Any good restaurant designer knows how important storage is in a good location, but for chef and owner Cliff Bluevelt, the need for it has grown as his sandwich shop Bodega, in Denver, has become more and more popular.
The store has been opened, said Blauvelt, who has already reconfigured the kitchen three times and the font twice in the eight months.
Blauvelt also considered drop-down shelving, but with limited ceiling height this wasn’t a good option. Instead, the supplies are neatly hidden around the 1,488-square-foot space, or they add to the ambience of the convenience store.
“I wanted the idea of a (New York-style) bodega, and with looser things on the shelf, it fits just right,” he said. “I didn’t (originally) want it in there, I don’t deal well with mess, but it totally works.”
Instead of hiding napkins, cups, saucers, and utensils, those essentials are housed on shelves towering above the water station. To the side, all the dry goods are neatly lined up on metal racks, as if they were on sale. On the hidden side, a long banquette holds an array of supplies including cups, napkins, brown paper bags, and mugs.
The same banquette also serves as the main part of the 35 indoor seating options (another 35 are on the outdoor patio). The trick, Blauvelt said, is to make sure you get the day’s merchandise out before the Bodega opens. Otherwise, you end up asking the customers if they can move more than a few inches so the staff can get a few more cups of coffee. And when it gets really busy, like on weekends when there’s a line for the eight-hour shifts on Saturday and the five-hour shift on Sunday, that demand is almost impossible.
Not only was the Blauvelt a supply needed for storage, the staff also needed a place to put their coats, briefcases, and other personal items during their shifts. On average about eight employees come in each day, and in the winter there is a lot of equipment that needs to be stocked.
“We got two and luckily they matched the atheist,” said the chef, who started with three lockers. “These filled up quickly so we got more, and then we needed more.”
Now nine cabinets are mounted on one wall, and for those who aren’t looking, they’re immersed in the bodega’s laid-back New York-style vibe, which includes a graffiti-like mural along the wall itself.
Inside the kitchen, the chef added shelves to the prep counter, placed more storage under the countertops, and added secret spaces wherever he could. Instead of buying ingredients in bulk and breaking them into portions, he uses smaller containers and works directly from those ingredients. He said this doesn’t add to the cost because he gets a lot of his ingredients from the low cost at H-Mart, a local Asian grocery store.
The one person mini fridge is outside, in the parking lot, right next to the kitchen door. To save even more space, take out the bar dishwasher and replace your porcelain cups with stackable, recyclable paper cups.
“It was like, ‘What’s more important, the space or the coffee cups?'” He said. “You start to realize that you have to be on top of everything, and you’re downsizing every single day.”
All this space saving also means that the menu can’t change much. There are currently 15 items available, such as the bag of fries mixed with Bodega Dust and French fries sauce ($5), the crispy fried chicken sandwich ($16), wild lamb French fries ($16) and the house salad ($8/$15). Each dish earns its place on the menu through its popularity with Bodega customers
Blauvelt’s $15 Bodega Burger was a challenge to produce because it required two pieces to be placed on a griddle at once, but it was so popular that he ended up buying another tray and changing things again.
“If something changes on the menu, it must bear fruit in something else, there is no growth,” said the chef. The restaurant has no phone, or any method of takeaway or delivery, but the kitchen is fully functional as is. The only way a Bodega can make more money is by charging more money, or branching out into catering. But for now, said the chef, it’s fine with the way things are – except for the ice machine. He needs to change that, and that means making up the space again.