I love sandwiches! When I was growing up I used to tell my mother that I wanted to make sandwiches for a living. She would look at me like I was crazy and now I realize that she was secretly praying that by the time that I grew up I would have a new dream. Back then, having a career in food service wasn’t exactly high on people’s lists. Who wants to make sandwiches all day? I thought it would be wonderful to pile all those ingredients high on a roll and wrap it in that white paper. Little did I know that years later I would end up doing this exact job for a few years.
Afetr I moved from Boston to California I decided to try and make a living by cooking for people. I had a variety of home based businesses and as a caterer I made a connection with a customer who was destined to become not only a great friend, but my business partner. I catered parties for N. and cooked meals for her family, but in reality she didn’t really need me, as she was a fabulous cook and entertainer herself. We started joking about doing a food business together and the next thing that I knew we were working in her fabulous kitchen cooking and packing up dinners to deliver to busy families in her neighborhood.
“Take Away Gourmet” was popular and we enjoyed our little business, but for some crazy reason we thought we could do more than that. I guess what really spurred us on was the fact that a fabulous location for a food business became available. The previous owner had gone out of business and the bank was left owning all the equipment- a fully outfitted kitchen. Looking back I can’t remember when we went from joking about opening a business to actually talking with lawyers, negotiating with the bank and filing our fictious name with the county.
The name part came quite a way down the line-we just couldn’t come up with one. Back and forth we went with ideas and we really needed to come to a decision as there were papers that needed to be filed and a sign that needed to be made and none of this could take place without a name! A friend finally came to our rescue and called it “The Cedar Kitchen” due to the enourmous deodora cedar tree outside our door.
We spent the summer testing recipes and re-decorating our tiny space.
The entire spot was about 700 square feet-half of that being the kitchen. Luckily we had a great patio with outside seating and since we live in a mild, dry climate we could use this space all year long.
We modeled our restaurant after a place that we loved. The food was to be vegetarian, although neither of us were vegetarians. Breakfast was really simple-freshly baked muffins and coffeecakes, toast, oatmeal and homemade granola. Our lunch menu consisted of about 5 sandwiches, a daily soup, a veggie chili and a variety of cold salads. There would always be big jars filled with cookies. We would open from 7:30 am to 3 pm. How hard could it be? Let me tell you-harder than you could ever imagine. The first day that we opened I went home and went to bed at 7pm-I thought I would die from exhaustion. The first month was really a blur, but after that we settled into a routine, found some good employees and got into a groove.
The sandwiches are really what we were known for. The summer that we were working on the restaurant we had visited Seattle and lunched at a great cafe making pressed sandwiches with a “panini grill”. At the time no one, and I mean no one, was doing this. We decided that we had to have this in our place and while we were out shopping for an Italian espresso machine (this was the pre-Starbcuks era in southern CA), we came upon an Italian man who would get us a panini grill too. We were thrilled! We came up with a few sandwiches that would be grilled and a few that were served cold.
And that is how I came to fulfill my childhood dream to make sandwiches. I was the “sandwich gal” and N. manned the stove with the soup and chili. Every morning I prepped the ingredients for the sandwich station and come lunch time there I was lovingly assembling the paninis and grilling them up. And yes, we wrapped them in that white paper for the to go orders. We sort of became known for a panini that we named after ourselves and to this day it’s still being served by the people who eventually bought our restaurant from us. So I went from actually making paninis to years later needing a name for my blog. I wanted something a little Italian and something that had to do with food and lo and beohld, Panini Girl was born.