in 2003 my family and I started a small business and eventually gut rehabbed the historic 1912 Clark/Peterson building in downtown Viroqua. Our goal was to manifest a healthy business that also benefited the entire community. The doors were reopened in 2004. We had created a town public market. A mall and entertainment venue with local micro-merchants, an art gallery and book store (among other things over the years).... and now a full service restaurant called Optimo. We've invested a significant chunk of our retirement into the project that has seen many triumphs yet also been a struggle from day 1. The entire operation - from event promotion to running the cash register is family-run. Optimo is our final solution to make our family business more consistently successful over the long term and still continue to serve our town. God, I pray this works.
VIROQUA: 3rd of July 2010 - Day of the Optimo Pre-Opening.
8:00AM: Arrive for a brief, fairly busy emergency department shift. Recall my previous shift ... among other patients I sutured my friend's child's eyebrow. He nursed while I worked and barely let out a whimper. A first for me.
1:00PM: Shift over. Minor disagreement with sibling over the Optimo window shades.
2:09PM: Insuring Optimo PA system & music functioning. Hang "Please use other doors" sign. Help arrange table layout. Program table layout in POS computer. Finalize network connection between cash register station and POS. Pep talk to staff. Wishing front staff had a chance to work together more. Wishing we (I) had planned a smaller event. Wishing kitchen had more time to work together. Wishing front and kitchen had more time to work together. Elated that the food in the kitchen really was virtually 100% purchased from and delivered by the farmer. Relieved a bit by the intoxicating aroma of sausage cooking. The food will be great. Say a little prayer.
3:00PM: meet with Chefs and managers. Waiting on booths to be delivered.... still not here. wondering why it's so hot in the dining room. Informed the coffee brewer is not functional and part of beer order not delivered.
3:30PM: Sibling wins the minor disagreement and windows shades put back up. Booths still not here. One hour until the first guests arrive.
3:36PM: Devdan and babymama starving. Run 1st order from the Optimo kitchen over to them (the Greek Chicken). Kiss them both. Run back to Optimo.
4:00PM relatives start arriving. Hugs and greetings. They look hungry.
4:10PM: The booths arrive! A couple at least. Will take em. Have to rearrange table layout and reprogram in the POS.
4:20PM: 1st guests start to arrive. They look happy... and hungry.
4:40PM: Reservations give their names and ask how long. Many walk-ins stroll into the market. And then some more. Hosts are seating everyone at once. A full house. Seating 'system' is overwhelmed. Some people innocently seat themselves. Order printer in kitchen spitting out order after long order. Servers are doing their thing and a lot of folks are smiling. A manager scrambles to find more seats.
4:45PM: Greet ER nurse and friend and fellow business owner dining w mutual friend and candidate for county Sheriff. So happy to see they decided to try Optimo out. Their genuine smiles give comfort.
5:O1PM: Five o'clock reservations show up, not enough seats held back. Restaurant is full. Feeling of joy that people showed up in mass followed by feeling of dread realizing we are slammed.
5:10PM 1st guest checks out at cash register. Cha-Ching ... then .... nothing. The drawer doesn't open and receipt not printing. Try to trouble shoot but no solution evident. The next person to pay steps up. Contemplate calling tech support for the POS and decided better to not think about that right now. Will attempt to fix on my own. Epson printer driver bla bla blah. Another person walks up to pay. Her mother hated the soup and "won't be back". What? Smile. But, she LOVED it and will. OMG, is this how it's going to be?
5:12PM Brother David finds a way to make coffee. Regular and decaf.
5:25PM Good friends show up with huge smiles and remark how much they're looking forward to dining. They also have to get to another important engagement. Calculate they will not be able to be served in time given the current wait. I recall the receipt printer still not working. Dining room is getting even hotter and more full, servers simply cannot take orders outside of the dining room - too busy... Oh heck, the only solution is to be their server myself (something I've never really done). I grab order pad, seat them in the bistro area and take their order.
5:33PM: run out of forks. Confirm the reason it's so hot in the dining room. The AC is down!
5:35PM: seat and serve babymama's Mom and partner who drove in from Chicago.
5:49PM Think I screwed up friend's meat temp when I placed the order, but I'm mistaken. Serve them prime rib and greek chicken. Plates empty. Out just in time.
6:10PM Two doctor colleagues arrive with spouses. Dining room even more full than before. They frown at word of a wait. Seat them on back deck. They love it. I'll be their server as well.
6:20PM momentarily question my sanity.
6:21PM babymama provides calming words and advise. She taking pictures of the action with my baby son. Makes me happy.
6:30PM Two friends and slow food Optimo investors arrive. They look pleased w the crowd. No one has yet told them the wait. Can I handle another table? What about the receipt printer and the AC? Seat them next to the docs. Pause and recharge after they sit and get drinks. Order into kitchen. Sister brings them flowers and a card. They're holding hands. Another guest waiting nearby calls to them - hello there! They know each other. How cool. Gentleman who calls to them running for State Assembly, conversing with dear friend who mentored me when I was a green EMT with Tri-State years ago. They're all having a ball.
6:38PM: Child who I sewed up a couple days before in the ER walks onto back deck w mother. Enjoy inspecting how it's healing. "Is it ok if he got water on it?". Wound looks awesome. Hardly ever get to see how things turn out. I love it.
7:30PM serve a 5-top of foodies and food business people. They are excited to try the trout.
7:40PM sell out of the trout. Must inform foodie table. They have the chicken.
8:30PM Getting through it. Systems working a little better. Siblings helping with the mass of dishes.
9:44PM put burger and pizza order in for myself and babymama and some relatives who didn't get to eat.
10:15PM a few tables lingering and laughing. Music on PA sounds great. We've survived. Atmosphere amazing.
10:25PM eat on the back deck with family in big group.
11:00PM almost 300 covers. More business than some days at Spaggo in LA I'm informed by one of the chefs who used to manage there.
11:30PM Debriefing with chefs and managers. Realize the solution to making this intensity a sustainable venture is to follow our business plan. Such sweet relief that this will work and be sustainable if we just follow our business plan.
4th of July
5:00PM Relax along the Kickapoo ... relish family and warm gentle rains.
Blow some stuff up.
Thank you God.
ABOUT ME: To begin, hello and thank you for making this connection or re-connection. I am a first-time father at forty-something, practicing Emergency Physician (aka E.R. Doc), Medical Director & Chief of Emergency Medicine, ultrasonographer, master teacher and master student, photographer, novice filmmaker, one book writer, hyper-localism entrepreneur: real estate developer, historic rehab of award winning Viroqua Public Market, co-creator of farm-to-fork Optimo Restaurant (now transitioned to new chef/owners as Rooted Spoon), and dot-dot-dot over-user.... passionate about engaging in the moment by moment evolution of our impermanence. Key outlook on life: healing is not a destination, but daily practice
I grew up where I now live, after a 20 year right of passage... middle Driftless Earth, Viroqua. Current sanctuary to many a used-to-be wandering soul. Here, finally, I seek and I provide, I heal and I breathe.
F E A T U R E D F I L M S
Music Video Short: Work & Wisdom
By the band Soul Music
Music Video: Elephant Love (version 1)
Original works by the band Soul Music
F E A T U R E D P H O T O G R A P H Y
An assortment of my photography our beloved Driftless Area and beyond....