I have never been big on documenting my life through photos, yet I am now experiencing what I imagine parents go through when they realize they don’t have many photos of their babies and now they’re grown up. Lucky for me, there’s Yelp! I pulled a few photos from there to use as a jumping off point for talking about our evolution. I alternate between glowing pride (we’ve come so far!) and cringeeee (yikes, our place was so barebones!). Follow along on this emotional rollercoaster ride with me!
I don’t think anyone understood this, and to be fair I did a very bad job of setting the right expectations, but all I wanted to do when we opened was literally the exact same thing I did at pop-ups, and build on it slowly. I had never run a restaurant, opening one is pretty daunting as it is, and trying to offer a full menu with my limited experience would be the quickest, surest way to fail. I think time has proven me right on my approach, but for the first 6 months I don’t think many people understood what we were building up to and everyone was frustrated with… everything, really. But the people who did get it? I ADORE my regulars who’ve been coming from our early days. Thanks for putting up with me.
Originally, I wanted to change the cream cheese flavors every week just as we did with the pop-ups. This was a terrible idea. People were coming in and loving the Bacon Chipotle cream cheese, and then they’d tell friends to come in and try it, and the friends would come and we wouldn’t have it. I wanted NOVELTY NOVELTY NOVELTY because that’s how I roll, but there’s a reason why restaurants don’t completely change their menu every week. Also none of us have enough ideas to flip the menu weekly. Also food waste. Don’t do this.
We also only had 3 sandwiches on the menu: The Breakfast Sammie, the Lox Sandwich, and a 3rd improvised option called Fancy Turkey. People were rolling up like, “really, just 3 sandwiches?” but being a professional Sandwich Genius is actually an incredibly skilled job and we were still learning. We couldn’t handle more. God bless that day in September 2017 when I met Claire — I still remember how fun it was to work with her, how much of a machine/beast she was (is!) and how excited she was to accept my job offer! Claire (and later Tracy, and now Jesus and Marc) was the primary reason we were able to expand our sandwich menu. I firmly believe working the sandwich line is the hardest job in the house and I treat them like star athletes.
(Also, anyone remember when the lox sandwich was always finished with a sprinkle of fresh dill? We nixed that real quick. Seven components on a sandwich is too much and I hate prepping dill. We now stick try to 5 components max.)
We also had a tiny countertop convection oven, a souped-up version of the one Borealis had for our pop-ups. I legit thought this would work for us. It was a DISASTER. But mostly for positive reasons: We do way more volume than I ever anticipated. That thing was never going to stay hot enough for us. In March 2018, we upgraded to an actual 1/2 size convection oven after I saw the one at Flour in Back Bay, Boston and the sweet Puerto Rican guys working the sandwich line assured me I could crank it all the way and it would withstand the abuse. They were right (for the most part). This new oven was a breakthrough for our speed of service and our sandwich sales skyrocketed. Yay!
We also had a VERY limited assortment of pastries, 3 kinds on most days. And our pastry case was a humble 3-sided box I made out of plexiglass from Lowe’s. (Friends, remember: I was BROKE!) Our pastries looked like they were locked up in prison and the merchandising was not attractive. We upgraded to our current glass pastry case in March 2018 (and I want a new, prettier custom-made one now!) and we switched over to beautiful trays in Fall/Winter 2018 (first some graphic plywood ones from Stock, currently marble & brass ones from West Elm I found on supa-dupa sale). Better merchandising drives sales, eureka! We now have about 8-12 different pastries daily, rotated based on our bakers’ whim. I am like… 95% pleased with where we are with pastries at Rebelle and everything we do from here is just gravy/continuous improvement. Good job, team!
More cringe illustrated below: Our roll-up security shades (idk what to call it), our CAGED door (walk in for a bagel and get locked up!), our first outdoor furniture set (spray paint fail), our empty deli case (how sad), our bare walls.
Obviously, we don’t look like this anymore. I was so swamped with trying to start a business, learning how to be a boss and how to deal with customers and setting boundaries and trying not to go insane. I didn’t have any time or energy (or money) to spruce up the joint until 6 months in. We’re now more comfortable financially and Michele holds down the kitchen so I can focus on improving the customer experience in every way.
So yes, these photos are full of cringe. But like, I did what I had to do to get it up and running, and can you believe all we’ve done in just 18 months?! People come in now and I hear them compliment the design and it gives me the butterflies. People dig their food and ooh-aah at the pastries and my heart skips a beat. I love sitting among my customers and eavesdropping as they enjoy their experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world! I can’t wait to see what we’re going to look like in another 18 months…