Ms. Santa With Attitude

Recently, I've been thinking about what gifts I'd bequeath to the local food community if it were within my power to grant them anything at all. Here's what's in my bag.

1.Reliable line cooks and production bakers for everyone who needs one.

Low unemployment numbers may be great for the overall economy, but every restaurateur of my acquaintance bemoans the fact that there are so few well-trained cooks and bakers available to hire these days. It's so bad that some folks are keeping employment ads running all the time. Maybe the two new culinary programs opening in January will turn out some worthwhile potential employees.

2.Prime locations and willing investors for chefs looking to open their own restaurants.

There are several local restaurant talents who are eager to set up their own shops once they find just the right spot and the generous silent partners. Maybe 1999 will be the year we see Emmett Fox and Miguel Ravago in business for themselves.

3.Affordable construction costs for everyone who needs to remodel or

When a venerable local business such as Lamme's Candies doesn't have a Congress Avenue location for the first time in over a hundred years because they lost their lease to a national chain and can't afford the steep price of bringing a downtown storefront up to health department code for restaurants, something is seriously wrong. When the contractor's bid for remodeling a tiny Congress Avenue space for Sweetish Hill is only slightly less than the entire construction cost of their whole Sixth Street facility, we recognize the downside of the construction boom.

4.A streamlined, expedited city permit process for small local businesses.

We marvel when the city is willing to move heaven and earth (not to mention Liberty Lunch) to clear a path for some computer giant. But then we cringe when we hear the nightmare stories of local restaurateurs such as Hoover Alexander of Hoover's Cooking or Russell Millner of Russell's Bakery, who pay months of rent on locations that they can't open because of a city permit process that manages to be both glacial and adversarial at the same time. How smart is that? Austin's homegrown restaurants are in the progress business, but wouldn't it be great if all this Smart Growth we hear so much about could benefit local operators, too, Mayor Watson?

5.A copy of Dining Out: Secrets From America's Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs (Wiley, $29.95 paper) by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page for every chef, restaurateur, author, and would-be restaurant reviewer in town.

This book is an interesting exploration of the restaurant review process that helps dispel the fear, loathing, and misunderstandings involved. Convinced that a restaurant reviewer whom you've never met set out to close your business or that your book was reviewed on the basis of your love life? Read this book and get over yourself.

6.A training program for waitpeople. Smart, competitive restaurant operators should band together and initiate some kind of training program that covers courteous customer contact, food and wine knowledge, and sales techniques. I'd like to see Austin lose its reputation for Slacker-Style Service in my lifetime.

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