02 Mar Test Kitchen chefs look back at the first month in business
If there was one word that kept popping up when talking with the Fishers Test Kitchen chefs about their experience in the Test Kitchen so far, that word would be “fun.”
“It’s fun having neighbors,” said Lil Dumplings chef/owner Carlos Salazar about operating his restaurant within the Test Kitchen food hall.
The three restaurants – Lil Dumplings global street food, Korave Korean barbecue and Natural State Provisions southern-inspired comfort food – have stands that are next to each other and serve customers in the adjacent Sun King Fishers brewery.
“It’s definitely been a fun experience working with all these different cooks,” said Natural State Provisions manager Ryan Quinn.
But even though it’s been fun, launching three new restaurants inside the new Sun King brewery has also been a challenge, especially in those first few days.
Looking back on opening day Feb. 1, said Ryan, “it was controlled chaos. But it was a lot of fun. We were constantly busy.”
Of course, when Fishers Test Kitchen opened a month ago, the chefs expected it to be busy. They just didn’t know exactly how busy it would be. As it tuned out, the crowds who came to see what the Test Kitchen was all about were even bigger than expected.
“Opening day was crazy,” said Carlos. “It was above what I expected. I knew it was going to be crazy; I knew it was going to be busy. But I didn’t know it was going to be that busy.”
For Korave chef/owner John and his brother Kim, “opening day was a dream come true. That’s all I can say. It was a dream come true. We were like, ‘Yes! We did it!’”
Since then, the chefs and their employees have been learning how to best work in the small kitchens – each space is about 150 square feet – and in the shared back-of-house prep space.
For John and Kim of Korave, who had first launched their business in a food trailer, getting used to working in a small space wasn’t a problem. “Food truck size is a little bit smaller than this,” said John, “so we’re used to it.”
Ryan, too, said the small kitchens, which are visible to customers ordering at the counters, aren’t an issue. “You learn to manage your movements very well,” he said. “Every movement has to count.”
Navigating the shared back prep space and the dishwashing area have been the biggest learning curves, he said.
“The first two weeks were rough for everybody,” he said. “Since then, it’s gotten a lot smoother.”
And having other chefs close by can be a plus rather than a minus, the chefs said. “Because if you run out of certain things, 99 percent of the time, they’ll have it and you can borrow it,” said Carlos. “We all respect each other, we’re all nice to each other and we all help each other out.”
Chef John of Korave agrees. “It’s really good to work next to each other,” he said. “We’ve been helping each other a lot.”
As the chefs have learned to work with each other, they’re also learning the rhythm of the Test Kitchen and what to expect as far as customer traffic. While they have typically been slammed with big crowds on weekends, a Monday or Tuesday lunch might prove to be slower.
“All businesses have up and down traffic,” said John. “The one thing I really like to see is once or twice a week I see people who are coming back. It’s really fun.”
Carlos also remarked on the many repeat customers that the Test Kitchen has drawn so far.
“There are a lot of return customers, and we’re still getting new ones every single day,” he said. “I’ve seen customers who say, ‘I had this yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it and talking about it at work, so I had to come back.’ And with doing our special ramen on Sundays, we’re having our Sunday people who can’t wait to come and have ramen.”
One of the best parts of the first month in business, the chefs said, has been having the chance to talk with customers and answer their questions about the menus.
“We’re here to tell them about what we serve,” said Carlos. “Then they’re like, ‘That sounds good,’ and they’re sold.”
“Everybody has a lot of questions when they come up for the first time,” said Ryan about Natural State’s menu of southern fare. “It’s been fun explaining it to them. People have been very understanding about us changing things on a day-to-day basis. We’re a test kitchen so we can do that. People have come to enjoy it and see what we have that’s new.”
Ryan reiterated that despite all the challenges of launching the restaurants, it has been a fun first month, and for him, that’s partly because of Sun King.
“The most fun I’m having,” he said, “is utilizing all the ingredients that Sun King provides for us. I try to cook with as many of their small batches and seasonal beers that I’m able to. I’ve reduced beers and put them into different wing sauces and barbecue sauces. And we’ve landed on When the Lights Go Out coffee porter to be the best for caramelizing onions.”
Be sure to watch for new menu items as the chefs look ahead to spring – and don’t hesitate to ask questions!