By Chef Gabriel Caliendo, CEC
I remember rolling around late at night, thinking about whether I had asked for 220 volt outlets for our large mixer and Robot Coupe, or if there should be a fryer next to the grill, making it easier for the fries to get to the burgers, or if I would need two cooks to work any particular station. It’s not really where things started, but it is my hazy reality of the months before we opened the doors at the first Lazy Dog Cafe. While creating a menu, scheduling labor and designing a kitchen can be fairly easy to accomplish in an existing restaurant, bringing a menu to life, training cooks to perform and execute willingly and placing three dimensional pieces of equipment in just the right places are very difficult to do from a sheet of paper (especially those sketched out on bed stands in the middle of the night).Skipping past the whole city permit, construction, health and the fire inspection phase (the fun stuff); there we were, doing our “mock-run” events. I was running around trying to figure out what would go where and who was going to do it. There were kitchen equipment malfunctions, products ordered that had still not arrived and “no-call, no-shows” were rapidly reducing the amount of hands in the kitchen. Did I forget to mention our computer and kitchen ticket systems were in and out of functioning? Those were three very long days, but we pulled through.
The Lazy Dog Cafe in Westminster, CA opened on August 04, 2003, and we did so with a bang. Take into account the previously mentioned issues, add about one hundred more variables to that and stir in guest counts exceeding one thousand people. Oh, by the way that is one thousand people per day! We were slammed! We were in the weeds! We were all smiling from ear to ear. Drinks are on me!
The first three years were spent tirelessly upgrading the concept — everything from food quality preparation to service staff training techniques. It was Chris Simms (Founding Partner), Roshan Mendis (Founding Manager), and me (Chef) working relentlessly on training our entire staff for what was going to be the next step in rolling out the restaurant concept. We were hands on; running that restaurant everyday and teaching those around us what we expected from them. I am happy that the experience is behind me, but I will always look back on that time smiling and with much pride for our team.
Year three (2006) in the Lazy Dog’s evolution proved to be very exciting. We had two new restaurants on the books, and it was show time. We had been training our replacements for daily operations at Westminster while simultaneously preparing the new teams for both new locations. We had experienced great success with our first store, and it had come only because of the relentless energy placed into it by the partners and all team members of the original restaurant. Additionally, we had a stellar weapon at our disposal, and his name is Tom Simms. Tom is a veteran of the restaurant industry, most noted for leading Mimi’s Cafe to great success. Tom likes to fly airplanes, and I like to think of him as a navigation system during a very foggy period of time. We had never done this before, and although determination and confidence was on our side, we also needed guidance.
Lazy Dog Torrance opened in December of 2006 with a ventilation explosion to start us off by closing us down. Don’t forget, this is the busiest restaurant month of the year. We were able to re-open the restaurant within days, minus our smoky grilled items. From day one, we were slammed! We were in the weeds! We were smiling from ear to ear.
Torrance received all of the benefits of our experience in Westminster. We altered the design of our prep area and walk-in space. We added a double-pass heated shelf to the slide to keep food hotter. We went with stronger and remote kitchen equipment to handle the types of volume we were doing and added an extra wok burner because of the popularity/sales of those items. The design also received a major face lift, including: paint colors, booth materials, table and bar tops, and lighting systems. The patio also grew three-fold from our original design in Westminster.
Lazy Dog Orange opened just four short months later in April of 2007. The restaurant received some small changes, mostly to accommodate the larger building we had taken over. There were some minor changes in artwork. The location is walking distance from the Honda Center and we opened during the games leading up to the victory of the Anaheim Ducks winning the Stanley Cup. We were slammed! We were in the weeds! We were all smiling from ear to ear.
This last eighteen months have changed things tremendously. Chris, Roshan, and I are now bouncing from restaurant to restaurant; helping when needed and offering guidance in “how-to” operate very busy restaurants with Lazy DogCafe standards. Tom is right there, off of our right wing, showing us the way and leading us to the next step in a Lazy Dog evolution. It has been five years now. Five years in the $and!?$, and I say that smiling from ear to ear.
Can Dogs Fly (The Future)?
It feels like 2008 is almost coming to a close. Time is flying, and so are we. We have a lease signed for a new location in Thousand Oaks, and we break ground in September. Chris, now our CEO, is working hard on dozens of other locations to map out the next several years of growth in addition to the many other things he does. Roshan Mendis, now known as the Director of Operations and Principal, has his hands full interviewing managers for our future openings as well as the many other things he does, and I’m now a Corporate Chef working kitchen operations and bar menu development in addition to many other duties. We have added a Controller, Steve Price, who has been with us since day one, and understands the culture and daily operations of our restaurants. Most recently joining our team as President is Dan Dillon, who brings years of experience in growing and operating a high volume, high quality restaurant company. Tom’s still there, steering us through the obstacles and into smooth landings.
Though our titles have gotten a little fancier, our behaviors have stayed the same. When Roshan walks in to the restaurant he glances quickly to see if the peppermill has been brought out with the salads. Chris immediately walks the room to ask guests for their feedback and more importantly if they need anything, and I make a bee-line for the soups, tasting them and making sure they are hot and delicious.
Currently we have gone back and started up dating the original Dog in Westminster with a beautiful remodel, bringing a renewed vision of the Lazy Dog Cafe. It’s nice to see the enthusiasm on our long time guests and team members face as we describe the plans for the remodel. Already they can see the new nine foot wood doors at the main and bar/to-go entries. After entering the building the new bar top and updated kitchen equipment begin to illustrate the new design. The entire space will be altered with our newest paint colors, booth materials, carpeting, tiles, stonework, and artwork. By September the transition will be complete. I encourage you to come by and take a look because we are so proud of our little baby….she’s all grown up. Call ahead because we’ll be slammed! We’ll be in the weeds! We’ll be smiling from ear to ear.