Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Both Sides Now....

I have heard this before….seen it before.

This whole idea that there are two sides at fault in a riot….like there are two sides to the climate change debate, and two sides to the evolution “debate”......

It is easy to sound like a crazy alarmist what with actual Nazis appearing in our midst…..

I watched a lot of the video shot during the night and day in Charlottesville.  The righties seemed prepared, organized, dressed for the occasion and often armed.  There were a few anti-fa nutballs in helmets on the other side, but mostly it looked like students, moms and grandpas, and the usual mix of folks totally sincere about issues of which I have no clue.  Nice day; folks walking around the streets…..and wham!

I lived in Greece in the fall of 1973, working on Ios for no money.  We supported ourselves by taking the ferry to Athens once a month to sell our blood.  We had a fake cast we could put on alternate arms to hide the tracks so that we could  get double the money.  That meant giving up a liter, which will definitely make you woozy.

One day right after getting my cash I took the subway into the University part of town for some cheap food.  When I popped up, I was in the middle of a riot……and the subway closed down behind me.  The power was also shut off and the City got spooky very quickly in November dusk.

Greece was run by a military junta at the time: “The Colonels”.  Turns out the kids at the U had gone on strike a couple of days before my bloodletting.  Yawn.  Kids these days.  They made speeches, read poetry, yada yada.  They also made a little radio station out of stuff from the physics lab and started broadcasting.  And they had music, and pretty girls…..

Next thing you know, all the Greeks started to check it out.  Greece was pretty boring under the Colonels.  Young kids flocked in, and workers, and random families with kids.  Like Saturday in Chalottesville.

The Colonels finally got pissed.  On the afternoon of Day 2, just as I was coming out of the subway, they sent in troops.  The kids had barricaded the University with this and that, but when the troops came they switched to commandeering busses, and parked them across the major streets around the U, blocking the jeep traffic.  

No one could leave, because we were surrounded…. and the whole bus thing.  The streets were full of folks, and lots of the cafes were still open.  I ducked into one just before they closed the steel grate….and wound up drinking raki with some Trump fans for a scary hour before I snuck out the back.

So….tear gas.  Threats on loudspeakers.  Then the soldiers started to dismantle the bus barricades.  They would jump in one, fire it up and take off.  Since the kids had flattened the tires, the busses swerved all over the place when the cops punched it.  I saw a whole family get sideswiped by a careening bus and knocked down like bowling pins.  

Some provocateur had spread the rumor that burning tires counteracted the CS gas they were using (banned by the Geneva Convention by the way).  Choking smoke and gas everywhere.  Old codgers wheezing and dropping in the street.  Little kids crying with blistered faces.
I started doing basic first aid.  We got cloth napkins and waters from all the now abandoned cafes and started wiping people down and making crude gas masks.  I was too chicken shit to go near the busted up people laying in the street.

Then the shooting started, and armored personnel carriers started cutting off quadrants of blocks.  They had guys on the roofs with rifles, and the APC’s would come down a block firing tear gas anywhere they saw people.  When the people were flushed out, shots rang out.  (Supposedly it was rubber bullets, but they broke car windshields.)  Then squads of soldiers would sweep the block, shooing people and beating anyone who faltered.  I saw one guy get shot trying to run across the street from where I was hiding in a café.  He dropped when hit, and three cops were on him, beating the shit out of him with clubs until he was still.  Very still. We ran, and the bullets missed.

The gas rounds that the army were firing were about the size of a tennis ball can.  They would explode on impact, releasing the gas.  If one hit a lamp post it dented it.  One went right through the windshield of an old Volvo next to me….and continued out the back windshield before it hit another car and popped.  

By now most of the people around me were students, or at least young people….like you might find on Alvarado Street on any given Saturday.  We were trying to get away from the University and dodging the APC’s and soldiers as they tried to compress the perimeter.  And yes, I held up my passport at all times, shouting “American”.  That just seemed to draw fire.

At one point, a group of a dozen or so of us were surprised by an APC and some cops.  The APC’s turret turned and fired a round towards us.  I hit the girl next to me directly in the face, and she flew back and dropped like a sack of dog food. The cops charged, and we beat feet.

Luckily we were just on the outside of the riot by then and quickly found clean air and no people.  The railroad station wasn’t far so I hustled over.  It was all shut down, and was a staging area for the police and army.  There was a big line of tanks idling in front of the station, with soldiers milling around.  I found a chair at the outside café, covered myself up with tablecloths and tried to sleep off the gas and raki.

About three in the morning, the tanks fired up and trundled into the city.  A few minutes later, automatic weapons fire started.  I got the fuck out of there.  I wound up walking all the way to Piraeus.

Supposedly 24 people were killed.  I only saw a tiny part, and I saw at least ten killed myself.  You think an ambulance came for that girl?  She probably laid there for a day, dead or alive.  Fake news! The Colonels said that the police and army were just defending themselves from the violent Communist protestors.  Sound familiar?

I am not going to bother making any parallels.

All I can say is that when I saw the video of those random, happy, young and old people walking in the sunny streets of Charlottesville just before the car hit……it put me right back in Athens on 17 November 1973.

Don’t let this shit slide, people.

There are not two sides.

Monday, August 07, 2017


Vis a vis Mary’s article in the Pine Cone about kitchen staff surcharges appearing on the diner's bill::

It is illegal in California to pool tips (unless everyone agrees) and it is totally illegal to cut kitchen staff in on dining room tips.
Rich Pepe and David Fink are on the right track, adding a 2% charge.

For a minute let’s look at a pretend restaurant in the sky, trying to be just to all workers.
Let’s just pretend this place is somewhere isolated, away from competitors and regulators….blessed with a certain independence wrought by ten miles of bad road. 
On a slow night in March…..very slow…..let’s pretend there are two highly skilled waitresses, a highly skilled wine steward, and a very experienced but heavily pregnant busser.
In the kitchen might be the owner, two highly experienced and skillful sous-chefs, and a dishwasher comes in the next morning.
Let’s say sales are $1500…..a third of a normal busy night…..probably 30 diners. A lot of staff on duty, but everyone comes at once, so……..
The food and service are good, and rarely is there less than 25% of sales in the tip jar at the end of the night……tonight there might be $377 say.
The waiters work 3-11pm or so, the busser is 4-10, and the wine guy drives a bit and works from 4;30 or 5 until his dinner at 10pm.
The chef arrives at 10am, one sous chef pulls in at noon, the other at 2pm. They all work until midnight, at $16 per hour. The waiters are paid minimum wage, around $10 per hour. The wine guy gets gas money/time, plus minimum.
Legally the wages would be: Wine guy and waitresses would walk with $180 each, the busser with $110. The cooks would get $150 and $192, respectively.
Let’s further pretend that the staff agrees to let the owner….against every law in the state…..divide up the tips. The result might be: wine guy $140 ($28 per hour) waiters $150 ($21.50 per hour), busser $100 ($16.67 per), sous chef A $180 ($18 per), sous chef B, $222 ($18.50 per hour). 
This is a shitty night, mind. Normally everyone would make well over $20 an hour, and the waiters $25-30, or more.
The cooks have been illegally given 18% of the waiters money….$70…..or 4.6% of sales. 
So…..Rich and David are on the right track…..almost halfway there!
And thank God no place like that actually exists!

Notice that the owner has a 41% labor cost, not counting the dishdog. (Not good if you read my previous post.)
And….that is why you see owners washing their own dishes on Tuesday mornings in the winter.

Dolors and Sense......

Restaurant economics for beginners:

We have been working for some months now on taking over a long abandoned kitchen and dining room.  We have the skills, equipment and licensing to get the place up and running in days, not weeks.

The new owners have finally gotten back to us about rent, etc.  They want $3800-$4800 a month…..just to rent the kitchen.  An old, abandoned kitchen.  Viel gluck, schnukiputzi!

Here are the basics:  

Food cost should be 30-33%.  In other words, a pork chop costing six dollars must sell for at least $18-20…..plus the cost of sauces, side dishes, etc.  Same with wine.  That ten dollar wine at The Grapevine will cost you probably $30-33.  Booze, sodas, coffee, etc will be marked up ten times.

Payroll: This will also cost you 30-35% of total sales.

Rent:  There are a couple of ways of looking at this, by sales and by square footage.  Breaking even on a full service restaurant should generate $150-$250 for each square foot (per year).  You don’t make money until you hit $300-350.  Rent should also not be more than 6% of sales…..(so multiply monthly rent times 16 or so.)  Our rent at Lokal was $1500 a month, for about 1000 square feet…..we needed at least $24,000 a month to pull it off, by both measures.

$24k income
$8k staff
$6-7k food cost
$1.5k wine cost (assuming only $4k sales, ie no Lee)
$1500 rent

Our net is now down to $6-7k to spend on utilities, linen, supplies, repairs…..OH! And Management!   

Completely doable….but yes, there will be a ten dollar corkage on that wine you bought from The Grapevine, sir.

In Cachagua our rent was $2500…..needing $40k a month at least to break even.  We almost did it! (Well, we did do it for years…..until the rent creeped over $1600).

Our theoretical new spot, with 900 sq ft, and let’s say $4k rent would be looking for $20k (by square footage) to $64k (by percentage) per month of sales.

The other way to figure out potential is look at how many bodies can you seat.  In Cachagua, 50 inside; at Lokal, maybe 40…..so pray for no rain.  Ever.  Our new spot would be more like 25. With a check average of around $50 we could do $2500 per seating in Cachagua, maybe $2k at Lokal, and $1250 at the new place.  Cachagua was always good for a full turn and a half, sometimes two full turns.  Lokal was maybe one turn, max, because of different dining mores in town vs Cachagua.  (You can shoot a cannon through any Village restaurant after 8pm and never hurt a soul.) The new spot would be the same…..hoping for $1250 a night.  This, of course is on Saturday night, and maybe Friday. In summer.  Tuesday?  Thursday?  In winter?  Viel gluck.

Let’s say that our new spot is open five nights a week and Friday-Sunday days.  Experience tells me that doing a good job in summer might pull in $6k a week.  Go back to my figures above and subtract another $2500 from the net for the new $4,000 rent.  You now have a whopping $4.5-5k a month left to spend on utilities, linen, soap, repairs….oh, and management.  I have laid out at least a 60 hour week for those eight shifts, not counting bookkeeping.  Who is up a sixty hour week for less than three grand?  In a good month.

So….what to do?  Raise prices?  Give up on the locals and depend on tourists?  Have fun in January!  Do some of that $8k work yourself…..so, more than 60 hours a week?  No worries!  Do catering like crazy?  Hire two competent crews that can adequately represent you every Saturday, but one crew only works Saturdays because they're rich?  Craigslist?  No issues there!

A prudent landlord would work backwards through all these numbers and say: “It looks like $1500 a month is the base rent.  How about we charge $1500 up to $24k a month sales, and then 6% of every dollar above that?  If the place does well, we both make out."

This is what happened at Silver Jones back in the ‘90’s.  Our base rent was $1500, and our percentage was 7%.  The average rent we wound up paying was $8,000 a month.  Happy landlord….and we got to go to Bonaire every January.

Sadly…..there are few prudent landlords left.  Bryan at Lokal was an exception.  Restaurants are all about drama and cachet and fun! and action!..It’s all about the dream! Rents should be high!  And, there are investors who have the money and the dream! and don’t care.  Supposedly.

As you can see from my numbers, it is hard to make a buck on operations.  The money comes when you sell your lease after three or four years of breaking even and getting good reviews.

The saddest story I have heard this year was at the very last Sunday Brunch at Lokal.  A nice kid flew in from France to help his mom open a French restaurant in Monterey.  She has had a successful place in Aptos for twenty years, but lost their lease.   

Their new spot will be in the new building behind Alvarado Street, kitty corner from Chong’s on Washington.  Brand new, completely empty spot…..so we have to add the costs of building a modern commercial kitchen and outfitting a dining room to our lists.  Their rent?  ONLY $9,000 a month…..

Across the street from Chong’s.   

Do the math.  Yup, pushing $150k a month…..or a Cachagua Store dinner every day of the week. 

Live the dream.