Experiences The Chef

Pata Negra Saga Chapter 2

Things are up and down with business, as the East Village is hard to figure out. I open at five, and some days nobody comes in until nine pm! Or I’ll get slammed at 11 pm until close (which I thought would be 2 am – silly me). I understand no one knows I’m open yet, so I plan to have a party for the neighborhood – a happy hours welcome of sorts. I was gonna do it for the block, but every customer from Avenue C to fifth street wants to be included. Maybe I’ll do one party per avenue.

At any rate, next week I will have a siesta hour, a time in Spain traditionally held for resting, but since New Yorkers work so damn much, a respite between 5 to 7:30 pm for someone to come in, unwind, have a glass and a tapita, and maybe go back to work (or not). House red, white or sangria for five bucks and tapas every half hour. Get a seat early and throw your napkins on the floor.

Chapter 2

Early August 2006

Negotiations with the owner become very tense. It is clear that he needs to get out bad. Judging from the look of his business, there is none. He just had a poorly conceived business plan. We ask for a copy of the lease. He was paying $2,200 a month! Come on. If I can’t pay that rent I shouldn’t be in business at all. Now the landlord is willing to accept the deal but raises the rent to $2,600. The seller claimed almost eight years left on the lease and in reality it was six and a half. So after our attorneys give the okay, we start negotiations. In the meanwhile we start corporation papers and settle on a compromise – LOMAS – Lo for Lolo and Ma for Mateo. Maybe not the most clever, but practical and available.

In the meanwhile, my partner Lolo goes away to Spain with his kids for three weeks and leaves me in charge of La Nacional, as authentic as a Spanish restaurant as there is in New York. It’s August and extremely slow, but boy did I learn a lot in that short period of time. I think some of the staff respected me there and some were resentful, but all in all a bond was formed each day I was on the floor. I always stood up for them, chasing customers down who wouldn’t tip and arguing on their behalf when Lolo wanted to have a meeting at 2 am on a Saturday night. I wore a suit, greeted everyone and tried to educate whoever asked about Spanish wine, food, and culture. It took a while for the society members to get used to me. After all, I failed at the number one question a Spaniard will ask any so called Spanish expert. “Y tu de adonde eres?” Meaning and where from Spain are you from. After I reveal my muddle pedigree they gasp, and deem me not worthy to promote the best Spain has to offer. However, I slowly realized the politics of the social club. There was a group on Lolo’s side, and a group against him. The anti-Lolo group was happy to tell me all their troubles and what they wanted, and I just lent them my ear. It was a tenuous balance. Yes I work for Lolo, but I understand you too. Lolo used to call them the Taliban, because they were always trying to throw them out.

My foodie friends came down to visit and life was great. Closing at 1 am and hitting the spots at the Meat Packing. My favorite spot was at Spice Market where I could watch the chefs cook at the bar and chat them up about everything. I got up late, went to wine tastings as a professional, and met so many cool people. This was such a far cry from teaching I was kicking myself for not having switched careers much sooner. But it’s all part of the journey.

Lolo and I start to form a very solid friendship, and form a master – apprentice relationship. My modern ideas coupled with his experience seemed a natural fit. We spent a lot of time together eating and drinking and exchanging ideas about the restaurant and our upcoming project. It was such an exciting time, being surrounded by food and wine and people in the industry. We worked on the menu, always tasting and trying new things. I tried to update the space and terrible acoustics; he reined me in whenever I was going to far. He was tremendously generous towards me and in return it made me want to work harder for him. I wanted his business to de well.

Back at twelfth street, we haggle. We offer $35,000. We don’t need the contents we say, and the lease is not as long as you said, and the landlord is asking for a higher rent. Not to mention we hear the community board is tough, there is no existing liquor license, and the store is across the street from a school. “Fifty thousand,” he says. He appears more nervous than ever.

We send and architect over to do drawings. Meanwhile, thinking ahead, I want to know whether or not we can get a liquor licence before we buy. So we hire an expeditor who knows the rules. With a lot of scrambling, we get on the docket for September’s community board meeting. We tell the seller to chill until we find out.

End of August 2006.

By Chef Mateo

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