We all know the saying “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and I, personally, am a big fan of that saying. If it works, if people like it, if it tastes good, don’t change a thing. Routine doesn’t have to be a rude word. Consistency, which matters to me more than anything else, is routine’s best friend. They need each other like bread needs butter. So why? Why are we willingly dropping the wrecking ball on our beloved Holybelly? Why go through the trouble of emptying it out, selling all the equipment, the furniture? Why are we happily taking ourselves back to square one? That’s what people have been asking us, and that’s what I’m going to try and shine a light on today.
Back in October 2013, when we first opened Holybelly, we figured we had plenty of space. Enough space to squeeze in a Monster Bash and a Scandinavian leather couch even. And for a while, it was fine. Then food started coming out at a good pace, coffee was tasting nice, music was blasting and the word got out : HB was a good place to get a solid feed and a decent brew. For the first year, it was big weekends and good weekdays. Then we closed for the summer, got the skylight installed, came back, kept doing the same thing, day after day, and the place started to get seriously busy. The line outside, that used to be a weekend thing, started to appear on Mondays, and then on Thursdays, and finally, since last January, everyday.
Now, this is not bragging. This is me giving you a glimpse at the behind the scenes. We are happy, we are thankful and we do realise this is quite special but this perpetual growth came with its fair share of side effects, just like when you’re 16 and you’re not quite sure what’s happening to you. We went from Sarah and I opening and running the place on our own from 8am to 11am, making a few coffees and sending out a few plates, to a full team of two waitresses, two cooks and a dishy right when we open. Sarah is sending out a steady 100+ covers while Marty is on lunch prep between 9am and 12am, on a Thursday that is. That’s whack. Awesome, definitely, but whack.
I think now you’re starting to understand why we had to go back to the drawing board. This place was not designed to feed 180+ people a day. Our awesome wait staff and the strong team in the kitchen worked hard to keep this whole thing together, working a little faster, a little harder but this was never a sustainable model. You can push yourself when the finish line is in sight but you can’t give 200% forever without burning out, affecting the quality and the consistency of what made people line up in the first place. Sure, from the outside HB wasn’t literally broken but it definitely needed an upgrade.
Our thinking process was quite simple really : Marty is on lunch prep from 9 to 12. If he isn’t, there’s no food for lunch meaning Sarah is mostly single handedly sending out between 80 to 100 breakfasts, with punctual help from Marty during big waves, in 3 hours. By noon, she’s got 3 hours of service under her belt and 3 more to go till the kitchen closes at 3pm. Then they have to make staff lunch, and then it’s evening prep for the next day. It’s a lot, especially when you care about every single plate as much as she does. So, the solution is obvious. We need an extra pair of hand in the kitchen. That’s fine, but the kitchen is 5 sq/m. It’s already tight for the two of them. Every corner has been carefully optimised, there is no more space, at all. So… back to the drawing board, back to the dust and noise, back to the tight deadlines and stressful construction meetings, we need a bigger kitchen and there is no way around it.
And I mean, once you’ve opened the door to that kind of nuisance, might as well rethink it all. What’s the difference between some dust and a bit more dust? None, really. So let’s push the front bar back 30cm allowing us to transform the first three tables in four tops instead of two tops. Let’s redo all the furniture, let’s get nice tables, nicer chairs. If we’re going to increase the fire power of the kitchen, might as well rethink the floor to feed more peeps and keep the line as short as possible. Starting September 3rd, HB will have a capacity of 49 seats max. against 34 right now. Pretty exciting times.
Finally, and to wrap this up, there are a couple of extra things to take into consideration here. First, in France at least, if you don’t spend the company money, the tax man will take it. Not all of it but a decent chunk, so might as well re-invest the cash we made into the business, upgrading, expending, getting new equipment, since we can’t keep it for ourselves. Second, us, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, doers, we do complain, or at least comment, a lot about how much work we’ve got, how much there is to do but truth is, we love it. We crave a good challenge. Optimising, perfecting, that’s what we’re all about. I’m not even 30 yet. This can’t be it! Rock up everyday, make the coffee and go home. I love it, I truly do, but I’m hungry for more. A second shop would mean double the paperwork, double the headache, it would mean that Sarah and I can’t be at HB all the time and, quite naturally, quality would go down. Second business is definitely not what we’re about right now. We’re the hands on kind of people and there is still a lot more we can do with the space we scored.
Anyhow, all this bla bla to tell you guys that a page is turning. It was good, great even, but it’s about to get better! See y’all in September.