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Whoa, so much is happening so fast. This week we poured the floor in the kitchen and basement. It took eight guys four days to mix the material, pour it, let it dry, sand it and buff it. Then make sure it was pitched correctly for drainage. It really looks awesome. Pouring the flooring was pivotal in moving the project forward. I feel like we had been pushing a giant ball up a hill and reaching the top coincided with the installation of the floor. Now the ball is rolling downhill – fast.

Once the floors are done the kitchen and bar equipment started arriving. Then the stainless steel walls started to go up. Racks went in the basement walk-in refrigerator. Everything is happening so fast. It won’t be long now.

 

Don’t miss the chance to enjoy Alison at Blue Bell  before the renovation. Four miles away at Alison two, things are really moving along now. Here I am standing in the bar  – it won’t be long before we’re sitting at the bar and celebrating with a drink!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s obvious to me that the people working on this project – from the electrician, Augie, to the tileman, Sam – care about this project as much as I do. I feel pretty lucky to be working with so many talented people that are really thoughtful about the finished project.

 

Augie, our electrician

Augie, our electrician

 

 

I really like tile – I think it looks great. But, it’s a little more complicated than I thought. We picked an oversized sandy beach-colored tile for the bathroom floors and smaller version for the hallway leading to the bathrooms. Sam, who is laying the tiles, had some concerns about how the floors would look. One concern was about the best place for the transition from the carpeted dining room to the tiled hallway. He also had doubts about using two different sized tiles – even though one was for the hallway and the other was for the bathroom. He wanted to make sure the lines running down the middle of the hallway didn’t look lopsided since the 18” x 18” inch tiles didn’t fit perfectly and had to be “cut and pasted” to work.

 

He pulled me aside to talk it through. He’s the expert – not me – but I reluctantly gave him my opinion. When I left, he met with Doug, the job superintendent. They really know what they’re doing. It’s a good thing Sam knew better than to listen to me. The tilework looks amazing!

 

Remember those tiny iridescent blue tiles that Courtney picked? They’re going on one wall in each of the four bathrooms, as well as the front of the bar, and over the fireplace in the living room. They really reflect the colors on the walls – gem blue, saffron and sandy beach. Before doing the walls, Sam laid everything on the floor and planned it out. Then, he did a sample board with two different colors of grout – blue and grape. I really thought I’d prefer the blue but it stood out more and created a checkerboard pattern. The grape really harmonized better with the other colors.

Taken by Alison on her iphone

 

 

When you’re cooking you can taste the dish as you go and, if you need to, you can adjust it. Tilework is more like baking – when you take it out of the oven it’s finished. If it doesn’t taste good – you have to start over. That’s why I leave the baking to Amelia and the tilework to Sam. 

 

Working with people like Sam on this job is a pleasure. I have a great construction team. I have a great restaurant team too and we’re really excited about opening Alison two and the changes planned at Alison at Blue Bell.

 

 

We’ve been working on Alison two for nearly a year. It looks like we’ll be ready to open soon. Of course, we’ll keep you posted. It appears that our timing will be like the perfect storm. Alison two will open at just about the same time that Alison at Blue Bell’s lease comes up for renewal.

 

Alison two

Alison two

We’re taking advantage of that wonderful coincidence. When Alison two opens, we will then begin renovation on Alison at Blue Bell. The entire Blue Bell staff will move to the new restaurant in Ft. Washington to ensure a smooth opening. Alison at Blue Bell will be closed during the renovation, for approximately 3 months.

 

The idea is to create two distinctly different restaurants, both with excellent food and warm, friendly service. We’re excited to move forward and provide even better dining experiences for our guests. In fact, many of the changes we are making at Alison at Blue Bell are in direct responses to customer comment cards and requests.

 

Alison at Blue Bell will be revamped from top to bottom — from replacing the carpeting and painting to restructuring the tiny kitchen. And, in what is expected to be a popular move – the restaurant’s electrical system will be updated so that it can accept credit cards and online reservations through Open Table.

 

When it reopens, the menu at Alison at Blue Bell will lean more toward Mediterranean fare, Chef Anthony Bonett’s forte. (Chef Bill Lewis and I are collaborating on international fare at Alison two.) And, the small, food-friendly wine list and selection of small-batch beer from regional breweries developed by General Manager Tom Pittakas, will be expanded. 

           

We’re almost there and as the last few things are falling into place, keep an eye on this blog. We’ll keep you posted. Now is the time to hurry on in and enjoy the waning days of summer with us before the renovations begin.

 

 

 

Over the 4th of July weekend I took a quick trip to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. While I was eating bonbons with my college roommate, Doug Waltman, the job supervisor, and Larry Brown, the general contractor, and their crews, were hard at work. They sheet rocked the entire restaurant.

 

 

 

 

When I got home, the restaurant didn’t look like a science experiment anymore. It felt good and looked great. But, once you couldn’t see through the walls from one end of the restaurant to the other, there was major shrinkage.

 
 

 

   

 

 

 

We picked Aura Paint because it has truer, richer hues. But, instead of picking one of their stock colors, we created a color we called “gem.” Aura paint is amazing, and even washable, but it is not easy to mix. The folks at our local paint store finally came up with the right recipe for our “gem” – here’s one of the ingredients being added. Then, when we went to pick it up – we found out the paint expert with the recipe was on vacation.

One of the ingredients in "gem"

 

That’s not the only frustration. We picked out over-sized tiles for the bathrooms. But, old buildings often come with challenges that we like to call “charm.” The floors are uneven so putting down the tile proved to be a bit dicey. We had to rip up the floors and wet-bed the bathroom floor to create a level foundation for the tiles.  

Creating a level foundation

Creating a level foundation

 

We’re also having problems with the height of the ceiling in the kitchen. We don’t have room for the hood. So, we had to rip up the floor of the office on the second floor. Although the back part of the building (where the  kitchen is) is new construction and I was the first lease signed the landlord decided to put up the ceilings before the hoods could be installed. That is not SOP in new kitchen  construction – making it excruciatingly difficult, incredibly frustrating and more expensive.

Measuring

The tile for the bathroom walls and front of the bar arrived. I thought I’d save the $80 delivery fee and pick it up myself – they’re right around the corner in Conshohocken. How much could a couple of boxes of tile weigh? 660 lbs – that’s a little too much for me! Anyway, it was the wrong tile and we had to order more. So now I have 660 lbs of extra tile. A friend suggested I sell it on ebay  but I want to be in the food business – not the construction business. If you’re in the market for some tile, let me know.

 

On a bright note, the staff is starting to dream of moving in. Tom took one look at the dry storage room in the basement and immediately claimed it as his own. Forget dry storage. Now it’s a wine cellar. Tom’s done such an incredible job with just one shelf for wine at Alison at Blue Bell.  I can only imagine what he’ll do with a whole room. Plus, I figured if we arm wrestled over it that he would win.

 

Alison Barshak & Amelia Dietrich

Alison Barshak & Amelia Dietrich

Amelia got her first look at the bakery since the walls went up. Here we are checking out the blueprints for the pastry kitchen and walking through one of the sunny dining rooms. Next time you see her, through the window into the pastry kitchen, she’s likely to be covered in flour.

 

Alison Barshak & Amelia Dietrich

Alison Barshak & Amelia Dietrich

The material that we special-ordered from Japan for the chairs was finished. Came to New York to be inspected, shipped to the chair company in Miami and then to China to be constructed. I was hoping to pick it up and drop it off myself but after the tile situation I decided to let someone else do the air travel — especially with the new one-bag rule.

 

The customers at Alison at Blue Bell  keep asking me when Alison two is going to open. I keep telling them that we’ll be able to wear white shoes to the opening. Then I realized that I don’t even own any white shoes. We’re getting close now. Time to buy some white shoes.

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, I told you about my search for a great chef for Alison two.  I really need a chef who is not only a talented cook with good management skills, but also someone who has opened a restaurant before.

 

I probably looked over dozens of resumes. Then, I got Bill’s resume and it was like a dream come true. I know that sounds kinda corny, but it is true. Not only does he have extensive experience opening restaurants, but he has also handled culinary operations for premier restaurants throughout the country. When I met him in person and tasted his food, I knew I had found a chef with the right combination of experience and talent.

 

Chef Bill Lewis

Chef Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis has the ingredients of a great chef! He has extensive experience in restaurants throughout the United States — Scottsdale, San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Oregon and Baltimore as well as Eastern Pennsylvania – including many 4 and 5 Diamond Resorts. His resume looked good, his food tasted great and when I got to know him – I was convinced. I think we’ll have a lot of fun working together.

 

Bill has had a hand in the building process, including overseeing construction, hiring and training staff, choosing china and kitchen equipment and more.

 

We’ve started collaborating on menus, which will feature international fare that we’ve experienced on our individual jaunts around the globe. Every dish will present a complete experience from the country of its origin. The menus – dinner, lunch, bar, dessert – will change daily. When Alison two opens, he’ll handle day-to-day culinary operations.

 

We’re getting close now and hope to open Alison two while you can still wear your white shoes. In the meantime, you might catch Bill at Alison at Blue Bell. Anthony, Bill and I have been spending a lot of time together and Bill fills in when Anthony takes a night off.  

 

 

 

Meetings

Running Alison at Blue Bell. Overseeing construction at Alison two. I’ve been so distracted that I put the laundry detergent in the dryer. Then, I turned on the dryer and it came out the vent – like snow. The good news is, that things at Alison two are starting to come together.

 Here’s Michael Sedlacek designing light fixtures. You’d think it would be more expensive to have things custom-made. But we’re finding that it isn’t always the case. By the way, we call this photo with the beer “don’t try this at home.” Takes an expert to manage a soldering iron with Corona.

 

 

Soldering light fixtures

We’re getting ready to refinish the mirrors we got from The Plaza Hotel. (See “Full of Flavor and Personality” below) Thought this label on the back was interesting.

Mirror

 

 

 

 

The rest of this week is filled with meetings, more meetings and wonderful trips to Maple Acres Farm. I love those breaks when I get to hang out with the local fruits and vegetables and pick up blueberries and strawberries for Amelia. She turns them into Strawberry Pie and Blueberry Polenta Pecan Cobbler for Alison at Blue Bell . I can’t think of a better way to get 5 servings of fruit each day!

 

 

   

Strawberries

 

 

 

 

How do I create a new dish? It’s quite a process. First, I travel and I taste. Then, I get an idea. Then I think about it — a lot. I try some things. And, eventually, I write the recipe down. If I handed you the recipe and told you to make the dish, you’d follow the steps. The final dish might taste the same as the way I make it – but it might not. So many things can make a difference. If you used strawberries from California rather than ones grown locally, for instance, the size or flavor might be different. That could change the balance. I usually taste and make changes as I’m cooking and sometimes adjust the recipe.

Creating a restaurant is like creating a recipe. First, we walked around the space. We thought about where everything should go. We researched and got ideas. We talked about it – a lot. And, eventually, the designers created the plans. Then we handed it to the crew. And, just like a recipe, the restaurant keeps evolving.

 

Building the restaurant

My electrician, Augie, for instance, doesn’t just follow the recipe. He’s awesome. He asks us a lot of questions and knows when something isn’t going to work the way we want it to. He makes suggestions that are usually right on target. He took one look at the plan for outlets behind the bar and knew that it wouldn’t work the way we wanted it to. Instead of just following the recipe he’s very intuitive about how to make sure it comes out tasting great.

Speaking of the bar, we’ve had a few issues there. We suspected that the bar might be a little big, but felt we needed the space for everything that had to go behind it. But, once the framing went up, it was clear that it really was taking up too much space in the room. So, we tore it out and made it smaller. 

 
We’ve made some changes to the living room as well. The plan calls for a 6-foot fireplace. It looked great on paper. But, when you stand in the room, its just too big. That topic alone could be a whole blog. We finally settled on a 4-foot fireplace.
 

 

 

 

Sangria on the patio at Alison at Blue Bell
The construction site may be like a recipe – but not one you can just add water and mix. I’m here every day – tasting and making adjustments as we go along.
 

 Then, each afternoon, it’s a quick shower to get rid of the dust and sweat, and heading over to Alison at Blue Bell. Since the heat broke, the outdoor patio is a wonderful place to be. It’s so beautiful right now. Everyone is really loving the peach sangria. That’s a recipe that doesn’t need adjusting.