To catch you up to date on the progress of my upcoming San Francisco restaurant, Olallie, I am highlighting aspects of the design process that occurred over the past 4 months. The design decisions described in this post were made during the late autumn of last year.
There was an additional reason why we chose to put the kitchen up front: money. Along with the aesthetic reasons cited in the previous entry, our limited budget guided our Architects to place the kitchen in the window. The unorthodox kitchen location allowed them to discover a way to utilize an otherwise unusable space. To explain how, I'll need to give a bit of background.
I remember the first time N and I saw our future restaurant space empty. The owners of the computer store had moved their wares a block up the street, and they were handing over the keys to us.
I looked around and my jaw dropped. Had the space shrunk? Was it still 1,100 square feet (100 m²)? It looked so much bigger when it was filled with computers and wires and desks. How were we going to cram all the equipment and storage needed to run a restaurant into a space the size of a coat closet?
Typically no more than a third of a restaurant's square footage is alloted to the "back of the house." After rationalizing that the garden was an integral part of the restaurant, that meant I had 450 square feet (40 m²) to squeeze a kitchen, bar, dish room, cold storage, dry storage, beverage storage, and a wait station.
We were going to have to get creative to fit it all. That's wen the Architects hatched their creative, cost-saving plan.
There's a 3-foot wide outdoor corridor that runs along the left side of the building. It wasn't wide enough to be used as a second exit from the back garden. In fact, in spots it was so narrow that we could barely fit restaurant-sized garbage cans through it. To make use of this wasted space, my previous architect and I had explored the idea of moving the wall (a supporting wall) to add another 200 square feet to the interior. I mentioned this idea to my new Architects.
"Brett," they said gently and frankly, "you simply don't have enough money in your budget to do that. It would require major structural work and new foundations, costing close to $200,000."
After they'd revived me with smelling salts, they told me: "Don't worry. We've come up with a way to use that space that won't require any new structural work." Their solution was to create pockets in that wall that would pop out into the corridor. The wait station, part of the dish room, part of the bathroom, and even the refrigerators could live in those pockets.
"Wow! Brilliant! I'll save loads of money and... wait a minute. Did you say 'the refrigerators'? Don't you mean 'the walk-in'?" I looked at their drawing and couldn't spot a walk-in. "Um, where is the walk-in refrigerator? I can't imagine serving 300 people on a busy weekend without a walk-in."
I had uncovered one of the negative repurcussions of moving the kitchen to the front. I've worked in many small restaurants and all of them but one had a walk-in. The one that didn't had only 30 seats. My restaurant would seat 50.
I examined the plan closer and saw where the Architects had proposed placing the refrigerators. They would reside along a wall in the front part of the dining area. Not only that, but they were along a ramp. How are people going to react to a stainless steel wall of refrigerators across from their table?
Then a little voice (I think it's called Reason) reminded me: "Brett, we're going to save 200 grand and still gain 200 square feet. How can you argue with that? We're going to have to learn to live without a walk-in. Let's make it work!"
I (slowly, with a few sleepless nights) came around to Reason's point of view. I even thought of a major benefit of the 13-foot bank of refrigerators along the wall. In a walk-in, everything is stored together. Strong aromas like fish and onions intermingle and contaminate the delicate flavor of absorbent ingredients like butter, eggs, and pastry doughs. Within my bank of refrigerators, I could create 3 separate and distinct cold storage zones. The first would hold the dairy, eggs, and pastry prep. The second meat, fish, and stocks. The third fruit and vegetables.
Eventually, I even saw the positive in the quirky location of the refrigerators. It would reinforce the connection between the kitchen and the dining room. It would provide yet another behind the scenes window into the kitchen. It might even encourage the sense that you're a guest dining in our home.
At least that's how I hope you'll feel! If not, you'll surely know the reasoning behind our wacky choices. Budget and space constraints. One lesson I've learned is that you have to be flexible when designing a restaurant. You have to be willing to compromise, to make sacrifices. You have to be able to transform the negative into a positive, to see the stainless steel lining in the rain clouds.