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?
I’ve waffled at times on my decision to add her other maternal great-grandparents to my new novel, What’s Left. It was already a big book with a big story when their role expanded, even as I was repeatedly pondering what else could be eliminated without detracting from the whole.
One bold quick cut would take Ilias and Maria out altogether. The story line would be tighter if Bella’s parents had simply rejected her when she tells them she’s marrying into Cassia’s family. But Ilias the Cypriot Greek and his wife, the Cuban-born Maria, insist on inserting their own spicy ingredients to the stew.
For one thing, they strengthen Bella’s emerging role as the family matriarch. For another, they loosen the symmetry of the brothers/brothers-in-law and sisters/sisters-in-law at the helm of the family restaurant that had hired Bella at the outset of the war years. And, my, how they dote on her baby Dimitri and then his brothers and sisters as they come along.
Their embellishments add humanity and warmth. And so they move in – and stay.
I’ve become a big believer in adopting people into the family – one’s who aren’t blood relations but belong all the same. Is that something you, too, do?
Who is your favorite family member? What makes that person special? How do you think that individual sees you in return?
Successful restaurants, or so I’ve read, can go downhill overnight. The public can be fickle, on one side, and the operation itself, on the other, can implode. Oh, the stories we could tell!
In my new novel, What’s Left, her parents’ generation takes bold steps to anticipate changes in American food tastes. They brazenly agree to slightly re-position their landmark burger-and-fries restaurant (now called Carmichael’s Indiana) and the bar (the Taverna) while adding two new venues, one upscale (Carmichael’s Starlight), the other vegetarian (Bliss).
Though I cut this from the final version, I still love the taste of it on me tongue:
And the new Carmichael’s Stardust usually offered something daring, for our neck of the woods, depending on how we were feeling and how adventurous our customers were responding. Lamb shanks, anyone? Artichokes? Cornish hens? Brussels sprouts? We were expanding their horizons.
Well, that would have been pretty daring for the mid-’70s! We’ve come a long way since, something I’ll assume the Stardust menu has pursued. Vegetarian, meanwhile, has become both stricter and more innovative through its vegan adherents. I’m not at all surprised to find how often our meals fall into its range, even without trying. As for a late-night gathering spot? The Taverna strikes me as a step up from a typical bar. Makes me think, in fact, of the late lamented Barley Pub here in town.
Think of your own tastes. Which of the restaurants would be your first choice?
In his prime, as his parents and their siblings recede from the business, Stavros is free to operate largely as an autocrat.
Is that really such a good thing? Or does his wife, Bella, keep him in line?
As my draft once explained:
He’s not only preserved Papou Ari’s concept of our own Mount Olympus, he’s expanded and upgraded its holdings. The once neglected in-town blocks are gaining new panache.
I doubt Stavros would have seen his position as nearly so liberated. He probably would have seen himself hedged in by suppliers, prices, customers’ expectations, health inspectors, taxes – oh, can’t you just hear him rattling off a long list?
Imagine yourself as the boss in your own dream job. What would that be? And what policies or practices would you do uniquely your own way?
There’s no escaping food itself or American culinary trends in my new novel, What’s Left – not when the family’s livelihood and fortune are built around their landmark restaurant. What I did, however, escape is a story relating the day-to-day cartoon sequences of a kitchen demimonde of cooks, dishwashers, and wait staff, out of sight in the back, and the quirky demands of customers beyond the swinging service door and long countertop, out in front. My daughter, a pro in the hospitality industry, already has a fine draft of a novel addressing those, thank you. Besides, I touched on some of those incidents in the opening chapters of my novel, Promise.
Since my new work grows out of a template established at the ending of my first published novel, where her parents’ generation is already immersed in change, it seemed natural to have them look toward innovation and evolution rather than remain tradition-bound in hamburgers and fried chicken. For one thing, they were toying with Buddhism, with its vegetarian traditions.
Let me say simply that the possibilities have led to many heated discussions in our household, married as I am to a well-informed foodie and genius cook in her own right. And that’s before we get to the aforesaid daughter.
In the time since Cassia’s parents’ marriage, the awareness of food options and availability of ingredients in America has advanced by light years.