“Hey, how about… oh, how about some coffee or, you know, drinks or dinner or a movie… for as long as we both shall live?” — You’ve Got Mail | Nora Ephron
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Today .. a continuation of a week-long series here at The Veggies
Liz Jeffrey and her husband Ryan are the geniuses behind Arcadia .. one of Ames, Iowa’s most loved coffee shops. Home to “The slowest cup of coffee in town” Not only is their food comforting (mmmm .. Laksa soup and Sweet Potato Gnocchi), but the homey vibe makes you want to stay a while, have a turtle bar, and take a million Instagram pics
In Part I – They chatted about moving to Ames .. early experiences in the culinary world .. and her parent’s funny reaction when she told them they were getting married
In Part II – Liz shared her journey toward perspective .. why she doesn’t take short cuts .. and a terrifying late-night robbery that would forever shape their business strategy
Ahead they offer words of wisdom to someone thinking of opening a restaurant .. the bachelor food they love to cook at home .. and the unexpected origin of their cheesecake recipe
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What’s it like running a business with your spouse?
I’m at Arcadia day-to-day and Ryan’s my support crew. He does things like payroll and looking over the books. He’s also there to talk through problems or remind me to chill out. If someone was really under my skin that day .. he’ll say “They’re people too and we need to be kind” or “You’re being unreasonable .. so get over it”
Ryan: From a people’s perspective she’s (by far) more of a perfectionist
I expect everyone to be like me and that just isn’t true
Ryan: I started out doing all of the coffee roasting .. which Liz has taken over more of. But I still set all of the recipes
My pallet’s not awesome
We’ve always worked pretty well together. If one of us shows a preference for something .. we tend to let the other do that. We’ll help refine and help push .. but if somebody has a vision .. that’s the way we’ll go
Ryan: The two of us are very good at dealing with the points where the other’s vision is strongest. I work very well with Liz .. I work very well with my Dad. I don’t work very well with my brother. With Liz or my father .. we’re very collaborative
Ryan’s family has always allowed us to follow our dreams. There’s no way we could have opened Arcadia if his parents hadn’t sponsored us. No way anyone would have given us the money. It was very risky.
While their support gave us the ability, it’s still my fourteen hour days, and his dealing with my fourteen hour days and all of crazy. He doesn’t see dirt and our house is always a mess
Ryan: I don’t even notice it
We’re pretty chill
Are you glad you hired a dedicated Chef?
Brian (or chef) is someone I went to college with, and he’s very talented. Over the years .. he’s worked at a number of places in town. I always assumed he was happy and wasn’t going to approach him. That is .. until we discovered he was looking to move on
The goal was I wanted to get back to baking and working on the pastry side. I didn’t want to develop a menu or have to do a lot with it. I told him “I’ll be your support staff. This is the layout we have. Good luck”
He’s pretty much set the menu, which is far more ambitious than I imagined it would be given the space we have
For the pastry side .. I’ve chosen to do things I can teach anybody to make. I wanted six desserts in the case, and currently, we have four. But they’re very simple things. I can show someone in six weeks how to make and reproduce them
I like diversity and strength of flavor. So we have the mousse (something chocolatey) and something gluten-free. We have the key lime bar, which has a bright flavor and also the bread pudding. The bread pudding is something we pretty much always have because we bake so much bread. It’s really popular.
Oh, and the cheesecake. We can’t forget the cheesecake. It’s his family’s recipe
Ryan: It comes from my aunt’s college roommate
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What are some of your biggest challenges?
The employees. Always the employees.
Even those you’ve trained. They’ve produced the skill a hundred times, but there’s always that one day they just don’t do it, and can’t tell you why
“Why did you bake the cake you’ve made fifteen times before in one pan instead of two? Why did you leave with this in the oven and not tell anybody? Why didn’t you do this list?”
Everyone has bad days, right?
Is hiring tougher in a college town?
Yes .. 100%
Everyone is temporary and exist on the university’s schedule. College breaks are something they expect. Even though jobs don’t really do that .. we’ve had to for some of them
This job isn’t getting them towards their career. It’s just a space filler, and they’re never fully committed
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What advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about opening a coffee shop/restaurant?
Have a second income. Ryan has a real job. A job that pays monthly and offers health insurance
Stay true to your goals
There are a few places we’ve watched whose owners have tried to be everything for everybody. I look at them and think, “You can’t do it”
When we originally opened, I decided to do the best I could with what I had. Our menu was very limited. As our staff gained experience, and I got more sleep, we added. It took me a year to add a sandwich. We had breakfast and the Arcadia dog for the first year.
Customers remarked how nice it would be if we offered soup. They were right, but I had a single burner and a one-gallon soup pot
Every time we added something, it had to be on our time. It had to make sense. I’d think “What grocery list am I willing to add? How will this change my production? What extra things will we have to do if we add this to the menu?”
So I was never willing to add more than I could handle
For us, too, being successful is simply having that one place that works. If we go on vacation, it will hopefully exist when we get back. We’re not looking to be a chain
What’s a typical day like?
I’m in at 5:15 am. By that time the proofer has turned itself on, it’s at 90 degrees with humidity, and ready for the croissants. We’ll make regular croissants, as well as chocolate and ham and cheese. We’ll need to have buns for the quinoa burger. Those things all need to go in because they take at least 60-90 minutes
Then I’ll start the scones. We only have two deck ovens, which is actually less oven space than our old shop. Maybe not the best idea, but these were the ovens I wanted, and I found them for a good price on eBay
I open the door at 6:30 am. By that time, the next prep cook and barista are there and I’m just pulling scones out of the oven. The croissants are almost ready to go back in, and I’ve created the dough for baguettes. We make our own bagels.
Throughout the morning, there is always dough either being shaped or baking. Most days there is somebody actively baking something from 5:30 am until 4 to 6 at night.
I have four bakery employees and at some point, I turn it over to them. That way I can begin making lists. Lists to do the cookies, cake, mousse, and other breads. The mixes. We make our own mocha mix, hot chocolate, and chai
There’s list upon list
We check our inventory. I’ll also enter in all of my receipts and do any ordering that needs to be done. Respond to the multitude of emails
My time gets filled
We also have a management meeting every other week with our chef, the manager and I. We all get together and hash out the day-to-day problems and things that need to be addressed
— — —
How do you handle stress?
My biggest trick to staying healthy is to get a monthly massage. I’m also asleep between 8:15 and 9:15 every night, almost like clockwork. Ryan doesn’t sleep at all
Outside of the Arcadia menu .. What are the things you eat over and over again?
Ryan: Before I met Liz, I cooked basically five things for dinner. There were varieties .. I’d do a de Burgo sauce .. or a mushroom sauce with a steak
He didn’t have much of a budget in college
Ryan: Hamburger stroganoff .. tuna casserole .. spaghetti and meatballs
Jar directly in the microwave oven
Ryan: I’d make my own sausage. The meatballs were my own sausage meatball but the spaghetti sauce was from a jar
Ryan: That was pretty much my rotation
So we eat hamburger stroganoff probably twice a month. From my side of the family .. curry. We buy the 99 cent country ribs, I slice them and we make curry (ps: Penzy’s curry spice – love it!)
We also make dirty rice the way my mom used to make it. Rice with the Hillshire smoked sausage. I throw in green beans and peppers and various things from the fridge
We also eat a lot of cottage cheese. It’s protein, low sugar, quick, and straight forward
( .. to be continued .. )
Admittedly, I’ve never made beef stroganoff – the classic kind I imagine they served at the Russian Tea Room back in the day. But I fondly recall the church lady hamburger version my mother used to make back in the day
I browned the meat in a large skillet, taking care not to stir it(!) Just let it cook on relatively high heat until well browned before turning it. The browning is what brings out the flavor. Using the cooking of the onions and mushrooms to scrape up any of the browned bits, and deglaze the pan to get the rest
At this point, I added some homemade bone broth, greek yogurt, Dijon, and a decent amount of Cognac. (Who said it couldn’t be fancy)
I stirred until the sauce was evenly creamy, letting the flavors get to know one another and then poured it all into a shallow serving bowl. I took it straight to the table where a big bowl of egg noodles, tossed with fresh herbs awaited
There was a basic green salad to go alongside, some wine, and then very little talking. Though this time it was the right kind of silence – we were too busy eating
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~ Adapted from Bon Appetit | September 1999
- 1 ¼ lbs ground chuck
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- ¼ cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 pound mushrooms, thickly sliced (small button mushrooms work well here)
- 2 cups beef broth
- ¼ cup Cognac or red wine
- 1 ½ cups full-fat Greek yogurt (the original calls for crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream)
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
- 12 ounces wide egg noodles (to make this recipe gluten-free, choose any gluten-free noodle)
- Brown the ground beef
- In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 tsp butter and swirl it around
- Working in batches as not to crowd the meat (crowding it will make it hard to brown), break up the ground beef and add it to the pan.
- Sprinkle the meat with a pinch of sea salt. (Don't stir the meat, as stirring will prevent browning)
- Once the meat is well browned on one side (a couple of minutes, depending on how hot the pan), use tongs or a fork or a metal spatula to flip it to the other side
- Once that side is browned as well, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pan and set aside
- Continue browning the meat in batches, adding a tsp of butter to the pan with each batch, if needed, lightly salting the pan and the meat, until it all has been browned.
- Remove meat from pan and drain excess fat
- Melt 2 Tbsp butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add chopped shallots and sauté until tender, scraping up browned bits, about 2 minutes
- Add mushrooms and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sea salt
- Sauté until the liquid has evaporated (~ 12 minutes)
- Add beef broth, then Cognac
- Simmer until liquid thickens and just coats mushrooms (~ 15 minutes)
- Stir in crème fraîche and Dijon mustard
- Add meat and chopped dill and simmer over low
- Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Make the noodles
- Meanwhile, cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water, according to the package directions. Drain.
- Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, tossing to coat
- Divide noodles among plates
- Top with beef and sauce
- Sprinkle generously with paprika and fresh herbs