Category Archives: Lark Street

What I’ve learned from owning a business

facebook-profile-icon_lark-and-lily-07I know that sugarcoating reality is often considered positive behavior, but you know that I’m not one to claim to see unicorns and rainbows when it simply isn’t true, so let me tell you how things really are…

On October 20th, 2015 I picked up my liquor license and officially opened for business as Lark + Lily Wine Bar and Kitchen. On some days it doesn’t seem possible that a year has already passed, other nights, when I toss and turn, unable to sleep, it feels like this business has taken years from life.

Being a small business owner is beyond challenging. The expenses involved with maintaining a cozy wine bar sometimes overwhelm me – between payroll, rent, utilities, trash collection, alarm services, draft line maintenance and insurance, we’re talking a minimum of $4000 a week in expenses. Did you notice I didn’t even mention food, liquor or wine? Yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother nut.

I am the lowest paid person in the restaurant, by a long shot. That is honestly ok, even factoring in that my 17 year-old son makes more money than me, because I have a career which provides me with an adequate salary, but if I, or my brother, were dependent upon this project for an income, we’d be completely and utterly broke.

My motivation for being in the restaurant industry remains the same – I have a sincere interest in creating an atmosphere where guests feel welcome and well taken care of. I want to provide a space that lends itself to enjoying a glass of wine or cocktail, a light meal, dinner or dessert, be it with friends, family or that special someone who makes you want to snuggle closer in the make-out booth.

At a year in I’m gaining confidence in my ability to conceive and execute a special event. I trust my instincts a little more now and I am not hesitant to prepare a dessert or orchestrate a continental brunch. I know that I’m not capable of cooking a full menu to order and leave that to the professionals who grace my kitchen (thank you, John, Zach & Ben), but I definitely have some fun pop up events in my head that I’m excited to give a whirl. I’m thinking about themed Sunday suppers or other fun gatherings in conjunction with some of Lark Street’s activities. Sign up for our mailing list for first notice on those!

There are days when I am so proud of Lark + Lily and what we are trying to do – they far outnumber the times when I feel frustrated and stressed. That being said, if I didn’t have a staff of hardworking professionals (Trudy, Jammella, Griffin & Jackie) understanding family and friends (who know who they are) and wine running, I’d be done. The pressure on me (mostly from me) is intense.

To the people who, through their patronage, have become my friends, I am so appreciative. I sincerely hope that I don’t ever fail to convey my gratitude for you and your continued presence at Lark + Lily. I feel fortunate to have met so many other small business owners who are purveyors and as such provide us with the wonderful and local fruits of their own labors. There are, joyfully, too many of them to name. Take a peek at my menu or beverage list to see them all. I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the media who, despite what Donald Trump might claim, have been unremittingly kind and generous to us in their acknowledgement of our efforts.  Thank you!

While I’ve come to understand that it isn’t possible to please everyone, it remains our ultimate goal and we can only improve with honest feedback and constructive criticism. And if you haven’t been in, I hope you will consider stopping by and checking us out, maybe even Thursday night. I hear there might be some celebrating going on.

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Filed under Albany, Events, Lark Street, Local, Observations, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wine

50 ways to leave your 40s

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  1. Run a half marathon.
  2. Check out the sales at Macy’s.
  3. Buy nothing. You really don’t need a thing.
  4. Have dinner out.
  5. Get a pedicure.
  6. Go to bed early.
  7. Eat a delicious salad.
  8. Take a run.
  9. Have a beer.
  10. And a shot.
  11. Laze in bed an extra 20 minutes.
  12. Feed the birds.
  13. Put on a pretty white linen dress (because it’s still summer, at least for today).
  14. Read birthday messages on Facebook.
  15. Smile.
  16. Try not to listen to the news of the latest unarmed black man being killed by the police.
  17. Charge the battery for your 35mm camera. You’ll need it.
  18. Have a hot flash.
  19. Ask your flag waving children to fly the Irish flag just for today in your honor.
  20. Arrange to have a carrot cake baked by the same friend who made your wedding cake.
  21. Order 15 pizzas from DeFazio’s.
  22. Open the sunroof on your car on the way to work.
  23. Turn up the radio.
  24. Treat yourself to a blow out – that’s blow out, guys.
  25. Imagine that Elizabeth Warren was running for President.
  26. Have a hot flash.
  27. Eat tasty treats from your coworkers.
  28. Read birthday messages on Facebook again.
  29. Take phone calls from both the friend who has been there for 35 years and the one you hope sticks around for the next 35.
  30. Accept happy birthday greetings from dozens of middle school students after your birthday is announced over the school PA system.
  31. Wear the beautiful necklace you had made for yourself.
  32. Remove the modesty-lending shirt over your pretty dress because of another hot flash.
  33. Book Talk challenged books to 8th grade students and watch them become agitated about censorship.
  34. Glance out the window at the cloudless, blue skies.
  35. Hope, just this once, that time moves just a little faster for the next 60 minutes only.
  36. Pound water in anticipation of the evening’s libations.
  37. Crave a coffee.
  38. Figure out a way to swing by Starbucks between school and a salon appointment.
  39. Get excited thinking about having so many loved ones in one spot.
  40. Wish Jeter could come, too.
  41. Smile.
  42. Get home in time to freshen up and gather loved ones together.
  43. Take a walk with your brother.
  44. Mingle and mix with folks from all corners of your life.
  45. Beam with pride watching your children do the same.
  46. Toast repeatedly with gifted Prosecco.
  47. Worry when the pizza is late.
  48. Remind yourself that it isn’t your fault.
  49. Relax.
  50. Sigh with happiness. Best birthday ever.

 

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Filed under aging, birthdays, Events, family, friends, Lark Street, love, Wine

Taking my guests for a ride – cab service in Albany

imageTuesday night we had a number of diners who were decompressing after Day 1 of the NYS Bar exam. It’s always interesting to meet and talk with young attorneys from literally around the world who are seeking credentials to practice in my home state. A table of six the other night really stood out in my mind. The group consisted of  Brazilians and Argentinians and they were full of life and appreciative of the hospitality we bestowed upon them. They loved our patio and enjoyed the cocktail of the month and our pasta special and it was great to witness their relaxation.

As they were departing Lark + Lily, they were talking about football. You know, soccer. I mentioned that Albany has a terrific soccer bar, Wolff’s Biergarten, and suggested that they might enjoy visiting there after the second day of the exam. One of the men quickly responded that he planned to come back to my place the next night – and he did, bringing four different test takers with him.

After their meal, we were talking together and they related some stories about their experiences taking cabs in Albany. If you’ve ever taken a cab around here, you know what’s coming next… They were completely shocked by the condition of the cab (“the car looked like it had been in a bad accident”), the rudeness of the drivers (“this is how we do it here. I don’t know what it’s like in your country”) and the practice of picking up passengers all around town (“I used my map app to confirm that we were going around in circles rather than directly to my hotel”). Yes, indeed, welcome to Albany, the Capital of New York State.

I agreed with their assessment and apologized for the wretched cab service available in my city. I noted that it is on par with what I would imagine would be present in a third world country. Laughing, they said that they represented 3 third world countries and that their service is far superior to ours. Wow.

When they were getting ready to leave, they asked if the Biergarten was nearby. Could they walk there? I explained that it was some distance from the restaurant and that the walk might be a little ambitious. Seeing the disappointment on their faces, I immediately made the sincere offer to give them a ride. Their disappointment changed to astonishment. “Really?,” they asked. Absolutely.

My friend, who had just arrived, and I piled them into the car and gave them the 10 minute tour of our city. We drove down Washington Avenue to State Street and then across Broadway, filling them on the architecture and history of what is a lovely, lovely city with shitty, shitty cab service. While I completely enjoyed giving them a ride (I’ve been the recipient of many kindnesses myself while traveling and was happy to return the favor), it sure would be nice if visitors and residents of Albany had available quality transportation. Until then, I’m just glad I have a station wagon.

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Filed under Albany, Lark Street, Local, Observations, politics, Rant, Restaurants, soccer, travel, Uncategorized, upstate New York

The pasta that made Matt Baumgartner a dad

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All grilled up and ready to go.

Summer at my house is a very different beast this year. A big part of it, of course, is Lark + Lily and the related demands of owning a business. But, there’s more. My two teenaged sons, perhaps in an attempt to make up for lost time, are each working two jobs. With our combined three schedules, family time has become increasingly rare and I’m trying to adjust to catching mere glimpses of my boys as they fulfill their responsibilities. It’s definitely different.

Yesterday evening, as I was preparing dinner, I asked my oldest son to text his brother to let him know that family dinner was at 5:00 and that he would be disinherited if he failed to join us. In response, middle son asked what was on the menu.* Upon being apprised of my dinner plan (pasta with grilled vegetables and sausage), he decided that he would prefer to eat with his friends at Bombers. I jokingly told him to change his name now that he was no longer in our family. Not one to miss a trick, he introduced himself as Griffin Bomber. Congratulations, Matt! It’s a boy!

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Ingredients: 1 medium summer squash, 1 medium zucchini, 10-12 oz sliced mushrooms, 1 Vidalia or other sweet onion, 8-10 Italian sausages (hot, sweet or combination), fresh basil or spinach, Pellegrino Italian seasoning, 8oz cooked al dente pasta – reserve 1/2-3/4 c pasta cooking water.

Slice squash and zucchini lengthwise into 1/4″ pieces. Season with salt, olive oil and Pellegrino seasoning. Slice onion into 1/4″ rounds. Grill vegetables (other than mushrooms and spinach) along with sausages over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms in a combination of butter and olive oil until soft. When sausage are at a temperature to be handled, slice into 1″ rounds. Place sausage and all vegetables, including any remaining liquid from the mushroom pan, in a large bowl with pasta, spinach and/or basil, and reserved pasta cooking water and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with grated cheese. Super delicious, seasonal and way easier than parenting.

*This is the kind of bs one faces when they expose their children to the world of restaurants from a young age.

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Filed under Boys, Dinner, Eating, family, Food, Lark Street, Recipes, Summer, Uncategorized

When you work more hours than you sleep

As my vacation approaches, I find myself getting most excited by the thought of having hours and hours to fill (or not) any way I please. These last few weeks have been joyfully hectic with fun events, long runs and mini escapes, all very carefully penciled into my already impressively full calendar. I’m ready to get away.

Prior to jetting out, there’s a neighborhood association social, wine academy, a party over at the new Biergarten, a date with my someone special and, of course, some packing, that need to happen. I’m confident it’s all going to come to pass, but I do wish it was a bit more spread out. I’d like to savor each of those things instead of survive them, you know? Reality, though, is a bitch and I’m doing my best to keep up, ok?

I don’t think a single day goes by without someone saying to me “I don’t know how you do it. School Monday – Friday, the restaurant 5 nights a week, the three children, miles of running, the house to maintain, the blog, the…” Well, you know what? Sometimes I don’t know how I do it either.

Here’s what I do know, though – if I spent any real time counting the hours in a week that I work versus the hours in a week that I sleep, I’d probably be really tired. If I didn’t love what I’m doing, none of it would be possible. The support I receive from my loved ones and employees is the thread that helps me to keep things together. And all that running? That’s what keeps me strong and sane. Honestly, other than my previous request for two additional hours a day, there’s nothing I’d want to change.  Living life, to me,  is better than sleeping through it.

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

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Filed under aging, Albany, Events, family, Lark Street, musings, Observations, running, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

Are you the owner?

image: alloveralbany.com

During my years as a server, I’ve been asked this question dozens of times so forgive me if I stumble over my answer these days.  After decades of saying “No,” my new affirmative answer still feels a little odd coming out of my mouth.  But, I’m getting used to it.

It’s an interesting thing, owning a restaurant after working in so many throughout the years.  The other night I apologized to a guest for not having tea available.  He quickly said “Oh, it’s not your fault,” to which I replied “Um, yes, it kind of is.” It’s my choice to not venture at this time down the expanded hot beverage route due to space and time constraints in an 11 table restaurant, but I am sorry.

The follow-up question, nine times out of ten, to “Are you the owner?” is “Are you Lily?” Well, yes, sort of…in all honesty, I’m not even a little offended when people use my last name as my first name.  I understand – I suck at remembering names, and I really don’t care if anyone calls me Lily instead of Silvia.  It’s all good.

Sometimes I think that buying a restaurant has provided me with two more bathrooms to clean and three more “children” to supervise.  Regarding the latter, I’m not suggesting that my front of the house staff is immature or requires parenting, it’s more that I observe their interactions and individual personalities and sometimes find myself steering them in the direction where I want our service to be.  Service is so very important to me and I’ve learned from the best that treating guests with considerate attention is the foundation for success in the hospitality industry. That is what I want to do in the restaurant of which, yes, I am the owner.

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Filed under Albany, Lark Street, Restaurants, Uncategorized

Owning it

IMG_7374It’s been nearly 4 months since my brother and I closed on our purchase of Lark + Lily. Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible that a third of a year has already passed, other moments it feels like it’s been forever. I’ve consciously kept the restaurant stuff away from the DelSo stuff, for the most part. After talking with one of the people who months ago helped convince me that I could take on this project, I’ve decided to allow myself a bit more freedom in mixing personal and professional. Hope that’s ok.

Although I never addressed any of the comments made on Table Hopping, there was one that absolutely cracked me up. It was the one when someone questioned my ability to run a restaurant based upon my experience as a part-time server. Maybe there have been people who have made the leap from part-time server to owner, but that’s not my reality. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for a long time – waiting tables, tending bar, hostessing, washing dishes and even cooking. Let’s not discount that.

Owning Lark + Lily has confirmed some of my sensibilities about hospitality. People want to feel welcome and appreciated when they enter (and depart) a restaurant. Clean bathrooms and fresh flowers (thanks, Trudy,) make a positive impression. Promoting other businesses helps to lift the entire industry and builds a community. Speaking of community, our First Friday drink special has evolved into a monthly cocktail special with half of the proceeds being donated to a local not for profit. I’m excited to write a check at the end of the month and make a donation to an organization that needs a boost.IMG_7510

I’ve learned that while we can’t make everyone happy, we are successful meeting that goal much of the time. I know it’s early and there’s plenty of room and time for negative reviews, but right now we’re enjoying the positive press and feedback we’ve received. It seems like folks are receptive to what we’re doing – providing thoughtfully prepared, quality food and beverage to both regulars and newcomers. Maintaining all the social media platforms (Homepage, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc) can be a bit intense at times, but it is remarkably satisfying when efforts pay off, like last weekend when I tweeted out one of our Valentine’s weekend cocktail specials and Tito’s Vodka gave us a boost by retweeting us to their 45,000 + followers. Validation feels good.

If you’ve been to Lark + Lily, thank you. It is truly appreciated and I hope we met, or even exceeded, your expectations. If you haven’t yet come in to experience what we’re doing, please consider this an invitation to join us for a drink and something to eat. Hope to see you soon.

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Filed under Albany, family, Lark Street, Local, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wine