Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one-year anniversary.
Last fall, chef Daniel Mondok moved to wine country to open Paulée, a restaurant that brought the farm-to-fork concept directly to Dundee, with an adjacent garden and eye for sourcing protein locally. The spot collected positive reviews, but by December 2012, Mondok officially left the project, leaving the restaurant in hands of co-founder/chef de cuisine Sean Temple, who now oversees both the kitchen and Paulée's growing role in the valley farming community. "It's definitely a community of restaurants, through gardening," Temple says. "We gave [Newberg restaurant] the Jory 20 tomato plants last week; they turned around and gave us 40 padron pepper plants. So we're like, trading plants."
To mark the restaurant's one-year anniversary, Eater recently chatted with Temple about Mondok's departure, the garden's early days, and how Willamette Valley restaurants weather the winter, when "you don't see cars on 99."
How did you first get involved with the project?
I got approached to take over Farm to Fork, because they were having some trouble keeping chefs. So they basically asked me to come in and keep the place running a few months, until the end of the year, when they would close it down and get Paulee up and going. And then when I met Daniel, we just started talking, he asked me to stay on and be his chef de cuisine. [...] It was just really organic.
Since the very beginning, the word "ambitious" was thrown around a lot, of your having your own garden...
It's so crazy how blown out of proportion all of that was. We were opening a restaurant; we started hearing all these things of people saying how much we were growing, it never really made sense to me how it got that blown of of proportion. ? It was a restaurant, we were going to try doing a garden, we were going to do try to be local. A lot of people do that, it wasn't something ground-breaking. We were trying to do the best we could, really. [...] When it came to the garden, when we first did it, [Daniel] was in charge of that — that turns out to be one of the things I absolutely love about the place now. The garden's crazy. It's so big — we've got 700 tomato plants in the ground, we've got so much food. We've approached the restaurants all around us; people are going to be buying from us. It'd be cool to see our name on the back of someone's menu as a purveyor. But it's really cool like that.
Thinking back to a year ago, what were those early conversations with farmers like? What was the local response?
I sourced out every person we deal with; that was my job off the bat, was to find everything I could. The tough part was, we found out that no one delivered to you — all the people used in Portland, farmers that you see on everyone's menu, they don't go down [to Dundee]. So it was really trying to start over. People up [in Portland] that we've used have always said, "We can drop off to you at your house, we can meet up somewhere en route." We pretty much set aside three weeks to a month, where I set up appointments saying, "Let's go down to these farms, check out everybody we can." And as we went, we explained to people what we were doing. Everybody seemed stoked. Everyone was really for it.
And it's even funny now, because one of the farms, Simington Gardens down in Aurora — we're starting to get 12 pounds of salad greens a week out of our garden. So, I didn't call him for like, five days. He called me up and was like, "Are you mad at me?" And I was like, "No. This is the idea, what we've been telling everyone for over a year. This is what we're striving to get to. I don't want to have to call you." But, even than, last night I called him at midnight, like, "I need 12 pounds of salad greens tomorrow, please." But it was pretty well received amongst everybody, and we're just another restaurant for farmers down there in the valley — because most of those people don't come up into the city.
Tell me about how the garden was designed.
Last year was different. We opened it up late May, I think it was more or less, "Put a garden in. Get stuff going." [...] This year, the process completely changed. I got a different gardener, she approached us in the wintertime... and said, "Your garden looks sad. Can I help you?" So we brought Ashley on, and the amount of work she's done? I think we're so dialed into it that we've figured out how much excess we're going to have for selling. She has a greenhouse on her property in Newberg and has all our starts going, whereas last year we didn't have that. We just kind of put stuff in the ground. [...]
Ideally, would you be 100 percent reliant on your garden?
No. I don't know. [...] It would be cool to be 100 percent. We're still trying to figure out how much to keep going during wintertime, and what you can keep going. Jory has a garden at their place, and they're growing a lot of stuff. I was coming back from Beaverton Market on Saturday, [Jory chef] Sunny [Jin] calls me up and is like, "We're pulling out our onions. We grew too many, come by and take whatever you want." And I go over there and took four cases stacked with spring onions, and they probably could've filled 100 of them. So they were calling all the restaurants in the valley just to come pick up onions. Bu after talking with them, their greenhouse is gigantic — it's like 30 by 90 — built-in irrigation on the walls, it's serious. So, he offered that if we wanted to form a little union that we could keep all of our stuff there in the wintertime, grow stuff all winter and try to make it all year long. And have our gardener and their gardener get together and swap days. So, we're trying to figure out now, can we keep it all year long? That makes it seem really feasible. And having the cooperation of two restaurants is really cool — and knowing that we can trade stuff.
So how was the first winter here?
Crazy. It was so slow. People told me the weekend after Thanksgiving would be like someone just flipped the switch, and it would be dead. And it literally — you don't see cars on 99. It's dead. It definitely slows down. And talking to people at other restaurants, the chef at Tina's, Recipe, the people who have been down there for years, they're used to it but they say it still freaks them out — like, "We didn't do any people tonight." Or "We only had two reservations tonight." You're in a town with 3,000 people. So it's definitely times like that when you just wish you could transport this place to Portland or something, for the winter. It's a lot of people finding second jobs, running skeleton crews. And that's the tough part about it, because you've got a 95-seat restaurant, and you can only go down to so many people. Because you still have busy nights? and with a two-person crew, you're an eight-top away from possibly going down. Someone walks in, and you have a couple other reservations, it could be bad, if you're running one server and just one bartender or something.
Did you try any specific strategies for bringing in more people?
We did add on a bar menu, hoping it would draw a little bit more. We focused more on our beer program, by trying to get people to realize that no one in the valley has a beer list like we do. I'm already thinking about it for this winter, trying to do some stuff — a few of the restaurants down here do a three-courser meal for a lower amount of money, to get people to come in. One of our farmers always says, "I don't come in that often because I've got four kids and I can't always go out and do that." I get it. It's not a place you bring your whole family to. But we're trying to get around the stigma: that it's definitely not that once-a-year place, either.
When Daniel left in December, what was the reaction from the team, and was there ever a consideration to change the concept?
It came out of left field. At least, I didn't expect it. When it went down, it just came out of nowhere, and it was interesting. Concept-wise, we were all on board with what we wanted to do. I think it was maybe where [the owners] wanted to go. I think they might have saw that we could've been excluding some people from the get-go. It just have that whole aura. [?] The owners wanted to see some more casual stuff, so that's when we implemented a bar menu. For myself, it still gets tough, managing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then a different menu at night. It's a lot, it's a great learning experience to have all that. I think everybody in the restaurant realized that it's our business, businesses have to thrive, and that no one's above change. Our GM left within the first few months, then the chef left after six months. It's just a stark reality that it's a business and certain parameters have to be met. I think everyone took it as a positive, as, "Let's push forward from this" ? It happened organically, that everything worked out great. Which is pretty cool.
How did Daniel's departure change your day-to-day schedule at the restaurant?
It changed a little. Most of the responsibilities I was taking on anyway. I wanted to learn as much as I could about budgets and the financials, so I took a lot of the numbers side and office work on [from the beginning]. I've always heard that once you start doing it, you're going wish you were in the kitchen more, because you start getting stuck out of the kitchen more. That's just something that I've always wanted to learn. [?] So none of that really changed. I think really what changed is that I'm cooking a lot more, because Daniel was always on the line. So I'm finding myself cooking, which is good. Before, I was missing, when it was both of us in there — I was definitely out of the kitchen more, running the line more, doing expo.
And finally, does it feel like it's been a year?
Yeah, I guess. A lot has changed in a year. Just to see how much the place has grown. Restaurants are a funny business, people always moving in and out. It's a pretty volatile industry. To see who's there, who's stayed the full year and how much better people got, it's always good to see people grow. It's the first job I've had where I've gone in and not thought of, "Two years from now, where am I going to be?" You always kind of set benchmarks for yourself. This is the first place where I don't see the end, I don't foresee where I'm going to be next. Because I really like it. I really want this place to work out. It's awesome down here.
· Paulée [Official site]
· All Previous Paulée Coverage [Eater PDX]
· All Previous One Year In Coverage [Eater PDX]