Busy Times: An October Supper Club Update

I’m only a week (or so) late on getting this update out, and, wow, have I heard about it. Look, I’m flattered. Really. But, seriously, you people are starting to sound a little desperate, telling me how your life is just not complete without your regularly scheduled pre-Supper Club update post. I mean, I’m only human.

Back to reality, where it’s late at night, only a few days before my busiest week yet as a food professional. What’s do I mean by “food professional?” I guess we haven’t caught up in a spell, have we? Let me fill you in.

Almost two weeks ago, Pasadena Community Supper Club held its first popup event at Rosebud Coffee on the east side of the city. This had been a long time in coming, having been invited several months ago by Dan Davidson, Rosebud’s founder and (you may recall) a key part of the Supper Club’s founding and first few dinners. I’ve been busy in the past 6 weeks of so getting business insurance, a health permit, and business license. “You didn’t have those things before?” No, armchair lawyer, I did not. As a nonprofit corporation, operating in partnership Union Station Homeless Services, we didn’t require those things. Several months ago I completed a Food Safety Manager’s course, necessary for all of the above listed things, and, you know, important to preparing and serving meals to large groups of people, even if you’re doing it for charitable rather than commercial purposes. But, to prepare and sell food, you need it. (“But wait, you’re a nonprofit...how can you sell things?” Seriously, go back to your Law & Order marathon.)

All of the various permits and such in hand, I rented a station at a local shared kitchen workspace, and churned out a dozen or so of these bad boys:

 
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I also made a dozen vegetarian wraps, based on this recipe.

I sold a total of 15 items, which, you’ll note, does not add up to 24. So, yes, I lost money. I expected to. Rosebud has never served made to order food, so we expected it to take some time to get established in customers’ minds as top-of-mind when it comes to lunch options. So I went back and did it again last week, serving up a new menu of my take on Banh Mi.

 
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Again, I offered both meat (chicken) and a vegetarian option (tofu), having kept in mind that it’s SoCal. (Hey now, that’s just cilantro on top, don’t carry the SoCal thing too far.)

This time around I made 20 sandwiches (total), and booked only half the time in the kitchen, therefore drastically reducing my costs. Results? 18 sandwiches sold, which is a 20% increase according to my math! We very nearly (as in, like, $5) broke even. Trend line = UPWARD.

Given that I had pretty much everything figured out, decided to take on a very ambitious brunch menu for last Saturday, a time when Rosebud would have more customers. What could go wrong?

Well, a lot. I may have shared this before, but, the last time I was employed in a commercial kitchen setting, I was 14 and a dishwasher in a little hotel-attached joint in Escanaba, Michigan. Why, then, I thought that I could essentially run a short order breakfast diner with nothing - though no less than - the redoubtable Brooks by my side , a couple of countertop induction burners, and a toaster oven is, well, beyond me. I have to say, our menu was killer:

  • Ham, leek, and purple potato frittata

  • Brioche French toast with mixed berry compote

  • “Intergenerational Toast,” which was a mashup of Millenial avocado toast and OG lox & cream cheese.

 
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About 30 minutes after start time, Brooks and I agreed that we had to shut down operations before we incurred serious reputational damage. We were moving orders at a glacial pace, tripping over each other in a small space, with not enough thought about keeping our space tidy. (See? I care about the health code stuff.) In a coffee shop environment, there’s an expectation of getting your food in under 10 minutes, really more like 5. We were running 20+ at that time, and people were still wanting to order.

Given that I have a degree in English from a liberal arts college I’m a little ashamed to say that I had to look up the origin of the quote “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Turns out it is a line said by Falstaff in Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part One. The accompanying line may have been even more applicable to our situation: “Caution is preferable to rash bravery.”

I was rather rash going into Saturday the way I did. And I took it on the chin. I’ll own it.

But I’ve never been smart enough to know when to quit, so this week I’m back at it.

Tomorrow - which, as of this writing, is Wednesday, October 24 - I’m headed back to Rosebud for a frittata-only brunch. More limited menu, hopefully better results.

On Thursday I’ll be holding my second cooking workshop for participants in Union Station’s Mentor Program. (The first event, back in April, was a catalyst for starting Pasadena Community Supper Club.) I’ll share some tips and recipes with the residents of Centennial Place for making affordable breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, then serve those same prepared dishes to 30-40 people for dinner.

Then, on Friday, I’m back at Rosebud, serving up sandwiches for the third week in a row. This week: Gyros!

 
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Can we break 20? We’ll see.

Then, Saturday morning, back to the “diner” - that is, Rosebud - for more frittata, with hopefully better results. We’ve got a few more helpers lined up, and a plan to get ahead of the game. Our plan is to stick with one brunch item at a item, rotating them each week. Next week we’ll do either the French toast or my pretentiously named open-faced delicious monstrosity.

Finally, on Sunday, the Big Show - October’s Pasadena Community Supper Club dinner.

We’re serving Pumpkin Chicken Chili and Cornbread. It may be 80 degrees here, but it’s still Fall on my calendar.

 
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I’ll be honest: the past few weeks have kind of pushed this coming Sunday out of my mind. I’ve been focusing on these other things, perhaps quite selfishly. I’m looking forward to getting back to the heart of what we do, which is being in community with our friends and neighbors at Centennial Place. Ultimately I hope that the brunches and lunches will not only be funding our dinners, but also bringing attention and additional support to us, making more dinners and other types of events possible.  

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. I have nothing more to say, nor any time to say it. Say a prayer for my energy, patience, and for the work we’re doing, especially this Sunday.