Saturday, May 30, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XX: 525-501

With this installment I ring the halfway-there bell and life appears to have no plans of slowing its pace.

Or maybe age has narrowed the gap between how things used to seem to move and how my subconscious mind anticipates they will move in the future.

My daughter's mind churns with every waking moment, absorbing the world, learning, observing, questioning.

My son has entered the speech phase, and the longer my tenure at work grows, the fewer the day's hours seem.

To get to this point in this series has taken a ton of work and the challenge of doubling the piece's size intimidates.

In the midst of it all lies the theme, the intention, the desired mindset.

For those have you that have read since the beginning, for those of you that have checked in from time to time, and for those of you that have just discovered the project, please share in the comments a gratitude (or gratitudes) of your own.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XIX: 550-526

One more post and I'll no longer be able to talk about approaching the halfway point. After that I'm sure I'll reinvent a dozen different ways to refer to the proverbial home stretch.

The publishing of this entry puts me near the five-month mark in terms of the scope of this project and calling it overwhelming would be understatementish.

The hope -- as I begin to chisel away at the second tier -- will be to gain an appreciation of the challenges that others face in their lives, be they intentional or otherwise. I also have noted a bit of a perspective shift with regard to my own thinking and I wish for that to continue to develop.

If you're new to the series, you can find previous installments in the archives, and if you're curious about the impetus for starting it, it's this lady. To be fair, I haven't read what she wrote; I only know of her book through secondary sources, but the idea sounded pretty righteous. You can read a little bit more about her idea here.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Monday, May 11, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XVIII: 575-551

This has become tough.

Making the time, channeling the motivation, trying to find a pace, doing my best to avoid repetition.

This series has also posed the challenge of finding the appropriate mix of sincerity and humor. I don't ever want to take any of life's gifts for granted, but I want the writing to remain entertaining. To that note, I can only hope it has been.

Alas, the midway point flirts with visibility. This -- along with life itself, of course -- should propel the thing's energy, but the choppy waves ahead loom with threats of feigned originality, the whole bit of progress to be created anew.

I won't fail for trying. That I know.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bautistas Tackle Culinary Roots and Restaurant Staples with Mobile Trend

If you do the math the Bautista family’s collective restaurant-experience total eclipses the 50-year mark and keeps going. While brothers Juan and Francisco have owned and operated Carmen’s CafĂ© for over a decade and-a-half, some might call their most recent expansion endeavors doing it backwards.

It started in the late 1980s with a midtown dishwashing gig at Villa Fontana. A 15-year-old Francisco Bautista busted suds in the operation owned by legendary Kansas City restauranteur Victor Fontana. Eight months later, however, Fontana’s doors closed, but Bautista’s old boss -- chef Anthony Ferrara -- had been hired to open Garrozo’s Ristorante at 526 Harrison. Ferrara called Bautista and in 1989 they opened the now-historic Italian-cuisine location.

Bautista -- the fourth of Juan and Carmen’s six children -- spent a decade at Garrozo’s, moving from dish to prep to salad, then grill, followed by saute. Having spent five years rising in the ranks, Bautista earned an opportunity to call the shots by landing the kitchen-manager position -- which he held for almost six years -- when Ferrara left to open his own spot, Tony Ferrara’s Italian Ristorante.

Francisco Bautista works a Wednesday lunch-order ticket while servers (sister) Monica and Juan Hernandez handle the dining room.
This month Francisco and his brother Juan (fifth of the six) celebrate 16 years in business at their 6307 Brookside Plaza location, but they don’t intend to target a second location like their three-year Leawood-location experiment at 11526 Ash Street. Instead of growing by adding buildings to their enterprise they’ve got their hands full constructing a fleet of mobile units to operate within one of today’s most popular industry endeavors: the food truck.

In the late summer of last year, the Bautista brothers debuted Carmen’s Bites, their first food truck. Featuring smaller portions of some of the restaurant’s signature items, the Bautistas and their crew served speidini sandwiches, toasted raviolis, and stuffed artichokes (among others) at events such as First Friday in the West Bottoms, the Young Friends of Art Happy Hour at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Jazzoo, Meyer Fest at St. Peter’s Parish in Brookside, and of course this weekend's Brookside Art Fair.

(photos courtesy of Juan Bautista)

With the winter season behind them, they’ve got the mobile Bites operational again expect to sell a lot of food this weekend but their newest spot -- El Indio, Pollos Asados Al Carbon -- boasts the most consistent hours and thriving sales at 4835 Independence Avenue in the parking lot of an Aaron’s rental center. Carmen’s Bites will make its token appearances, but the new operation gets all the attention.

“The chicken business is good,” Francisco Bautista says. “We needed a spot on the Avenue, and the owner of Aaron’s loves Carmen’s, so we give his employees a discount to the food truck and hook the owner up with plenty of gift certificates for the restaurant.”

El Indio (The Indian, Coal-Roasted Chickens), runs five days a week -- Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday -- and offers one menu item: roasted chicken. Whether you get a half or a whole bird, you get back to the Bautista-family roots with your order as grilled peppers and onions, rice, beans, salsa, and tortillas come with your purchase. El Indio sees steady sales for each of its five business days but the Tuesday special -- buy a whole bird, get a free half-bird -- produces the biggest numbers.

A pair of late-Friday customers order some of Gabriel Bautista's fixins.
The brothers have decked out the Bites truck with two fryers, a grill, a six-burner range, a steam table, two coolers, and a freezer. El Indio, however, has a simpler setup: two units of refrigeration and a massive char-broiler, and it has a main guy -- Jesus Monarrez (the truck’s namesake) -- in charge of the operation. The Bautistas procure and prep the birds for marinade. The chickens then get spice-rubbed, soaked, and stored in bus tubs. Upon arrival to the Aaron’s parking lot (Monarrez transports), they get grilled, often by Gabriel, the youngest Bautista.

“I’m the black sheep,” he says. “I’ve been here (El Indio), there (Carmen’s), and then sometimes I disappear. I’ll just be here whenever they need me to be.”

Gabriel Bautista says he puts in a fair amount of hours at the truck, but points to Monarrez as the man behind the operation.

“Lotta Mexican people get offended when you call ‘em that (indian), but not me, man,” Bautista says. “You see me on the street I’ll have guaraches an’ shit. A belt. I don’t give a fuck. I like that shit.”

The chicken business, as Francisco Bautista says, is good. So good that they’re close to launching a third unit and this time the destination is Kansas City, Kansas.

“We have the truck,” he says. “It’s got equipment in it and it’s ready to go.”

The spot in the Dotte occupies the southeast corner of 7th Street and Central Avenue, a vacant establishment that has housed -- among other outfits -- a Checker’s.

The possible future home of El Indio II, the Bautista's third food truck.

“We just want to rent the parking lot,” Francisco Bautista says. “We know the guys at the gas station (across the street) and they’re going to let us use their restrooms.”

The only thing remaining for the third Bautista food truck to get off the ground is for Juan and Francisco to receive their new grill. While outfitted for charcoal like the original Indio, the Kansas City Health Department has told the Bautistas that other operators have left too much of a mess behind, causing the department to all but ban coal-fueled equipment. So they’ve had to pull out the coal unit and order a propane one.

Rear, outside, and inside views of the near-ready-to-roll third Bautista truck (photos courtesy of Juan Bautista)

While some restauranteurs -- i.e. Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda -- have started with a food truck and developed the concept into a permanent location -- the Bautistas have targeted early May to get the third truck open for business, and once it’s running, they’ll have the potential to have four outfits running at one time (assuming they could staff each location). Right now coming up with the adept hands to run each spot might pose a challenge.

"Juan's the brains behind the operation," says Gabriel Bautista.

"It's relaxing," says Juan Bautista. "Carmen's Bites is more stressful because it's a bigger menu. "El Indio's simple. You're doing the same item all of the time." He admitted that running the food truck can offer a welcome change of pace, too.

"It's nice to get out of the restaurant," he said, "because you see different people."

 They may need to pull in a few other Bautistas, but with Gabriel working at El Indio, and sister Monica waiting tables at Carmen’s, the two eldest -- Roberto and Arturo -- remain the only family members not in the industry.

If El Indio II takes off, they may want to consider recruiting them.