Chapter Fifty Seven
Three months later The Lobby at Ultra Violet is two weeks into operation. Amaya made something between an old world hotel lobby and a futuristic lounge. I’ll let a Times reviewer describe.
‘The paradoxical sensation of Ultra Violet, as described by manager Mariella Chenier, the contrast of low and high tech, has added yet another pleasant paradox. As they take no reservations for lunch, and there is frequently a line, the popular restaurant added a second floor for diners to await seating downstairs. They call it The Lobby at Ultra Violet. Let me explain.
Ultra Violet is the name of a best seller by Amaya, the noted fiction author that took over the popular Chris Fischer series of mystery and action novels. Well regarded in her own right, her latest offering, Ultra Violet, is a soon to be released film starring her companion, the fashion model Chloe Sylk, the girl with arresting violet eyes.
This requires even further explanation. Amaya and Chloe Sylk, are part of the Sylk Murakami real estate and investment conglomerate, and the Sylk Trust, an educational Trust with two acclaimed free schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx, another private elementary school in Greenwich Village for girls.
Amaya, this reporter discovered, is also a performance artist and designer. She designed the restaurant décor, intentionally creating a juxtaposition of old style southern cuisine and cutting edge, sleek, minimalist surroundings. Further investigation revealed deeper dichotomy, the driving force behind the food is a young Russian woman, Dasha, yet another denizen of the Sylk family, who took to the southern style of food preparation. It was she who introduced the enormously popular po-boys and hot plates to the Village Diner, now staples of the menu.
If this isn’t convoluted enough, the restaurant has none of the trappings of a southern wooden table, checkered cloth, screen door atmosphere. It’s like entering a streamlined, but welcoming, futurescape. Then the food arrives, as simple and straightforward and as mouth watering as any home cooking on the planet. Strangely, the contradiction of ordering electronically, with sleek Dansk tableware, and crisp white linens versus meatloaf with brown gravy and to die for garlic mashed potatoes, or white beans with hot sausage, or country fried catfish and macaroni and cheese, delicious cornbread in a variety of styles, southern buttermilk biscuits and splendid fried chicken, turns down home into down galactic.
The addition of The Lobby at Ultra Violet extends the magical atmosphere. Cushy leather chairs and sofas, coffee and end tables, a short selection of excellent wine or beer, at prices more like 1980 than twenty first century. The grand hotel lobby experience bumps up against a superb sound system, world beat, not deafening, just enough to keep the blood flowing without interfering with conversation. The final magic is the conversation. Guests waiting for tables mix and mingle, it’s a meet and greet with everyone having a common interest, the food. Waiting on a table in the Lobby at Ultra Violet is like not waiting at all, more like finding new friends. At six bucks for either a hefty glass of excellent wine or a twelve ounce specialty beer, it’s almost like stealing. This is the best restaurant concept I’ve seen in Manhattan, ever.
A few side notes, while Ultra Violet has minor dress requirements, no t-shirts, no shorts, it stops there. A glance around, however, has most patrons in business casual or better. I interviewed a few folks as to why they thought customers tended to dress more up than down. Turns out, the sheer elegance of the place is only a part. Several diners said it was the wait staff, elegantly turned out in tailored black slacks, ivory silk shirts with French cuffs, who refer to all customers as ma’am or sir, even the children. A couple from the upper west side put it plainly, ‘It feels right, the hard working staff treats us with graceful elegance, we do our part to help maintain their high standards.’
It will take you weeks to get a reservation, just make one, I’ve already made my next, see you in The Lobby at Ultra Violet.’
Looks like serendipity happens. None of it was elaborately planned. We put together ideas over tea, made them real and it worked. Go figure.
At afternoon tea, Nikko says, “I got calls from Brooklyn, they want us to expand there. What do you want to do?”
Janah, “What if we get Mini to find parolees interested in the idea. We front the money for a simpler version, just po-boys, red beans or white beans and rice. Lunch only, no, wait, breakfast and lunch. Test the concept. We buy the property, they pay us an affordable franchise fee. It has to be called something else, not Ultra Violet. I’m thinking basic, more like you’d see in the South thing. Tables with bench seating, get your order, sit where there’s a spot. Like K-Paul’s in New Orleans. You wind up sitting next to people you don’t know. Maybe they do take out.”
Amaya, “I like it. Has no impact on Ultra Violet, I suppose it depends on Dasha’s willingness to get them jumpstarted.”
Nikko, “If we go ahead, it’s more like a regular restaurant, no IPads, go to the counter, order, the waiter brings the food.”
“I think it works, Dasha, do you want to get them going? You can decline, but I’m willing to help.”
Dasha, “Ees fun. Dahfoney and I will set up. Once routine ees in place, we collect fee, gud for prisoner, gud for fahmahley.”
Nikko, “Anyone else?”
Amaya, “I would like to dig into the décor. I know we want basic, I think it might be fun to figure out the space and design.”
Nikko, “Okay, is it a go?”
It’s a go, I visit Mini the next morning.
Mini, “You girls are too much. We have, what, plumbers, electricians, taxi and limo, dry cleaners, contractors, sub contractors, machine shops, all because your people stepped up. Now restaurants. They may name a prison after you.”
“I think we’ll pass. If you’ll find us a couple of guys who are into cooking, good enough. It’s a down home breakfast and lunch restaurant, no liquor. Not a hangout.”
“And no bullshit. Daria will monitor inventory and accounts. They do NOT want to screw around with her.”
Mini, “Daph, they don’t want to screw around with me, or the dozens of guys you helped get into legitimate businesses. It ain’t a problem.”
“Okay, I just have to say, we love it when your people get a hand, we love to be the hand, they have to carry their end.”
Mini, “I’ll check around, but I gotta coupla guys in mind. I think you gonna be happy.”
Chapter Fifty Eight
While Nikko is deciding location, Amaya can’t do much until we have a location and square footage selected. It’s during this prep time that the movie, Ultra Violet premiers in New York and LA.
Mayumi and Katsumi have the previews on Chloe’s fan page, there are production stills, interviews with the cast and the director, Harry Childers, of course Chloe. A premiere of an indie flick is not usually the red carpet chaos of a major motion picture. It’s not like we have Leo or Tom in starring roles, not even Angela or Gwyneth. It is, however, Chloe’s first starring role and she’s a name brand of sorts. Since it’s an action flick, the best we could do is PG-13, Amaya’s book would have been R, but we want Chloe’s fans to buy tickets for our film, not tickets to an animated Pixar thing then sneak into Ultra Violet.
Angelo drives Amaya and Chloe in one of our Escalades, a limo seems over the top. The rest of the family hangs with the crowd until time to go inside. The crowd is not small. Must be five hundred girls, and half again as many teenage boys, parents, and dozens of Amaya’s fans. Chloe and Amaya are fashionably elegant, not loaded with jewelry or designer gowns, cameras are everywhere. Girls screech, Chloe dives into the crowd for photos.
A reporter with something or other is interviewing Amaya on camera, “Amaya, congratulations on your success, a string of novels from the Chris Fischer series, then new directions on your own. Ultra Violet was a bestseller, any expectations for the movie?”
Amaya, “We hope people enjoy it. Mr. Childers is a pleasure to work with, and the screenwriters did a marvelous job of sticking to the novel.”
“On a personal note, you and Chloe Sylk are known to be companions, but I researched, it appears you have never come out formally. Is that intentional?”
Amaya smiles, “We never came out because we were never went in. This is not nineteen ninety, certainly not nineteen seventy. I applaud and honor the pioneers who declared their sexual preferences when it was something society frowned on or belittled. In the second decade of the twenty first century, anyone who fails to grasp that people have varied and perfectly legitimate sexual preferences is never going to get it, no matter who comes out, or how many come out. I have lesbians, gays, transgenders and straights all though my work. Some are bad guys, some are good, most fluctuate in between just like all of us. I try to steer away from stereotype, straight men are not all Neanderthals, gay men are not all hairdressers, lesbians are not all dykes. There is no creativity in that, just pandering to preconceptions. I do not pander. Love to stay and chat, but we need to get inside, thank you for taking time.”
The reporter turns to the camera, “You may love or ignore Amaya’s work, but you have to admit, she shoots straight. Let’s talk to some of the fans…” she moves over to the crowd and collects comments, we go in the theatre.
Two hours later, we emerge to more screaming. I have no idea how the flick will be reviewed, but I was magnificently entertained. Chloe’s zingers zinged, the dialogue was top of the noir, action believable, I cared about characters, liked or despised them. All the stuff I want in a movie.
It takes another hour for Chloe to get away, it’s not a bother to her, it’s a joy. She’s like an adolescent girl at a giant sleepover. The rest of the family goes home, our immediate family spreads out to keep an eye on the crowd. Fortunately, it’s mostly a party, we don’t pick up any nasty vibe. Finally, Chloe and Amaya climb in the car, wave to the kids as Angelo pulls off.
We have cocktails and wine, chat about the movie, the fans. Chloe worries that she might have disappointed a few, but she couldn’t possibly take pictures with all of them.
Amaya, “I need sleep, my hand aches, I must have signed a million copies of the book.”
Chloe, “I thought it nice that people hauled the thing down there on the off chance they might snag a signature.”
Amaya, “Yes, of course. But it is no fun if I cannot dramatize a bit. Actually, everyone was polite and complimentary. My jaw hurts from smiling so much. Wonder what the news will make of my not coming out comment?”
“We’ll find out soon enough, I’m pooped, and I’m only famous by association, you guys must be exhausted.”
Chloe yawns, “Come Amaya, let’s rest. We had our fifteen minutes, tomorrow we can go back to what passes for normal.”
This morning, nice reviews, “Chloe Sylk has obviously handled a sword, the young actress who played Ms. Sylk as a child, Amanda Preston, may find herself in expanded roles in the near future. She was expressive, intense, engagingly carried off the part of a world wise child orphaned young, one felt her pain and applauded her adaptability. The flick is great fun, savvy and intelligent.”
They were generous, appreciative of what didn’t happen, no absurd chase sequences, no zillion automatic weapons, no buildings blowing up or the other manufactured substitutes for dialogue and believable action.
The Times, which we didn’t know was there, said, “A long overdue cerebral approach to action, what noir used to be before it meant only tough talk and explosions. It isn’t winning any Oscars, but it should. Ms. Sylk is, unfortunately, not one of Hollywood’s stars, not yet anyway. It reminded me of the Mel Gibson film Payback, with plot twists, a steady bulldog persistence of the lead character. And, finally, a movie where the girl saves the guy instead of cringing in the corner and screeching. I discovered that Ms. Sylk actually does know how to handle a katana, she is a 6th dan in kendo, well past novice or intermediate. If you run into her with her sword, play nice, it’s not just a prop.”
And so it went, the phone rings, Chloe finally has to turn it off, the messages stack up.
I’m following her fan page, comments are coming in blip, blip, blip, most if it the usual, ‘love u Chloe,’ things, some whack job trolls, ‘I’ll take my gun over that pussy sword,’ I’m deleting the more sordid stuff. It’s not that much, but at the current rate of posts, it’s hard to snag them. Finally, I don’t allow comments to be posted until we have a chance to sort through them. The page is far and away preteens and adolescents having fun, no reason to spoil that with trash talk.
I call Mayumi, “I’ve shut down comments for a couple of hours.”
Mayumi, “Yes, we saw. Katsumi and I are threading through the stored ones and getting rid of the crap, we will allow the ones we’ve checked to go up in a few minutes.”
“Okay, I’ll stay out of it if you have time to deal. Let me know if you have other things to do, I’ll pick it back up.”
We click off. They are being compensated for handling the site, I don’t mind handing the job over, Nikko will bonus them for the extra time. Since the film doesn’t go nationwide for two weeks, there may be another wave of posts then.
Amaya, “Childers called, all the showings were sellouts in LA. He said he is dancing in the streets. Wants me to crank out the sequel double time. I had to deflate him a bit after thanking him.”
“What’d you say?”
Amaya, “That plots and dialogue are not in a word processor for me to just copy and paste. I work hard to think up clever lines, plots that are interesting, informative and entertaining, characters people can despise, love or a bit of both. He understands. He does not want a second rate novel that a screenwriter has to overhaul, it reflects poorly on him to put out a sequel just to capture a quick payday. A bad sequel means the end. If we do this right, I can get perhaps three more books out of it.”
“What about HBO, one of the cable outlets? Turn it into a series?”
Amaya, “I thought about it, but it starts to turn into work with deadlines. New story, compacted to an hour, or a continuing story in forty four minute bites, where new characters have to be created to replace worn out or killed off ones. Maybe something will occur, but I tend to think in terms of a novel, set the stage, introduce the characters, track the mystery, let it twist and turn, then wrap it up. I left this book such that it could be the end, or that Chloe’s character could find herself in another adventure. I have unformed ideas about the sequel, but it will be a year or more before it’s a novel at the pace I write.”
Amaya will crank out the work in her own time. I’ve seen the hours she spends, she writes, rewrites, creates characters only to remove them, tries out three or four accents, the same bad guy might be American, then Russian, then Hispanic. It’s not just sit, type, save, done. Maybe James Patterson can do it, Amaya doesn’t want to.
Chapter Fifty Nine
Whew! What a life. Nikko decides to put the Down Home Diner in a property we already own, which makes the other tenants happy. Dasha and I are in Brooklyn every day for a month training cooks. The counter staff is local, not former inmates, the cooks are four men and one woman, as down home as they come, Hispanic or black. They love it, get to eat their own cooking, the woman, Matilda Mosley, is a natural. Everybody’s name is ‘baby,’ and she can fry a mean chicken. We started with just sandwiches, but when Matilda cranked out fried chicken one day, it had to find a place on the menu. She’s a middle age Ms. Alva, except Ms. Alva was maybe ninety pounds, Matilda is more like two twenty, and I’m probably being kind.
The kitchen is full of laughter, it spills out to the restaurant, customers jive though the pass through or trade jokes with the counter crew. The place is part traditional diner, a counter, kitchen behind that, on the other side long communal tables, sit where there’s a seat.
Breakfast turns out to be a hit, served all day, the place closes at three. Since pancakes and waffles are a staple, Matilda stole an idea from an Atlanta place, lunch offers fried chicken and waffles and it sells like crazy.
Dasha takes the idea to Ultra Violet as a dinner item, same result. She also added fried cauliflower, broccoli, and mushrooms as appetizers, hot and crispy, a sprinkling of parmesan, five bucks. Cooks can barely keep up. She adds banana pudding to the desert menu, brings a sample to Matilda, now it’s Down Home’s best selling desert. We serve it warm, lots of banana slices, a fluffy meringue browned on top. Customers frequently order seconds.
Now that the place is buzzing, we take a break. Dasha and I ride over every couple of weeks to eat, Daria matches inventory and receipts from the computer. Mini generally rides with us, his presence reminds the guys that there will be no skim, no inventory slips out the back door. They have no real reason to screw around, aside from our minimal franchise fee and the favorable rent, the profit is theirs. Only be stealing from themselves.
Nikko, “I have requests for places in the Bronx and Queens. Zi and I talked it over. I don’t mind fronting the money, but we can’t have Daria and Dasha running around two more boroughs. I told Mini that if the current place was willing, they could train the cooks there, then we’d build out the diners under the same franchise and rent structure. I’m not worried about competitors, They don’t have the luxury of our cash. There is no way to borrow money, lease the equipment, build out, pay standard lease rates and sell food at our prices. They can try, but I’ve run the numbers, it won’t work.
Assuming the family is agreeable, I’ll give the go ahead to build one place at a time. Down Home Brooklyn gets an allowance for training, they don’t do it free. We control the leases and the brand, Dasha and Daria control food quality, inventory and cash flow. I’m assuming Eloise and Susan can expand the current system to other places.”
Janah, “Dasha, Daria, what do you want to do? The build out is simple, we have the design, there’s no extra work for Amaya. You will be taking on extra initially, but, as I understand it, the current place is under control, we are happy with the consistency and quality, there are no accounting or inventory problems.”
Daria, “Our system does not allow for cheating. We order, they scan all deliveries into computer, it must match invoice. Register receipts have sometimes human error, but small, of no consequence. Ninety nine percent of credit card and cash matches with checks. We pay invoices, not staff. Most of difference is incidental expense, run out of eggs, have to go to grocery, like that. It happens, no big deal.”
Nikko, “Okay. I’ll explore options on property. I know what we can do in the Bronx; Queens, I have to look into. It won’t be a problem, we manage property all over Queens, one of our clients may want to lease space. If we can’t get a favorable rate, I’ll buy something.”
And that’s how we sidewised into the restaurant business. A semi-franchise. They have zero cost going in, get a paycheck, benefits, split the profit after fees and the lease. We don’t make much, but we own the property. No complaints on either side.
Janah, Nikko and I are having a conversation over coffee and Doughnut Plant donuts in Washington Square Park.
Janah, “Everything we touch turns to gold. The money stacks up faster than we can find productive things to do with it. It’s not my money, I can’t make a top down decision, but what do we do? Nishiko can buy more property, but what’s the point? Same is true of letting it stack up on bonds or stocks. Shouldn’t we find a way to channel it to more than that?”
“Well, I don’t want any Harry Winston, or Versace. Amaya talks a big show, but neither does she. Not to mention, she and Chloe have their own funds and they don’t buy that stuff now.”
Nikko, “What do you suggest?”
Janah, “I didn’t bring it up to suggest. Just to start addressing the problem. Our family has enough for generations and we’re all lesbians, it’s not like we’re creating future generations, we don’t want to make babies. There are enough babies out there that need parents now.”
Nikko, “Then you have answered your own question. We provide a safe, loving environment for kids caught in the foster home, social services net.”
Janah, “How would it work? We can’t personally raise all the kids we could support with our money. We’re not Gates either, we can’t dole out cash to African countries for malaria or educational programs. I think something more tangible, that produces results closer to home. What would that look like?”
“Build more schools, free, boarding, not a restrictive fill in the bubble test school, ones that provide a mix of necessary base skills and real life experience, like our ranches, but not just for abused kids.”
Nikko, “Kids from the city in a place with more outdoors, and the reverse, kids who have lots of ranch and farm exposure, but not city experience. We can have a core educational program, but a mixed social one.”
Janah, “I like it. Let me talk to David and Lacy, see what it might look like. We don’t have to start big time, we can beta test. Let it grow or die from there.”
Janah calls the Mayor, he contacts the Administration for Children’s Services and we have a meeting.
There are temporary foster kids, parents homeless, single mother in the hospital, kids who could be adopted, but are older than most adoptive parents want. People want a baby, not a ten, twelve or fifteen year old.
Janah lays out our offer, free everything. Full time year round boarding, free education, offer standard junior high and high school education along with courses in vocational skills for kids less inclined to college.
The Children’s Services Director can scarcely believe it.
“You mean to say you will apply for accreditation, house, feed, provide free medical care and educate children through high school?”
Janah, “Yes, the Mayor is already familiar with our free schools on Brooklyn and the Bronx. They’ve been running successfully for several years now.”
Mayor, “Director, these women have taken poor kids, done exactly what they are proposing for some of the kids in Children’s Services. I’ve visited the schools several times, talked to the kids and their parents. They think the Sylk Trust walks on water. I suggest you go to the schools yourself, ask all the questions you want, sit in class, talk to parents. Then let me know what you think.”
Director, “How many children are we talking about?”
Janah, “We prefer around fifteen to a class, if we start at seventh grade, that’s ninety kids. It doesn’t have to be rigid, it could be sixteen to eighteen, no more though.”
Director, “How do you handle boarding?”
Janah, “Girls’ dorm, boys’ dorm, female house parents for girls, male for boys. The cafeteria is a common area. The schools have security officers, no weapons, but they are all trained professionals, not rent a cops. Female security in the girls dorm, male in the male. Cameras all over the place excepting the obvious, bathrooms, dorm rooms. Two kids to a room, common showers and lavatories. We do that a bit differently, our bathrooms are spacious, we have water closets in each. Each shower is separate, not an open floor with a bunch of showerheads. Students are required to change their linen at least every four days, they can do it more often if they wish. They work in the kitchen, do their own laundry, vacuum their space and the hallways. We have an outside cleaning crew every week that sanitizes everything. Students who are ill are relocated to the onsite clinic until they are well. Nurse on the premises, doctors on call twenty four seven.”
Director, “Sheesh, can I go to school there?”
We arrange for her to meet David and the administrators of our schools, she can decide for herself which parents she wants to meet, which kids to interview. We don’t want her thinking we set up all the top kids, or the most favorable parents.
When she leaves, the Mayor says, “I can’t tell you how much this helps, we have sorely strained resources. I’m sure Child Services will want to have a regular review, they are responsible for these kids, but it shouldn’t interfere much with your routines.”
Janah, “They can handle it anyway they like. We’ll assign a liaison for them, send regular reports, they are welcome to visit on any basis they wish, don’t even make an appointment. Surprise visits don’t bother us any, we want everyone comfortable with it.”
Mayor, “Janah, Daphne, Nikko, there is no way thanks covers it. Those greedy bastards on Wall St. could fund projects like this and not miss a paycheck or a fat bonus, it would also never occur to them. Too busy being self important donating to museums or universities that don’t need the money in the first place.”
We stand, “It needs doing, we can’t take on ten schools, or even five, but we can do one, see how it goes, get the agencies satisfied. Over time, we’ll see what we can do about expansion if it’s successful. Our current school get substantial donations, we avoid grants, too much paper and hoop jumping for too little money.”
On that, we go down to our waiting car and scoot the short distance across town to the apartment.
Amaya, “Are we expanding our educational work?”
“There are the necessary bureaucratic hurdles, but the Mayor is on board, and the Director of Child Services was enthusiastic enough. Probably take a few months while everyone even remotely involved has a chance to stick their finger in the pie. Nothing to do but wait.”
Amaya, “We open nationwide Friday, advance ticket sales are good, we will make money, just don’t know how much. Chloe is doing two network morning shows this week.”
Amaya, “Yes, she will be her adorable self and everyone will fall in love with her. I know, because I have been coaching her.”
Dasha, “All day, she make Vesnushki answer question, smile, look at host, make a joke. Eemaya drive crazy.”
Amaya, “Look socialist insurgent, Chloe is my creation, and my creations are perfect. The only skills she brought to the job are violet eyes, freckles and an irrepressibly charming personality. If not for me, she would be an irrepressibly charming homeless person.”
Chloe giggles, “You have me doing television and you refuse to even go to a book signing.”
Amaya, “I have to sign enough of the things when you have a premiere, not to mention the ones at the Epstein Library. I thought it was going to be bespectacled professors of arcane subjects and old books. How word got out about me is a mystery. Now we have a whole sideline peddling current first editions signed by the author.”
Dasha, “Daria decide to put section for selling, not just reading. She thought up idea to haf signed first edition, now many famous author send signed copy. We sell at twice retail price, demand gud. Library ees full all day.”
Nikko, “We need the library quiet for scholars. Let’s carve off a section for sales to the public, keep them out of the library part.”
Daria, “Good idea. Take a step further. We can take orders online, ship signed first edition anyplace. Local persons can stop by without appointment, but not for library, bookstore only.”
Nikko, “Where do we put it? It’s not like we can buy up more space?”
Daria, “We saved one bedroom for sleeping. I don’t use much. Convert to store.”
Nikko, “I’ll get our lawyers to approach the board. I don’t want to keep doing it without them knowing there is a retail shop there. I doubt they care, our entrance and elevator doesn’t impact the building in any way and we don’t advertise it.”
Janah, “Try a bribe. Give each owner a copy of signed firsts. There are twenty condos, it isn’t a big deal to us, but it would be offering them something of value to them for next to nothing for us.”
Nikko, “Good idea. I’ll call Walker and see what they can do.”
And that’s how we became a specialty online bookstore. Amaya’s reputation made it easy to get other popular authors to sign copies. The books have to be hardcover, genre doesn’t matter, could be fiction or nonfiction, first editions only. We have the advantage of taking orders before any books get signed, only a few on hand to satisfy our live traffic. We charge a small fee for shipping and handling, the author gets the markup. They’re delighted, the customers love it, and the condo owners like having a steady flow of ‘presents’, signed first editions of popular work.