Pata Negra Saga 7

FALL 2008

The arrival of Fall brought about two things: my type of weather and my clients. People just drink more wine when it gets nippy out there. And despite the tumbling economy, people always need a drink either to wallow in losses or celebrate some event.

I have finally instituted a staff, one who I trust, who for the most part have worked for me and know my style. This is a difficult transition for me, as I like to be at Pata Negra all of the time controling every interaction. But I too was feeling a burnout pressure. My health was suffering ( I had some mysterious back pain for two months straight), my love life was non-existent ( what normal working female has my crazy schedule), and I stopped having fun (I was losing patience with certain customers even by my demanding server client relation standards). Besides, I have miles to go before I sleep, and my other projects are idling.

Still working hard on the menu, I really bent over backwards and have included one item, gambas al ajillo, or shrimp with garlic. I resisted this all this time, but who would have known that a little shrimp, garlic and olive oil would make people so happy. I sold eighteen orders last Friday night. For dessert I’m melting dark chocolate on toast points sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt. When one patron orders, others follow, and the room smells like in the inside of Jacque Torres’ closet. I have come across some of the best Jamon Iberico since I’ve opened, and have been pushing the luxurious, buttery ham on all my customers with $24. to spend. The padron peppers, one of my best sellers, have come into short supply, mainly because Jose Andres orders over 200 lbs. per week for Jaleo in D.C. What a hog! Let the little guy have some too. I have been replacing them with Japanese shishito peppers which are just as delish. Tortilla may be next. We’ll see.

As for Ostia, the band idea really caught on, and we have been interspersing Falamenco night on Sundays as well. My manager Gabriel has hired a new staff who seem to be working well together, and he seems content until the New Year. With no need to panic on that front, I will be changing the menu shortly. Look for caldo gallego, meatballs, cannelloni, and other heart warming dishes soon. Enjoy the last day of the outdoor seating, especially for the upcoming Halloween bash in the West Village.

Recently, I participated in a reading of a script for my first director from college, Davaid Willinger. I forgot just how much fun I had acting, and this brief reading really sparked my need to lighten my load. My new schedule is shaping up, and I still can be found at Pata Negra about 75% of the time. I’m back at the dojo (martial arts training), making the rounds (visiting friends and their babies), and back to work (writing).

October has been full of tastings, and there are some great Spanish wines to try at Pata Negra. Come on down for some great reservas from 2000 and 2001 as these vintages are really hitting their stride right now.


Winter at Ostia was long and lean. Everyday was a nail-biter. My friends came in to support me quite often, booking parties and showing up often for moral support, and I was in the process of weeding out staff member who were not up to par. Lolo was on my back to make money, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure. Tasca, across the street seemed packed every night. I went for a drive-by. The wine list was not well chosen and overpriced. The food barely resembled Spanish cuisine. The waiters were dress like they worked at Lotus, and the crowd was UrbanDaddy driven. Alas, they had spent lots of money on advertising. At Ostia we threw a welcome to the community party for West Village regulars. I was confident that Tasca was a flash in the pants, and that we were trying to establish ourselves as a neighborhood place. Patience would prevail.

Sure enough, February picked up a bit, and we made it out of the snow by doubling January earnings. Another shake up in the kitchen, outstanding service by my waitstaff, and the old-fashioned one client at a time was slowly gaining ground. Then when March hit, so did the New York Times, a favorable review from Peter Meehan, and the flood gates opened. Not only were we busy, but every other periodical jumped on the bandwagon (Zagat, Time Out NY, New York Newsday etc.). Tasca was uncovered as a fraud, and we coasted into summer, continuing the same formula, good food, good service, and comfort. Tasca imploded, as the chef was accused of mismanagement of funds, and certain staff members of sexual harassment. They eventually closed making way for Sheridan Square, which as of this posting also has since closed.

I was happy with my performance and my staff, as Ostia was finally operating like a functional business. Time to take care of myself now. I pushed for more money, and Lolo was against it. He wanted to create a tip sharing scheme with the staff. He was overruled by my other partners. So Lolo decided he was going to drive me out. He gave me mundane administrative tasks (counting forks and spoons), and insisted on a computer (a $15,000. investment that would act as a spy for him). Half the time I established a policy in the workplace he would undermine it. I just ignored him. My vision of Ostia was coming to fruition, and he still wanted to hang garlic and put salt on the tables. I was losing respect for him and he knew it. Every time he would come in to the restaurant there would be tension and friction. I just wanted him to leave. I had no problem checking in with him every day and asking for advice on matters, but the two of us in one place just didn’t work.

In many of our heated conversations, we broke our respect and ultimately our trust. We separated a s partners, and I knew that in the background opening Pata Negra was still a great possibility. Only this time I would do it alone, with no partners. Lolo said, “ If you were smart, you would keep me as a partner to ensure your success.” I told him that even if I failed, it would be better to own my business, make my own decisions and fail, rather than be told what to do by him and succeed. “You will bleed out of your ass,” he admonished. “I got a big ass,” I retorted.

June came rushing in, and without outdoor seating (we had no licence yet) I was doing killer numbers. But Lolo wanted me out. He managed to get my partners to sign an agreement giving him managerial control, and I was left unprotected. He brought forth an impossible scheme. He proposed that the waiters’ salaries would be brought down to $25. a shift. If they made over $100. in tips the house would not have to pay them. Second, I would be receiving thirty percent of their tips to supplement my base pay of $400. Third I had to be responsible for many systems he would dictate to be implemented, all of which seemed draconian to me in effect.

So after closing on Sunday, we had our final meeting. I thanked him for all the stuff I learned and the opportunity. I went through a laundry list of all my accomplishments at Ostia, as well as a detailed list of thirty-five different press accolades, both in internet and print, topped off by NYT of course. I asked him to honor or original deal in severance, and he dance. He said he owed me nothing, and that the education he gave me was payment. I told him to be a man and tell the truth. After all, I had witnesses in the meeting when he agreed to those terms, ten percent of the business after six months. He told me I would never receive that money and that I could take him to court over his dead body. I couldn’t tell at that time, but I  got off cheap with this crook. I told him that he would lose both businesses before long. He said, “Is that a threat?” I replied, “No, just the facts.” He replied, “I sleep well at night.” I believe he does, as those without conscience sleep like babies.

I informed my partners the next morning, and focused my energy on 345 East 12th Street, the future sight of Pata Negra. I lost a friend, my baby (OSTIA), gained invaluable experience, and was left flat broke, but somehow felt a calmness over me that everything was gonna be alright.

By Chef Mateo

Just a man in pursuit of all things delicious. Eat and Drink life!