Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Well, yes and no

Here we go again – another kind of coffee house, actually this one is more like a coffee kiosk. Not my original plan, I mean, where is the music, the art on the walls, the gathering of locals? But, if this could be the beginning, lead to something bigger and better it might be worth a try.

I met with a local vintner a few months ago and we briefly talked about the idea of a coffee bar/house/shop/kiosk on his property up valley. Although I wasn’t that interested at the time, now it seems like a no-brainer. Or it least it did this morning at our second meeting. But then it was off to the county offices to see what might be involved in opening our little 300 sq ft coffee bar that could serve commuters, local residents and tourists alike. Simple. A very simple idea, with a small amount of equipment and product, taking up very little space, leaving a very lightfooted footprint.

Okay, I get that there have to be rules and regulations. I don’t want to eat in a restaurant that isn’t checked on occasion by the health department. I want to believe that the refrigeration is always at the right temperature, the floors, counters and dishes have been cleaned and sanitized, and I do, as recommended to me by others, always check the bathroom to get an idea of what the kitchen is like. Bad bathroom, out the door we go. Thank you Anthony Bourdain.

Our first stop is at the Planning Department where we are told that to modify the Use Permit (which we will have to do) will cost at a minimum of $5,000 and upwards of $8,000. This is just for them to look at our plans, and of course approve them. If they don’t approve the plans, then we have just gifted the very broken, very poor State of California with a hefty chunk of our savings.

The clerk sends us off with a very large manila envelope and handouts and tells us the first thing we should do is prepare a plan to present to the Planning Department. Okay, sounds good, off we go. On our way out we stop by the Health Department downstairs. I only wanted to ask if we would need a bathroom, since there would be no seating in this small coffee establishment. Well, not only do we need a bathroom for us (the employees) but it can’t be further than 200 feet from our kiosk. We wanted to use the restroom at the winery tasting room which is just across the parking lot, but it seems that won’t fly with the Health Department. A few other things we will need, a transaction counter no higher than 3’ to make sure wheelchairs can come up to our counter, have an accessible walkway, a coved and sealed concrete floor, a waste water floor sink, and heaven forbid, it we try and sell any pastries be prepared to show every ingredient, where it was baked, and it can not, I repeat, can not have any trans fats. These are just a few of the items that need to be addressed but there are many many more.

Okay, so at this point I’m not feeling quite as excited as when I drove out of the winery parking lot this morning all giddy, ready to start “getting things in order."  I’m thinking, “I know there are ways to get around this.” Then the clerk drops another bomb. “Oh, and by the way, there is no way the county will approve an “open air” food establishment.” Flies, bugs, and God only knows what other kind of creatures could enter the space. She informs us that we will have to have a screen door (remember, this is a warehouse size door we are talking about, a barn type door). A screen would really defeat the purpose and feel of the place. “So, what about the restaurants in town that are open air restaurants, how are they getting approved?” I ask. “They are doing it illegally”, she informs me. “They are just willing to incur the points against them at inspections.” Hmm. Interesting. To almost every question I asked this woman her reply started with “Well, yes and no. . .”

Do I still want to proceed with this coffee house idea?  Well, yes and no. . .

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