Back in the late 1990's the super chefs and their stories were in full swing. It seemed like everyone out there was getting a $60 hardcover cookbook with giant glossy pictures of tiny plates drizzled with colorful sauces. I had started a small collection of my own and one book in particular featured prominent woman chefs and their daily routines. The one story that I loved the most was about a chef that even though she worked 16 hours a day, she still had time to take her dog to work with her in the morning while going over the plan for the day. I thought to myself that working so much wouldn't be so bad if you could bring your dog with you ! Maybe the dog could hang out in the office for most of the day too ! It would be perfect, a cool dog and my own restaurant. The plan was set.
The one thing about plans is that they have a tendency to change unexpectedly sometimes. I had envisioned a Golden Retriever and a French Restaurant in New York City. I ended up with an obnoxious 135 pound Bullmastiff named Mulch and a deli in Venice Beach. Looking back though, I'm happier that things turned out the way they did. Mulch was a great dog, and although a restaurant is really no place for an animal, I really enjoyed having him around.
When we first opened Stroh's my wife Christina and I rented a bedroom in a three story loft on the ground floor. It wasn't much at all, and about all you could fit in there was our bed,clothes and a chair that I never sat in. We managed to pull of about a year in that place with Mulch stinking up the place at the foot of our bed every night. To say it was cramped is an understatement. To make things a little easier on the dog I hired a dog walker to take him on some extra walks. The walkers name was Dog Care Daddy and he had a handlebar moustache that made him look like he was either going to break out in show tunes or pitch a fastball. He drove around Venice in three wheeled rickshaw type bike that had an electric motor and he stole the show every time he pulled up to Stroh's to pick Mulch up for a walk.
Because of traffic and an early opening time, I would go to the produce market downtown at around 4:00a.m. a few times a week to pick up supplies. I would then drive back to the shop, unload and go grab Mulch to take him for a morning walk. Breaking a routine like this can be like throwing a wrench in the spokes of a wheel. One morning in particular it seemed as though everyone's routine was out of balance. I was running late at the produce market, hit traffic, and didn't get back to the shop until it was too late to take the dog for a walk. So he stayed in our room until Christina left for work at around 7:00 a.m. On a normal morning at Stroh's we had a our bread order well before 5:00 a.m. so that we could start to prepare our panini sandwiches and get our breakfast pastries put out in the case. This not being a normal morning, our bread order was late and probably didn't arrive until sometime around 6:30a.m., and was sneaked in and dropped off in the back so I wouldn't yell at the delivery driver for being late. This would have worked out just fine, except I was inside calling the bakery wondering where my bread was the whole time. When 7:00 rolled around, Christina brought Mulch over to the shop to drop him off in the back for the dogwalker. She walked around the back like she had done countless times before, opened the gate, let the dog in and closed the gate behind him. I don't pretend to know what type of thoughts or feelings that a dog would have when presented with five dozen bagels, three dozen croissants and about 40 pounds of bread but I can imagine that they were positive thoughts. That fat son of a bitch ate all of the bagels and every single croissant, when I came out back to check on him and realized what had happened he was so big that he looked like he was about to explode all over the walls. I gave him his usual verbal thrashing recieved after eating something that he wasn't supposed to and gathered the rest of the bread order that was miraculously placed by the driver up high on some shelving. To this day I am amazed at how fast Mulch made our bread order disappear.
For the record, Mulch had three emergency surgeries to remove a "foreign" object from his stomach. The first time was for a mashed potato masher handle from an antique potato masher that I had in my house. The second time was to remove a corn cob that had become lodged in his intestine. The third time was for a Mango pit that claimed his life.
Mulch wasn't a dumb dog, he just did a lot of dumb things.