Monday, October 12, 2009

This Old Building

How many years has this building sat on this corner and watched as a city grew around it.

Built and occupied as a grocery store on the corner of a gravel road and a newly paved road stood a rectangular shaped building. Its neighbors on the gravel road was a butcher shop and a few shotgun houses. behind it stood a rice mill, a foundry and a brickyard and on the opposite corner, a fur and trapping supply store. The city wasn't very big in those days and started thinning out just after the cemetary on Florida Blvd. You could still travel way out of town to the airport which is now Independence Park, and later on through the Clover leaf at Florida and Airline. The Broadmoor and Sherwood Forrest areas were truly rural, but all that has changed now. The city has grown east all the way to the Amite River, north into Baker and Zachary, and south all the way to the Assension parish line. And back were it all began, on the edge of Beureguard Town and Catfish Town, sat the red brick grocery that in time would become Baton Rouges Oldest Restaurant.

Can buildings have pain, or know fear? If so, could it feel the march of progress as over half of the building was torn down to make room for a new bridge over the Mississippi River. Thousands and thousands of cars passing over this new bridge every day and none notice the little red brick building or remember its sacrifice. Just another part of standing and watching as the city grows. All its neighbors have gone now, replaced by even more progress. The only reminders that remain is a name on the street between it and the river called Brickyard lane, and the building that once supplied trappers along the river. The area is different, changed, all new, except for the little red brick building.

How many bills were discussed by Legislators during a 3 martini lunch. How many business plans were made, or ideas explored? How many couples had thier first date there, or were proposed to in the Pastime? How many important people, movie stars, celebrities, athletes and political heavy weights have passed through its doors. How many articles, awards and honors has this old building seen in all its years on this corner?

If these walls could talk, what would they say. How many volumes of intresting tales could it tell. Young college students having thier first beer. People losing or winning money on all the Pay-off pinball machines that were in the bar until Grevenburg rolled over them with a bulldozer. How many cabs were called to pick up customers over the last 64 years. Athletes fighting over the same woman. Future politicions hacking the back door with a mechete' when Joe wouldn't open. Movies and commercials being filmed inside and outside. All the game day crowds with thier yelling and screeming and cheering for the Tigers. How many pizzas and poboys has been sold over all these years. What tales could it tell.

Its an old building, with many memories and many contributions to not only the city, but the people in the city, its customers and its visitors. Maybe thats why after all these years, the building has become an Historic Landmark. An honor to an old building who watched a city grow around it. This old building stands a steady watch, a gateway into downtown, a landmark for travelers and a testiment to stability and time.

My Fathers Restaurant

My Father bought the Pastime Restaurant from Joe Alesci in the mid 1960's and it has always been "his" restaurant. He dabbled in opening up 2 more restaurants along the same lines as Pastime and called them Wesley's. My Mother ran the one in Broadmoor and several different managers ran the one in the Rebel shopping center, but after 10 years or so, my father sold them to his brothers, who ran them for several years, and then resold them. So my father concentrated solely on "his" restaurant, the Pastime. My father passed away in 1996, and it was still "his" restaurant, and it will always be "his" restaurant. I wanted to open another restaurant that I could call mine, or at least, not "his". I thought about opening for several years but had to decide if I wanted to duplicate it exactly, or make the changes that would allow the restaurants to grow and expand. I knew I wanted to open a full scale duplicate of the Pastime in Lafayette and in Hammond, but before that, I wanted to open a smaller, more intimate, easily franchisable delivery type restaurant in the center of the city for our customers who no longer work in the downtown area. You see, after they move out, change jobs or retire, it's hard to make a special trip downtown, so I wanted to offer them a closer alternative. When we looked for suitable buildings we found the space in Drusilla. It was perfect for the smaller delivery concept and had a large amount of space in the back to build a commissary. The restaurant was designed and built on a shoestring budget using equipment that we had purchased and reconditioned over the years and finally opened in June of 2008.

Now came the chance to make changes that would allow the restaurant to be duplicated in any strip mall and make it "franchisable". We knew the food and the recipes could never be changed, nor how we prepare it. Our 2 main cooks at Pastime trained side by side for over 8 years, and one was moved to Pastime Jr. to continue using the exact same ingredients, from the exact same suppliers and prepared the exact same way. Every single order that comes out of the kitchen of Pastime Jr is the exact same as if it would have been prepared in the Pastime. With this addressed, we moved onto other things that we could change. The old garage sale type chairs and tables, brick walls, and obnoxious neons would not be included. Instead, we built our own tables and booths and sheet rocked and painted in a theme of Black and Khaki. We also knew that we wanted to deliver, and that required a whole new POS system capable of handling drivers, insurance, licensing and order timing. The next thing we decided on was servers and that was a big decision. At Pastime, it is hard to find counter people who want to work only 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, but servers, since they can pick and choose shifts were easier to staff. Besides, the dining room was too small to yell out orders. This seems to have worked out very well, after all, Pastime had servers back in the 50's and 60's so it really wasn't breaking any traditions. The other big thing that we could change was what we served the food on. Pastime spends over $50,000.00 per year on Papyrus paper products to serve our Pizzas and Poboys on. We decided to serve our pizzas on a specially designed pizza tray that allows the pizza to retain its heat, and makes the crust crispier, and to serve our sandwiches on an industry standard sandwich tray. This not only gave a better presentation, and made it a little classier, but saved on the yearly expenses of papyrus paper plates.

Everything from staffing, food preparation, equipment, and atmosphere was decided before the build out was started. Myself and 1 other employee built everything you see in the restaurant, but the chairs, cabinets over the bar and the equipment. Several other people helped design and decorate the bathrooms, and a few even volunteered to paint and stain. After all of our inspections, emergency room visits, and long 12 hour days, the restaurant, "my" restaurant, not my fathers restaurant, opened in June of 2008.

It may not be my fathers restaurant, but it would have never been possible without his teaching, training, wisdom and love. Without the skills he taught me, from carpentry, to refrigeration, to food preparation and running a business, I would never have been able to open Pastime Jr, or the future restaurants in Lafayette and in Hammond, so I guess he is just as much a part of this restaurant as I am, and that makes it "our" restaurant.

I Love you dad. I'll take care of the restaurants and the employees. Thanks for everything. We miss you.