Let’s talk about storage. I know, sexy content, right?
But seriously, when I was planning my cafe, I had every single part of my storage planned to perfection. The building came with these enormous original shelves that the landlord told us had to remain (she’d inherited the place from her mother, so there was sentimental value there), as if we were crazy enough to rip the only non-Ikea/Bunnings wooden shelves remaining in the Inner West off the walls.
And we had a storeroom (kind of) out the back too. Oh, the luxury! The sheer decadence of it all! I’d fill it, and file it meticulously.
You see, I’d seen enough ramshackle dry stores in my day to know that I had to refrain from the temptation to chuck everything in, willy nilly, every time a packaging order got delivered, with the promise to sort it all out later once trade died down for 10 minutes.
If you’ve been reading my previous blogs, you may have already realised that I did not.
And that’s the thing about storage; you always need more.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
There was this massive shelf. Truly huge, and it spanned an entire 4 metre long wall. It had 3 levels, it was about a metre high, and it fit with the decor almost too perfectly.
In my mind, it was all the dry storage we’d need. After all, what kind of small cafe needs more than 40 square metres of storage?
The only issue was, this gargantuan shelf was attached to a wall that we were knocking out to make way for what would become the kitchen. And after we took it down and smashed through a wall with the weakest mortar that has ever existed (seriously, you could punch a hole in it with your keys), we realised that it was about a metre too long and so had to cut it down.
Our next realisation came when we began stocking our shelves, and I realised that all but the bottom shelf was out of reach, leaving two thirds exclusively for dry stock that I didn’t need on hand immediately.
And the final realisation came when we discovered that our recently repaired roof was not in fact, water tight, and seemed to be made out of a strange metal/swiss cheese hybrid. From the attic, it did look quite pretty, like the clearest starry night you could imagine, but that’s not too practical when trying to keep the rain out.
You can see where this is headed, right?
Our dry goods became decidedly un-dry one rainy evening, rendering a lot of it useless, and causing our landlord to shift blame quicker than FedEx (where are the hats I ordered a month ago?).
I guess it was about time to take advantage of my back room anyway.
And what a back room it was. Guys, let me tell you, a corridor by any other name would be so narrow. But it was away from the customers, and it led to a solid (gyprock) wall.
I bought some metal shelves from Bunnings, put them on top of a stainless bench I was using as a prep space, and boom! Dry storage.
And so it went, for a while at least. I’d clear a space on the bench once a week when my meat order came in to lock myself away like Frankenstein, only I wasn’t creating life out of the lumps of meat I’d acquired; I was butchering and vacuum sealing it for later use, which is way less romantic, but more profitable.
But then, as always, I did that thing where even if I knew 100% in my mind that I was never going to use a certain bit of packaging (I’m looking at you, emergency polystyrene clam boxes), or dry good (ditto, random box of pepper sachets), it would be a cold day in hell before I threw them away.
Hoarding, I believe it’s called, and I’d cultivated such a landscape of unwanted items, you might say that I’d become something of an expert ‘hoarderculturalist’ (thanks), and so I had to say goodbye to my creepy little prep area.
I bought more shelves, bigger shelves, and still it wasn’t enough! There were boxes on top of every available flat surface. I had coffee cups, and plastic containers on top of the bathroom (completely sanitary, I assure you), bags hanging between gaps in the shelves, and Christmas decorations on top of the fridge out the back.
Which leads to my next section; fridges.
You see, there wasn’t always a fridge out the back. There was only my under-counter fridge in the kitchen at first. And even that was meant to slide perfectly into the void beneath my coffee machine, but I’d miscalculated and it didn’t end up fitting.
But it wasn’t a big deal. It just meant that instead of having my stainless bench out front to house my entire kitchen, now my stainless shelves and various cooking appliances would sit atop my fridge (it had a stainless top with a lip on it). Problem solved.
Until the fridge got full.
We scoured eBay for a cheap 2nd hander, and found an enormous Skope for a steal. The guys who delivered it remarked on how easily it fit through the front door, and left me and a friend to wheel it into the corridor/store room out the back. Pretty straight forward, right?
What played out was 6 hours of hell where 2 guys tried every conceivable way to force a fridge through a doorway that it most definitely could not fit through.
First, the wheels went, then the bathroom door, then the corridor door (or ‘corridoor’ if you like my hoarding pun earlier), but nothing worked.
At the evening’s darkest point, I was inside the corridor, trapped underneath the fridge in a seated position and taking its full weight on my rapidly tiring legs. My friend was outside in the main room, trying to stop the fridge from crushing me, but unable to get a grip due to the fridge filling the entirety of the doorway. We stayed that way for about half an hour until I put my faith in the integrity of a Jamie Oliver high-walled fry pan, wedging it under the fridge and sliding my way out like a pale Indiana Jones.
For the record, the pan held and is currently my #1 go-to pan at home. Say what you want about Jamie, but he puts his name on some sturdy cookware.
We eventually shimmied the fridge out and then I took a hammer to its top, beating the life out of the corners in a frenzied and wild-eyed revenge until they were folded over themselves and it finally slid through the doorway.
Me & my friend forged a bond that evening (forever more referred to as ‘The Night Graeme Almost Got Killed By A Fridge’) the likes only returning veterans can relate to.
Where am I going with this? Who knows.
But that fridge, with all of its damage, and tipping, and murderous intentions was a damn trooper. It worked perfectly until the day I sold the place, and it always had space in there, and it was immune to my hoarding habits.
Just kidding, it was a hot mess.
Both fridges were, literally.
Each year, around the time that money was tight, my fridges would decide that they were done being used to chill food and drinks to a safe, and thirst-quenching temperature. No, they much preferred to gently heat their contents overnight to about +15 degrees, rendering everything inside spoiled.
I cultivated a rapport with the guy who serviced my fridges where he’d tell me that they’d keep overheating because the coils were porous, which meant the gas kept escaping, and I’d remind him how cheap I was, and tell him I’d see him again in a year (and that the smell of off milk isn’t always there).
And when the evil fridge out the back was keeping things cold, it had a leak inside (that was definitely not from having its head caved in with a hammer) which took an entire shelf out of action as it was used to hold a giant polystyrene box to catch the water which would quite often freeze over.
Pair that with the bottles of ketchup that I had no idea where they came from (seriously, I have never used ketchup in my cafes), and the boxes of long-forgotten fruit slowly spoiling at the back (usually lemons), and it left about half a shelf free for my Friday knock off drinks.
I never did figure out a way to store everything in an easy, efficient way, because there was always something that caught me off guard. Whether it was finding out mid-rush that an entire box of lids (that I’d probably had for months) didn’t fit my cups, or the box that I thought was full of straws was just repurposed and actually full of takeaway bags, there was always more stuff to buy, and store.
But hey, at least I survived my fridge trying to murder me…for now.