Saw a video this morning showing a reported “ghost” caught on surveillance camera at a police station. This was not the first sighting of the specter, and probably won’t be the last. Reported by police personnel, it somehow seems to carry more weight. Like an astronaut or pilot reporting a UFO sighting rather than the typical stories of probing incidents conducted by bubble headed aliens showing up on the front page of the Star. I don’t discount any of the possibilities. Truth is we don’t know what’s out there. In a way it’s rather self-centered of us as humans to believe this vast universe and perhaps those beyond were constructed only as our playground.
In 2006 we purchased a restaurant. The building came with a lease and a history. Built in the late 1800’s, it was originally a bawdy house sporting a poker hall and bar. Many owners later it served as both a restaurant and bar. Sometimes both, sometimes one or the other. Before us it was a barbecue joint. Our turn at bat we decided on Italian cuisine. Rick had extensive restaurant experience having owned a steakhouse in the 90’s and managing many restaurants both in Egypt in his younger years and the U.S. later on down the road. I came to the table with two credentials on my side. I liked to cook and I liked to eat. As far as running as restaurant, I was a complete virgin.
For me I held to the Field of Dreams principle, “build it and they will come”. So not true. Before ever opening our doors there was much to do. Besides the interior renovations necessary, we had to address the basic structure of the restaurant itself. Staff, menus, permits, and vendors needed to be put in place. Each presented its own set of problems.
Rick began with staff, while I stuck with a subject I knew, interior decorating. Always a passion of mine. Carpets needed to be cleaned, or better replaced. Money flying out of our bank account, we decided on the former. The ladie’s room had been painted a shade of purple I’d never seen on a color palette. Adding insult to injury it had then been bordered with an unfortunate choice of maroon and blue cabbage roses. Bad taste following suit in the men’s room, it was an equally unpalatable peacock-blue. New paint was added to my growing list. All walls in the main dining area, a rectangular room seating 85, were constructed of the original brick. This made for an interesting look but was difficult when it came to mounting decorative items. My days were filled scouring local second hand and antique emporiums, as well as merchants offering newer goods. I became a familiar figure walking the streets carrying this odd item or that.
Our vision for the interior was to transform it as closely as possible to resemble streets in Italy. To this end a mural artist was hired. The woman came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. Along the walls stretching between the dining room and the bar, windows and rustic doors appeared. On the second floors of the buildings a line of laundry might be seen strung across a patio or a door left slightly ajar with a drape wafting out of it. Colorful window boxes lined the streets each overflowing with flowers. At one door a dog waited on the mat to get in. I loved it all. The bar, the most rustic section of the building, was transformed into a Tuscan wine cellar. Receding lines of wooden kegs were depicted on one wall, and trailing ivy across a trellis on another. When the restaurant was sold the new owners painted over the beautiful artwork opting once again for peacock-blue. Must have been a sale on that color somewhere in town. What a waste.
To disguise the bus area outside the kitchen, bright awnings were put in place. The kitchen, long out of date, was brought up to code and new equipment either purchased or leased.
Seeing as I had come from a graphics background, the menus, advertising, gift certificates, and logo development were going to be tasked to me. Along with these duties, I would learn to man the bar as a sub if needed and take over as catering manager.
The building had character certainly. According to our newly hired chef and his assistants, it had that and more. Sitings were reported at staff meetings of odd lights flickering on and off and loud unexplained sounds in the bar. We had been told by the previous owners the building held many secrets carried over from its colorful past. According to him there had been several murders in the bar in its heyday. Another interesting fact was the older portion of town was supposedly built over a labyrinth of tunnels. The tunnels were built by the Chinese during the gold rush era. The Chinese whose traditions were not understood nor well received by the community, built underground tunnels which served as a place for commerce to be conducted, not always of the legal kind, and as a meeting place for them to either escape persecution or to do business. Long deserted, many believe unsettled spirits still roamed beneath the town and after working the restaurant I’m inclined to get on board with this idea.
Each morning I would arrive early at the restaurant to gather the night’s take from the safe. Monies were then counted, tips accounted for, and a deposit slip filled out. Other than Sunday there was no day this task wasn’t performed. Often the sun had just made it’s debut when I inserted the key in the lock. It is funny how different a building can feel when you are the only one in it. At least the only live one present. The moment I would open the safe a loud sound, like a heavy object dropping, could be heard in the back of the building. In the beginning I never went back there, choosing instead to remain up front close to the door in case I needed to make a hasty exit.
If you polled the lot of us working there, my guess is nearly the full complement would recall at least one incident of strangeness while working under that roof. It was an interesting time. I always seem to recall it as Halloween approaches. Perhaps because of the eerie first All Hallowed Eve we spent there. I’ll go into more detail as the holiday draws near. For now I’ll leave you with these lemony delights to chew on. I like them better than the traditional Thanksgiving fare for a change of pace.
Southern Lemon Glazed Sweet Potatoes
2 large sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Scrub potatoes and put them in a pot covered with water with skins on. Bring to boil and cook for low boil for 15 mins. or until tender but not soft. Remove from water and allow to cool slightly until you can handle them. Peel off skins and cut in half lengthwise, then in half widthwise and into long chunks.
Rub butter on bottom and slightly up the sides of glass casserole dish. Place potatoes in dish.
Put water, sugar and salt in saucepan. Stir to mix. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Boil for 10 mins. Add lemon juice and nutmeg. Pour over potatoes.
Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are fork tender. Baste with sauce at least 5 times during cooking. Sprinkle with garlic salt, salt, and pepper as desired.