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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Start Over

Starting a business is a series of singular events.  Maybe it takes a few months, or years, or only a few weeks.  The government paperwork, start up money, signage, and whatever that business requires.  A series of Firsts that rarely require any Seconds.  A lease is signed once, a loan is approved once, the door is unlocked for the first time.  After the Starting all that is left is a series of repeats.... Seconds upon Seconds.  Repeat the right formula often enough and hopefully dollars will follow.

Three months after starting Graze Catering, a guy I just met at a home poker game asked, "What do you do for work John?" to which I replied "I started a catering business".  His response was a wry "So you started a catering business, have you actually catered for anyone?".  Sadly the answer was "for very few"... and the future response to that question became, "I operate Graze Catering, we do pretty much everything, but mostly wine events and weddings."  A valuable lesson poker playing Old Bob taught me.

After a year of very little catering, and a crisis of belief and a near towel throwing in, starting this blog became instrumental in getting brides and grooms to know Graze Catering.  It drove the business, and a couple of years after Starting, we were Repeating Repeating Repeating, the most successful and busiest catering outfit in Walla Walla.  The blog has withered as the sandwich shops have thrived and the catering business has been gently retired.

I have always been as open about the business with... well, anyone that asks.  If you are first time customer and we happen to chat about the business, and I have time, and you are interested... well my wife says I talk to much.  I like to talk business, not just mine, and I like to hear peoples thoughts (business thoughts, no not your pet's rituals or your favorite actors, kill me now).

A long time ago, I would send emails to customers who signed up for our email messages.  I wrote stories about our sandwiches, or why we do something, or a certain new thing we are trying.  It was successful, a few hundred people would read them, and I would get some great and honest feedback.  It was personal, and real, and fun.  I stopped that about a year ago when Sandwiching In Chief became a bit too crazy.

Maybe it is time to start over again.  The catering business did its last official 2016 catering obligation a week ago.  We promoted our Drive Thru Manager to be the General Manager for all four stores (which is crazy, absolutely crazy to think about.  Corporations, Fast Food Mega Chains have general managers.  We are just these little sandwich shops, what are we doing with a general manager?).  We hope to start adding new sandwiches, specials, and test runs to the menus in the next few months.

Re-Start the Blog.  Create some new sandwiches.  Invent a general manager role.

Business is great.  It will be fun to Start Over some stuff again.

Cheers


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The End

I started Graze Catering in September 2006.  We, the wife and boy and I, had just moved to Walla Walla from Sacramento.  We had no family or friends here.  It looked like a nice place to live and grow a family.  I had spent the last eight years teaching junior high and high school science.  The wife cut and colored women's hair.

Business was slow at first.  It is hard to build a business in a foreign place (especially when the owner is unsure of himself, isn't great at networking, and refused to spend money on advertising, but I digress.)  Nine months in I contacted our landlord and put in notice to end our month to month lease.  He told me to hang in there, adjusted our monthly lease downward, and we decided to give it another year.

Little by little I gained confidence and started landing winery jobs and weddings.  The former event manager from the shuttered Homestead joined on, which mainlined us into big community events, and we were able to band-aid together a barely profitable business. 

Years two through six were fairly insane.  Looking back I still don't know how I/we/us made it.  The first 40 hour a week employee didn't show up until year three.  A weekend would look like: lunch for 40 Thursday, five course wine dinner for 12 Friday, paninis at the Farmers Market (which one high school student and two Whitman students would run) for 110, a wedding in a field for 100 and a second wedding at a winery for 150.  Sunday was dedicated to washing dishes.  (by hand for the first two years.)

In 2013 I stepped out of chef role and our current chef, Brian Mahan, started to run the catering.  He has done a great job.  I spent more time figuring out sandwich world, which has become the tail that wags the dog.  This September, 2015 we will open our fourth GRAZE - 'a place to eat' location in Richland. 

For every catering $1 we sell, we sell $7 sandwich dollars.  And let me be clear, that catering $1 is a lot... I mean a very hard $1 to produce.  The business that used to be catering with some sandwiching, is now very much a sandwich business that has a catering operation that gets in the way. 

So Graze Catering is closing its doors.  (we will keep doing a few of our long term jobs for a couple of wineries and community events, so you may see us out and about occasionally.)  Thank you for hiring us!  This has been a crazy crazy ride.  Wouldn't change a single thing along the way. 

Cheers - John and Becca Lastoskie

Thursday, January 8, 2015

GRAZE INDEX 2014

It is time for our one lonely blog post per year.  Sad I think.  I loved writing about our catering business and our exploits.  As the business has grown, and the email list has grown, and the facebook pages have developed, and Lord knows we won't jump into twitter... well the blog feels a bit like a Packard in the garage with the new Mazda 3 sitting right next to it.  Nowadays it gets taken out for one Sunday Drive a year.

In honor of 2013, I present you with the Graze Catering Index (with apologies to Harper's Index). All totals are Graze Catering only, and do not reflect numbers from Graze 'a place to eat', our sandwich shop, or Graze - 'a drive thru' our drive thru only sandwich shop.

Guests served in 2006 --- 604
Guests served in 2007 --- 3,319
Guests served in 2008 --- 8,053
Guests served in 2009 --- 12,166
Guests served in 2010 --- 15,468
Guests served in 2011 --- 18,771
Guests served in 2012 --- 20,875
Guests served in 2013 --- 23,269
Guests served in 2014 --- 20,142

Number of events 2006 --- 17
Number of events 2007 --- 66
Number of events 2008 --- 83
Number of events 2009 --- 176
Number of events 2010 --- 194
Number of events 2011 --- 216
Number of events 2012 --- 224
Number of events 2013 --- 276
Number of events 2014 --- 246

Number of events 150+ guests 2006 --- 0
Number of events 150+ guests 2007 --- 2
Number of events 150+ guests 2008 --- 11
Number of events 150+ guests 2009 --- 16
Number of events 150+ guests 2010 --- 26
Number of events 150+ guests 2011 --- 39
Number of events 150+ guests 2012 --- 42
Number of events 150+ guests 2013 --- 49
Number of events 150+ guests 2014 --- 34

Number of weddings/rehearsals 2006 --- 0
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2007 --- 6
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2008 --- 18
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2009 --- 22
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2010 --- 22
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2011 --- 31
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2012 --- 27
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2013 --- 35
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2014 --- 24

 2010: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
(dine in, delivery, and pick up) --- 29,619.
2011; Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
(dine in, delivery, and pick up) --- 43,609
2012: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
AND Graze - 'a drive thru' (dine in, delivery, and pick up)
--- 66,197
2013: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat' AND Graze - 'a drive thru' (dine in, delivery, and pick up) ---90,409
2014: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat' AND Graze - 'a drive thru' AND Graze - 'a place to eat' (Kennewick) (dine in, delivery, and pick up)
--- 161,244

**** Look out McDonalds!!!

We love what we do, we like serving people, we like making events better because we are there, we like cooking different things every event, we like seeing guests smile. We are pretty good at what we do. We hope you hire us.  ("we" really really do)

Thanks to all our past and future clients and guests. We look forward to serving you again.

Cheers

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

GRAZE Index

(This piece of self indulgence has turned into a bit of tradition for me, so please forgive any overly sentimental chatter.) 

Wow.  This has been a crazy ride.  Really.  When this little catering business started in 2006 it was just me (and a loving and supporting wife).  Me washed the dishes, me called and emailed, me was the prep cook, sous chef, chef, and server coordinator.  Me always talked to clients about the "we" of Graze Catering, but it was really just a figure of speech.  Who would you hire to cook and serve for your wedding "me" or "we"?  Lots of people showed up to serve and cook for the weddings and wine events.  But at the end of the day it was just me.

The last couple of years "me" has been transitioning rapidly to "we".  We have a full time chef, a sous chef, two full time cooks, an event manager, two sandwich managers, and a bunch of great sandwich cooks.  We really are "we" now.  Crazy.  Just crazy.  (And "we" are about to get much bigger in the next two months with the opening of another sandwich shop.)

Cooking for a living is not the easy life Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri make it out to be.  It just isn't.  But there is nothing we would rather do.  Another fun year with lots of great food, cool stories, and fun experiences.

In honor of 2013, I present you with the Graze Catering Index (with apologies to Harper's Index). All totals are Graze Catering only, and do not reflect numbers from Graze 'a place to eat', our sandwich shop, or Graze - 'a drive thru' our drive thru only sandwich shop.

Guests served in 2006 --- 604
Guests served in 2007 --- 3,319
Guests served in 2008 --- 8,053
Guests served in 2009 --- 12,166
Guests served in 2010 --- 15,468
Guests served in 2011 --- 18,771
Guests served in 2012 --- 20,875
Guests served in 2013 --- 23,269

Number of events 2006 --- 17
Number of events 2007 --- 66
Number of events 2008 --- 83
Number of events 2009 --- 176
Number of events 2010 --- 194
Number of events 2011 --- 216
Number of events 2012 --- 224
Number of events 2013 --- 276

Number of events 150+ guests 2006 --- 0
Number of events 150+ guests 2007 --- 2
Number of events 150+ guests 2008 --- 11
Number of events 150+ guests 2009 --- 16
Number of events 150+ guests 2010 --- 26
Number of events 150+ guests 2011 --- 39
Number of events 150+ guests 2012 --- 42
Number of events 150+ guests 2013 --- 49

Number of weddings/rehearsals 2006 --- 0
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2007 --- 6
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2008 --- 18
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2009 --- 22
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2010 --- 22
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2011 --- 31
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2012 --- 27
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2013 --- 35

 2010: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
(dine in, delivery, and pick up) --- 29,619.
2011; Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
(dine in, delivery, and pick up) --- 43,609
2012: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
AND Graze - 'a drive thru' (dine in, delivery, and pick up)
--- 66,197
2013: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat' AND Graze - 'a drive thru' (dine in, delivery, and pick up) ---90,409

**** Look out McDonalds!!!

We love what we do, we like serving people, we like making events better because we are there, we like cooking different things every event, we like seeing guests smile. We are pretty good at what we do. We hope you hire us.  ("we" really really do)

Thanks to all our past and future clients and guests. We look forward to serving you again.

Cheers

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Working, Fixing, and Escaping


There are so many things to share... and I just can't find the time.  So here are a couple of highlights.  We served 2,400 guests over Spring Release Weekend, May, 2nd through the 5th.  We were at these fine wineries, Leonetti, Amavi, Mannina, Five Star, L Ecole, Reininger, and Isenhower.  Thanks for having us. 
 
 

We had our friend Zac from Waterdrop Workshop build these truly incredible picnic tables for the sandwich on Colville Street.  The one on the left has been sealed, the one on the right is ready to be sealed.  The patio is up and running.

The sandwich shop and drive through broke records over the Spring Release Weekend.  (Oh we so wish it could be May all 12 months of the year, as do all the other food establishments in Walla Walla.)  Maybe it had something to do with the new patio?


Our home upstairs bathroom decided to dump a bunch of water into the downstairs, through the ceiling drywall.  That was a fun project to fix.


And I got away to Vegas for the ncaa basketball tourney opening weekend.  That was cool.  My personal highlight was eating at Wichcraft, operated by Tom Colichio.  It was alright... for a sandwich.  One or two of their sandwiches may even be decent enough to crack our sandwich line up.

Cheers

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring... Better Than Winter

Words of thanks.  Our favorite part of the job.


Our latest itteration of an anti-pasta platter.


This one client asked us to make a dish with their pork belly.  So we made pancetta.  And then used it in red wine beef ragu. 


Oh man.  Pancetta heaven.  Best version we have ever made.


 
Hmmm.  7,000 appetizers.  14 hours. 



This is how many people you need to hire to do it.


So this isn't the greatest picture.  But this is one of the greatest apps we have ever made.  A garbanzo flour pancake crostini, slow roasted goat tossed with harissa, topped with an indian salsa verde coleslaw.  Delicious.


Roasted beet and apple salad, endive boat, green goddess dressing, candied cashews.


Buffet dinner at the powerhouse theatre for 55.  Slow roast porchetta styled pork shoulder, roast vegetables, tuscan white bean salad, blanched aspargus lemon and parmesan, spinach salad.  The wine was ok too.


Roast cauliflower, peppers, almonds, garlic, onions, whole parsley.


Cheers!!!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

We Should Do This More Often

There is just so much we aren't telling you.  Which is a shame.  So to make up for lost time, here are a bunch of photos.  In no particular order.



Summer Is Perfect


Speaking of Perfect... My son and I were there!!!


Apps Somewhere...


Porchetta, pork belly wrapped pork loin,
sooooo delicious.


The entire garden in one salad.  Refreshing.


The whole porchetta before slicing, for a wedding at Basel Cellars.


Wine dinner at Abeja.  Tucannon Meats bone marrow, white bean salad.


When you cook well in our kitchen, you are a... BoomKing.


Thanks


Tucannon Meats new york strip loin for a dinner at Amavi Cellars.  The finest cut of meat in WW, without question.


Shrimp bisque, barely any cream, blanched mussels, crawfish tails, seared shrimp, holy trinity, for a Fat Tuesday winery dinner.


Three years after opening... we got a sign.


New Years Eve project, building the hood for the sandwich shop.


Deviled egg mousse on brioche toasts.  


Every so often we cook dinner at home... and actually try.  Tucannon Meats short ribs waiting for the liquid to braise. 
 
Cheers!!!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Drive Thru Turns One!!!

January 2012 we had a little Christmas Party in the catering kitchen for the major stakeholders in the business. The chef, managers, owners, and spouses. We had just decided to open GRAZE - 'a drive thru'. Needless to say, all of us were a little worried. Little risks can sometimes turn into big losses and have serious consequences.
 
To lighten the mood we played a little game. We each made a prediction on how well the drive thru would do. Average daily sales... and whether the concept would work or we would have to close. One third of our group predicted failure... closure within the one year lease. It was morbidly fun.
 
March 1st 2012 we opened with as much fanfare as possible. Emails to you gentle sandwich readers, newspaper plugs and advertisements, and facebook posts. Even a big sandwich board proclaiming "Breakfast Panini and Coffee in 3 Min or Less!!!". Day 1 thru 4 sales were $260, $164, $261, $181... Honestly, failure seemed certain. It was so dead (fancy restaurant term for slow).
 
And then little by little, sales grew. Pretty soon we weren't losing money. After a while we even made a dollar or two. And nowadays the drive thru seems to be doing alright. We won't be buying a helicopter anytime soon, but going out of business seems a much lower proposition these days. (My wife and I know lots of folks, it is WW after all... and for a good six months everybody asked "how is the drive thru doing?"... with grave and serious looks on their faces.)
 
Something seemed to happen this Fall that kind of made the Drive Thru work. We aren't really sure what it was. Maybe it was the radio adverts on the christmas station, or the free kids meals, or the newspaper ads "It's Like FAST FOOD without the CRAP in it". Or maybe we just figured out how to do what we do a little bit better and more efficient. It could have been the horsemeat scandal in Europe, or the pink slime publicity in the US. Oh, who knows, and who cares. We are just thankful the whole thing seems to be working alright... knock on wood.
 
We cook honest food. We like what we make. We eat it everyday. We hope you do to.
 
(Cupcakes with every order Friday, March 1st, random giveaways of gift certificates, $5.50 grilled cheese and chips or salad... shhhh, it's like a drive thru secret)
 
Cheers
 
GRAZE - 'a place to eat' 509-522-9991
GRAZE - 'a drive thru' 509-540-1261
Mon - Sat 10am - 7:30pm
Sunday 10am - 3:30pm, home for family dinner

Friday, January 4, 2013

Graze Index

(This piece of self indulgence has turned into a bit of tradition for me, so please forgive any overly sentimental chatter.) 

Cooking for a living is not the easy life Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri make it out to be.  It just isn't.  But there is nothing we would rather do.  Another fun year with lots of great food, cool stories, and fun experiences.  Let's hope we get to cook more goats/lambs/pigs in 2013!!!

In honor of 2012, I present you with the Graze Catering Index (with apologies to Harper's Index). All totals are Graze Catering only, and do not reflect numbers from Graze 'a place to eat', our sandwich shop, or Graze - 'a drive thru' our drive thru only sandwich shop.

Guests served in 2006 --- 604
Guests served in 2007 --- 3,319
Guests served in 2008 --- 8,053
Guests served in 2009 --- 12,166
Guests served in 2010 --- 15,468
Guests served in 2011 --- 18,771
Guests served in 2012 --- 20,875

Number of events 2006 --- 17
Number of events 2007 --- 66
Number of events 2008 --- 83
Number of events 2009 --- 176
Number of events 2010 --- 194
Number of events 2011 --- 216
Number of events 2012 --- 224

Number of events 150+ guests 2006 --- 0
Number of events 150+ guests 2007 --- 2
Number of events 150+ guests 2008 --- 11
Number of events 150+ guests 2009 --- 16
Number of events 150+ guests 2010 --- 26
Number of events 150+ guests 2011 --- 39
Number of events 150+ guests 2012 --- 42

Number of weddings/rehearsals 2006 --- 0
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2007 --- 6
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2008 --- 18
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2009 --- 22
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2010 --- 22
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2011 --- 31
Number of weddings/rehearsals 2012 --- 27

2010: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
(dine in, delivery, and pick up) --- 29,619.
2011; Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
(dine in, delivery, and pick up) --- 43,609
2012: Sandwiches/Full Salads served by Graze - 'a place to eat'
AND Graze - 'a drive thru' (dine in, delivery, and pick up)
--- 66,197

**** Look out McDonalds!!!

We love what we do, we like serving people, we like making events better because we are there, we like cooking different things every event, we like seeing guests smile. We are pretty good at what we do. We hope you hire us.

Thanks to all our past and future clients and guests. We look forward to serving you again.

Cheers

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Silence of the Lambs Wedding

If I could cook lamb and goat all summer I would be a happy man. 

We did a wedding for a family from Milton Freewater yesterday.  The groom is from Armenian roots.  The bride is from farming Milton Freewater Oregon roots.  So we blended the two a bit. 

We roasted two Fehrenbacher Farm whole lambs and 25 whole chickens.  Grilled a ton of local vegetables.  Made a nice salad from the family apple orchard.  It was yummy.  And the lamb was spectacular, tender, clean and flavorful, we served it with some harissa.  Here it is before we seasoned it for the oven.  Dinner for 180 guests.


Reininger had us back for the Hootenanny.  A fun day of entertainment and local rustic food. 



The family snuck away to a wood fired oven pizza party at Walla Walla Vintners (thank you Meghan and Judah).  My very first real cook job was at a wood fired pizza/nice rustic Italian restaurant in Sacramento, CA.  Paragary's.  I can toss a mean pizza.  Here is a stuffed crust monster. 



The Summer is humming along nicely.  Every bit of produce is ripe and perfect these days... and we will get a chance to go home and cook some for our families if we ever get some time off from work.

Cheers