As the year comes to a close we enjoyed a special night together as a staff, laughing and eating and drinking a bit. We paused before dinner long enough for me to toast another great year; I shared My Wishes for 2017.
To our morning floor shiner and my father in law - thanks for your confidence in me as a businessman and caretaker of your only daughter, we all wish for you a very healthy 2017.
To our team of dishwashers we wish for you each to feel the respect you have earned each day.
To our young bussers, don’t wish your youth away, stay young, your youthful energy is contagious, and there are plenty of shifts where we benefit so much from all you bring in the front door.
To our young, new parents who work so hard each day so that they can provide for growing families, surround yourself with people that treat you the way you deserve to be treated – and soak up each carefree, sincere smile and laugh.
To our staff with growing families, as your young lives settle into routines, embrace the days that will pop up as Facebook memories far too quickly.
To our college student staff, college truly is filled with some of the very best days of your lives, remember that the most important moments don't all need to be photographed – soak up every single day that 2017 offers with your eyes wide open.
To those young ladies in love, may 2017 be a year of commitment to lasting love.
To those whose lives are settling into routines, (the real OG) – thanks for your maturity - your quiet support and commitment means the world to us. May 2017 be filled with lasting contentment.
To our expecting moms, chaos is about to enter your world. Days will seem endless but trust me, you will wish for them to return far to soon. Enjoy every moment.
To our young gun Chef, 2017 will be the year that you let yourself blow us away.
To our most seasoned kitchen professional, this is the year of healing. May your soul have a peaceful 2017.
To our very talented Buyer, thank you. Every person in this room is benefiting from your incredible commitment to Jake’s. We are all going to be sure to show our appreciation in 2017.
To our Dining Room Manager, 2017 will be the year that you see in the mirror what all of us see each day, such a beautiful person.
To our Executive Chef, while we all appreciate your managed emotion, never let the passion fade one bit – the passion for your craft, your team, your chickens, your family, our local farmers and most importantly for your new fiancé is what makes you you, and what makes so many people’s lives better; never ever let it fade.
To a very special couple, Thank you for all you have both given, the year ahead is one that will be filled with change and new and exciting and scary (for me), we will all find a way to adjust to a different relationship but one that will always be strong. We all wish for you a year full of love and happiness.
To my wife, thank you for your patience, your guidance and your unwavering love.
I promise to give you all that you deserve in 2017.
My heartfelt thank each of you, let’s let's make 2017 a year filled with meaningful moments.
Every morning at 7:05 a well kept red Toyota pulls into Jake’s parking lot - you can set your watch to the arrival. The front door lock turns, a light switch is flipped and another good day begins.
Lyle Fournier was born in Massena NY in 1934 to a hard working father and a stay at home mother. Large families were typical and the Fourniers were no exception; fancy cars and vacations were not part of Lyle’s childhood but ball games in the yard and pies made from scratch were matter of fact.
Hard work was not just expected; it was the only way to survive when high school ended and grown up life began. Lyle worked odd construction jobs, hauled thousands of yards of concrete on the St. Lawrence Seaway project and ended up in the pot rooms at Reynold’s Metal. Even though the work was hard – and hot - life was very good. Lyle fell in love with Patty and a family began to grow, adding life to the little house on Orchard Street, the first big purchase for the young couple.
A friendship was struck with a budding entrepreneur and Lyle caught the bug – a partnership was formed and the two purchased Malone Bowl, leaving the comfort of Orchard Street and heading to Malone to see if they could make it on their own, and they did. Four children who make him feel complete rounded out a busy life but as retirement years approached and life in “the alleys” became more than Lyle had to give, a move to Potsdam placed him close to family and Jake’s became a great way to add routine to a simpler life.
Lyle has been shining up Jake’s each morning since the day we opened and he hadn’t missed a day until just a few weeks ago. I get to share a part of each day with Lyle as I rush in to “set the drawers” and see what fires will be burning when I return later that day. For a long time all I noticed was the old school country music playing a little louder than I preferred, or the dreaded FOX News broadcasts screaming about who was right and who was wrong from the televisions. I rushed in, made a polite hello, got my tasks done and went on my way. And then I grew up a little bit and starting paying attention. I listed to stories, I asked questions, I observed and I took advantage of what was sitting in front of me each day.
Each day I get to share a moment with a man who sees the good in all that each day offers; a very simple view of a very complex world is sincere and contagious. I was in a bit of a hurry after returning from a trip away this week but paused to enjoy Lyle’s pride in his victory in a local football pool. I envy his joy in a simple life, his pride in his work, his infectious view on all things good.
I am lucky to have time with him each day. Even luckier that he survived a heart attack a few weeks ago – even luckier that he gave me his only daughter’s hand in marriage 25 years ago.
Good things happen at Jake’s – at 7:05 each morning.
I remember so clearly a perfect July day in 2013 when we had a scheduled meeting with the Robert’s, former owners of the property now called Jake’s. Chris and I were headed to their home to discuss our plans for the property and to see if we could “strike a deal”. I have always been a gunslinger entrepreneur, make the deal and then figure out how to pay for it; lucky for me I married a conservative type – the partnership was important and I was at least smart enough to recognize the value in her reason.
We shared our hopes and dreams – and passion that day and lucky for us the Robert’s bought in and a deal was struck at our dining room table a few days later. Prior to signing the deal I called Joe Randi, a legendary local builder who had built all that we owned and had all of our trust. I said “Joe, we are about to take on a crazy project but before we commit I need to know I can get you on our team.” Luck was on our side and Joe committed, we signed the next day and Jake’s was officially underway.
We shared a special evening with the Robert’s in October as Ron and Nancy finished preparing for their final event and invited us to share in the occasion; a wedding of two wide eyed young locals. The property was perfect and the stage was set for us – the Robert’s passed us the torch that night, unofficially, but we grabbed it with all our might and off we went.
I remember my own first swing of a sledgehammer splintering the wall next to the original entrance. I felt the energy of the hammer and the resistance of the wall, symbolic of the next few months as we fought the majestic property to accept the new as it fought hard to preserve the old.
We stripped and tore and broke and ripped the old building apart looking for original strong enough to survive and we found so much more that we hoped. We had a terrific team of builders who put up with our over the top expectations of acceptance that we had a plan – even though the plan evolved as they exposed what we had to work with.
With more of life behind me that ahead of me I can say with confidence that I will never forget the day that my partner in all I do arrived one January afternoon. I had called her to say “Chris you need to come to Hannawa today, you can really start to see it!” She reluctantly found a place to park amid the snowbanks, trudged through muck and demolition scrap and joined me in front of the fireplace. Excited that a few new 2”x4” had been installed I said “ can you start to see it!” After a pause her response - “what did we even buy?” I was quick to respond an an always-optimistic gunslinger “we bought four walls and a dream!”
Chris paused and looked to the east, recognizing that we had removed almost the entire wall facing the water and said – “no, we bought three walls and a dream.” She left that afternoon, not to return for several weeks as I worked with our talented team to put that wall back together and finish the dream.
As I look back on that day often, I encourage everyone to be brave enough to chase a dream, and to recognize that it takes a team to make dreams come true.
We have served steaks that were medium when you asked for medium rare. We have served salads with ladybug accompaniments. We sat people and forgot about them and we have served drinks with way too much simple syrup.
And we will probably do it again.
When we bought the waterfront property in need of a whole lot of love we spent months imagining life as restaurateurs. Friday nights filled with happy local friends, meeting and greeting and eating – and laughing. We imagined wonderful smells and flavors and presentations of interesting and unique creations served by jovial, sharply dressed kitchen staff. And we imagined working a few nights a week and stopping in for the occasional busy lunch during parent’s weekends.
And then we opened.
While we look back fondly on our first two plus years, and most of what we imagined has been our lucky reality, we have certainly learned a lot and the biggest lesson of all is that you need to go into this business with dinosaur thick skin. I remember many people not so secretly sharing their opinions about our decision to invest so much in the property, “not sure what they are thinking, no way to make that location work.” Ironically it was those same skeptics that wandered in on a busy Friday night and were quick to let us know that they “always knew this place would work.” Those critics are the easy ones.
While each and every one of our 45 employees comes to work intending to give perfection for the entirety of their shift we certainly don’t accomplish that. We seat too many people and the kitchen gets backed up, we pull the wrong salmon out of the oven and serve the one that needed another two minutes rather than the one that was cooked perfectly. We grab the box of beautiful dino kale that arrived from a local vendor an hour ago and while it has been washed multiple times, it hasn’t been inspected yet, part of our routine that might get missed on a wild Saturday night. It happens, and it will happen again.
And when we make a mistake we hear about it, as we should. Social media is a wonderful tool for keeping up with friends and family and sharing photos of your kids on the first day of school. We have access to information that helps us find the best hotels and restaurants and we certainly benefit from those tools. We also get punched in the gut from time to time, and often we deserve it; that is simply part of the business. When we do receive criticism we sulk around avoiding each other and try not to let the bad reviews affect us but they do. And then we dissect them and share them with everyone as a way to learn and improve and we work hard together to toughen up.
I admire Seth Godin, a talented marketing guru and I read his blog daily. This week he made me think when he said “If your goal is to be universally liked and respected and understood, then, it must mean your goal is to not do something that matters.”
Since opening my best calculation is that we have served 153,600 meals and we have made some mistakes, and we will again. Fire away critics because we are doing something that matters and that means we might not get it perfect every time, but we will listen and learn and improve and try again the next day to get it just exactly right.
That's how good things happen.
As we grow, learn and adapt one thing that will always be a part of what defines Jake’s is our commitment to our local vendors.
In an attempt to really understand what local means we bought a simple farm a few years ago and our Executive Chef, Josh Taillon, moved in to the small sandstone farmhouse that proudly anchored the seven-acres since the late 1800’s. I wanted to own the farm much more than Chris did, for me it was one more project; a potential wedding venue, distillery, wood shop, cattle farm, vineyard – I had big dreams until I realized that Jake’s was all consuming (and I was approaching 50 and beginning to feel it).
Earlier this week I drove by the farm and noticed Josh in the field. Not an uncommon sight on his rare day off during our busy season. I fought the desire to stop and chat – remembering the importance of time off and giving him time to be alone with his thoughts. The next morning Josh arrived in the kitchen with a well rested smile and lugging a box full of produce that I must have witnessed being harvested the day before.
He was so proud.
The box was full of beautifully dirty potatoes and tomatoes and scallions and peppers. Nothing like what I am used to seeing in the grocery store, I have learned that the irregular shape means much better tasting, and young Peter Martin taught me that it also usually means organically grown. The entire kitchen crew gathered around the prep table as Josh boasted about his bounty, his passion is intoxicating at times and we all soaked it up.
He then shared his recognition of how much work went into growing what was in the box. We had a great discussion about what the real cost of producing the box might be and calculated that each item in the box should sell for perhaps $50 if he were paid a fair wage for his efforts. Instead he was paid the same rate we pay all of our local vendors for his produce and he gladly accepted the payment – feeling rewarded not so much by the small check, but by the pride he felt and the appreciation we all had for his beautiful work.
As we enjoy the bounty of another perfect North Country harvest season, enjoy each tomato, potato, carrot, ear of corn and watermelon. And if you have a chance, thank a farmer for accepting much less than they deserve.
We have always lived life right on the edge of out of control, for some reason we talk about slowing down but as soon as a simpler life appears on the horizon we find another bit of chaos to add and commit to it willingly. Acceptance is the first step towards recovery.
In 1993 Chris and I were a couple of 27-year-old go getters, Chris a full time teacher and I had just opened the third of a series of ventures. We had just closed on the mortgage for our first rental property and moved into our first home. We were expecting our first child and it seemed like the perfect time to get a puppy – and with very little thought we did.
We picked Jake out of a litter of 8 labs behind a garage just outside of Ogdensburg in the late spring. He had the “awe shucks” look on his face that he always seemed to carry; there was no doubt he was the one for us and our family began that day.
Chris and I learned how to care for one more and our life seemed complete, simple almost, being naïve is wonderful when you are 8 months pregnant with your first child. Our son Cody arrived with a flourish and Chris needed some time to recover. Jake was four months old and would have no part of recovery, Chris suggested one evening as she was recovering, and nursing, and not sleeping that perhaps Jake needed to go. I think he understood because he stopped jumping on her when she eased her way into bed that day and life was just a little less crazy so Jake got to stay.
Allie arrived and a special friendship began. Allie’s love of animals and ability to communicate with Jake without words was a special time and our family began to settle into a simpler life. The perfect time for another child and Sophie was born. We were outnumbered as parents and Jake seemed to figure that out – Jake and Cody had a "boy and his dog" bond and Allie and Jake could read each other’s minds. Chris and I (and Jake) spent the next few years settling into what would be our family and life was simple(r).
As our children become independent we like to think that Jake had a bit to do with the wonderful young adults they have become. We also like to think that the qualities that made Jake a special member of our family can be found in your experience when you visit.
Jake greeted us with sincere joy when we arrived. He was kind, accepting and made each of us his priority. His goodbyes were hopeful – hopeful that you would return soon and hopeful that he gave you all that he could.
Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
Our new stove arrived this week, much overdue. Our kitchen team has been challenged a bit for the first two years, accepting the limitations that come with well-worn tools. Finally replacing the old with shiny new, means saying good-bye to a workhorse that has witnessed quite a bit. If the old unit, that gave us all it had could talk, it would probably tell a few good stories.
It would remember our opening in June of 2014, and it would probably laugh quite a bit at our naive optimism. The stove would remember our original chef, Wally Siebel, working 90+ hour weeks doing all he could to keep up with our first few month, while fighting to keep the payroll in check.
It would remember the first health inspection. The inspector we got has a reputation for being challenging, but she was so impressed that we were given the green light that day with a short list if simple improvements.
The stove would remember thousands of entrees being created and warmed and sampled and refined. And the smells, oh the smells; the aroma of garlic and onions and herbs and soups and sauces and desserts. The stove sat close enough to the grill to enjoy the amazing smell of steaks and chicken and pork grilling each day and just close enough to the smoker outside to enjoy our favorite smell of all… our house made bacon.
Most of all, the stove would remember our team. Abbie moving from a high school dishwasher that first summer to a key leader on the grill on our busiest nights. Peggy and Chris and Ryan and Brad and Emery and Jeff, growing as kitchen professionals as they work tirelessly to keep up with the ever changing menu and flavor combinations that are thrown at them – often without a recipe at first.
It would talk about John, our seasoned veteran Chef, with more experience than several others all put together, giving us everything he had each night and taking the occasional rest in his car to build up enough fight to get back on the line for one more dinner rush. And Greg, who joined us with far less experience than the others but a desire to grow and become a professional– and what a professional he has become.
I am sure it would talk most about Josh, our Executive Chef. He arrived with all of the passion and energy he brings every day and he did his best to contain it as he learned about our team. His passion and talent pushed the stove and the staff harder than they had been pushed before, and they rose to the challenge. But the old stove just couldn't keep up as well as the team so, as difficult as it is to say good bye sometimes, the stove knew, as we all did, that we had outgrown it.
We said good-bye with a heavy heart but we also know that the new unit is what we need to do our jobs better. It is tough to enforce expectations if you don’t give your team the tools they need to deliver; we always say.
I am sure that the stove would want to add, as a final good bye, that for sure Good Things Happen in Jake’s Kitchen.
We say it every day.
We scour trade magazines trying to predict what will be hot when the current trendy feature fades away and we spend hours each week looking on line at what’s happening in restaurants and bars in cities with more and bigger and better. We try candied ginger and agave tequila in our Mexican Mule because we want to impress by giving our guests a little more, we chase a better plate for our sushi dish because it’s popular but we are certain we can make it even better if we find just the right presentation. It is frantic, never ending, exciting and challenging and it is rewarding when we hit it just right.
And then comes Thursday afternoon. I have found Thursday afternoons to be my favorite part of each week and I have been trying to figure out exactly why. The trip to Martin’s Farm Stand to pick up all the produce I can fit in the truck (the entire truck - including the passenger seat) comes each Thursday and I find myself returning with a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from the discovery of a new menu feature.
I have wondered if it was the back road route I take that includes a weekly inspection of a perfect field of corn with rows that make me wonder how even a machine can get them so straight that makes the trip so rewarding. Perhaps it is that the return to the kitchen each Thursday afternoon signals the beginning of another busy weekend that comes with a little adrenaline rush that we all quietly look forward to. While I enjoy so much about the weekly ritual, this week I think I figured out exactly what makes Thursday special.
If you haven’t been to Martin’s Farm Stand I hope you go this week. Go with a few dollars in your pocket because while they accept debit card, Phillip (the 12 year old little businessman) who is often at the counter struggles a bit to make the draft capture machine work. Go with your eyes wide open; absolutely beautiful vegetables are everywhere. Go with an open mind because Daniel and Mendy aren’t fancy. The walk in cooler is a masterful assembly of window air conditioning units and duct tape but inside are bins and buckets and boxes overflowing with beautiful colors and shapes and flavors.
And listen – really listen to how content Daniel and Mendy and the nine children are with their very simple lives. If you ask, Josh will show you how low the pond is that he loves to fish in, Phillip loves to exchange mind benders just to show you that home schooling really works “Mr. Jake, what color was Washington’s white horse”. I humored him by pulling out my cell phone and asking him to wait while I Googled it and haven’t heard such a hearty laugh in a long time. And if you are really lucky seven year old Deborah will be available to make you a bouquet. For $5 she will wander into the closest patch of flowers and cut you a handful of something pretty special. It might not be FTD worthy but she will tell you the name of each flower and when she planted it. She will give her arrangement a good long look; her eyes and the prideful smile will tell you how proud she is. She will happily take your $5 and tuck it in the pocket of her well-worn dress and skip back to the stand with you asking if you will be back again next week.
I bring the flowers in first when I get back. I put them in a vase and change the water each day. They may not be the prettiest arrangement in the dining room but each day I pause long enough to enjoy Deborah’s Flowers.
I am often asked if - knowing what I know now - I would do this again. The question always causes me to pause. While the two years of managing the hugeness of what has become Jake’s has taken a toll on me mentally and physically, and certainly led to some adjustments for my family, it has also come with so many rewards. I call them champagne moments.
I have been an entrepreneur, or taught entrepreneurship for what has now become the majority of my life, and have heard over and over that the restaurant business is the hardest.
I have always wanted to own a restaurant. I recall courting Chris and pretending to do homework in college when I was actually drawing up plans for my first restaurant as a 20-year-old dreamer pretending to be a student. From the perspective of the guest, owning a restaurant is awesome, and it is. You get to socialize and eat great food; you work in a beautiful place with lots of happy people. For sure, but in addition, the day to day grind is taxing: hours are long, margins are thin, payroll is massive, buying right is an art; you need elephant thick skin and stain resistant clothing. Really owning means really working, for more hours than each day provides. Working harder than I ever imagined.
When the compressor for the cooler burns out, a dishwasher calls in with car trouble and you realize that your sales rep forgot to push submit on your order for house wine, right then comes the need for those champagne moments.
Last night, I met a young woman who took a seat at the bar. Nothing unusual about her except for the giant, perfect smile; a smile so inviting that a conversation had to happen. She was leaving today to start the next phase of her young life, a new career in Rochester with a fiancé and a wedding date now only 11 months away. She was soaking up every last moment in our little slice of heaven, a community that meant so much to her. We enjoyed conversation and while she enjoyed her dinner, I offered her a personal size bottle of champagne to celebrate the moment and that big smile got just a bit bigger. She left with a to-go box that she planned to have for lunch today, reminding herself that the microwave should be the last item she packs.
I headed out to the dining room to clear a table and my eye met a familiar face, a regular customer with his chest puffed up a bit. His daughter had just gotten engaged earlier that evening and they came to Jake’s to celebrate. Two more bottles of champagne came out of the wine cooler and a proud father got even prouder that he chose Jake’s as the place to celebrate a moment he had thought about since she was in diapers.
Champagne moments don’t only happen in the dining room. Little Abbie, the young lady we hired as an 18-year-old dishwasher, recently “called tickets”, the leadership
position in our kitchen, on a wild and crazy Friday night and she did it perfectly. Another champagne moment for all of us behind the scenes, one that meant just as much to Chris and me as the engagements, graduations, birthdays, promotions and first dates that mean so much to our guests.
So the answer is yes, I would do it again. The hours are long and each day there are new challenges but champagne moments always arrive at just the right time.
Good Things Happen at Jake’s.
In 1994, a little ball of yellow fur entered our world and stole our hearts. For eleven years, he was a constant companion showering our young family with unconditional love, energetic greetings and a pure, playful spirit. So, in his honor, we named our restaurant Jake's. May our restaurant offer you all Jake embodied: a friendly, welcoming place where you can come and be as you are.
Welcome to Jake's!