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Ottawa

The Flying Banzini

Most long term residents of Saskatoon woke up listening to Rambling Dave Scharf on C95.  A lot of people came and went but there was always Rambling Dave.  Well one day he announced he was leaving to move with his wife Heather to Ottawa.  My mornings have never been the same.

For those of us who have followed Dave on Twitter, we were intrigued to see that he was opening a restaurant and he was going to document how it all went.  There has been some good times and some bad times and I have been struck by how honest he has been.  

This is from one of his recent posts.

With my consultants, I have just completed a careful review of our operations. Specifically, I am trying to figure out two things:

(1) What amount do we need to hit for weekly sales such that I no longer see bank accounts going down? I pay myself a modest salary so at this point I will be happy to see break even. We had very strong sales in September. October was OK. November has been weak. This is probably an annual reality. We will do very well in the spring summer and fall and not as well in the cold and dark. Presently, we are between $2K and $4K below where we need to be breaking even. We are still well financed so there is no worry but, of course, it’s not fun to be losing money. We planned to lose money for three months. And… well… three months is up next week. The biggest area of growth for us in takeout. I should have been working on the takeout part of the business a long time ago but some rather remarkable life circumstances had me out of the game for a couple of months. I am back. And, I am focused on growing the take out business. Online takeout ordering is now available (link at the top of the page). Please help me out and pass the word. Place your order and it’s ready for you at the time you choose.

(2) Food costs. We have been aggressively working on getting more efficient with labour. We have made remarkable progress in this area and our labour cost is WAY down from where it was with no noticeable change in customer service. In fact, I think our service is better than it was because we are each getting better at what we do. But, we do not have a good handle on food cost. We need to know what everything on our menu costs so that we can ensure that it is properly priced for our customers. We started out with a pretty clear picture, lost our focus, and now must get it back.

I have great confidence in The Flying Banzini. Every day I delight is seeing customers in my restaurant enjoying the vibe and the food. I great almost every customer at the door and I ask, “Have you been in before?” I think at least 50% have someone in their party who has been. In the long term, we are going to be just fine. Word will continue to spread and I am confident that my little restaurant will continue to grow. In the short term, though, we need to stop the slow bleed.

The food looks so good that I want to head to Ottawa to check it out but it is posts like this that are so cool and add to the story of the restaurant.  It’s a big risk opening any business and I am glad that Dave is letting us in on the ups and downs of the experiment.

Our Parliament is Falling Apart

While democracy in Canada has seen better days, Centre Block which holds the House of Commons and the Senate is struggling as well.

The Centre Block of Canada’s three-part Parliament Buildings — which houses the Senate, the House of Commons and prime minister Stephen Harper’s office — is “seriously deteriorating” and will “reach the end of its life cycle” in seven years, according to the man in charge of renovations on Parliament Hill.

It’s a nail biter because work on a temporary home for the House of Commons in the West Block isn’t expected to be finished until 2017 and, in the meantime, tape, wood and netting are holding together parts of the iconic structure.

This past February, water leakage in Centre Block caused one of two transformers providing power to the Hill to explode “because it came to the end of its useful life,” Assistant Deputy Minister Pierre-Marc Mongeau told the Government Operations Committee Thursday.

The neo-gothic stone building — the only one in the world to be so well conserved — was re-built in 1922 after a fire destroyed the original building.

But, despite the ongoing efforts of maintenance staff to “do all they can,” Mongeau told the committee that the building’s aging structural, mechanical and technical systems are at “a critical risk of total failure by 2019.”

Mongeau said if the systems fail, the building could become unsafe for use requiring it “to be shut down.”

In 1994 and 1995, the façade of the building was repaired, but Mongeau said the other three less-visible sides were not.

Ventilation towers are “taped,” with wood pieces around them and pieces of stained glass windows in the House of Commons are beginning to fall out, he said.

“That means that we need to put in a net protection around those windows and visually that doesn’t look so good,” he said.

“Clearly it’s not likely to get better until it’s fixed,” said Liberal MP John McCallum, “but, I think (Mongeau) felt that it was manageable.”

“I’ve been there for 12 years and I’ve never had the feeling that it’s falling apart,” he said. “There are things that need repair, and it’s unfortunate that it’s going to take so many years before it’s done, but I’ve never been sitting in Parliament or walking around Centre Block thinking that I’m in a crumbling building.”

However, he said the building is the “central block of our democracy” and he’d “rather wait a few more years… and have a building of which we can be proud than do it faster and make mistakes.”

Conservative MP Mike Wallace wasn’t surprised to hear about the problems due to the sheer age of the buildings, although he said he hadn’t noticed any obvious signs of the deterioration.

“It is a fair age and, if you look around your own home, the older it gets, the more work it needs,” he said.

Mongeau was not available for comment Friday.

The House of Commons is expected to be re-housed in the modernized “energy efficient” West Block — complete with a three-layer glass ceiling, which will trap heat and supply 10 per cent of the building’s energy needs on sunny days, “even in winter” — before its end-of-life date in 2019.

The Senate will be moved to the East Block.

Painstaking rehabilitation work began on the West Block in earnest in 2007 after workers finished completely overhauling both the exterior and the interior of the 130-year-old Library of Parliament Building in the spring of 2006.

For those of us who call Saskatoon home and watched the almost painfully slow rehabilitation of the Peter McKinnon Building knows how long it takes to bring back a building to life.  Renovations change the way a building works, materials interact differently then expected, and then you have to decide what it is going to have to in the future and make it work in the context of the original architectural vision.  It’s harder than it looks.

What’s your country’s leader doing today?

While your country’s leader is dealing with the world financial crisis, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is using his Flickr account to make sure stray cats are being adopted.  I guess it answers the question on why he stopped wearing the sweater vest… too much cat hair.