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.
In my new novel, What’s Left, her maternal grandparents are both dead before her birth – they’re victims of a late-night collision on a rural highway. But they cast a big influence over her life, all the same.
Stavros and Bella are second-generation Americans, bridging hard work and success to establish the family restaurant, Carmichael’s, as the campus landmark it becomes.
In my new novel, What’s Left, the family’s nest egg was built by living on one income – in a single household – while everyone worked at the restaurant. The surplus went into savings and investments. Once the kids come along, their earnings also go in the pooled income, to be drawn out for college or marriage. Over time, as the family grows, the house has parents, grandparents, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins. What a circus!
As for pocket money? Take it from the till? Some places, yes. And some places, no.
They’re about to start over, in a way, when Cassia’s father-to-be shows up.
In my new novel, What’s Left, her great-grandparents parlay a hot dog shop into the purchase of a burger-and-fries joint at the edge of campus. Carmichael’s is a local landmark, even before her family takes over. And then they start buying up neighboring properties.
Her parents’ generation boldly sets out to enlarge on that base. They even buy out a dusty textbook store next door without quite knowing how it will fit into their business model.