1. Some produce on our menu is going out of season and the prices for it have quadrupled. Not to mention, the tropical storms hitting the Southern U.S. have done a number on food costs in general. I will need to rework the menu to keep our food seasonal and affordable, which is part of our mission here anyway.
2. We absolutely must get our food out faster when ordered. This is a huge stress for me at the moment, because I am extremely aware of ticket times, having worked in many fast-paced restaurant environments. If a person has to wait 20 minutes for their food during their lunch break, they likely won't return when they need a quick bite.
3. Not everyone understands the importance of eating organically and are not always willing to pay the prices associated with it. Education is key here, though there will always be that person "debunking" the theory that GMO's aren't harmful and pesticides don't cause nerve damage and possibly cancer. I say the proof is in the pudding. Experience what raw, organic foods do for you over the course of even six weeks, not to mention the taste difference between organic and non-organic, and you, too, will understand.
4. We need sales to triple over the course of the next month if we want to survive. I opened before I could afford to, but couldn't afford not to, because of loans and bills already due monthly. Payroll has been a nightmare, but I have a small crew that was with me from the beginning who see what In the Raw is offering, and have offered to defer full pay to see to it that we make it into the black. That is the kind of commitment that is inspiring to me, and it makes me incredibly grateful.
5. With that being said, we still clearly need to get our systems into place so that operations run smoother. We can hold very little storage in our tiny truck, and we have an insane amount of inventory because we literally make 99% of our products from scratch, including all sauces and dressings (just the pacific plate alone contains about 30 ingredients, 15 of which have to be assembled when ordered). Each day, we must prep about 10 recipes in bulk, and if even two of those aren't ready when we open our doors each morning, it kills our output speed.
To mitigate these issues, we are doing the following things for the month of October:
1. Add new menu items, remove others. This week, the Pacific Plate and the Sicily Trio are coming off the menu. I understand people love them, but their ingredients are going out of season, and In the Raw is based on the seasons and eating with them. Also, both of these entrees are very time-consuming and we don't want our guests to have to wait when they're in a rush. We have two new entrees coming in, though, that will be quicker to prepare, super delicious, and better reflect the kind of food that will be appropriate in the coming cooler temperatures: The Mediterranean Mezze and the South Asian Sampler. Also, we are putting our awesome cashew ranch on the menu permanently with dipping vegetables and our soon-to-premiere buckwheat flatbread as an appetizer. Not raw, but gluten-free and vegan, and we're very excited about it. Finally, the Thai Breeze and Berry Good will be leaving us (we'll bring them back as soon as they're seasonal again), but we're bringing some beautiful fall blenders and juices to the table that will knock your socks off.
2. Tighten up protocols and make sure everyone understands the importance of teamwork. Nothing causes more resentment than walking into a kitchen at the beginning of your shift to a sinkful of dirty dishes or being the only one at the truck during a rush because someone didn't show. This is the human factor, and of course the most difficult. I've been working on revising the employee handbook and creating easier to follow recipes and clear sidework charts, but having a clear set of expectations understood between staff members is absolutely necessary. This will be a never-ending process as we grow.
3. Launch our gluten-free take-and-bake pizzas and calzones. We've been working on our recipe for awhile now, and I can honestly say that I will never go back to eating regular pizza again. These are so filling and delicious, I have a hard time understanding why no one in this town has really done this yet. Since we won't have all our items for the Thai Breeze filling up the freezer, we need something in there for electric efficiency, so these take-home items will be perfect. Not to mention, these will be a great way for our guests to get an easy, healthy, meal on the go after work to eat alone or share with their families.
It's an exciting time at In the Raw Test Kitchen & Juice Bar. Daily there are new challenges, but at the same time, we find solutions. The restaurant business is a puzzle, and owning a plant-based one in this town is like trying to put together said puzzle in the dark--it's anybody's guess and you just have to feel it out. But I've always loved a good challenge and can't wait to see what the next page holds.
Until next time, Eat Raw, Live Long!