TIPS FROM A CHEAP RESTAURATEUR
with a Recipe for Smoky Pork Rillettes
It’s difficult to convey what it’s like to constantly temper the miserly voices in my head that are forever telling me that I could’ve/should’ve saved this, paid less for that, got ripped off, or the absolute worst, wasted the damned fill in the blank. Luckily though, however annoying this constant nagging is for a first-time restaurateur like me, this curse has actually been a tremendous gift. Who knew my terror of running out of money, having to rely on others and forever being without (not to mention being a public failure) would have played out in the form of a fairly cost-efficient restaurant? If only someone had explained this simple equation to me in the beginning I might have a less pickled liver today.
So before I share my thrift-tastic, super easy, budget-minded, fancy pants, impress your friends, recipe for Smoky Pork Rillettes, I thought I would share this with you first. Here are a few of my simple tips for keeping your costs as low as possible while opening and running your own small restaurant, thus insuring profitability. Yay $$$!
1. Do Everything Yourself.
Or at least try to. I thought this one would be a no-brainer since I already had plenty experience as a chef. But, this ain’t no one-woman show y’all, because I didn’t know jack about the front of the house. Which leads us to #2.
2. Charm your Significant Other into Running the Dining Room.
Although she was already disenchanted with her would-be career as an academic when I began my adventures as a restaurateur, my now-wife still harbors resentment about those first years of orchestrating service in a dining room that was essentially stampeded every day. As a self-proclaimed non-people person, she and I now both realize five years later, what a monumental task that was for her, and still enjoy a good belly laugh about some of the most insidious encounters she has endured. We troubleshot for two weeks alone after she got one of her first nasty on-line reviews before we just decided to let it go.
3. Buy a Dirt Cheap, Used Cargo Vehicle and Purchase Everything Yourself.
Why you say? Because when you put yourself in the hands of certain purveyors, you leave yourself at the mercy of wild price fluctuations, quality fluctuations, sudden product unavailability and hidden charges (gas price hike fee, really?) amongst other BS. For a cheap, control freak like myself, waiting to see what the actual price of something is after I’ve ordered it, and am then dependent on it because I’ve already planned my menu, is freaking excruciating.
In the beginning, I had this idyllic fantasy of walking my little abuelita cart to the farmer’s market a few times a week to gather what I needed for my little restaurant. HA! That honestly lasted for an entire two weeks. From my little cart we graduated to this:
However, after being impaled in the back of the head a few too many times by the occasional flying watermelon, or even better flying pineapples, we graduated to this:
The good humored wife-now-business partner and I split the duties of shopping and hauling all of the stuff we needed for the restaurant for a few more years until she got pregnant and I tore the ligaments in my right wrist. Important note for new restaurateurs: If you ever find yourself hauling ass through a Restaurant Depot parking lot while pushing a 500 LB wall of groceries on one of their upright carts and it starts to tip over, LET IT FALL!
4. Put Crack in the Food
Just kidding (sort of), although in our ‘hood that wouldn’t be a very hard thing to do since it’s always in season and very cheap and plentiful.
But, really what I’m talking about here is that it’s vitally important to make sure that every bite of food that goes into your customer’s mouths permanently rewires their taste memories so that they’re ruined for all other foods. Sounds like too lofty a goal? Sure, but if you don’t set your taste standards high from the get-go then don’t bother opening the doors. Restaurants need Regulars just like Crack Dealers need Crack Heads and the best way to do that is by leaving them feeling as if they’re gonna experience some serious DTs if they don’t get there hands on some more of your amazing food STAT.
5. Charge your Employees for their Screw Ups
I’m not sure if I’m breaking some sort of employment law here, but I wouldn’t waltz into someone else’s home, pull out the most expensive proteins from their refrigerator, burn the crap out of them and then pretend as if everything is just fine and dandy. After putting up with that BS for way too long I finally started doing this:
In case you might be thinking I’m a total jackhole of a boss, I do offer every employee a totally free meal of their choice per shift. No yucky staff meal consisting of a bunch of leftovers and no lame “employee meal” charge on their paychecks. And, the kitchen staff can pretty much eat there faces off the entire time they’re within the building.
6. Don’t Serve Food that You Can’t Afford to Sell
Huh? Basically what I’m saying here is make sure that you are going to make $ on every dish on the menu. What’s the point of selling out of that killer shrimp app every night for only $8.50, when it costs you $7 in ingredients, not to mention your labor? That’s an 82% food cost! Maybe you should save the not-so-cost-effective ingredients for special dinner parties and use a Nice Cheap Cut like Pork Butt to create something yummy like this:
SMOKY PORK RILLETES
or what the wife likes to refer to as Bacon Butter
1 lb pork butt (the fattier the better), cut into approximately 3” chunks
8 ounce pack of cheap bacon, or even cheaper, bacon ends
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped into quarters
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
1 TB dried thyme leaves
2 TB kosher salt
1 TSP black pepper
Combine all of the ingredients and place in a pan. Cover with foil and cook at 350* for 3 hours or until fork tender. Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle. Into a Cuisinart add half of the ingredients including jus and fat. Lightly pulse into a rough puree. Remove to a mixing bowl and repeat with the remaining pork. Adjust with more salt and pepper at this point if you so desire. If you’re serving right away place into a crock and chill slightly before serving. If not, place rillettes into a crock and press lightly to evenly compress and get any air pockets out. Chill for an hour uncovered. Cover chilled rillettes with a warm layer of bacon fat to seal the top. The fat sealed rillettes should keep in your refrigerator for at least 2 weeks. At the restaurant we serve ours with croutons, watermelon pickles and a spicy Creole mustard sauce, but any nice baguette, mustard of choice and cornichon would more than suffice.