Any good restaurant designer knows how important well-placed storage is, but for chef and owner Cliff Blauvelt, the need for that grew as his sandwich shop Bodega, in Denver, got more and more popular.
"You have the knowledge and execute what is meant to be a permanent storage solution, but then you get so busy [the need] doubles," said Blauvelt, who has already reconfigured the kitchen three times and the line twice in the eight months the shop has been open.
Blauvelt has also looked into drop shelves, but with limited ceiling height that wasn’t a good option. Instead, the supplies are either carefully hidden around the 1,488-square-foot space, or they add to the small shop’s ambience.
"I wanted the idea of a [New York-style] bodega, and by having loose things on a shelf, it just fits in," he said. "I didn't [originally] want it there, I don't deal well with clutter, but it totally works."
Instead of hiding napkins, cups, sauces and utensils, those necessities are on shelves towering above the water station. Over to the side, all the dry goods are neatly lined on metal racks, almost as if for sale. On the hidden side, a long banquette contains a bevy of supplies including to-go cups, napkins, brown paper bags, and portion cups.
That same banquette also acts as major part of the spot's 35 indoor seating options (another 35 seats are on the outside patio). The trick, said Blauvelt, is to make sure the day's goods are taken out before Bodega opens. Otherwise you end up asking customers if they can scoot over a few inches so staff can get another sleeve of coffee cups. And when it's super busy, like on weekends when most of the eight-hour Saturday and five-hour Sunday shifts have a line out that door, that request proves almost impossible.
It wasn't just supplies that Blauvelt needed storage for, the staff also needed a place to put their coats, purses and other personal items during their shifts. On average about eight employees come in each day, and in the winter that's a lot of gear that needs storing.
"We got a couple of lockers and they thankfully matched the atheistic," said the chef, who started with three lockers. "Those filled up quickly so we got more, and then we needed more."
Now nine lockers deck one wall, and for those not looking, they blend into the laidback, New York-style bodega vibe, which includes a graffiti-like mural along the same wall.
Inside the kitchen, the chef has added shelves to the prep table, tucked more storage under surfaces, and added secret spaces wherever he could. Instead of buying ingredients in bulk and portioning them out, he uses smaller containers and works right from those. He said that doesn’t add to the cost since he gets a lot of his ingredients from low-cost at the H-Mart, a local Asian grocery store.
The small, one-person walk-in refrigerator is outside, in the parking lot, right by the kitchen door. To save more space, he took out the bar dishwasher and replaced the porcelain cups with stackable, recyclable paper ones.
"It was like, what's more important, space or coffee cups?" he said. "You begin to realize you have to be on top of everything, and daily you are downsizing."
All this space saving also means the menu can't change much. Currently 15 items are available, such as the mixed bag of fries with “Bodega dust” and house-made fry sauce ($5), the chile crisp fried chicken sandwich ($16), lamb birria French dip ($16), and the house salad ($8/$15). Each dish earns its place on the menu by being popular among Bodega’s customers
Blauvelt's $15 double Bodega Burger was a challenge to produce because it requires putting two patties on the griddle at once, but it’s so popular that he ended up buying another griddle and shifting things around again.
"If something on the menu changes, something else has to come off, there's no growing," said the chef. The restaurant doesn't have a phone, or any way to do takeout or delivery, but the kitchen is running at capacity as it is. The only way Bodega can really make more money is by charging more, or branching out into catering. But for now, said the chef, he is fine the way things are — except, that is, for the ice machine. He needs to change that, and that will mean configuring the space once again.