UP IN SMOKE...

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Typically, I’m a big fan of irony, and then there is this: the only non smoking bar in Rensselaer had a smoke issue keeping people away. So ironic that a second grader could identify it and ironic enough to slightly dull the frustration of knowing if the problem didn’t get solved fast, the STATION would be dead by February.

Upon the closing announcement of SJC last year, we significantly altered our business plan and use of the space as we decided to continue with construction. These changes took away our aggressive tourism angle as the microbrewery didn’t any longer make fiscal sense at the time. Outside of all the components that make a great experience, we still wanted as a focal point; enter a huge wood fired brick oven.

Wood fired brick ovens aren’t new; in fact, it is one of the oldest methods to cook. Europe made it famous and today it is small niche market in America. Locally, there are brick ovens in Crown Point, Valparaiso, and Lafayette. Instead of getting a prefabricated unit delivered like those, we wanted a fully custom made authentic brick oven that was big enough to accommodate a full house.  Custom, artisan made designs can sometimes create custom problems…

Opening in summer didn’t provide much of a challenge for the oven; warm, calm sunny days make it easy. Once the weather shifted, small changes began taking place and ultimately, full blown smoke rolled out. This, obviously, was a major issue that made ozone alert days in 1970’s California look like fluffy white clouds in the care bears home of Care-a-lot.

We began trying every combination of factors that could have made this smoke issue occur. The wood, the oven, the chimney, the flue, the air pressure…everything was looked at. We even turned to science. I learned a lot about negative pressure syndrome. We punched a hole through brick to balance the negative pressure with positive air pressure.  Nope.

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Finally, we installed new equipment, brought in an ozone machine, created the positive air pressure flow, and touched up the dome work and now, we are smoke free.

As relieving as it is to have solved the problem after a month and a half of doing whatever we could to fix the issue, it’s equally frustrating that we had to endure this with our guests. Nobody wants to come eat lunch and head back to work smelling like a campfire, we totally get that for sure and are sorry that it has happened.

Naturally, all our guests that hated the haze of smoke we’ve experienced the past several weeks, we ask you try us out again. To celebrate our “exhausting” journey to becoming smoke free, we are going to begin incorporating lunch and happy hour specials:

Lunch Specials(11am-2pm): Pick 2 - Soup / Salad / Sandwich Combo - $11

Or

Any pizza combo with soda - $7

Happy Hour Specials (2pm-4:30pm): 25% off appetizers and $1 off all beers

also, this saturday (16th) evening, we have a great comedy night staring Danny Browning. Doors open at 9pm on the venue side. HERE IS THE TICKET LINK

Because of the time spent to resolve the smoke issues, we have pushed back the winter menu just a bit. Nonetheless, I'm extremely excited about a couple of the options that are being added for the winter. We will also be rolling specials soon with other fun items. 

Thank you for everyone's patience. Having this behind us will help allow us to become creative again and bring more surprises to the eMbers. 

Restauranting.

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Restauranting is hard. I knew this going into the new expansion. I was told this by my friends who own restaurants. I read about this in restaurant books. I listened to it on restaurant podcasts. Until you experience it, however, it doesn't sink in. Right now for me, I'm writing this at 4am because I'm not sure if the Italian beef I started yesterday will be ready for opening today and I'm thinking about the upcoming Saturday night hoping we will have enough staff to run a successful evening. Yes, restauranting is hard. 

The first month of operation is now complete and I learned more than in my first year of college. It was an amazing roller coaster ride for sure of successes and failures. It was the "do our best in the storm" of opening something new. In the business plan, I called it the training wheel month. now that the first month is over, the training wheels have to come off. 

There are some key components that I learned in the "training wheel" month: 

1. This community truly is great. I've met a lot of great people in the first four year of the VENUE and now I'm getting to meet more. When you try your best to support the community, this community supports back and it is a special thing. 

2. There are many more things that cannot be controlled in a daily operation that can be in the VENUE. It's killing me that I can't facilitate the overall experiences for the guests like I can at the VENUE.  

3. Two businesses is twice the work. Duh, I should have realized that.  

4. Staffing is hard. We have a great team, we just need more on the team to have proper coverage on the floor for our guests. I sometimes feel like I'm running around like a sketch on the old Benny Hill show where they  speed the film up (if you don't get that reference, YouTube it. They're pretty funny). 

5. I learned in business class that a "brand" is created by the customer, not the business. I created the identity of a "craft bar/bistro"; the community is creating the brand as a restaurant. Now I have to think more like a restaurant.  

6. Training, training, training. Never enough.  

We have had the great opportunity to serve a lot of people in this first month. For a small community like this, that's been beaten up this past year (college closing and subsuquently now losing our downtown friends at the pub, doggers, and more), this community knows how to rally and help one another. That's a special thing. Whenever I feel like an isolated island in Rensselaer, the community is here for us and that's what gives me the passion to develop new ideas. 

The next steps are in our "queue" box. Once we learn how to stabilize our service component of the STATION experience, we will introduce the next step ideas to our community friends for our downtown. It's definitely not a secret that we were supposed to open as a microbrewery. That will still happen (to the dismay of our guests who like the lounge area inside where the beer is supposed to be made), just not until we figure out the best logistics and practices in efficiency for what we currently do.  

Thank you to everyone who supported us in the "training wheels" month. you've helped us learn, adjust, scrap ideas, create new ideas, and try something brand new in this community. We will always evolve to better serve you and eventually, we hope, restauranting will be less hard. 

Thank you!  

Ryan

HERE WE GO...

Four years ago, we opened a venue. At the same time, we were able to welcome a new neighbor and friend across the street who started his restaurant adventure. I remember doing paperwork at a table by my window and watching his opening week. I saw the lines out the door and thought "Thank God I'm never going to start a restaurant"...

Well, here we are. I didn't start a restaurant but that's kind of what it looks like. 

We started a wood fired bistro eatery and craft bar. We created something that includes unique and artisan styled food options. We created a unique way of cooking the food with our large, old world, wood fired brick oven. We created an environment that focuses on creativity. Most importantly, we created a place that focuses on our customer's experience as a whole. 

In order for us to achieve our goals of maximizing our guests' experience, we want to be able to give the proper attention to all our guests. That crazy opening week mad rush that Rensselaer gives new businesses is great but we want to do things right for you. We LOVE how our community friends want to try new things and get excited when those new things are created; that shows the great spirit of our community. 

That being said, we are opening tomorrow; Thursday, July 13th. Thursday and this weekend will be reservation preferred. If a time slot reservation sells out, walk in guests may have to wait for the next available time slot. Reservations will be hosted on our page HERE . Its fast, free, and easy to make a reservation and it allows us the opportunity to help make sure your first experience with us can be a great one.  Long waits and long ticket times aren't good or fun for anyone. We created this for the long haul, not quick dollars right now. Our philosophy is that bills will get paid through great guest experiences, not through a rotating fast food feeling :) 

Normal operating hours will be TUE - THU 11am to 10pm and FRI-SAT 11am to 11pm. We are a  21+ full bar bistro and craft bar.

Once again, make a reservation HERE for our dates starting tomorrow (THU) through SAT this week and then it is wide open beginning next Tuesday.

Thank you to everyone for your overwhelming support as we begin this new adventure!

Ryan

WHEN WILL YOU OPEN?

The STATION at eMbers is done; well, kind of. Nonetheless, being done(ish) is a strange feeling. The road to getting here was even more so. I never imagined the brain, body, and wallet power it was going to take to get a much smaller building than the eMbers Venue complete. The biggest part of that was the outdoor space but overall, this was a difficult but interesting adventure in construction.

 My favorite part about the design and construction of the STATION and its outdoor space was our philosophy in doing it.  This time around, our focus was more internalized. The designs you see at the STATION are more a representation of us and our style. I grew up at my dad’s collision center and converting this service station was a personal experience because of that. What you see at the expansion is, in essence, a piece of us. We created in a “this is who we are” fashion. If you like the experience here, we should be friends.

 Setbacks were plenty. We lost a projected 16% of revenue with our local college locking its doors. We lost our brewer (don’t worry, we will become a microbrewery still soon) for reasons I stopped trying to figure out. I spent a couple days in ICU and will still have to heal for a few more weeks. There were definitely moments where I questioned if we should continue. To push forward, I had to remind myself how important this could be to downtown.

 The process for creating the STATION was systematic. The basic plans were already created six year ago back when we purchased the shell of what is now the Venue. The blueprints were done before the mural was started. Everything you now see was conceptualized years before it was created. It was a lot of waiting!

 WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE STATION:

 An intimate experience. We will be seating for 8 at the bar and 32 in the general area. Where the brewery will ultimately go, there is now a lounge feel with a soft seating area for a small group of friends to relax. If there is opportunity and need, the VENUE can be opened up to allow many more guests access to the facility. The outside pavilion seats an additional 40-60 with plenty of space for movement and interaction as well.

 A new food experience. This is something that is really cool and I’m excited to share it. The wood fired brick oven brings an old world flavor to the foods we prepare. Flatbread pizzas are a must, of course, but we also wanted to really use the brick oven for a variety of fun foods. The menu will be BISTRO styled. This means we are not offering a full restaurant menu. We will be shifting seasonal ingredients and focusing on rotations. There will be vegetarian options and brunch type foods as well.

 Bar. Our favorite component. We take great pride in the creativity, quality, and gamut of drinks we create for you at the VENUE.  We are especially excited for the new spirits and local angles with the bar at the STATION. Here, we are going to focus on more local friends like 12.05 in Indy, Journeyman in 3 Oaks, MI, and the numerous breweries all across our state and Chicagoland. We want to rotate taps as we go through them so there will be many opportunities to learn about local, quality beers as we continue developing our new plan for our microbrewery.

 Entertainment.  When I was a really little kid, I would ride around with my family listening very closely to the radio. I was under the assumption that the bands were at the radio station playing live. If I heard the song twice in one day, that meant they didn’t do a good enough job the first time (ya, I was like 4 years old). When I was kind of a little kid, I would sit on the floor of my room with my finger on the record and pause buttons waiting for my favorite songs to play so I can record them onto a blank tape and listen to my favorite songs on demand. I was very particular on catching them on the first beat and if I didn’t like the song, I’d rewind it back and wait for the next song. My dual cassette boombox was my best friend and we couldn’t be separated. There really was never a time in my life where music wasn’t important. That’s why I try so hard to bring music to Rensselaer. I feel that if live music is important in my life, it surely is to others in the area as well. Tomorrow (Thursday Night), we have our first look of the STATION for guests who purchase tickets to the Air Traffic Controller / Fast Romantics concert. Doors open tomorrow at 5pm to see the STATION and 6pm door for the venue.  We are hoping that in future concerts, having the component of dinner and drinks before a show will be a boost for live concerts. You can get your tickets HERE for the Thursday show. Please do, these are two great bands out of Boston and Alberta, Canada.

 WHEN WILL THE STATION BE OPEN?

 Half jokingly, I tell people “when we learn how to cook food from the menu”. We still have a punch list of items to iron out and solidify the menu as well. So just a couple things for sure. I’m optimistic that we will be ready in the end of June for a July opening. We will start with a soft opening for friends and family. There, we hope to iron out some kinks; then open to the public. We may have a big opening day event or we may just put a post on social media saying “hey, we’re open”. TBD Late, late June/ early July.

 Truth be told, this is kind of scary for me so I want to make sure we are certainly ready. There will be hiccups, I will occasionally burn something in the brick oven (it's charred, not burnt), and I’ll screw up other things; bear with me and our team as we find our groove.

 I certainly thank many of you for your support throughout these months and the kind words. Your voices have overwhelmed the condescending “hope it works out for you” words that people think it's fun for me to hear (shoulder shrug, question mark?). It is because of your support of the venue that has allowed us this opportunity and eternal thanks for that. Speaking of thanks, purchase your tickets to tomorrow’s concert HERE and I’ll thank you in person! :)

 Ryan

UPDATE: MAY09

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Sometimes our ideas go according to plan. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, when they don’t, better ideas emerge. 

Last year, I somehow turned from 25 years of age to 40. I woke up and became a 40 year old man. I remember waking up that morning and realizing that this decade will be my best chance at making a difference in the community. This was to become my “important decade”. I was in the middle of the STATION business plan and the goal was to create something that complemented the eMbers VENUE; something that looked really good for guests coming into the downtown district, something that the community could come to and look at with pride, and something that kept food on the table for my kids. 

Downtown Rensselaer is very special to me. Not because of what it is, but what it can be. I like to visit special places and feel inspired. Milwaukee, Chicago, Tulsa, Valparaiso, Amsterdam, L.A.; these are all places that inspire me in different ways. Big or small, any community can have something that feels special. The size of a community doesn’t matter, small communities like Rensselaer can inspire as well. In many regards, much easier. The goal with the STATION was simple, create a space that is more special than anywhere I’ve ever been in the world. I know it sounds like a statement from a ten year old child but that’s how I work. I was pretty excited to start this “important decade” of my life.

One of the first things I did for my “important decade” was email the two mayoral candidates and explain how downtown Rensselaer is special to me. I asked a series of questions about their plans and visions for downtown, if elected. One said he’d get back to me and the other said his attorney advised him not to answer the questions; not a great start of communication confidence in this “important decade”. 

Saint Joseph’s College announced that they will cease to exist at the end of the school year. This becomes a huge hurt in the community losing not only 17% of a prospective population of clientele, but also losing a big chunk of our culture and identity. This is a major setback in this “important decade” in terms of city stability.

Add the difficulties and budget of indoor/outdoor construction, trying to roof the STATION 3 different times,  breaking 5 ribs and bruising half of my organs, and nonsense in the brewery side of things (I’ll get to that in a bit); This important decade is off to a less than desirable start.

We are not, however,  the type of people that dwell on the negatives or difficulties. For every problem, there are several solutions. Part of the fun in business is how solutions are created from these problems.

What is important in the end is creating something to the best of our abilities. In that, I am extremely excited for what we’ve created for you. There is still much to do but everything is coming together and the finished product is still slated to be complete by early summer.

Our approach in the finished products is similar to our style of creating the environment; we want to incorporate creativity and uniqueness in our product. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel and quite frankly, deep fryers and burgers bore us. 

FOOD: We are absolutely in love with the brick oven. Everyone associates brick ovens with pizzas and we will, of course, have that element. More importantly though will be the menu items that will use the oven outside the pizza box. The brick oven wasn’t part of the original business plan but with fortunate circumstances, brainstorming, and a persistent mason, we created a fun and unique way to prepare food. Food will start more simple until we gain more confidence and a good workflow on this side of the business. 

COCKTAILS: Wow. When we opened eMbers four years ago, so much attention had to be placed on finishing construction that we didn’t really learn as much as we needed to manage a bar. Now, it is definitely one of our strengths due to all the education and experimenting we proceeded to work hard for. Craft is the key word with this regard and although we will have the familiar brands that are comfortable to the majority, we want to focus on local and unusual spirits that will cater to our friends that are more like us. We love to mix with quality ingredients and and the cocktails at the STATION will show that. 

BEER: Making beer in-house was the driving point in starting this expansion. We led with the microbrewery component of the business. We thought we had the right plan/people in place, turns out, we didn’t. I can’t exactly say what happened in this regard because I don’t entirely know myself. What I do know is too much time and energy was spent in that direction so we are looking forward to new ideas beginning now. We will not open with the microbrewery component in place. Instead, we are going to recreate how we are going to incorporate this dynamic to the STATION and do it in a more careful, articulate fashion that will benefit all of us in the long run. I’m sure this is as disappointing for you as it is for us but I promise, the new plan for this will be stronger, better, and more exciting. We are looking at this as a marathon, not a sprint.  

In the meantime, we will offer beers at the STATION that will represent what we represent. Unique and local brews with rotating brewery will be showcased as we progress to ultimately making our own. We will have a beer or two that can be found on a NASCAR hood as well for the less adventurous. We’ll get them to come around as well :) 

ENVIRONMENT:   This is the part that excites me the most. I really believe that this is our best work yet. If everyone in Rensselaer had a Ryan Preston on their team, we would be a tourist destination with building design leading the way. Every part of this space has creative interest and if you look for it, with each visit, you will discover something new and cool about the space. The outdoor space will be exciting and unique to our guests. We are also leaving it slightly open ended to evolve a bit more as we grow. 


Truth be told, this entire project has been a roller coaster ride. We’ve given it our all and I’m certain you’ll love the vision we have for this space. Although the creation took a lot out of us, we will cross the finish line of completion with excitement in sharing our passion of creating the STATION for you. With your support, it will be an ever evolving component to downtown Rensselaer and a space you can share with your family and friends and we support the growth of our community.