurant to the first event later this afternoon.
I’ll admit that I’m a little buzzed right now; I have the euphoria of a Christmas-Eve four year old, and perhaps with precisely the same naiveté, in that I can’t sit still for the excitement. Then again, I shouldn’t sit still – we’re opening a restaurant today.
We’re ahead of schedule. There is plenty left that needs to be tended to, to be sure – light bulbs that aren’t in yet, dust that needs to be cleared…and the list goes on for quite a while, but we’re ready. The service staff is ready. The kitchen is and has been producing menus and food that will rival anything our guests have seen. We’ve managed construction and all of our permitting such that the licenses, permits, and inspections have all been completed on time, and we’re not going to be running around like chickens with our heads cut off. It’s a strong team here, and we feel good about that. This is the 5th restaurant opening I’ve been a part of, and I’m starting to think that I’m at least getting the hang of it.
A little more thought, though, and it’s not hard to figure out that the future success will lean very heavily on our shoulders. We are going to make The Velveteen Habit what it will be, not what it is in order to open, and for that to have been possible, there had to be a tremendous amount of people that made us look good.
There’s Adam and Todd with Plumondon Electric. Both of these absolute professionals showed up on time or earlier, and worked from the minute they got there to the minute they left. We exchanged tons and tons of banter, busting their chops and throwing literal snowballs back and forth (Todd buzzed my ear once like the tower in ‘Top Gun,’ for which retribution is still forthcoming), but for every project we thought they were finishing, we came up with four more little side jobs. Every time, they made it happen. Working the wires of an 18th century house is a task, to say the least, and these guys made it look easy. Busted things are fixed, lights are on, and this is why we’re ready to open.
We’d be remiss to not talk about Jeremy Drobish, who runs his own painting business here in town. He was a hard guy to figure out at first, but as time went on, and things were being done with Cistene-esque precision, it became very clear that the pride in craft bled out of him, and was miraculous to watch in transformation from the first coat on the main dining room all the way through the last hanging door having been painted. When we’ve run close to deadlines, he shows up with more people and gets things done. So far, completely on time – which is relatively unheard of in the world of painting. His colleagues are all professionals, too – picking up little side favors that we’ve asked of their expertise, all in the name of getting us open. These guys are why we’re ready to open.
There’s this amazing staff, too – people hired from all over the scope of talent pools. Some have very little training in restaurants, and some have a great deal. All have a common ideal though, and a vision that makes me remember why I stay in this sometimes very unthankful business. The very first day of training, every one of them parked as far from the building as they could – where employees normally would park in a restaurant out of respect for their guests – without being prompted. This is the core of what we do, and it’s based on them. A forty-hour training class, for which they receive only a minimal wage (since no gratuities are coming in yet), with dusty and dirty additional side-projects haven’t deterred even one of them. They are why we’re ready to open.
Our community, neighbors, and local governing volunteers who set the standards for the town that are sometimes so difficult to follow, have been nothing short of miraculous. Where the letter of the law so regularly reigns, and so just because of ‘principle,’ these folks have educated and guided us to the place where right now, the night before we welcome our first guests into the restaurant, we have everything that we need in order to start making money back into the restaurant. Without them and their gracious, professional help, we would not be opening – they are certainly why we’re ready.
There’s our restorationist, Jode Murray, and there isn’t enough space to talk about him in a single writing. If ‘The Dude’ from the Big Lebowski was a woodworker, this would be Jode – a giant spirit and presence in the house, with a laugh for any joke and a shout for any Allman Brothers song that came on to Pandora. Jode crafted some of the most amazing pieces I have seen in my time not only in restaurants, but in my life, to include our trademark red door with logo built in and all, tearing out the old. All from solid wood, all very matter-of-factly. I once told Jode that when we first started the project, I was convinced that he talked to the wood, based on how he would just stare at it for so much time. His answer was simple: “Naw, man,” he said. “The wood talks to me.” I believe him, and know for a fact that he’s why we’re ready to open.
We had some pipes burst as the first few freezes came through Maine. Our friends Walter and Troy, plumbers with Performance Plumbing, had someone out in what seemed like moments, when a thing like this would normally take much longer, because he knew how serious an issue it would be in such an old building in the dead of winter. In addition, there were a tremendous number of other fixes that Walter advised us on and helped us with that went well beyond the scope of not only his job while here, but our own knowledge; he is the reason that we’re opening on time.
It seems as though no matter what hospitality we preach, which wines we pick, or which food we serve, we have very little to do with opening the restaurant. Rather, it’s the support team that allows us to get there, and the same ladies and gentlemen that prevent us for languishing in the building and awaiting the ok to unlock the front door. Our bar builders, the copper workers, Libby Slader’s selections for a dream that we’ve thought about for decades – these are all reasons that we’re opening. Collectively, every one of these people is truly part of what we are, not just workers that are doing what we tell them to do; doing instead what they feel is right, and sharing in what we see.
They’ve become our family, and we are The Velveteen Habit; that’s why we’re ready to open.