In my new novel, What’s Left, she’s grown up taking much of her family and its restaurant enterprise for granted. After all, every kid in her extended close-knit family has had to work shifts there. After the death of her father – her Baba – when she’s 11, she uncovers what had attracted him to the home she’s known.
Early on, his input into the expansion of the restaurant must have felt invigorating. Beyond its pure financial calculations came some intense consideration of spiritual values, growing culinary awareness, and out-and-out-sensory delight. Could you put these together as an artistic experience? That kind of thinking.
My newest novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where her future father lands in a bohemian band of siblings who’ve just taken over the family restaurant after a car crash killed their parents.
It’s a lot of responsibility on young shoulders.
Sometimes, when you put a dish together, the balance is off. It can even mean starting all over. What do you think of this?
At home, Tito and Diana, still in school, need to make sure their siblings are up to the job of parenting and running a house. What about their grades, the laundry, cleaning the bathrooms? Who pays the bills? Who’s really in charge, for that matter? The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.
The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.
In his final half-dozen years Pappa Stavros had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his dealings, not to mention bad loans to his buddies or timing.
What I know of the food business is all second-hand, but I still wonder about taking leadership of an enterprise as a young adult. In my early 20s as second-in-command of a small newsroom, I was given surprising leeway and yet I’m still grateful for the stability provided by my older boss – even though I’m not sure he was always the most mature in some of our gunfights with the wider community.
We did have a great corner restaurant, though, run by two brothers and their wives. Just a coincidence, if you’re thinking of Cassia.
Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Doing what? What’s your strongest memory?
Deciding to move the family restaurant into the old textbook building next door opens the door for all kinds of changes. Playing around with the possibilities was fun for me – hey, I wasn’t really constrained financially, was I? Could we even use building blocks or construct a movie set? Alas, the story needed to move along faster. Besides, it’s about Cassia ultimately and what she and her generation would inherit. Here’s a passage before I boiled it down for the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:
Graham’s the first to admit the structure will need to be expanded, not just renovated. Adding to the rear will allow for the central cookery. The traditional Carmichael’s burger joint would then take the strip facing the campus, while Carmichael’s Bliss could run along the side street that bisects our holdings. The second floor would allow for function rooms, while the new Carmichael’s Stardust could sit above Bliss. Adding a third floor would provide for offices, and above that, a penthouse Dimitri and Graham, along with a small rooftop garden.
Among the many considerations that went into envisioning the new design was just what kind of ambiance they wanted. Would there be booths, and if so, would they have high backs for privacy or lower ones for visibility? There are actually a lot of questions like that, when you start investigating. I realized that would be better served in a restaurant trade magazine than in my new novel.
Still, it’s fair to ask. Do you want privacy when you dine? Or do you prefer being able to watch people? Is there a particular design statement you think would fit the new Carmichael’s?
In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.
Well, it was fun trying to envision the possibilities of the new operation. But I left plenty of detail in the final version of my new novel, What’s Left, as it is.
In contrast to her father’s desire for a bold contemporary design, here’s a whimsical touch from an earlier draft:
Graham suggests we plant climbing ivy. Says it’s subdued, reflects the campus across the street and softens the harshness of the old textbook building itself. He’s right.
Why stop there?
In the emerging design, a permanent awning extends over the sidewalk. Graham’s suggestion of not just ivy on the wall but flowerboxes under the windows meets widespread approval. And the entry opens into a light-filled atrium.
Well, I’m starting to like the look of it. Now, to see what happened to this.
I do have to remember that all of this is a backdrop for a bigger story – Cassia herself.
Which reminds me. There are many fun movies about food, wine, and restaurants. Which of your favorites would you suggest we see?
How far can a restaurant extend its business base? Its “brand,” as they say. This passage is prompted by meals at restaurants that expanded into new revenues, even though I cut this from the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:
Still, the playful concept feeds into what emerges around the corner as an elegant multi-purpose restaurant, plus a bookstore, art gallery, gift shop, and even a small greenhouse.
And that’s before the bakery or brewery comes into sight. For whatever reason, though, I shied away from launching Carmichael’s own brand of bottled products.
This has me thinking of a couple of specialty food markets on the tourist trail that include a cafe featuring their products. Turns the concept I’m discussing around, in effect.
The identity, of course, is built on something that makes us go gaga. Something that makes us want to return again and again.
What’s someplace that features your favorite comfort food or special treat? Would you wear a T-shirt proclaiming it? What do you think of restaurants that have a gift shop attached? Does it add or detract from the mission?
At one point in earlier versions of my new novel, What’s Left, I envisioned her family using their financial resources to drive an alternative local economy. The concept survives in the final version of the book, although this passage was boiled way down and many of the details changed:
Dimitri admits our enterprises will operate at the fringes of the economy.
He anticipates other extensions. We’ll encourage other friends to open a bakery. A guitar maker will join in a folk music shop. Rural skills like chair-caning and quilting will find a market here. Not everything we encourage will be quaint, as we’ll discover. Technology might include not just Baba’s darkroom and cameras but recording studios, computer designers, and solar entrepreneurs as well.
Or, as I noted in another now-deleted passage:
With patience, we’ll assure our dilapidated neighborhood just off campus undergoes rebirth.
Money issues – especially of an emotional, theological, and personal nature – are a topic I believe worthy of deep discussion. Just look to my Talking Money series archived at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog for inspiration. Admittedly, they’re too big for this novel, though now I’m beginning to wonder about another, maybe as a series of telephone conversations? Please, somebody talk some sense into me!
(Oh, my, now I’m recalling that “financially secure” line in the old personals ads and still wondering exactly what the women meant by that – a guy who has a regular job with benefits or a seven-figure portfolio instead?)
Thinking of operating at the fringes of the larger economy, though, good things can happen. Where do you imagine an infusion of “greenback energy” might empower you or your friends to better the world as we know it?