By the Numbers

 How many pies does it take? 

Before I resume recipe writing I'd like to get a few things out there on owning and running a restaurant. The first thing you should know is opening a restaurant is stupid. Its an easy way to lose money, or as I like to think of it, pay to work really really hard. If your friends ever say to you, "Everything you cook is so good, you should have a restaurant." slap them. Slap them hard. What they are really saying is, "Hey you should invest a lot of money/go into debt by opening one of the riskiest businesses there is, so I can maybe pay to eat your food every 2 months, or every month if I am actually a good friend." Or if they are really shitty friends, assume they can eat for free. There are lots of great ways to bring food to the world, catering, wholesale and retail food sales, dinner parties, dinner party clubs, fancy food markets and on. Taking care of a brick and mortar restaurant is just silliness. Sure it works some of the time, and who doesn't love a good meal in a nice restaurant, but do you really want to give up life as you know it to be the person who is that success? Let's take a moment to reflect and possibly high-five all the successful restaurant owners, managers, chefs, servers, dishwashers, delivery people, and one who are part of the food business. 

Numbers will rule your life when you own a restaurant. From little to small, you will be crunching and fighting all day long into your eyes retreat into your head. How many grams of salt in x food item, how many grams per serving in x food item, how many servings per batch in x food item, how many batches of in x food item can you fit in your not large enough fridge vs how often x food item goes bad, much should you sell x food item for, how many servings a week will you sell of x food item, how many servings do you need to sell to pay for rent utilities, food costs, and the salary of 5 people? How many pizzas do you have to sell to survive? If you're a bakery, how many cookie do you have to bake? There are more number questions and variables, but I'm boring myself just by writing this.

It is easy to lose interest in the actual cooking and creating part. Its a left brain vs right brain saga. For the first month Loft was open I basically lived in fear of the food both spoiling or running out not knowing how many people might come every night. I over-ordered a lot of ingredients to be sure no one would go for wanting. Managing all that food is tricky. Early mornings I would stand in front of my 4-door and ponder the power I was wielding by controlling all those kilos of meat and arugula which (sorry localvore movement) has to be flown in from France.

Weekly specials are a nice plan b. They are a great way to use up something extra, and breath a little fresh air into the menu. Staff meal is another reliable back up.  There is a limit to what your staff are willing to repeatedly eat. Creative handling can make it better. Eggs are super food, binding ingredients into limitless possibilities. Soups becomes a staple. Somehow cooking food and storing it slows the demise of otherwise fading foods. I also like turning everything into a salad. Since the majority of my staff is health-conscious, I don't hear many sighs on salad nights.

Oranges, so many....

So how does one keep track of all the numbers? Spreadsheets. That's right, its all plugged into boring spreadsheets and spit out on monthly finance reports. Spreadsheets are my least favorite thing on earth. Maybe violence, natural disasters, or traffic jams are worse. I have a massive spread sheet of how much each ingredient costs, from each supplier, the quantity the ingredient comes in and the price per piece, gram or milliliter here in Taiwan. After I write my recipes (in US measurement which is then translated into metric) I can calculate how much each dish will cost. After you crunch enough numbers you realize material value may not be dictated by price as much as fuel. Things imported items like baking soda, pasta, and bread flour are all the same price per gram.

Behold Taiwan late December tomatoes

Another interesting fact that turned up after I comparing ingredient prices is vendors in Taiwan are all pretty equally priced. Most oil, name-brand ketchup, sugar, salt, tomatoes, cucumbers all cost the same.  Service really defines a vendor. Taiwan has excellent service. My produce dealer used to teach me the Chinese names of my veggies when he first started delivering. The guy is busy, but he always has a minute to chat in Chinese about parsley. He once helped me with a chalk drawing on our street sign. He is at the top of our Rolodex.

Taiwan has pretty great agriculture. Our winter tomatoes do kick the East coast's water orange butt. Vegetable prices do go up in the winter, but some go down too. I am told that the summer's typhoons can seriously effect vegetables availability and price, but luckily I haven't been in business during a big one. When ingredients are in season they are really abundant. Oranges, have you ever seen so many kinds of oranges? Okay, I'm from NYC, some of you have, but this makes me happy. Strawberry time is here right now and its utterly fabulous. Little sweet strawberries they way you dream them to be. I can not wait for mangoes to come back.

Behold, Taiwan strawberries with frosting on top. I later found out I could get them with honey. 

Its not just a lot to manage, its a lot to learn. Thankfully I have some great guides here. Everyone around the world appreciates great food after all the boring shit is done. 


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