We celebrated our first Christmas in Sweden up in the Cantina with a Swedish Julbord (Christmas Table), watching Lord of the Rings and discussing the new restaurant.
After experimenting with the other menu items possible at the Cantina in the fall and evaluating cuisine options within Visby, we finally settled on the concept for the new restaurant, American smoked BBQ. We began the renovations of the restaurant in early December 2015 and began planning out the details for the grand opening; which would be completely reliant on the arrival of the key equipment - the smoker. After evaluating the available options we decided on purchasing a large combined barrel/box smoker from the American smoker brand of Oklahoma Joes, which would be made through an authorized manufacturer in Germany. It is in fact the largest barrel smoker of this brand in Sweden, 4.5m, and was set to arrive in mid January. We began construction of an enclosed work space on the Cantina property in late December but left the back wall open so we could lift the smoker into the space once it arrived in mid-January. We also began the process of hiring additional staff.
After getting the arrival date for the smoker we then decided on the opening date. We hoped to open in early March, but as both Erik and I love symbolism we needed a date in March which could make a statement. We decided to open on Sunday, March 6th, historically the date the Alamo was defeated, and then served as the battle cry of the Texas militia, "Remember the Alamo". It also just happens to be Erik's birthday so it became doubly symbolic. We continued working on the menu, smoking process, interior décor, staffing and of course the liquid refreshments-American micro brew beers!
As the cold month of January continued we decided to hold a contest to come up with the name of the new restaurant, the winner would receive complimentary dinner with up to four guests and of course the honor of naming the restaurant. We had 163 name submissions and while all of them were creative and good, "Bad Wolf BBQ" seemed most to resonate with us. As one of the most asked questions, why did we choose this name, it has many meanings to us. The most obvious of course being the fairy tale of the Three little pigs. But there is also references to the wolf in both Norse Mythology (Fenrir is the wolf that eats the sun and ushers in Ragnarök) and to the Native Americans with the spirit Animal of the wolf being representative of family and protection and finally to one of my favorite shows Dr.Who! 😁
It was also at the end of January we got the biggest surprise of our lives, we were pregnant. That means that I would be starting our busy summer at 5 months pregnant and finishing at around 7 months pregnant. We also discovered that I had extremely bad morning sickness, which ironically happened more in the evening, in the first few months; which was made worse by the smell of smoke. How were we to open an American Smoked BBQ restaurant in just 2 months when just the smell of the smoker made me nauseous?
By early February we were deeply focused on the interior decoration. We decided to highlight the beauty and tradition of southern smoked BBQ from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Georgia, and Carolinas. We hung landscape pictures of various parts of the mid-west and southern US and intermixed them with landscapes of rural Gotland. This served to show how indistinguishable the location of the working man's food is. We chose picnic benches for the interior seating and had one of our staff, who was very talented with cartoon characters to customize a wolf character for us, El Malo Lobo.
The first of our employees began arriving in early February and the weather was finally starting to warm slowly. By late February the opening was getting closer now and there were still lots of little details to go, but we were progressing much faster than with the Cantina and had already begun receiving reservations for the grand opening. We also felt much better prepared overall since we had done this process all less than a year ago. We planned to do only dinner service on the day and have a fixed sampler plate to order.
The day of the grand opening was to be a drizzly cold Sunday in March, but as the saying goes in Sweden, there is never bad weather only bad clothes. We had Erik's friend Petter and Helena back to work with us. After the grand opening we would be open for both lunch and dinner service so we had extra staff ready who would get their first day of training on our grand opening night.
As with the Cantina opening we were fully booked, but thankfully we had much better processes in place so there was nearly no waiting time. And even though it was a Sunday (not a traditionally good day to hold a grand opening) we still had a lot of walk-ins in the later evening. At the end of service we brought out a cake for Erik to celebrate his birthday.
The next day we came in early to get ready for lunch service. And like when we opened the Cantina we had planned to serve different dishes then was on the dinner menu for lunch, and would be rotating daily. We had some fun plans like "wing fridays" and serve items from the Cantina menu. We even tried some traditional dishes from our Venezuelan chef, Laura.
The first few months from the opening were extremely encouraging, and proved much more successful than the Cantina. My smoked induced nausea also began to subside as the warmer weather arrived. But the memory of our labor challenges from the previous summer made us be overly cautious and we had too much staff for the actual number of guests, so we were very lopsided in our overhead costs. Without some drastic changes in staffing, we were not going to make it to the summer. By mid-May we were seeing the summer tourists already begin to arrive and the other restaurants in the city begin to open so we were staying static in our growth. We were also seeing for the first time how different the off season was in Visby, compared to the country, but it was still not coming close to what we had calculated in revenue based on our research of the other restaurants in Visby. With all of our savings tied up in the success of the new restaurant and a baby on the way would the summer season save us? To be continued...