ACB Audit… - My first job at St. Michel’s 2.0 was to prepare for an audit by the Texas Alcohol Control Board so I spent the better part of a week going through a year’s worth of waiters’ checks and supplier receipts and wrote it all down in a accounting ledger. Using a cheap Texas Instruments electronic calculator, I totaled everything up and checked that against the monthly checks Francois had written to pay his sales taxes. Since Francois allowed the waiters to free pour their own drinks and nobody used a jigger, I assigned a generous two ounce pour per drink and the figures added up to a number that, plus or minus 10%, looked to be good. I was surprised because I knew that waiters gave away complimentary drinks to customers and friends all the time and I expected that it would be much worse. After a phone call to the ACB I set up a date on a Monday for the audit, performed a complete bar and wine inventory down to the ounce and hoped for the best.
Since we were closed on Mondays I figured that the auditor would appreciate not having to deal with staff and customers and in the week that preceded the audit, I tended bar and did a running inventory every morning. The staff was glad that I was pouring the drinks, but not happy that I was demanding a comp check for any free drinks. Since Sunday nights were notoriously slow, we closed at nine on the night before the audit and that gave me the chance to get everything organized for the next morning. Long story short, when the auditor showed up at 9:00am on Monday morning, Francois and I were waiting for him with fresh coffee and warm pastries from the bakery. We were totally honest with the guy, volunteering that the bar drinks, wine and beer sales at St. Michel’s had been, for the most part, out of control.
While the auditor enjoyed his coffee and pastry, I showed him examples of old checks where the waiters wrote beer, wine or drinks and added an arbitrary charge, then I showed him checks from the last week where I detailed the type of drink, beer and wine and accurately assigned the correct charge. I showed him the cardboard box filled with 313 individual stacks of daily checks from the last year and my detailed ledger of how I calculated what I believed to be a best guess of what had been poured, sold and comped.
He nodded, opened up his brief case, said, “Well let’s see what we’ve got here,” and went to work. Francois went back to the bakery while I answered questions and kept the auditor’s coffee cup filled.
Around twelve thirty, Francois reappeared with a fresh Quiche Lorraine and disappeared into the kitchen to whip up a warm spinach salad for lunch. The auditor drank a glass of soda with lime while Francois and I shared a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. “I hate to ask,” said Francois, “But how are we doing so far?”
The auditor smiled and said, “I’ve seen much worse. I wouldn’t worry too much though. Thanks to James here, we should be able to wrap this up by three or four this afternoon.”
When the auditor started to fill out his paperwork, I gave Francois a call at the bakery and he showed up around 3:30. The auditor smiled as he handed the report over to Francois for his signature, “Every fifth is 25.6 ounces and every quart is thirty-two. We allow three ounces for spillage and breakage which is about an average 9% of volume. Thanks to what James did here, from what I can see you guys are doing okay. But I don’t think you really need to do a daily inventory - once a week should be okay.”
I chuckled and said, “Francois pays me 10% of what we sell at the bar, so we’ll be doing inventory every morning before we open for lunch.”
Francois laughed and said, “And for as much as I am paying you, I expect to see every ounce accounted for.”
…Renovating St. Michel’s… - During the six months that we rebuilt the restaurant, St. Michel’s was open for business. Except on Mondays when we went at it twelve hours a day, construction began at 6:00am, paused between eleven and two and then resumed from two to six each day. We’d build ahead and then tear down behind. I did everything from strip down, clean and reassemble kitchen equipment, to building custom tables and cabinet work for the bar. Francois and I shopped for and picked up furniture, installed a fountain and laid brick pavers for a really cool spiral back patio and chose high end stereo equipment for the restaurant’s custom sound system. Late one afternoon I waded into a pool of greasy water in the side yard to locate a break in the drain pipe from the kitchen, so that we could run a clamp patch and be ready for dinner. Just about anyone else would have quit at that point, but the way I looked it, it was just dirty dishwater and since I’d signed on for the duration, I did what needed to get done. Francois and I lived to see the completion of the renovation.
…Coeur de Veau… - It wasn’t all hard work and long hours. One Thursday morning, Francois’s veal supplier called and said that he couldn’t deliver that day. Francois and I jumped into his Jaguar XJ-6 sedan and drove the forty miles to the supplier’s ranch where we picked up the butchered calf meat, tossed it into a Coleman ice chest and drove back to Houston. “James, you’re in for such a treat,” he said and when we got back to St. Michel’s we turned the veal over to the kitchen staff for prep, while Francois prepared Le Coeur de Veau. Carefully removing the membrane from the muscle, he transected and dressed the heart and then quickly sautéed the meat in very hot olive oil, salt, cracked pepper, shallots and capers with a dollop of ground mustard. He set the heart aside, turned down the heat on the pan, added brandy and cream and then poured the thick sauce over the meat.
Served with fresh baby veges, baguette and a solid Cotes du Rhone, it was absolute bliss and it became our ritual meal every Thursday afternoon. Francois tried to expand my palate with brain, sweet breads and other delicacies and while I liked the kidney and mushroom pie he made, nothing could compare to the heart.
…Yes Sir Ma'am. - The construction on the mock Norman expansion to the restaurant began in August and was scheduled for completion before the Christmas holidays, but weather and circumstances did not particularly cooperate. Nonetheless we continued operation and despite my protestations, Francois used the architectural renderings to book several Christmas parties in December. Most of the customers who made those bookings had the good sense to drop by the restaurant and check on our progress, so they canceled their reservations and made other arrangements. Some customers were so loyal that they didn’t care that their party celebrated in what was essentially a construction site. Francois typically dropped by to make sure that everything from the bakery and kitchen was in order and then made him self scarce.
One woman who was a very busy office manager at a law firm, called to ask if all the preparations for their office party were ready, but she never came into the restaurant until the day the festivities were scheduled to begin and that was when the poop hit the fan.
When she went ballistic, Francois was in the kitchen and I swear to heaven, he just disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving me with an irate customer surrounded by drapes of polyethylene sheeting in our partially completed renovation. I took her upstairs to the banquet room and told her that we could set up everything on the second floor. She wasn’t particularly satisfied, but when her boss showed up, he was amused by the whole scene. We arranged trays of cakes, pastries and appetizers over the big banquet table and set up an open bar in a large linen closet that also served as storage for cases of wine. Since the party was booked from six to ten, I called Zeke, a friend of mine who tended bar at another club, and he sent over a couple of his girls to work the crowd as cocktail waitresses. By seven all twenty lawyers and their office staff had arrived and the open bar was doing a solid business with carafes of margaritas, scotch and vodka on the rocks, but it was clear that the appetizers and pastries weren’t going to keep up with demand. I dashed down to the kitchen and commandeered some of the regular service staff to prep a huge bowl of salad, cheese and fruit plates and all the smoked salmon and shrimp that we had in the house. That along with baskets of sliced baguette managed to sate the drunken masses.
For the next few hours I bounced up and down the stairwell trying to compensate for the less than ideal party ambiance with a bottle of single malt scotch to make sure that the boss man’s glass was never empty. It was around nine thirty when the chagrined office manager told us to shut down the open bar, so we sent the cocktail waitresses around to take drink orders for last call. The boss man dropped by the bar and asked, “What’s all this about last call? I thought we were booked until ten tonight.”
I explained that the office manager lady had asked us to close down the bar and he handed me his gold American Express Card and said, “Keep pouring drinks.”
I took his credit card and poured some more scotch in his glass. Fifteen minutes later the office manager reiterated her command to shut down the open bar. I explained we were finishing up the last call orders. Word had drifted through the crowd and more people appeared at the bar to have their glasses filled. It was sometime after ten when the officer manager lady reappeared and barked, “I told you to close the goddamn bar!”
Without thinking, I replied, “Yes sir, Ma’am,” and the boss man, who was standing about ten feet behind her, laughed out loud and put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right,” he said, “I think we’re good for another hour. Have yourself another drink and try to enjoy the party.”
When I presented him with the check and his Amex card, he wrote in a 25% tip and handed me a hundred dollar bill. “That’s for you,” he chuckled, “Yes sir, Ma’am. I’ll have to remember that one.”
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