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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grandpa, The BLT, and Caprese

Sandwich People,

My grandfather really liked to grow tomatoes.  He wasn't a farmer or anything.  He probably dumped mountains of industrial fertilizer in the arid soil of San Bernadino, California.  Grandpa also grew snow peas, and these wicked hot Filipino Peppers.  And Grandma turned those peppers and tomatoes into blister inducing salsa she would generously give out to unsuspecting friends and neighbors.  That was pretty much it.  Same produce each year.

Weird, white on white European lineage... and two of the things Grandma made, fiery salsa from secret caspin loaded tiny peppers, and Pancit, the traditional Filipino noodle dish, that is where the snow peas went.  In my medium length life to date, I have never eaten Pancit anywhere except Grandma's House and from a subpar food truck vendor.  The number of times I have seen Pancit on a menu is, from that same food truck vendor.  I would wager Grandma and Grandpa never even met a Filipino (but she did get the secret peppers they grew from somewhere, so I bet this is wrong).  Pre Internet, she wasn't an exploratory cook... how the hell did she start making Pancit?

But I digress.  The real story here is Grandpa's Tomatoes.  He would have at least 15 plants.  And the tomatoes were big, and plentiful.  His favorite way to eat them, besides chomping them apple-wise, was in a sandwich.  When I finally got to like tomatoes... probably by the age of 17, I realized the beauty of Grandpa's tomato sandwich simplicity.

It goes like this.  White bread.  Lots of Best Foods Mayo.  Fat slices of homegrown tomatoes.  Fat teardrop inducing slices of yellow onions.  Pepper.  Salt.  Done.  Maybe the ratio of tomato to onion is... 2 to 1?  No cheese to muddle the flavor.  No herbs to distract the taste buds.  No bacon, no lettuce, and the onion, Jesus, it really really opened the eyes and nose.  That Summer sandwich was the best.

The first Summer of GRAZE, we tried to serve Grandpa's sandwich.  HaHa.  Not many takers.  So we started adding things.  Eventually we just gave up and went to the BLT.  Now our BLT is pretty damn good.  And our Caprese Panini is also excellent.  And I eat lots of them all Summer.  But sometimes I wish we didn't serve either, stuck to our guns, and let Grandpa's Sandwich stand alone.

Cheers

Thursday, August 4, 2016

OK, (Ted) you were right.

I apologize.  We the people of Graze apologize.  We did something bad, and some of you got mad, or at the minimum were slightly miffed, and some of you went to the worst place... extreme disappointment.

Here is what we did: we stopped serving our signature pastrami sandwich on a hoagie roll and switched to rye bread.  Greater crimes have been committed that have received less condemnation.

Here is the backstory sandwich reader.  It takes us a week to make our special pastrami, with all the brining, and seasoning, and roasting.  It takes a couple of weeks to make our house fermented sauerkraut.  The russian dressing takes like ten minutes.  And we purchased the hoagie rolls from a local bread producer.  That hoagie was really good, and myself, and Graze, and customers were happy.

We care a lot about the pastrami.  It is our baby.  It has been on the menu since day one.  I think it is the best pastrami I have ever had in Washington State, and its a toss up with Kenny and Zukes from Portland Oregon.  Even if stylistically they are distinctly different.

Late 2015 we ditched our bread producer to make our own torta bread, and wheat bread, and while we were at it we also started making our own hoagie roll.  The torta was a big improvement, better quality, house made, it saved us lots of money.  The wheat bread was awesome, better quality, house made, it saved us a little money.  But the hoagies... worse quality, house made, saved us a tiny bit of money, and a total pain in the hind quarters to make.

So we switched the hoagies from our producer to in house.  Customers didn't notice.  Customers didn't complain.  But the Graze version was clearly not as good as the producer version.  We tweaked the recipe, for like the 20th time, and that was after countless variations prior to making the switch.  I bitched and moaned about the differences.  Our Graze hoagie was in my mind clearly inferior to the producer version.

And guess what?  No customer complaints.  Zero.  Not even a customer recognition that the hoagie was different.  It bugged the shit out of me.  If something is wrong, typically the word gets back to me pretty quick.  I knew something was wrong, or I believed something was wrong, yet nobody was sending that message.

So I sent our production team on a mission to make a rye loaf.  It was good.  Not amazing, but a very solid rye.  It was easier than the hoagies for the cooks.  It cost less.  The quality was good and always consistent.  I ate a number of test pastramis.  It was delicious, same pastrami, same kraut, same russian dressing, only the bread was different.

And guess what?  Lots of complaints.  One very regular customer and pastrami loyalist, gave me a stern and disappointed talking to.  He refused to eat it.  Even created a special pastrami on sourdough version to get his fix.  We got a couple of bad reviews online.  The poor counter people had to live with unhappy customers.

So we switched back.  Hoagies are back! (like six weeks ago) To do this we also had to make me happy.  So the cooks went back to work, testing hoagie versions again and again.  We finally got it right, or at least close enough to right.  The hoagies are good.  The pastrami sandwich is back to its former glory.

We are sorry, (Ted) you were right.  Thanks for eating sandwiches.



Thursday, July 14, 2016

PEGG

Surprise! It's Summer 2016. Wet, cool, and nothing like the hot May and early June heatwave.

We expect our bumper crop of tomatoes from Martinez Farm in about two weeks.  When we build fat BLTs and the simple and delicious Caprese Panini.  In the meantime we are debuting a new sandwich in Kennewick, Richland, and Downtown Walla Walla (Drive Thru gets left our).

The PEGG (our shorthand lingo for Panini Eggplant) is a beauty.  It is colorful, clean, simple, and this nearly vegan sandwich satisfies as if you had some protein in it.  Weirdly, I have always thought the best vegetarian dishes resemble protein dishes when one's satiety level (your body's feeling of fullness/completion) is maximized.  NOT "oh I ate a ton and my belly is full", the "that was delicious and I don't feel the urge to eat a Snickers an hour later".  I eat this sandwich with the side salad and vinaigrette.

Back to the PEGG.  Round slices of eggplant are high heat roasted until just soft and barely colored.  We use a tiny bit of pure olive oil and kosher salt and pepper.  The Italian bread is given a little mayo on one slice, and a spread of roasted garlic on the other, and then topped with two slices of provolone cheese.  Roasted eggplant is layered, and then we mandolin slice raw zucchini rounds and sprinkle on some julienned oil packed sun dried tomatoes.  The sandwich is grilled with pure olive oil, rubbed with raw garlic, and then sprinkled with a touch of Morton's Kosher Salt.  The vegan version is simple, eliminate the cheese and mayo.

We are temporarily taking the portabella mushroom off the menu while eggplant and zucchini are in season.  Pretty sad day for us.  The portabella has been on the menu since day one.  Vegetarians love it.  Vegans love it, minus cheese add avocado is delicious.  But we only have so much panini making space, and the Eggplant Panini needs some room to shine.

Cheers - Thanks for eating sandwiches!


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!!!