(Blogger’s Note: Each Friday, an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant, appears in this space.)
Cottagewood was a jewel, Crocus Hill a disaster. Although we had used every available resource to build the business at Crocus Hill, we had overshot the demographic market with stuffed artichokes, rosemary lamb chops, chicken roulade, Cornish game hens, and other creative dishes available to our customers. Will Sullivan, the one customer using our catering services at Crocus Hill set the bar for the demographics we needed. He was an exception in the neighborhood. Our marketing, advertising, and public relations had boosted business, but not enough to turn a profit. We were entering the struggle-juggle mode- a bad road to travel.
Plus, the lack of a kitchen facility at the St. Paul location made the ability to promote freshness even more difficult.
To make matters worse, as soon as we took over Cottagewood, we realized two locations do not double the profit, expenses and aggravation. Two locations triple the problems.
A problem that became more noticeable at Crocus Hill was the amount of inventory depletion taking place. We began to notice this regularly. I soon learned the importance of an inventory system, but also found that inventory of perishable products, especially in a grocery store, is a massive undertaking and also laced with excuses by those responsible for the inventory. Wayne, who became the head butcher when Bill Helfman left, was in charge of the meat department inventory and the waste.
Along with the meat, imported cheeses, pate´ and vegetables were diminishing in front of us.
Accountability for this ongoing disaster was often met with a shrug of the shoulders and a blank stare. In order to find out exactly what was happening with the disappearing product I initiated my own inventory control system. I gave every employee a fifty-dollar per week grocery credit allowing them to take that amount of groceries weekly out of the store. The only criteria – the employee had to write down e very product, along with the price that they took.
Each week I would analyze the bounty each person chose, giving me a good idea of their family´s eating habits.
Lindy was heavy on soup and canned goods but enjoyed an occasional steak.
Lori was a sweetster. He enjoyed muffins from Mrs. Feldman´s, cakes from Royal Desserts, ice cream and the occasional lamb chop roasted with rosemary from the deli case.
Joan was a salad aficionado who loved a great sandwich. She came to work each day with a sandwich, stacked high with provolone, Jambon, Prosciutto, and other imports. Her deli bill was hefty. She also enjoyed her sandwiches on freshly baked bread from Francesca´s, which, we carried and sold at a premium price.
I believe that the employees ate better with the initiation of this inventory control system than they ever had in the past.
Except for Wayne and his friend, Rick.
From scrutinizing Wayne and Rick´s weekly bills one would think they were vegetarians. They seldom bought any meat, poultry, or cold cuts. They never ate cheese. It seemed odd when meat loaf seasoning, brown gravy mix, and breadcrumbs repeatedly appeared on their weekly bill.
Hardly one to confront someone about this in the open, I decided to change the locks and not give anyone else a key in order to see if the meat purchase would increase on the butcher´s bill.
The excuse I used was that one of the old employees must have had a key and they were coming in at night and helping themselves to a feast of imported products. Oddly enough, the Campbell Soup inventory always came out perfectly. Only expense products were evaporating.
I thought the lock change would also change a few habits. I hoped I was right.