I can not believe it is almost Labor Day and I still have not written about Ristorante Luciano, the restaurant at the Jersey Shore that my brother Luciano and I opened seven summers ago. Maybe its because I am so far away and this is the first summer that I have not worked in the restaurant since it opened. Or maybe it is because I cannot find the words to accurately describe the place that changed my life seven years ago and has shaped nearly all of the decisions that I've made since then.
I suppose that all a writer can do is try, and so, here is my humble attempt at describing the opening of a restaurant.
The story really begins sixteen years before we opened the doors of Ristorante Luciano, when I was seven and Luciano was nine. We didn't know then that one day we'd be business partners, or that we'd even be in the restaurant business. The only thing we knew for certain at the time was that my mother was opening a restaurant and we were not happy about it.
But eventually, we began enjoying the restaurant. The two of us would spend time in the kitchen next to our mom. Luciano had the cool jobs, like frying slices of eggplant in the deep fryer, while I got stuck doing the jobs that no one wanted to do like snapping string beans and grating mozzarella. Still we had fun; we were two kids playing restaurant in a real restaurant.
As we got older, we had more formidable roles in the restaurant. My brother took on the part of sous-chef and learned all of my mom's secrets while I followed my dad around the dining room, learning how to work a crowd with finesse.
Then, during my last year of college in New York City, while I was trying to juggle two jobs and grad school applications, I got a phone call from Luciano. "We're opening a restaurant in Stone Harbor," he said. "And you're the new manager." It was April. I was graduating in May.
For the previous four summers we ran a small take out restaurant in Ventnor, New Jersey, a little town near Atlantic City. Luciano cooked while I answered the phone, took orders and cleans the four tables in the place. We did well together, so it was no surprise that we'd expand. I just never though it would happen so quickly.
Though I was slightly nervous, I took on the manager role with full force. My first move was to check out every restaurant management book that I could get my hands on. I began interviewing waiters and waitresses and, in the most serendipitous circumstances interviewed my future best friend ( but that's a whole different story). By graduation day I had hired almost my entire staff of employees, most of them college students like myself. While I was telecommuting as manager from New York, Luciano was building the restaurant piece by piece, laying in Tuscan style tiles on the floor and thick rustic stones in the wall.
Soon it was the night before opening and we were finishing up the last minutes details. The waiters had been trained, the kitchen prepped, the dining room set. At about three am, as we were locking up to go home, we looked at each other in disbelief. We were opening a restaurant...