Standing in front of 40 new employees of Coquette, Scott Luetgenau is discussing the Urban Food Group’s philosophy of customer care. “I don’t want you to become the customers’ friend, and they don’t care what your name is or anything about you. I do want you to take care of those customers’ every needs. I want you to interact with them enough to help them with their menu and drink choices. When the food is served and the customer isn’t eating it, find out why. If it’s not right, fix it. If it’s not what they expected, make it right.”
I sat in on a part of this introductory “class” yesterday, and the Urban Food Group is completely focused on great food, great service, and having a staff that knows its stuff. Part of yesterday’s training dealt with the beer that would be served at Coquette. “The French may make the best wines, but they don’t make the best beer,” Luetgenau lectured. “They do, however, know who does, and that’s why we’re serving Belgians.” He then went over a spec sheet of the six Belgian beer that will be on tap at Coquette, plus a handful of others available by the bottle. The spec sheets give an overview of the flavor profile of each beer and recommendations of food pairings. Each beer will be served in appropriate glassware and in appropriate sizes (usually 11.2 ounces (1/3 liter), but some of the higher gravity beers will be 8.4 ounces (1/4 liter). Some of the staff members know their beers, others are a bit misinformed, whereas most remain quiet and listen. Luetgenau encourages conversation among the crew.
Meanwhile, the kitchen is getting ready, too, with the salaried chefs and cooks busy making stocks, curing gravlax, and focusing on the task ahead of them. The first “friends and family” night is on this Friday, which will be for family members only. A broader private opening will be held on Saturday, for special guests of the restaurant, where each table will get to try selected dishes from the menu. No ordering will be permitted, except in the case of special dietary restrictions. The restaurant will take off on Sunday, and at 5 PM on Monday, the doors will be open for Coquette’s first paying customers. Coquette will serve dinner only the first week, will add lunch the second, and breakfast service begins on the third.
I asked Chef Rob Bland if he’s been sleeping, and he just shook his head. I sense the man is running on adrenaline right now, but when he’s in the kitchen, he’s at home and at peace. One minute he’s roasting chicken backs for a dark chicken stock, another he’s attending to a lobster stock, and then he’s making sure all the scales have been removed from the wild Atlantic Salmon that is being fileted for gravlax. This is quiet, low-keyed work — nothing like it will be on Monday. One of the walk-ins contained several 5 gallon buckets of reduced stock, which is a “good start,” as Bland stated.
While this training and preparation continues, so does the construction. The restaurant is nearly done, but there are minor issues that have to be addressed. A large banquette in the bar area that gives waiting customers a place to sit doesn’t quite fit in the space, so owner Kevin Jennings discusses options with the contractor. Cabinets are being stained, hinges on doors are attached, and globes on chandeliers are being added. The beer kegs have been tapped, so there is relief at the end of these training sessions, at least. Unfortunately, the glassware is still piled in boxes, so relief might come from a plastic cup.
Yes, the clock keeps ticking, and the opening is just around the corner, but everyone around me is calm. I don’t sense one bit of panic, as these are professionals. They’ve done this before. And although there will be the typical problems that arise with the opening of any restaurant, I sense the preparation of this group will make this opening a bit more seamless than most. Time will tell.