Archive for June, 2010

I heard a rumor a month ago that the guys opening our old place were going to call it Fu Bar. I thought no way, but people kept talking about it. Then Elaine went in and talked to them and saw the name on their liquor licence or menu or something. I still couldn’t believe it, I figured it must just be a temporary name or something but yesterday I saw they got their sign up and sure enough it’s the Fu Bar.

Fubar is an acronym that stands for F***ed Up Beyond All Repair. It comes from a 1944 Army short film called “The Three Brothers”. The main characters were Fubar and his brothers Snafu (situation normal all f***ed up) and Tarfu (things are really f***ed up).  Fubar is also a famous gay bar in San Francisco. I guess it works in San Fran and it probably won’t bother the bar crowd around here but don’t expect to see any of the general public going there with a name like that. It is beyond me why anyone would choose a name that will hurt business in any way. A name should be clever and catchy at best, or simple and passive at the worst. It should never have anything about it that would turn anyone off.

For example, our old place was for years called the Plantation and the landlord forced all the tenants to use the word Plantation in their name. He was so proud of that name that he actually put it in each lease agreement that the new owners must use the name so that it would remain registered and always be a part of that location. He only allowed us to call it The Rock Inn if we added “at the old Plantation” in small letters below our name. It was a big battle just to get that concession but I would have fought harder had I realized that some people found the word “plantation” offensive. I had a good African-American friend who would not go there because of the name. I know that if it offended him it must have offended a lot of people. That always bugged me.

Then you have Hotteez. Elaine hates the name and I’m sure a lot of women find it sexist. But I know the owner of the place and I am surprised that he does not call it Hoteez Plantation. That way he could offend about 75% of the people all at once just with his name. He might even have the African-American women picketing the place since they would be doubley offended.

A lot of people don’t give the name of a place any thought and it has no bearing on whether they go there or not and I am one of those people. To me personally, The Fu Bar is fine. It doesn’t bother me at all. But I know they are shooting themselves in the foot with that name. Just below the big neon Fu Bar they have another sign that says “Steak House.”  Well, I’m sorry but there are a lot of people who like steaks but don’t like bars.

When Elaine talked to them she told them how we used to have a lot of groups that held their meetings in our banquet room. They said they would really like to try to get them back. I doubt the Rotary Club will be real anxious to invite their guests and speakers to join them at a place called the Fu Bar. The new owners can also forget about the Gideon’s, who used to gather once a week and have prayer meetings in the banquet room at the front of the building while the sinners were raising hell at the bar in back. I always got a kick out of that.

I hope for the new owners’ sake that they run such a great place that the Fu Bar name will seem like pure irony, but based upon their first move, I am a little worried for them. So far all they have shown us is a Thifu – That Handle Is F***ed Up!

    Another big parcel of vacant land on the outskirts of the Valley is about to spend the next hundred years or so with a huge apartment complex on top of it. It used to be one big farm field that ran from Belle Terre to 32nd along the east side of Highway 27. A while back they put in the Albertson’s store on the north end of it.

    I grew up down the road on 46th and so I have seen that whole area south of 32nd along the highway go from nothing to where it is at now. It’s kind of a wierd little spot in the Valley. First they put in a lame little subdivision between Belle Terre and 46th about 30 years ago. But that went in during the high-interest days of the early 80’s and so mortgage loans were like 18% and the area took years to build out.

   Then the Mormons came along and put in a tabernacle. Next came a cemetary and then the  Albertson’s store. Now another ill-timed subdivision called Elk Heights sits on the hill nearby impatiently waiting for good times to come back. The folks who move into the new apartments will have it made. They can walk across the street and go to church or walk to Albertson’s to get groceries and if they get ran over they can go across the road and get buried.

   Back before we got into the Rock Inn, we had built houses in Spokane for something like fourteen years. We did 90 % percent of it in Spokane County and so we were very familiar with the county’s building department. While we were at the Rock, the City of Spokane came into being and along with it a new building department. For years I have been hearing how tough it is to work with these guys and I’ve really been curious to see for myself if it is true or if some people in the industry are giving them a bad rap because they don’t like change or any number of reasons people give unwarranted bad wraps.

   In the last couple of years we have been general contractors on 3 custom homes but they were all in the County and everything went smoothly. Now we are getting ready to build a spec home at 13716 e. 22nd and that falls smack dab in the middle of the Valley and so I get to see what this fuss is all about.

     I draw my own plans and have never had one problem getting them approved for a permit. But it was a different story with the Valley this time. I get a call from a guy named Tom in the building department and he has a lot of questions and issues with my plans and he asks me to come in and talk to him. Well, I was quite busy and didn’t see why I should have to take the time when I never had to with the County but I knew I had better be cool and just go along, besides the guy really sounded nice on the phone.

   Turns out the guy was nice and quite knowledgable and helpful. He explained that the Valley just wants to be very thorough in the plan review process and make sure everything on the plan is up to code before they issue the permit. I thought they were going a little overboard but we got everything worked out in about half an hour and I got the permit the next day. Now that I know how they do business I don’t think I’ll have much problem in the future.  

   So far I would say that they are not difficult, just different. I am not one of these builders who thinks he knows everything and I learned a few things from Tom and I appreciate that. The one thing I never liked about the County was that I never had a number or a contact in the building department that I could call and ask questions. Maybe there is a way to get little questions answered at the County but I never found it. But already with the Valley I found a guy who gave me his number and actually answers his phone himself. Building a house is a long process and I will go through a lot of inspections but I would say we are off to an encouraging start.

Well, Elaine went in to our old place and got the scoop first hand from the two guys who are getting ready to open it back up. They are not Valley people. They are Mark Hogue and Allen Jennings. Mark is in the flatwork business and Allen has something to do with xray equipment. While Mark has some experience with the hospitality industry on the north side of town, they are both pretty much novices at owning a nightclub.

But they are nice, open and down-to-earth guys that are excited about trying their hand at the old Rock Inn. They are thinking about rotating country and rock. They plan on serving good steaks and will be open for lunch. Beyond that, the only other tidbits Elaine gathered was that they hope to open in three weeks and are thinking about calling the place The Fubar. They might want to rethink that.

The Cottage Cafe came on the scene a few years ago with a small bang. The only reason it was a small bang is because the place is so small. If it had been a big place it might have been a big bang , but maybe not. I tend to think that the  limited seating is part of its success. People don’t mind waiting in line for a while. In fact we tend to view a line as a good sign.

Beside creating a line, the small eating area has enabled the owners to stay right on top of the customers they have sitting at the tables. I went in last Sunday around 11 and every table was full and about five customers were at the eating bar. The amazing thing was that they had four servers on the floor. In some restaurants, the entire Cottage would be one server’s section. I ate at the bar and just watched the good service.

But my vantage at the bar gave me a view to the power behind this great operation. There were just two cooks but they filled the warming station with meals almost faster than the servers could take them away. I cooked at the Rock Inn every day and I can tell you that it is not an easy job. To keep on top of a full house you have to know what you are doing, move as fast as you can and have the focus of a $1,000 spotting scope . Those two cooks have been working there since the day it opened (which makes them unusually steady citizens as far as cooks go) and so they clearly know what they are doing. But you talk about move fast and kick out the orders.

I love to order from their lighter fare section and always get the one-egg omelet, hash browns and half a Belgium waffle for about $ 5. It is a great meal at a great price. Everything is always consistent and sitting at the bar and watching those high-energy cooks is like going to a dinner show for breakfast. They are as fun to watch as their food is to eat.

Cottage Cafe on Urbanspoon

 There seems to be a preponderance of people planning to make a run at the nightclub game in the Valley. Our old place has a couple of guys getting ready to reopen the place, McQ’s has a retired couple wanting to invest their life savings , Bottoms Up is about to become the new Rock. I wish them all the best of luck but I would gladly send them all this email that I sent to a friend a few years back who was determined to get into the night club business with a parner. He did not take my words to heart and they lasted nine months. Here is my warning to them and anyone who thinks that running a nightclub is a bright idea:

My Dear Determined Friend,

 I want to put in written form my strong warning, so that I will have a record of just what I said. After this, I promise to leave you alone and simply support your efforts. It fascinates me how owning a bar is such a common dream and how it can sometimes cast a spell over a person. I speak from experience. The idea is appealing in so many ways, it’s a creative opportunity, it’s an opportunity for self-expression, it’s an opportunity to create an exciting new identity, to create a fun new place for people to come in and enjoy. There is the dream of making a lot of money and tons of new friends. And for you there is the added benefit to showcase your talents and really put your showmanship and people skills to work. There is always a chance your dreams will come true.

     However, it has been a sad thing to watch people like Ken Ripley, or J.R. and Betty at the Alpine and Shawn at Panama Jack’s, go for their dream and then pour their heart and soul and money into it, only to see it all turn into a big expensive, heart-breaking disappointment. In the time we were at the Rock Inn, Bobby D’s, now known as the Edge went through 4 owners. Don Gologoski opened two places, one he sold after a year (which failed) and the other he had to shut down after about 6 months. Don told me he has opened 18 bars and only made money at 2. These are just some of the people I knew.

    There were many places I watched fail that I did not know the owners. I can only think of about 3 places that have opened in the last 5 years that made it longer than 1 year. But each of the  20-plus failures I have watched had the belief they had what it took to succeed where so many failed. As Gologosky put it, they always think they are smarter than the last guy.

    The truth is you and your partner have been bitten bad and you are not using prudent  decision-making methods or wise negotiating techniques. There is no way you have gathered enough information to make any decisions and yet you are putting out money to tie up the building. Where is your business plan? Where are your recipes? What is the cost of insurance and can you actually get it? Have you looked at how much is required to get a liquor license ? If you can get it, how long will it take.  What this is, is a game you are dying to play.

     You are both only kidding yourselves if you believe you are making a smart career move. The main reason, I have concluded, that so many places fail is that anyone with the business skill to make a place run is too smart to get into the business in the first place.

     .)

     I could probably go on and on, but I think you get the idea. The biggest mistake I see is you rushing in. I would give you much better odds if you told the landlord to go ahead and try to lease it to the other party he says he has interested and if it is still available in a few months then you’ll talk. Then you have time to make a level-headed, well-thought out decision. The landlord might then be more flexible, and besides you are hurting your chances by opening up going into the summer.

     But you are going to do what ever you are going to do. Elaine and I would be available to consult on any area for a tab.  I don’t expect you guys to pay much attention to anything I have to say, people with the personality traits required to attempt such an endeavor such as this, tend to think they know best.

    One of the reasons we did as well as we did is because I paid for consultation and listened very carefully to anyone who had been in the business. One time a customer who had owned a place told me a secret to building a great happy hour and I followed his advice and could not believe how well it worked. Another customer told me a tip about sales tax that Elaine followed up on and got a $5,000 reimbursement.

     Also Elaine is without question the best bartender in town and she might be interested in being a working bar manager. I know an excellent cook that is taking a medical related break. He just set up Big Slick’s kitchen and he might be interested in getting you guys going.  I also have a $15,000 point of sale system that you could lease-to-own for about $300 a month or buy out right for $7,000. And we still have an ATM machine we could sell.

     I know you think I have something against the landlord and that is influencing my opinions. That is completely untrue. I am only telling you all this because you are my friend. I have nothing to gain by talking you out of this. I can easily see how we will benefit by having you go in. And when you do, we will be there for you in anyway you can use us, even if that is just being loyal customers.

                                        Good Luck, Craig

  That is the email I sent my friend, begging him not to jump in. They are friends of ours but they did not listen to a word I had to say. (They didn’t hire Elaine, and they bought a new point-of sale system for $25,000). I had friends trying to warn us about going into the Rock Inn and I did not listen either. We were kind of lucky in that we made it 4 years and left because we chose to. But we chose to leave because we finally figured out that we should never have gone into the nightclub game in the first place and I will lay odds that these well-meaning folks that are about to enter the game will eventually come to the same conclusion.

   The rumor mill has been churning over the goings-on over at Bottom’s Up. The other day Scott Lane asked me if it was true that Elaine and I were going in there, I told him not that we knew of. Yesterday, Elaine talked to Norm Thomson, who owns the building, and got the straight scoop.

  Steve Manning, who was involved with The Blue Fin and Moxie downtown and owns the Capri Hair Salon, has signed a lease and is remodelling the building. He is giving it some fresh paint, new carpet, enhancing the porch and has taken out the stage. Apparently he is doing away with the entertainment and plans to serve high quality food. He is going to be open from 4 to 10.

    We got involved in the rumors because he is going to call his new place the Rock. Since our old place was the Rock Inn and a lot of people called it the Rock, that was enough to get the truth all screwed up.