Rick Bayless is chef of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo
in Chicago, creator of Frontera gourmet foods, cookbook author and host
of Mexico - One Plate at a Time.
At the Corner of Clark and Illinois
The XOCO Blog
Just Days Away
With city inspections around the corner, GGC and crew are moving fast to finish out. Little glitches and problems creep up here and there, but with no time to spare we have to troubleshoot and move on. A couple small struggles are keeping us on our toes. Trims on the main lighting for our front counter were not installed properly, which is a headache for the electricians as well as tapers and painters. Finishing touches to window signage need to be completed before counters get in place and we no longer have access.
The tilers are in the space tonight, but their tile didn't arrive in shipment - so they are stuck, attempting to make a good situation out of a missed opportunity to get done.
Our first install of banquettes and tables goes down tomorrow. That will really give us a sense of the space, more than anything else so far.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Frontera team is getting ready to take over the space. Managers are hiring, getting schedules together and ordering all we need to outfit the restaurant.
Opening is on the horizon, with a lot of work, little and big, before we get there.
We are pushing ahead and now in our final sprint. Paint is up on the walls, tile is down, and now our counter top is finally in place. All the hook-ups to the kitchen equipment is happening. Progress in every minute.
We have run into a couple of obstacles as of late. Our dishwash room was measured wrong. The stainless steel table (the clean table) was too long. They removed it and are rectifying it. Every space needs to be exact in a small footprint. Every measurement, every inch.
We are getting the punch list stage and inching closer and closer to inspection. Soon though, tortas and churros for all. I can't wait.
Fitting the Pieces Together
Kitchen equipment is pouring in and we are fitting everything together. Rick went for a very tight and clean look for the kitchen. It is not the easiest thing to achieve, but the result should be a good one. A couple small mistakes are holding things up, the stainless steal dish table was built wrong, and we are waiting on a couple of custom pieces to come from the shop.
The electricians are putting in all the light fixtures, trimming out the brand new engineered LED lights. Everyone is working on top of one another - painters, tilers, carpenters and all as we sprint to the finish.
Monday we are finally connecting the Frontera kitchen to XOCO. It won't be functional until we open, but will really start to change the way our staff interacts with the space.
Green and Gold
As the construction comes closer to an end - we increasingly focus on LEED commissioning. This is the process where our buildout gets audited and we tally our points to determine what level of certification we achieve. Some of it is straight forward. They review submittals on what kind of grouts and paints we use. They make sure our lumber is Forest Stewardship Counci
l certified and all of our waste is recycled.
Our project is aiming to achieve LEED Gold. As we are building, certain items come into conflict. Currently, we are balancing the needs of our rooftop garden with our need to coat the roof in a soy-based reflective paint. The tomatoes and chiles are about ready to harvest, so we can't move them. But, we need to get our coating down over the entire surface of the rooftop. The answer might lay in waiting out the harvest and pushing back our certification.
In our efforts to build sustainably, we are pushing ourselves further and further to practice sustainable operations. Rick posed the challenge to operate with 100% compostable packaging materials for take our at XOCO. It is a struggle to source good quality cups, hot cups, and containers that are compostable, durable, attractive and accessible to our distributors - while not breaking the bank. There are a lot of great materials out there, and it is an innovative and quick growth industry.
Tiling at Night
Its the little things that prove to be the most frustrating stumbling blocks. At the end of the today when the tile guys were set to begin, (they have been tiling at night so we don't lose days) we ran into the problem of a locked door in the basement. For whatever reason, the door to our old storage room, which is currently under construction, was locked. Shouldn't be a problem because we have a key, right? The door knob was broken. And this room was the only access to water for our tile setters. After some scrambling we found the solution (my original idea of breaking down the door did not win the day). Luckily, we are building XOCO next to Frontera and Topolo. The chefs, in particular Richard James, have a lot of tricks of their sleeves. With his help, we were able to run a hose from the kitchen, through the alley to the jobsite. It saved us a day. And at this point, every minute of every day counts.
The space is really coming together. The drywall is all up, now the carpentry crew is taping and sanding all the surfaces. It is a great feeling to see the final form come into view, and to know where walls and soffits are going to be. The next step for the walls is paint - starting next week. The crew from the restaurant supply company has started installing the stainless steel panels in the kitchen - great progress.
A couple struggles hang over the day:
We are dealing with some leaks into the basement and figuring out who bears the responsibility, our landlord or the contractor.
Some millwork pieces that were supposed to be ordered are over budget, and not by a little; we've decided to go a different direction to stainless cabinets, but don't have those nailed down yet.
The City denied our exemption for the front door of the restaurant to swing out in the sidewalk (the current configuration), and we are scrambling to find a solution.
The sign painter we hired for menu board design was way off in a meeting today - he knows to go in a different direction, but it was discouraging.
Finally, the place is a mess. Our basement where we store our liquor is a jungle and drywall dust keeps creeping into Frontera and Topolobampo.
In all, we made solid progress today. As a "green" buildout we are doing well. Jason, our superintendent is on patrol for sustainable building materials. It is his job to make sure all the different crews use sustainable materials like no-VOC caulks and glues. The USGBC doesn't mess around when it comes to LEED, so we have to get it right.
Just passed our HVAC inspection - breath of fresh air after a lot of back and forth on how we were going to get it done. We ran our main black iron, which vents all the air from the hood, up in the middle of the building. We had to do it in order to build the kitchen in the front window - which is going to be great fun to watch from the street.