Thursday, September 29, 2011

Endless Rain, Goats in Taxis, Possible Visas, and Opening Dates

This blog has been quiet, but only because my life has not been at all. There was a time when I had half of just about any day to sit and write as I wished, that time has long passed. Finding time where I'm not exhausted to sit and write anything that someone might want to read- or that I could even go back and decipher, has been lacking. Also though I can only write about my adventures in opening a restaurant so many times before it becomes a little monotonous, and essentially that's what every day is. Some days it's chasing down visas and paperwork, other days it's opening bank accounts, transferring money from overseas, other days it's working on the menu or testing out recipes with friends over lunch or dinner. So here in this post I'll give the rundown of what has been going on in Kathmandu.

The Big Wet- It's been raining like crazy! Every day since I've been back from the US seems like it has had at least one rain storm. By this time last year the rain had really subsided and I remember while I was up in the Everest region the monsoon broke. No luck this year, as we head into October and the high Hindu holiday season kicks off it's still raining, and not just a little. Last Monday it rained literally all day, and it poured the night before, something that tends to be somewhat uncommon here. At the market yesterday we had to move the tables around as rain leaked through the tarps. Forecasters are saying that the monsoon should break this week, we'll see.

Goats in Taxis- Wednesday marked the kick off of the multi-week holiday event  of Dashain, a time when many people travel to their villages, get together with family and apparently eat lots of goats. This week goats started arriving in the capital as people prepare for the large family feasts. While not in full swing yet, there will come a point where goats occupy every other corner in town as they are sold off for dinner. Last year I saw goats being transported in the backs of taxis, on mopeds, bus rooftops, and walked on leashes like a dog. Last time I never seemed to have my camera when my favorite goat sightings occurred, this year I will at least have the camera on my phone and hope to get at least a few good goat shots. Nothing makes me laugh as much as goats in taxis- it really strikes me funny.

Business Visa- This will at some point have to be its own post, as this has been one of the longest and potentially frustrating things I have ever done. I say potentially, because to expect too much out of any process including lawyers ad bureaucrats is to set yourself up for disappointment, especially here, so I advise to always expect delay, absurd rules, endless signatures and plenty of visa extensions. I've been working on this since I got back, and apparently despite the fact that the department that approves names already gave us the go ahead, and the fact that we already opened bank accounts and have a company stamp and letterhead with that name, the Department of Industry had decided that they didn't think it made sense that we were a restaurant and a bar- because apparently you can really only be one or the other. Despite the slight absurdity of this position it has held us up for the last few weeks, and apparently just the other day it was approved. So with this last hurdle cleared my passport and company stamp have been sent out to get the business visa that I set out initially to get back in early May. So finally after five months, some 200 or so signatures, opening 2 bank accounts, some two dozen plus passport sized photos, half a dozen thumb prints, countless visits to the department of immigration and industry, and plenty of money in legal fees and visa extensions I may actually be getting my visa. I'm not actually holding it in my hand yet though, so I'll hold off on declaring victory.

Brian's Grill House Will Open, Someday- The great news is that I have a lot of people asking me when the restaurant will be opening, a lot of people seem genuinely excited about it, and that's really encouraging. We are moving forward, the building has electrical and plumbing going in now, word arrived that my elevator is actually on its way and won't be delayed as long as initially feared, and we are about ready to go ahead with interiors. That all said, I have no idea when we will actually open. In Nepal things get done when they get done, and coordination of contractors and timing is not this countries strong point. Currently we are looking to  a general opening some time in December, with our earliest possible ready date being some time in November, where we might have friends and family as we work out systems and train the staff. But who knows, maybe things come together quickly, maybe I'm writing something similar come February. At this point I'm really itching to get going, and will feel a lot better once the space is in place and ready to go.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Any student of history knows that Kathmandu gets a major earthquake every 100 to 125 years or so. Every student of engineering (or possibly even the casual observer) knows that most buildings in this city will come down when this happens. So inevitably in the not so distant future Kathmandu will be flattened, this isn't a matter of if, but a matter of when. In the world there are two locations that are listed as potential catastrophic disasters with a major earthquake hits, and Kathmandu is one of them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Music at the Grill House: My Current top 50

So I started to think about what kind of music we will be playing at the restaurant today. Music sets a certain tone for a place, and as much as decor it can add or subtract from the experience of dining. So the questions you have to ask are; What do you want the music to say about the place? How does it affect the dining experience? What music is your target crowd comfortable with, and what are they not comfortable with? Lastly this is a place I have to spend a lot of time, what type of music can I stand to listen to day in and day out?

So the first thing to consider is what we want the music to say about the restaurant, and how does it add to the atmosphere we are trying to create? We are a Grill House with an American theme, or at least a very western theme. If I want to speak to western music than I have several options; rock, country, blues, pop, etc. It rules out hindi pop and the like which you hear on the streets of Kathmandu. I want it to feel like that when you get out of the elevator and step through the door you've stepped out of Nepal and into a western country. The fact that it's a grill house, in my mind rules out pop and dance tracks as well. It's not a club, and it's not for teeny boppers- a grill house asserts a certain amount of testosterone and masculinity something pop and R&B lack.

This brings us to rock, country and blues. I'm passing on country due to my unfamiliarity with the genre as well as the lack of it's appeal to the world at large outside the US. The tricky thing with western rock is that it can be loud abrasive and can often contain explicit content which in my opinion would distract more than add to the atmosphere of the restaurant. While I don't want elevator music, I want it to be heard, I just don't want it to distract, and thus the selection of which songs to play should try and avoid anything too caustic with overdrawn guitar solos, odd noises and inappropriate language. To show the sheer diversity of this genre though I really would like to try and grab singles that span through the the last 40 years or so covering everything from acoustic to electronica to fusion.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

One Week Back in the Du

Well I've been back in the big Du for a week now, and have finally gotten over the Jet Lag monster. Although following quickly on it's heels was the Kathmandu Cough, which thankfully also seems to be receding. Still getting back into a rhythm here isn't easy, even if these ailments weren't bothering me. Aside from the normal chores one faces when the apartment has been empty for a month, I also found that my internet shut down and my phone ran out of minutes. Now these don't sound like difficult problems, but they are things that Kim had been doing for us, and I was a bit unsure how to fix them.

The phone was a piece of cake, just stop by any corner store, get a charge card for my carrier and text some code in. The internet however was a bit trickier. Because internet is horribly slow here we pay for some kind of premium service that gets a certain amount of "high speed" bandwidth every 3 months. Once that amount or time has been exceeded you have to go down to the office, give them your account number and pay up. Problem was that I didn't know our number, and I had no idea where the office was. After asking the staff at Imago, I found out the office was just down the road from Bhat Betini in Naxal, just a quick walk around the block. After some searching I found our account number and went and paid the lady at the desk and my internet supposedly was going to be turned on. After another trip back to the office and a four hour interval it finally was.

The thing about all these little chores that kept popping up was that they were getting in the way of what I really wanted to focus on, which is getting the restaurant up and running. While I was away not a whole lot got done, and I'm still waiting on my business visa, which I will supposedly get this week. I stopped by the building site and the plumbing and electrical have started to get put in. They have also filled in the giant hole in the ground where there had been stairs in the middle of my dining area. The walls have an initial coat of primer like white paint and most of the debris that had filled a lot of the space has been cleared out, giving the sense that it could actually be turned into a restaurant in the near future, which is somewhat exciting. It almost masks the lack of progress that has been made on other fronts, or setbacks like finding out our elevator may be delayed until November.

One thing I really wanted to get fully back into this week was the Saturday market at 1905. In preparation I went back to the fully expanded selection of salsas, pulled pork, chili, pasta sauce, tzatziki, etc. While I was away the hot sauces I had made have matured, so I was able to sell them as well, both a Louisiana style sauce and a chipotle sauce. I also made a buffalo wing sauce of Frank's Red Hot. Most importantly I'm rebranding the products with the restaurant logo and trying to push that connection to drive up interest. With the market now also taking place on Wednesday from 4-7 I have the opportunity to train staff in how to prep many of the condiments and sauces in preparing for these markets, that is as soon as our kitchen is ready and we actually have staff.

 All in all it's been a hectic thrust back into the life of Kathmandu, and in many ways it's not as exciting to write about as trips up into the great Himalaya (this time last year I was going up to Everest), but to live it is in many ways more exciting, and I can't express how much I am looking forward to getting things up and running here. For now it's baby steps toward the opening, and one of those steps includes working on vanilla and cocoa vodka infusions tonight and getting designs ready for the jars of next weeks market. Almost like climbing the trail, these are the steps we must take now so that later on we might sit back and admire that which we have surrounded our self with.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why go back?

The single question that just about everyone close to me asked the last time we got together before I flew back to Nepal is "So why are you going back?" It's a question that I've had to increasingly ask myself as Kim will be staying in the US another three months in order to expand what Harilo can do from the US, and she has made it clear that we need to come up with some kind of plan to transition out of full time living in Kathmandu in the future. People look at me dumb founded when I tell them I live in a place that goes without electricity for up to 18 hours a day, water is only available if someone remembered to pump it up to the roof from the cistern- and that's if there is water in the cistern. You mention the pollution and the dust, the shit and trash in the road, the incredible amount of corruption and the hair pulling insanity that is the Nepali bureaucracy and people think that possibly you're a little insane to want to go back into this.

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