We’re a team, my brother and I, in the same way that say… those chimpanzees and boffins in the laxative/cosmetics development and testing division of Pfizer are a team. Well this is what Al tells me anyway. In that way I guess we are strong and erm… hairy…throwing…? No, no that’s probably not the best analogy to use.
It was this unbreakable bond and joint, unfailing dedication to working together that led to him head off on a jolly for a week in Ibiza whilst I “manned the fort”. To be fair to my sibling, it was a case of Murphy’s Law hitting the Durbar in a rather overzealous fashion. Every possible staff member dropped ill or was on holiday during my time in the proverbial canoe going up the creek. The managerial task force front was pretty skeleton at best and so I had to man up and take one for the Imperial team.
You see with such a long opening period (6.30am till Midnight) there needs to be two shifts otherwise there would be a horrendous amount of hours for one person to take on. Some folk are troopers and they can just run without much downtime but inevitably you will burn out and the cheery upbeat manner will start to slip and mistakes are then made. You don’t want the place you love working at turning in to a Gulag. And though it is possible to work every hour of the day, I think I’m getting older and starting to feel the pinch of my running around like an A.D.D. child behaviour. A balance is needed for staff hours.
That being said, I, luckily, am a superbly strong willed individual with a very sound mind, I knew for a fact I could easily tough it out and not succumb to cabin fever….
That being said, by the second day I had fashioned a friend out of a football and called it Wilson. I then promoted him to head barista. He was curiously more proactive than some of his predecessors and surprisingly good with customers too. Though inevitably I had to let him go over fundamental, professional differences.
My reprieve came at just at the right time. Over 90 hours in, mistakes were being made, I was nodding off on the weights benches at the gym after work and to top it all I had a sneaking suspicion that Wilson had taken the spare set of office keys with him. Alastair arrived like a knight in overly tanned armour, looking more tired than when he had left.
This has left me time to sleep for a few days and do nothing more than enjoy some down time slumped in the deepest recesses of the sofa in front of the TV watching the most obscure channel I could find, broadcasting the most mindless shows I could find something to do Essex, that Chelsea show, “When Popes’ go wild 4” etc Bliss…
So Six weeks in and six kilos lost… Opening a venue that combines coffee and alcohol is, as a weight loss plan, possibly about as healthy as the atkins “meat ahoy” diet. But like most things you pile (to be a tad clichéd) your heart, soul and your life savings into does seem to absorb your time somewhat…ish. I do believe there is an “outdoors” as I have heard people talk about it, but I have forgotten what it looks like.
Since we started building/arguing/creating various scars from using power tools without adult supervision my brother and I have had very little sleep and time off. But like Old Yeller or a baby seal it’s quite a hard thing to put down. The excitement and adrenaline still runs around your system every day (at least I thnk it’s the adrenaline…that or the fact that I have replaced most of my blood with caffeine as I run the morning shift at 6.30am for the commuter coffee rush). Growing a business and creating a loyal, local customer base is fraught with stumbling blocks as you need to learn what your customer likes or needs really.
It is quite easy to stumble down the rabbit hole, spending every waking hour micromanaging the often minor but essential parts of the bar, trying to keep everything perfect and running as smoothly as possible. However, I believe a lot of folk don’t realise that by attempting to do every task yourself rather than delegating to your staff you aren’t fulfilling a manager role but merely tasking yourself into a Bar back role leaving your ship with out a captain or any form of leadership. We have both accumulated enough knowledge enough to know not to worry and constantly check the tills and Z reads. Focusing on the important bits and pieces in running a place like the marketing, upselling and curbing of staff grazing on the stock.
Having said that, we have been keen to lead by example and get stuck in with every aspect no matter how big or small from cash up to the dishes. Al cleans the toilets… he just loves doing it…. I’m a bit concerned about that if I’m going to be totally honest, then again he might just being going in there to have cry and a Twix. Nonetheless we have still had to Alan Sugar a few bolshie employees in our first weeks who haven’t had “The Right Stuff” or maybe felt they were a bit too good to get their hands dirty with menial matters.
Those that remain are exceptional and we can’t fault them. Its great to be that content with such a team. The new guys and girls are already better than al at cocktails… but having said there are as of yet undiscovered tribes in the Amazon who are more adept at make a martini I believe…
Time has lapsed and I may have been a little tardy on this latest entry. Many moons ago and before a fair few trips to A&E with various self inflicted power tool related injuries (my suggestion of airmiles and a visit by visit frequently flyer system has been put forward to St. Georges…I am yet to hear back am sure its under considertation), I mentioned the King of chai Mr Michelangelo. Well there is always two sides to every coin.
After the morning coffee, baked wonder and tea extravaganza winds it’s way to an inevitable close each day. The world and work weary traveller or say commuter will feel the troubles and strains of work each day that have been endured with stoic patience or petulant childish rage have earned him or her a reward of sorts. Now this is where we are endeavouring to help.
The thought of spending a fulfilling cheeky 30 minutes powernapping in the interview rooms, shouting at the various banal faulty printers and photocopiers that stare indifferently back at you or even furiously swiping left and right on various dating apps whilst hiding in the toilets is an exhausting prospect for most of us (or maybe just me).
This tireless devotion to the 9 to 5 has an antidote or shall we say a silver lining. If Michelangelo was Walter White in the renaissance of the coffee world, we have managed to employ the Jesse Pinkman of Mixologists if that is such a thing? With the hazy recollection of tasting some recipes (I say some, it may have been more if I am honest… plenty may be more apt) Ghermai Zerazion may just be a genius. This cheeky charming little chap and his merry little band of mixologists are gong to be the backbone of the Imperial Durbar’s evening team. So far we have been suitably impressed… I think we may be on to a good thing, a little more guidance and a little less sampling aside, it is hard to get all the best aspects in a barman but if you can combine good chat, charm, skill and speed I think you can quite happily rest easy with those troops behind you.
Every now and again one comes across a rather special individual rain man way). Whoever they may be or wherever you find them it is clear in an instant with an infectious enthusiasm and quite a considerable chunk of pride in what that they have chosen to do. It’s quite refreshing really and always tends to rub off you. I can say I am rather glad our Chai Master Mr Michelangelo is firmly ensconced in our corner.
As with learning everything unfamiliar and alien, it is often difficult to know where to start. But enthusiasm and gusto seems to ride high in my work ethic. If a subject intrigues and enthrals you it is very easy to pick up, and I began to absorb coffee and tea at quite a rate, both in an in depth knowledge fashion and a rather worryingly enjoyable caffeine binge…. It could be the rather unadvisable intake of caffeinated beverages talking but I think I am starting to hear colours and taste noises… Or it could be just an arabica induced stroke.
This being said, my education really was a tad slapdash and eclectic at best, until that is, I bumped into Michelangelo working in a nearby venue. It was a chance happening but I firmly believe that the universe has a way of aligning itself in a curiously useful fashion at times (it is an unwaveringly optimistic and possibly naive approach to most problems that seems to work out…. Most of the time).
So…What can one say about Michelangelo, that I may not have already said? Anyone opening a coffee shop needs a Michelangelo. A bit of an artist if you will, with a conveniently suitable Renaissance handle to him (very apt).
It’s all very well opening a cafe/cocktail place, throwing your limited funds at it could mean you end up with all the gear and no idea. Even with a bit of a chef background, it is abundantly clear that trying to produce a good coffee is akin to trying to cook blue meth…. Luckily we have our own resident Walter White yo!
Mr michelangelo in his patent brilliance been buried in an Indian coffee pilgrimage and tea researching extravaganza sourcing everything from the machines and accoutrements to a hedonistically wonderful range of Indian teas and coffees to satisfy the most ardent hot(or iced) beverage connoisseur. My personal favourite and tip top of the list will have to be his iced chai and chai latte. And before you grimace, it is not the horrendous syrup nonsense that adorns the sickly sticky shelves of those fast turnover cafés. It is a wonderfully freshly made concoction that can only be described as a chaigasm in a glass. (note to self, good name for a cocktail?)
The first effort to produce an interesting item/oddity for the new coffee and cocktails bar…. Might need an amp and a bigger speaker but rather like it as a first attempt! one of a couple to dress the bar!
Every aspect of our foray into the coffee and cocktail scene seems to be a bit of a endorphin o’ plenty thrill. Reminiscing on past exploits and jollies into the catering world, there were never such rewarding times. Long hours working for “the man/woman” were arduous on often riddled with tedium, cuts and oven burns. The key factor here is that #theimperialdurbar is ours and so when I chop my finger off in the future in a horrendous cocktail garnishing incident it should be ok as I the digit was lost for a good cause…. probably…. having my own business will still rock it like it’s going out of fashion.
Today has been a consumable day. I have tried to contract consumption to get in the right state of mind. Sales reps of the largest companies we could source, namely tristar, bunzl and jags, have been turning up to Heathcote manor (tooting) in vehicles so crammed with packaging and products that even the most stalwart of hoarders would be put to shame.
Now, one must understand that these chaps are there to help but at the same time they are salesman, and a salesman’s job is to sell, compliment and get excited about your idea in order to get you to purchase as much as you possibly can for your venue. You must now understand that indulgence was definitely sesame streets word of the day…
That being said, these businessmen do come up with some cracking suggestions for a wild variety packaging products. Though I had to draw the line at the plying of monogrammed wet wipes and beard snoods.
Who’d have thought a paper bag could be so exciting (no not in a weird Frank Bough way). The old ticker definitely picks up a beat or two picturing your own logo on a bag or cup…. If you get the inclination to start up a business I would recommend it as a highly entertaining afternoon!
There was the word and the word was… Well we didn’t know, to be honest there are yet undiscovered Pygmy, ape-man tribes in the amazon who had more grasp of a business concept than we had. We were flying by the seat of our pants and those pants were a pair of gold thong budgie smugglers.
Nonetheless we both wanted to try to work together even if it meant that arguments meant one of us might end up throttling the other in Nandos (the affordable Scott’s restaurant). We wanted to try to make something fun, quirky and unique that didn’t try too hard.
The bar we found was in Tooting Bec, quite a site for sourcing a curry and in my humble opinion (having lived in Pakistan and India for a number of years) I think it tops Brick Lane hands down on the Indian culinary fun front. So it occurred to us, that it would be best to create something that might compliment the local area and not contradict it by standing out like a sore thumb. Coffees, teas, cocktails and beers all indian in a venue that could be appealing to the local community as a cafe during the day and full of the fun of a cocktail bar in the evening. The look of the place might be a bit of melange of the fun of Dishoom or Gymkhana meeting the East India Trading Company and Victorian England with perhaps a soupcon of Flashman thrown in. Only time will tell if we can some how visualise this in the design. But in any case it is going to be good deal of fun sourcing and putting together the venue.