Dirty Dishing: Carmine’s Jeffrey Bank and his Lux Lighting

Tragicomic insider stories about the trials, tribulations, and just plain weird stuff that happens when you run a restaurant.

“Carmine’s has been around for 22 years and always has to look and feel like it’s been around for that long,” says the company’s CEO Jeffrey Bank. “Having a clean, but worn, look is not the easiest thing to do.”

The restaurants must always have what Bank calls “the wow factor.” In his book, this means “large portions, great value, huge meatballs, and tacky chandeliers that hang over our bars.”

These vintage fixtures are sourced from secondhand shops and the dusty back corners of lighting stores, and they never cost more than a few hundred dollars. “It’s hard to walk in Home Depot and say, ‘Hi, can you show me the tacky section?’ jokes Bank.

When it came time to outfit the Carmine’s in Penn Quarter, Bank was at a loss for what to hang in the lounge. Luckily for him, his landlord, Douglas Jemal of Douglas Development, said that he had an antiques store around the corner where he might find something appropriate. Insisting that they check it out immediately, Jemal brought Bank to his shop, where they found a several gorgeous crystal chandeliers. Unfortunately, they didn’t look like they fit Carmine’s budgetary constraints.

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Dirty Dishing: Toki Underground’s Erik Bruner-Yang and his Toy Troubles

Tragicomic insider stories about the trials, tribulations, and just plain weird stuff that happens when you run a restaurant.

Before Toki Underground’s chef-owner Erik Bruner-Yang knew that he was going to open a ramen shop, he took a trip back to his homeland of Taiwan. While he was visiting, he stopped in at the flagship store of vinyl toy company C.I. Boys.  “They’re Taiwan’s equivalent of Kidrobot,” he explains.

The shop was having a massive sale on their colorful collectible figurines, so Bruner-Yang promptly bought nearly 2,000 of them. It ended up costing him more than $3,000, not including the giant suitcase he had to purchase to carry them all.

To return to the States, Bruner-Yang and his mother had to fly through Japan. As they were going through security, officials pulled him aside. They wanted to see inside his big bag. When they unzipped it, they were confronted with hundreds of small, unopened boxes.

Politely, but “super seriously,” they asked Bruner-Yang to take a seat, because they were going to have to open every single box. “If I was a toy collector, that would have been my freak out moment,” he says.

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Dirty Dishing: ChurchKey’s Greg Engert and His Beery Brouhaha

Tragicomic insider stories about the trials, tribulations, and just plain weird stuff that happens when you run a restaurant.

There’s a lot of red tape that needs to be cut through before you can open a restaurant. ChurchKey’s beer baron Greg Engert knows this better than most. When it came time to open the hoppy hangout on the 14thStreet corridor in October 2009, he had to deal with a blizzard of bureaucracy in the final days before opening. Eateries need to pass their health inspection in order to get their liquor license. Only after that crucial piece of paperwork is in hand can they stock any booze. For a place that planned on offering more than 500 different kinds of beer, this necessary chain of events presented a unique pain in the ass.

ChurchKey passed its health inspection on a Friday, which meant that they couldn’t get their liquor license until after the weekend. When that was finally obtained late in the day on Monday, Engert called the beer distributors, who already had everything loaded and ready to go. Within minutes, eight trucks were lined up on the curb holding 150 different kegs, 12 kinds of casks, and over 600 cases of beer. “I overbought,” Engert admits now. “When you’re stocking, you’re like a kid in a candy store sometimes. You’re thinking, ‘Oh, I gotta get that and I can’t miss that.’”

Since there are two flights up to where the kegs were to be stored, they had to be winched upstairs. This took the rest of Monday and well into the next day. Stocking had to be halted on Tuesday, so the staff could run through a mock service. Later that night, the sorting and storing of the bottled beers began. “It took hours just to find some of the stuff,” says Engert. “If a distributor drops off 120 cases with a three-foot long invoice, it’s hard to find that one weird beer from Norway with a strange name. It was insane.”

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Photo courtesy of ChurchKey.

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Dirty Dishing: Rasika West End’s Ashok Bajaj and His Sculpture Snafu

Tragicomic insider stories about the trials, tribulations, and just plain weird stuff that happens when you run a restaurant.

Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj is a seasoned pro when it comes to opening up new hotspots. Over more than two decades, he has built an empire that includes long-loved and well-lauded dining destinations such as Rasika, the Oval Room, and Bibiana.

Despite this record of success, he still runs into some problems. When it came time to design a sister location to Rasika located in the West End, Bajaj didn’t want it to be a carbon copy of the original. So he worked with designers to create a singular space full of grand gestures – literally.

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