Sunday, February 20, 2011

Try, Try, Try Again...

Ok...I'm a short-order cook that's opening a Diner style restaurant.  Cooking eggs on the grill, bacon, great hashbrowns, pancakes, french toast, hamburgers, club san, blt's and so on and so on, that's like second nature to me.  Bakery items...that's a weak point for me, which is why I've been working on a number of different recipes for breads and cinnamon rolls.  Actually, I do have a set of recipes that I like and am working it's just trying to refine them to work with 1) elevation, 2) refrigeration, and 3) oven temp.

Now...I'm currently working with residential equipment.  That means a smaller mixer, working with whatever bowls and containers we might have, and a regular household oven along with a store bought pizza stone (you gotta cook artisan breads on a stone).  Given that, my breads and cinnamon rolls aren't turning out too bad.  Ok, they still need some work...I'll explain.
First - cinnamon rolls.  The dough was a bit stiff, not as wet as it should have been (I know, you're thinking that 'wet' is the wrong word...actually, the process and recipe that I'm using results in a 'wet' dough).  Regardless, I was able to roll out the dough (with some effort) and spread the butter/cinnamon mixture.  Rolling the dough kind of went ok too though again, I could tell that the dough was stiffer than what it should have been.  However, cutting the rolls went great - nice and rounded rolls.  As you can see in the picture though, the dough was a bit thick...I didn't get it rolled out thin enough (but I don't want it too thin).

The cinnamon rolls cooked up great - they grew as I expected them to...a good sized cinnamon roll!

The frosting is a cream-cheese frosting - I may be a little thin with the frosting...try, try, try again. 

This recipe is a great buttery dough with honey.  There actually isn't any sugar in the dough but the rolls still have a really great taste allowing for a great tasting cinnamon roll.  However, with the dough being too stiff (not wet enough), the completed cinnamon rolls were a bit dry.  Don't get me wrong - they still tasted great...and they have all been eaten, but still, there were a bit dry.  Also, I didn't have enough of the filling in them so that's another thing that I'll work on.  Looks like more testing and tasting and then testing again.

For the breads, I cooked a French Boule, Deli Rye, and Chocolate Bread.

I can't ever remember having 'Chocolate Bread', but I'll certainly cook it again!!  As with the cinnamon rolls, all of the doughs were a bit stiff.  I think it may have to do with, well, obviously too much flour, but also, it looks like the refrigeration does play a role in how the dough sets up.  The last time I made the boule and rye breads, I used our garage as our second refrigerator (we often do that during the winter time).  This time though, because the outside daytime temps were in the 40's, I used our refrigerator.  The doughs really set up...more so than what I had expected.

While the completed products weren't dry at all, the breads really didn't 'spring' like they should have in the oven.  The results were a bit odd shaped loaves but what the heck - they tasted GREAT!!

So, still more work to do but I can only do so much while working with residential equipment.  The ovens I'll have at the Diner are professional baking ovens with 1" stones for the deck.  The temps will be more consistent, the heat more even, and with all the other professional equipment, well, it'll be easier to make my doughs and bake my breads.  Still, it doesn't stop us from enjoying whatever it is that I cook here as you can tell by our family dinner:

Again, my strengths are as a short-order cook - I admit I'm weak on the bakery end of things, but I'm relentless in wanting to get things right.  So as I keep working out my recipes and menu items, I'll try, try, and try again till I get it right.  And when I do...I can smell the bread cooking now!!!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Clean Air...really?

Considering our location...Utah, along the Wasatch Front...basically in mountain country...we ought to be able to just breath in all that fresh air - right?  Well, maybe up at the ski resorts but probably not down here in the valley.  It's interesting as I get further along in the process of opening my own restaurant, I'm getting to learn a lot more about all the 'behind-the-scenes' decisions that have to be made.  One of those decisions is how to handle all of my exhaust needs.

As per my name of "Nellie's Diner", I'm a down-home diner style restaurant.  That means hash browns, bacon, eggs (cooked on the grill...not in egg pans), pancakes, chicken fried steak and much much more for breakfast.  For lunch, burgers, fries, onion rings...I could go on and on, but since this post isn't about my menu...

The type of food I decided on directly affects the type of cooking equipment that I need to have.  Grills, Char Broiler, and Fryers make up the bulk of my kitchen.  Along with my equipment choice, I now have to deal with grease...grease on the grills, grease on the walls, grease on the floors, and grease in the air (while limiting the amount of grease on your plate).  I can take care of keeping my grills clean along with my walls and floors.  However, the grease in the air is something that I can't very easily clean.  So what do I do?  That's where my exhaust system comes of the many 'behind-the-scenes' decisions that need to be made early on in the process.

If you look around at various eating establishments, especially up on the roofs, you may notice that restaurants and fast food outlets typically have more equipment up there than other businesses.  That equipment includes an exhaust fan and 'make-up' air (since the exhaust fan is removing air from the building, you need a way to bring fresh air back into the building...that's the 'make-up' air).  Anyway, you've walked around outside and all of a sudden you get that whiff of burgers cooking or the smell of french fries...those smells are coming from the various exhaust systems of the surrounding restaurants.  In reality, what you are smelling are particles got it - grease.  So now where is your fresh air.

As I'm in the process of choosing my exhaust system, I seem to be in a bit of a unique situation...the space that I'm planning on going into is in a multi-story building.  What that means is I'm a bit limited on what type of exhaust system that I can install.  If I install a conventional system...the same system where you can smell the burgers and fries being cooked (the same system that is basically loading the surrounding air with tiny bits of grease particles), I'd have to run the system through eight (count them...8) stories to get to the roof.  In reality, that's not too practical and can get very expensive - especially the installation.

My alternative?  Well, just another expensive system, but an interesting one.  Nothing is final yet, but it looks like I'll need to go with a system that will actually clean my exhaust air by about 98-99% of grease particulates before exhausting it to the outside.  What does that mean?  No smell, no grease particles, just clean fresh air - like it should be.  The expense? - well, only about $70K - ouch.  However, it's all in the cost of doing business, and in the name of...clean air.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Logo Design...

One of the many things that I've been working on is a logo design.  I've been looking at a lot of different logos and have been creating a variety on my own.  Some of the considerations I've been taking into account is the simplicity of the design (I don't want it so complicated that the logo just seems to be a blob of...stuff), the ease of being able to display it on a building or on a window or something like that, and the ability to use it on T-shirts, caps, jackets, and hoodies through either a screenprint or embroidery.  I've also been thinking a lot about the type of font I want to use and how to display everything.

Well, here's one design that I rather like.  It's simple yet I think effective in getting across that 1- the name of the place is 'Nellie's', and 2- it's a Diner.
For me, I like the color (red), I like the font, I like the simplicity of it...basically, I rather like it.  I'd be interested in knowing what you think about it...let me know.

Thanks - Nilsen

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Restaurants from A to Z

Well, I've been pretty busy with varying aspects of getting my restaurant ready...there are so many things to do.  I mean, I know the restaurant industry pretty good and I know how to run a restaurant - a 'profitable' restaurant...but still, there are so many things to consider.

First, you've got to be crazy enough to come up with the idea to start up a restaurant...most people I know would agree that I'm a bit crazy so I've got that one covered.  Then you've got to really think about what kind of restaurant you want to have, and then once you've decided that, you think about it again and again and again.  Hmmm, seems to be a pattern here about "again and again and again" - you'll see as this goes on.

Once you decide on the kind of restaurant you want (and after thinking about it again and again and again), what's the menu like, what's the layout like, full-service?, quick-service?, what kind of atmosphere do you want to present...things like that you think about...again and again and again.  Then what about the menu...again and again and again.  I went through all of that, but for me, I knew right away that I wanted to do a 'Diner' style restaurant, Breakfast/Lunch only.  I am a short-order cook.  Now, I have nothing against Chefs and the more accomplished gourmet type cooks - I know several and they are good friends.  For me, I'm just a plain and simple kind of guy - just give me a desert without all the chocolate drizzle or dusting of...whatever it is that they use.  I'm serving down-home comfort food, and lot's of it!

Anyway, at some point, you've got to think about the location, your market, your design...again (because of location and market), the type of building you want, and then what are you going to have to do to get the building ready (the build-out).  At the same time, you're back to the menu and layout...again, as you start thinking about what your kitchen is going to look like...what equipment are you going to need, what smallwares you need, what kind of dishes, flatware, glasses, and such...and then you're back to design, layout, and menu...again and again and again.

Right now, I'm looking...again and again and again, at equipment.  More so, 'where' am I going to get my equipment from.  Since I already know what equipment I need, I'm now trying to decide where to get it from. The internet is a huge help, and a huge pain at the same time.  If I wanted to, I could spend the next few weeks doing research on where to get what equipment - there is that much information out there - which is a good thing.  However, at some point, you've got to say this is it...and I think I'm at that point...which is a good thing.

There are many many steps in getting a restaurant going - I've only named just a few.  Ahead of me? - well, I've got to finalize my menu, figure out my pricing, get my liability insurance, setup my bank account (for business), do this, do that, and then do more of this and that.

Another huge step is financing...something I am working hard on getting.  I'll post something later specifically on this topic.

All in all, I can say that this has been an exciting experience for me.  There is more to it than what I had even thought, but I can see the end of the tunnel, and the end involves turning on an OPEN sign and unlocking my doors!!!  Filling the air with smells of fresh baked bread and fresh ground coffee, hearing the sizzle of eggs and bacon on the grill, but mostly, seeing the smiles and satisfied looks on the faces of all those that come to eat at...Nellie's Diner!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Community Wall...

As I've been planning and figuring how to come up with the funds that I need to get my place open, I've come across some interesting ideas...ideas that would be almost impossible without the internet.  Now, don't get me wrong...if I could do this all on my own, I would...I really don't have the personallity to go asking for money.  However, I know that I can't do this all on my own...even when I'm open.  I mean, when I'm open, I'll have to rely on my staff to help me make Nellie's Diner the best thing that Provo ever had (and to do that, I'll be working right along side 'all' of my staff...from washing dishes to cooking to...everything - I'm a 'hands-on' type of person).

Anyway, I'm thinking of running a fundraising program that would allow you to 'donate' a few bucks...$5, $10, $25..., $100..., $1,000 - whatever you wanted to.  In return, 'some' of the ideas I've had is to have a "Community Wall" in my Diner with names of those individuals that were willing to contribute to the Diner to get it open and running.  I'd put the name and city/state of the donor on the wall - I'd like to fill the wall with names from all over - I think that would be kind of cool.  I'd also probably send a T-shirt with the 'Nellie's Diner' logo on it and such.  But my main thought was...what do you think about a 'Community Wall'.

Let me take this thought a little further.  The reason why I'm choosing to name my restaurant a "Diner", is because what a Diner represents...or what it is supposed to represent.  The Diner first came about to serve the working class...particularly those that worked late into the evening and night because everything else was usually closed.  The Diner was actually a horse-drawn cart which eventually evolved to a permanent location.  Diner's have always been there for the working class...for the community.  Diners ended up being a place where it didn't matter who you could be the town Mayor, the Chief of Police, or the laborer who has been digging holes all day long.  The Diner was for everyone - where everyone seemed to have the same status when they walked in.

That is what I'm bringing to Provo.  I want that same community feel that Diners of old had brought to the town.  I know, we have the big chain restaurants that I used to be a part of.  There is nothing wrong with them - I go to them to eat too.  But there's just something special about a "Diner", and it's that "special feel" that I'm bringing to Provo.

So, a Diner is for the community, local community, local high school community, and so forth - which brings me back to my 'Community Wall'.  If I'm going to make a go of this, it will be a community effort - I can't get it done on my own.  What do you think then.  You can comment here or on my Facebook page "Nellie's Diner" (sorry, I haven't made a link yet from my blog to my Facebook Page - I'm learning...I'll get it).


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Baking Bread...

Part of my concept includes baking my own breads for my sandwiches as well as making my own cinnamon rolls (and biscuits too).  The breads that I'll be baking are Artisan type breads.  Well, in order to 'perfect' my recipes and procedures and such, I've got to try things out...over and over and over again and again and again.  Don't get me wrong, I don't mind doing the baking and experimenting and such - it's fun for me (and I guess it ought to be since I'm about to open my own place).

So, over this weekend, I've been baking bread and cinnamon rolls...that was kind of a mistake - because everything was sooooo good!!  Baking 'Artisan' type bread at home in our own oven?  Yes - with a baking stone and adding steam to the baking process (it's the steam that helps get that nice good crust).

I baked two loaves of regular (white...well, kind of...) bread and then a loaf of rye bread - oh...the rye bread was soooo good!!!  I'm kind of a rye fanatic as two of my favorite sandwiches are a Rueben and a Patty Melt - yes, both of those are on rye bread.

I also made some cinnamon rolls...well, ok, they really weren't "rolls" as more as they were, well...a blob.  The dough was way too wet (I'm using a different process in preparing my dough) and, well, the dough was simply too soft to 'roll' it up and cut the cinnamon rolls.  So instead, we just plopped (literally) the 'somewhat rolled dough' into 9x13 cake pans and baked it.  I think I came up with a new product - cinnamon roll cake - hah.  I'll have to say that the cinnamon roll project was a failure as far as getting them to 'look' like cinnamon rolls, but the dough - sooooo good!!!  That's on my list to do again to get the dough right this time.  I've been trying a lot of different cinnamon roll recipes (as my family can attest to - and no, they are not complaining) and I think I've found my recipe...well, as long as I get the dough right.

Anyway, I've done a lot of testing with a number of different things here at the house - it's been fun.  I'll continue to do more testing to get the recipes down that I'll be using once I'm open.  That's the update for now.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nellie's Diner Coming Soon

The site selected for my new restaurant, Nellie's Diner, is located in Downtown Provo in the brand new Zion's Bank Financial Center building.  We are currently going through lease negotiations, but the LOI has been accepted by both parties so things are looking good.  I'm currently working to complete my funding as the goal is to open by April 18, 2011.  I'll keep you posted!!