A friend of mine enlightened me on the concept of a Third Place; in sociology, the third place refers to the social surroundings that are separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”). The French have their rendezvous term to describe this third realm, though the American English language has no vocabulary to describe it.
I love this concept and am humbled that The UXLocale is that Third Place for so many of you. I ran reports this morning, and a new demographic feature informs of repeat customers. It confirmed what I was sure of: we have, on average, 350-410 repeat customers each month. So it’s as much about you as it is about us, and that’s amazing, humbling, and heartwarming. We are better when we are together!
There is so much ground to cover and so little time. So as each day gets shorter, the countdown begins for the best and worst days of the year.
First, I must always count my blessings.
My daughter is on her way to a full recovery. Although the cause of the brain lesions remains unknown, she kills it on all healing fronts.
I have a supportive family, friends, and this extended UX family that go far beyond words and kindnesses. It is hard to express my gratitude for the many people who have shared stories and a genuine concern for my family’s welfare. It physically warms my heart.
The UX is busier than it’s ever been. We are doing an okay job keeping up. I’d give us an 8 out of 10.
We have had to do away with reservations; even with a semi-full staff, things come up, people get sick, and people go on vacation- (a strange phenomenon, but I’m looking into it). So, we adjust and evolve. It’s just the way it is.
I adore my staff; they have been with me for years; I can’t imagine-although I’m going to have come to grips with the fact that these brilliant young women and men are all leaving me a few at a time beginning mid-August. I need to hire people, and I have put it off, but I’m looking for a particular skill set.
If you know people with the following attributes, please encourage them to apply. I want to start training new folks in the first week of August.
Aside from kitchen skills: knife, lifting heavy things, cleanliness, pride in work, and work ethic, prospective candidates must have the following:
A sense of humor-dark is okay and encouraged.
A passion and appreciation for the kindness, humans, the outdoors, animals, sustainability, music, and the arts
Also, a strong understanding of supporting local farms and organizations and their significance. Highlighting what can be sourced locally means changing the menu on a dime which can be either a delightful challenge or a source of frustration for the wrong candidate.
Our new logo is an adaptation of the Trinacria, pronounced; trih-ney-kree-uh, the symbol of Sicily. When we traveled to Sicily back in 2019, the good ol’ days before covid-19 were not a word that anyone spoke. However, the symbol struck a meaningful chord with me when my family and I made a pilgrimage to visit the town where my paternal grandmother was born and raised, and throughout these two years, it’s grown to mean much more.
The symbol of Sicily, the Trinacria, is derived from a myth about three nymphs. They danced worldwide, gathering the best fruit, stones, and soil; they threw all of it into the sea and created Sicily. The island has three corners that symbolize each foot of the nymph. The symbol also encompasses fertility, and the abundance of fresh and flavorful is what we strive to bring you daily.
I chose to adopt the symbol because I feel indebted to Italy, for most of our imported goods come from there. Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano, and finally, the finest flour and semolina are what set our pizzas and pasta apart; these items, paired with local eggs, cheeses, meats, and produce, are what ensured that through the worst of times, my team and I were still churning out the best quality.
I’m so proud that we made it through the worst times with the simplicity of pizza and pasta. It’s not high-brow, but it is comforting deliciousness that sustained us and filled our bellies. Sicily, Italy is still the largest producer of pasta and wheat; the wheat is ground into our imported silky 00 flour daily to make our pizza.
As a woman-owned business owner, I identify with the strength of Medusa. Covid can bash itself against our rock, and we’re not going anywhere.
The Trinacria will pop up everywhere, gracing my new small-batch sauces that are now available to pre-order online in the resurrected Pusateri’s Pantry section of our online ordering page; hats, bags, and tee shirts will be coming soon too!
Time away allows the pause to think about what is working and what’s not and the opportunity to pause and plan a bit for the unknown. Some of the unpredictable has become slightly predictable if that makes any sense. We know there are product shortages, from imported products to glassware…the basics! We know there’s a staff shortage, but that’s nothing new for this time of year when all of my children, relatively young adults, return to their respected higher learning corners.
It’s the real-scary-scary unknown that gets me bugged. Will my bustling dining room be deduced into an echo chamber again? Will I have to fight an online system that refuses to count pizzas?! I don’t know. I know that I can count on you all to be patient as we deal with the problems as they arrive. We will practice whatever it takes to do what we do best.
Pairing down is inevitable for two reasons:
The promise remains I will just be tweaking the service a bit to take a little stress off the kitchen. Pizzas and pasta will stay the same; fewer “special” entrees, but beautiful and delicious platings for our small plates and appetizers; I’ve been reading about the Italian form of tapas, called Cicchetti, pronounced chuh*keh*tee. It is a variety of small dishes served in an unfussy way. I’m a sucker for the unfussy. So come one, come all. The sweet life remains up here on the Hill.
Our first week back was so successful; I am grateful to see many familiar faces! It was like a 1000-pound weight lifted off my shoulders.
Many of you stopped to chat with me to offer encouragement and compliments to my team. There are not enough words to express how far a few nice words go. We have been through a lot together, and everyone feels it when you go from a staff of 20 to 7.
To the many, many newcomers! Welcome to the UXLOCALE! Thank you for chatting about how you found us and for your feedback on the overall UX experience. It is special up here on the Hill, and we look forward to seeing you regularly!
Closing the dining room was the only way to get us through the winter, and we made it! There will be more bumps in the road for various reasons; we will be short-staffed through April into Mid-May, some of that I expected and some I did not, but we will roll with it, and we’re asking you to do the same.
Change is a constant that I have found; I can live with it once I accept it. I ask myself and the team, what are we going to do? There’s no crying in restaurants! Then I immediately say, how do we fix this? And we usually do; it may not be perfect, but we’re trying. Plus, the UX is my other home, and I’m not ready to run away. Yes, it is a business, but one of our newcomers said, “When I looked at your website, I saw how personal this place is.” It is a home, a family, some related, and some “guilty by association.”
Saturday Night, April 10, was so much fun. We had two servers for the entire restaurant, so we decided to have people order at the window and the bar, and we ran food out as it was ready. Here’s to hoping everyone is as great as the folks who came out this night because that’s how we will do it for a while until fully staffed. Thank you to everyone that rolled with it. While we were making the changes to the inside, I played This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) pretty much on repeat; it’s the soundtrack to my love for the UXFAM.
“Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, burn with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it, the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s okay. I know nothing’s wrong… nothing’s wrong
Hi-yo, I got plenty of time.
Hi-yo, you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love” -The Talking Heads
Regarding rolling with the changes, the dining room remodel and additional equipment, deli case, and freezer stemmed from the necessity to meet the demand for what started as an increase in takeout to a total takeout takeover! I had to give up my pantry to open the window and expedite the takeout area with warmers and coolers. So Pusateri’s Pantry stemmed from that. I got my retail permit moved all dry specialty items to the front of the house, and now they are available to you.
The ungodly amount of sanitizers we used last year ruined all of the finished furniture, so we refinished all the tables and the bar wrapped in plexiglass. Still, we created a unique shelving unit that houses many more wine glasses.
And with many more wine glasses come Wine Tastings this Summer! All the changes anticipate improving what we do and offering more of what you come for! Great food, wine, craft beers, and The Sweet Life!
Now that the groundwork is complete and the dining areas are safe and sanitary, the focus shifts back to why I started this, THE FOOD.
I will revisit my favorite childhood dishes and recreate everything I ate on our Italy tour in 2019. I am working hard to feature more local products, from produce to meats to mushrooms! In addition, wine and beer tastings will happen twice a month, starting in Late May-early June!
I most likely will not be posting anything for a while! However, I’ve got menus, events, and music to plan, so please stay tuned by checking in on Instagram and Facebook.
Last but not least, I could not have got this place up to snuff without:
-My crew –not only prep food but chop wood, sand, paint, scour, and clean.
-My husband, who ‘affectionately’ describes the UX as “Maggie’s Farm, “Bob Dylan’s song. His almost free-willingness to help out is admirable, AND he has only asked for a divorce once this year, so I think we’ll be okay.
-My daughter Antonia still comes in every weekend after working a 60-hour week to lend a hand anywhere she’s needed.
-My son @failtewoodworks for lending his tools and expertise on all things wood and beer. 🙂
-Billy will first listen to what I’m looking for and magically builds it based on terrible drawings and inaccurate measurements, consistently exceeding my expectations.
-Queen Jeena! @reduce_reuse_redecorate, who SEES the forest for the trees
Jeena helped create a beautiful space without a budget that is not unlimited, I mean literally, with ZERO added dollars. Jeena reworked what we had into a beautiful, functional space devoid of clutter and excess. Magically we have just one less table than before the madness, and everything is spaced in keeping with social distancing guidelines.
THANK YOU to the Uxbridge health board for making it possible to vaccinate the staff and me!
When I think about creating a blog while the pandemic is spiking and the town is moving backward to Phase III, I question my sanity, or lack thereof. Still, I needed a way to reconnect with all of you and let you know that no big or small changes are thought of arbitrarily. I carefully consider all advice and comments made to me over the past nine months, complimentary or otherwise; there is something to be learned through all of it.
It has forced me to rethink the way I do everything. To stay in this, I must keep evolving. To be transparent, I must be open about the challenges, how they affect the UX, and how it affects you.
“Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”-Nietzsche
My strength comes from the renewal of faith almost every night because you are kind, considerate, and generous.
From the beginning, the sizable gestures—the purchases of multiple gift cards, volunteering time to build out the patio add-ons, to the more minor gestures like the notes we still receive on takeout orders-you cannot possibly know how much we look forward to these still! With all the kindnesses in the dining room and the random acts of kindness that take my breath away-like, TWO people are restoring a tattered Army portrait of my father. But most notably, repeated patronage is what powers us through. The UXLocale is not just a restaurant but a community; we feel your unconditional-socially-distanced-love and hope you feel it too.
This year has been the worst, but lamenting what we have lost and missed will not help change the future. I have accepted that things will be different, and I am focusing on how to come out on the other side.
I miss live music; I miss the bar with two people deep; I miss the crazy loudness; I miss seeing neighbors greeting each other with hugs; and I miss picking up babies. I miss spoon drags and fancy-sort-of-pretentious-plating! I miss The Sweet Life on the Hill!
On an average day, things crop up, and we whack-a-mole them down, but this is the hospitality business; we smile and march on. We do genuinely enjoy being together and being there for you. Still, since March, there have been unprecedented challenges: the most significant being the decrease in revenue, sourcing, staffing, and all things technical: telephone messaging and online orders, structural-both physical and infrastructure, and the essential physicality of it all.
It has been consistently 16-20% lower on average over last year, which is not great, but it was manageable; since October, it is decreased further to 40%. We are still smiling because you are still coming, and we may be half-crazy, but I would be lying if I denied it is getting a little scary. We have gone from 5 servers to 4, to 3, and now to 2, and if we are going to get through this, we need to tighten our belts a little more and make some changes.
I’ve spent lots of money retrofitting the patio, the dining spaces, and the bar. Was it good money after bad? that is questionable. Still, I’m trying to create a safe and segregated atmosphere: put up walls, dividers, and plexiglass and add more space heaters for those who still prefer to eat outdoors.
Regarding takeout, in the beginning, some challenges stemmed from our online portal being unable to handle the influx of orders. Again, not a “bad problem” to have, but pizza sales increased by 200%; our pizzas are hand-stretched and rotated manually in the woodfired oven to create the perfect pie. The problem? You can only fit four pizzas in the oven; everyone wants their pie at 6:30! The other problem was slips not printing to both the kitchen and pizza, which threw timing orders together out the window.
I switched to a new online platform that simultaneously handles multiple orders and figured out how to shut down time slots once they are filled manually. In September, I hired a Manager who balances takeout, reservations, and the phone as unflappable as I have ever seen. Constantly communicating with the kitchen and pizza to try and keep everyone timed up. I have also acquired a messaging service that sends messages directly into a remote online portal, which makes listening to messages much easier, and eradicates the “the mailbox is full problem.”
Another significant challenge is packing food for travel. Aside from pizza, pasta, and salads, most other entrees do not travel well. They get cold, sauces break, or get absorbed in our eco-friendly boxes; the texture is ruined by reheating. The solution: I am working on an à la carte menu in which all proteins and side dishes will come separately. There will also be an option to have things prepared fully or partially for you to control temperature and texture. I lose sleep thinking that folks may be reheating scallops in the microwave. Please, never do that ☹. Accompanying the semi-made food will be video shorts on finishing the food in the comfort of your home. I promise to make it quick and painless, a blog-of-sorts where I will walk you through assembling your dinner–tips and tricks and provide the partially made ingredients and pantry items that require 5-10 minutes of reheating. I will also make suggestions for wines to accompany your dinner.
Many of you have approached me about cooking lessons, and while I love the idea, I do not foresee any groups gathering for a while, so I hope this will suffice. The blog will have a section dedicated to basic cooking techniques.
At the pandemic’s beginning, I decided to branch out a bit when there was a supply shortage. I started a modest stockpile of pantry items that I could not live without; well, maybe I could technically live without salted Sicilian capers, but do I want to? For me, it was a necessity not to be without fine products. I have tightened up the menu, but I will never compromise quality.
I am eternally thankful for your patronage and will do everything humanly possible to keep this going. The UX is an extension of me. Thank you for filling it up with love.Elaine Teresa Pusateri Cowan, Chef/Owner The UXLocale