"socially-distanced" sliders at Brave New Restaurant

Brave New Restaurant is back. Chef Peter Brave and his crew are open for business after a two-month pandemic hiatus. When I spoke with Brave by phone Tuesday, he was about to head down to his restaurant to work the lunch shift, which he doesn’t usually do. “What is normal and what is a routine?” he said, rhetorically. “We’re fixing to reinvent both of those things, it would appear.”

One of the state’s Phase 1 directives for restaurants is that tables have to be spaced out 10 feet apart. Some restaurants are alternating seating or only seating people at certain tables. Brave has the room to space all of his tables out, but it didn’t look quite right. “We like to have it spaced out,” he said. “But not in a ‘weird, you’re eating in a basketball court’ kind of feel.”

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He solved the problem by filling the dining room with plants.

Distanced tables at Brave New Restaurant

“We got some of the money from the state, and it was allotted to reconfigure. We just kind of interpreted that it was totally in that category, so we had somebody come in with the Plantation Service, and I’m really smug with the way it came out. [The plants are] a space filter, but give people the sense of a barrier. It gives it a warm feeling and a quaint feeling and a comfortable feeling. It’s going to be so challenging to make people feel confident in just going out again. So I think that’s going to be helpful. Plants are always good.”

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Could you tell me a little bit about the process of reopening after being closed for two months?

Yeah, you know, everybody’s situation is so different. Some people have been able to keep inventory a little bit moved over because they’ve done curbside and so on. We were not in that category; we just completely came to a screeching halt. And it being heads of romaine and fresh fish and stuff like that, we ate quite well, but none of that stuff’s going to last two months, so we essentially lost all of our inventory. So cranking it back up was quite a process. It wasn’t an insignificant consideration.

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Did you have any problems with supply or food shortages?

No, when we started getting some ideas on the timing of when we were going to open, I called some of our vendors. My guy out in Hawaii that I get my tuna from, the vendor where I get walleye from out of Chicago, those were kind of some of the bigger questions. You know, I read in the paper about the meat disruptions from supply plants, and there’s a difference between disrupting Kroger and disrupting restaurant food supply, so as we sit here right now, I have all my product. I thought I was going to have to tweak the menu more, but I didn’t. So I’ve got everything in right now, and we’re on the cusp of the local season, which is really awesome in addition to just being what we’ve been doing so long. And how nice is it not to have to worry about that supply chain not being broken?

A lot of people’s eating habits have changed during the pandemic. Some are shopping less, so they’re eating more takeout. Some are cooking more than ever. What’s your experience been like, and have you had a favorite meal during the pandemic?

That’s funny, for the first half of it — it’s been about a two-month window for us — the first half I was eating like a king because I was whittling through Brave New Restaurant’s stuff. That one probably doesn’t count. You know, what I’ve kind of been doing is making lunch the big meal, which is kind of what I do anyway. I hear people complain about “How many ways can you make a ham sandwich for lunch?” It’s like, “Well, you got time.”

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So I’d marinate whatever. I’d read the paper, do a little bit of prep — and this is one of my kitchen experiences, you know. I’d crank up the grill, roast some Brussels sprouts, grill a chicken, and have kind of a big meal at lunch. Then I’d eat leftovers for my night meal, which is a lighter meal. It was more of a changing of the approach than an actual favorite meal. That’s kind of a good thing. You should eat a little lighter at the end of the day.

I was checking out your Facebook page and I had no idea you had a line of coffee. How’d you get into roasting?

Well I’ve been doing it personally for about five or six years. And then about two years ago, I got a roaster out of mainland China. It’s a small-batch roaster. I’ve got beans that are grown all over the world. Right now I have no less than eight varieties — African to Sulawesi over in Indonesia to Central America. My favorite right now is a Kenyan AA. I liked it so much I went and bought 130 pounds. So yeah, we do small roasting. The longer the coffee sits there, it degrades, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. You can cryo-vac it and it’ll slow it down, but the key is roasting it and drinking it shortly thereafter. So before all this started going down, I started to develop a few of these little offices. I’ve got a little miniature K-Cup maker, which is the funniest thing. It’s like a little drill press. And I do four cups at a time. So I’ve got three offices where I was getting into doing a few hundred cups a week and that was getting a little traction, and the same thing with the coffee. I’m not going to try to get [the coffee] into Kroger or stuff like that. It’s consistent with everything else down there, which is every single little detail, whether it’s — I know the spring mix grower’s name, the chicken grower’s name, or roasting my own coffee — it’s all those little things that totally add up. And I’m a coffee fiend, so just like everything else down there, it’s like a thinly veiled excuse for me to have my own shit.

Peter Brave

After two months, what are you most excited about with your first day back?

It’s fun just going down there. Just you know, the crew, the people that I work with that are so much a part of making Brave New Restaurant what it is. The other part of the formula would be the customers. Just the human interaction. Being able to know how that guy wants his steak cooked and the bartender knows what kind of drink he likes. Just doing what we’ve enjoyed doing for the last 30 years. Just that kind of thing, the interactions with the humans. What’s y’all’s story over at Pizza Cafe?

Pizza Cafe [where I work] is opening the deck on June 1. Right now we’re doing kind of a picnic style where you can take your to-go food out there. [I mentioned a few of my specific worries.]

I’d be lying if I [said] I didn’t have anxiety. We’re gonna make it, we’re going to muddle it together at some point. But, you know, I just got through buying a whole bunch of perishable goods, and there’s a potential of getting all dressed up and you’ve got no place to go all of a sudden. So we will control what we can and move along and hope for the best.