Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Domino Effect

"I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can." -- Little Engine That Could

Here’s a typical exchange I have with friends, particularly with those that I haven’t seen in a while:

Friend:So Amir, how’s the restaurant coming along?
Me:It’s coming along well, we hit some small snags in the process, but we’ll be open soon – I’ll definitely keep you posted.
Friend:Great, can’t wait for the opening – I’m excited to come check it out, just let me know when!
Me:Thanks – you’re awesome!

However, this past Friday I was in the midst of having one of these normal conversations, when an acquaintance bursts out and says, “Dude, I’ve given up on your restaurant opening…it’s taking you forever.

At that moment I bit my tongue and tried my best to withhold all the pent up frustration I’ve been harboring dealing with the construction process. Instead, I simply asked him, “Buddy, have you ever built or constructed anything?” Now, I’m not talking about building a crazy financial model in Excel or a killer PowerPoint presentation, but rather something physical like a house, a store, or a product? Naturally, he gave me the blank stare and replied, “No, but how hard could it be?

Now, he does have a point… none of the stuff I’m currently working on is hard. Rather, it’s a game of patience, persistence, and being resourceful.

We executed the lease for our location 13 weeks ago (Blog) and at that time I thought we’d be open for business in 10-12 weeks. However, due to my naiveté I didn’t realize the number of variables at play in constructing a restaurant. In hindsight, building a store is like the dominos game – where you need each piece to fall in place before you can move onto the next piece.

In our case, there were a number of hiccups. For instance, the local city regulators (affectionately known as L&I here in Philadelphia), took 8 weeks to issue our construction permits since the landlord delayed in producing needed documents. Then, you have the local gas company who took 3 weeks to return my phone call to setup our gas account. Lastly, you can’t have any of your final inspections, be it with the Board of Health, building inspector, the landlord, or the fire department, until everything else is in order.

In talking to my mentors, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised the construction process has taken a few weeks longer than anticipated… it’s part of the territory. However, through this experience I’ve learned a tremendous amount which I’m sure is only going to make us even more efficient for the next go around. In the meantime I can continue to say with confidence that we will be open soon… just don’t hold me to a specific date :)


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nicholas’s Travels

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." --St. Augustine

Hey everyone. My name is Nicholas Pike. I couldn’t be more excited to be working with the Zaffron team. The concept is really coming together, and we should be open very soon! I wanted to write a quick post to introduce myself and tell you guys a bit about my recent trip to the Middle East.

Over the holidays, I was able to spend some time in the Middle East to further explore the influences and intricacies of the regional cuisine. While I consider myself an adventurous eater and have eaten at more middle eastern restaurants in the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa than I can count, I have never been to the source. A couple of weeks before the opening of Zaffron seemed like the perfect time to check it out. There were certainly some highlights, including i) seeing a shwarma bigger than the man standing next to it, ii) the tremendous variety of hummus concocted by various chefs in Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and Syria and iii) breads of every shape and size you can imagine. For a big fan of this cuisine, seeing the varieties and quality of this food in its natural habitat was spectacular.

The biggest benefit though was seeing how similar the food was across national, cultural, and ethnic borders. The foods eaten by the bedoiun near the Saudi border were the same as those eaten by the cosmopolitan residents of Amman, the Christian and Arab communities in Damascus, Palestinians in Ramallah, pilgrims in Bethlehem, and recent immigrants to the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. Despite the stark and ongoing challenges faced in this part of the world, in one of the most basic of human actions (eating), disparate peoples were remarkably similar.

While I have no illusions about the challenges facing the Middle East or the role that Zaffron can play in promoting peace in this part of the world, Zaffron’s motto of “changing the world one kabob at a time” made me think that human similarities so often outweigh our differences. The influences that we have drawn on to create the Zaffron menu have stood the test of time in the Middle East, and the food is enjoyed by all (across class, gender, ethnic, and religious lines). While many other regions have already seen the benefits and appeal of Middle Eastern food, it is my great hope that Zaffron helps bring this enjoyment to the United States.

Our menu draws on all of the influences that I experienced in the Middle East, but, in my opinion, Zaffron’s food is fresher and higher quality. You’ll see for yourselves soon. I can’t wait for you to give our menu a try!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Meet Our Chef!

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” --Henry Ford

Over the past few months we’ve searched high and low for a chef to join Zaffron. We met a lot of interesting candidates and interviewed nearly 50 people! Ultimately we found the ideal partner in Seth. Seth High had been working with renowned chef, Todd English or five years, before coming to Philadelphia. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, particularly in Mediterranean cuisine. We couldn’t be more excited to have him on board and asked him to write an introductory blog post. Check it out below!

Greetings! My name is Seth High, and it’s been my great pleasure to join the Zaffron team as Culinary Director. Getting to know Amir, Artina, and Nick in these last weeks while we sprint to the finish line has hardened my resolve and faith that our business will be successful.

I come from a full service restaurant background, serving as a Chef in various parts of the country for the past dozen years. After living in six cities in six years, I sought a position that would offer an opportunity to help grow and nurture a new business and a concept. After meeting with the Zaffron team and after lengthy discussions about the concept I was convinced that ours would be a beneficial partnership.

In approaching the final menu and recipe development, I’ve tried to maintain the same approach I would take in a full service restaurant, hewing closely to values such as freshness, wholesomeness, high quality ingredients, dynamic and robust flavors, and ability to replicate. Many of the building blocks of our menu are exactly the sort of simple, hearty, delicious Mediterranean foods that I’ve loved and used to great effect in some of my former restaurants.

As a team, through research and tastings, we’ve come up with sauces and condiments with varied geographic origins, both traditional and interpretive. An old friend of mine once quipped that she was, “generally amorous of food on sticks”, an opinion that I heartily endorse; so, whether spiedini (Italy), brochette (France), souvlaki (Greece), or satay (Indonesia), how could I not get behind kebabs?

It occurred to me while doing some research that our concept in many ways echoes some of the first quick service restaurants: shawarma stands in the markets of ancient Greece and Phoenicia, where you’d get lamb meat sliced off of a large kebab and tucked into pita with yogurt. I’m excited to find such historical reference points, and am reminded of the long cultural oral history we all share with food.

It’s been an intense series of meetings, menu finalization, recipe testing, tasting, testing, and tasting some more in the month since I joined the team, and the product is coming together very nicely. I can’t wait for you all to be able to try some soon at Zaffron Store #1 in the Shops at Liberty Place!!