Meet – Jeff Trenam Restaurant Owner
Jeff graduated from UCSB with a degree in Environmental Studies and Botany. Before Blue Plate, he was working for the city of San Francisco as a gardener and studying to become a landscape architect. One day he was offered a chance to start a restaurant with three friends from college. At first, he thought he would build a little patio in the back and be a silent partner. But like the familiar story goes, the restaurant life sucked him in. The many moving parts, personalities, and little details to be managed in a busy restaurant attracted Jeff to the business. It provided an opportunity to learn about many things: wine, sales training, business management, marketing and leadership.
Jeff had always been interested in providing solutions to the environmental problems that arise from irresponsible development. As a restaurant owner, he gets a chance to impact both the farmers who work the land (by choosing to support responsible farms and sustainable products) and the consumer (by acting as an educator through table side conversations about the menu choices they make). For Jeff, Blue Plate has been very enjoyable on both a personal and professional level.
Why did you decide to go into this profession?
Like many people, the restaurant business called me in. I wasn’t planning on it. I was studying to be a landscape architect and working for the city of San Francisco. But, frankly, it seemed like all my co-workers were just biding their time, waiting to retire. I was only 26 and I liked the idea of being my own boss and working with people who were excited about what they do. So I quit my city job and started Blue Plate with my friends. I never looked back.
Can you describe a typical day?
My typical day starts with a run in the park or swim in the bay. In the morning, I like to write and then respond to emails. I reply to many emails asking us to try out new technology geared for the restaurant industry. I also respond to reservation requests, and look over peer reviews by guests who have dined with us. I check the invoices for our deliveries to make sure the prices we are charged are correct and I enter the previous night’s sales in our accounting software. I usually spend about a half hour each day just studying the data and trying to budget my time and resources.
Later in the afternoon, I will often taste wine and then work with the chef to make sure our menus are up to date. We will talk about how to best accommodate any special guests coming in. After the rest of the staff arrives, I help set up the restaurant, perhaps clean up the garden a bit, and then we have a line-up where we talk about changes on the menu, taste wine, and plan for our special guests. During service it’s all about keeping calm, smiling, and being present in whatever task is necessary to make sure guests have a good time.
At the end of the evening, I help the kitchen write a prep list for the next day, call in any late orders for delivery the next morning, and pay the servers the money they have earned in tips. Before I leave, I check the stations to make sure they have been cleaned and food has been stored properly. If I am feeling like I still have energy, I might hang out with my co-workers. But mostly these days, I go home and read the news in bed. I am usually asleep by midnight or 12:30 and up again, to start it all over, at 7 a.m.
What part of your work brings you the most joy?
Working with the people brings me the most joy. I love our guests but it is truly the friends and co-workers that make the restaurant feel like a big party every night.
Do you have a favorite food? What is it?
It’s hard to pick a favorite food because it changes with my mood. Right now, I’m feeling pork spare ribs with Texas-style barbecue.
What is the most important tool for you in the kitchen?
I actually don’t work too much in the kitchen but when I do, tongs are essential. Tongs and a dry towel.
What is the funniest moment you remember while working in the restaurant?
When we first opened, I planted an edible garden in the back of the restaurant. I had edible water plants in the fountain and live fish living there too. After the first bout of good weather, right when everything was getting big enough to harvest and use on the menu, my garden was assaulted by something! Nothing was serve-able. In fact, even the fish in the fountain were gone. I stayed up late one night with a flash light and I found the ones responsible: a family of raccoons eating the lettuce, digging up the soft soil, and grabbing the fish out of the fountain with their little hands and eating them like we might eat a carrot.
Any words of advice for kids thinking about growing up to be a restaurant owner?
This planet is a closed system. How we grow our food and nurture our relationships at the table affects everyone in the world. It is important to accept responsibility for the food and the experience you serve.