It’s 8 o’clock pm and Ozana is waiting for me in her restaurant, 25th)Downtown Flavors to talk about what it means to open a bistro with “fine dining food, from which you can actually fill your belly”, a restaurant that she opened at only 25 years old. I don’t know if it was her warm energy, the light and atmosphere from the inside, the wood and the vintage colors, which made me feel like in a classical designed home but very modern at the same time, sophisticated, but not at all intimidating for my winter boots.
“You need to sleep and shut up”, the doctor said to her as a treatment to overcome the tiredness accumulated in the last year, 18 January being the day when everything began, the day in which she signed for the renting contract for the space. But this are the only two things that she cannot do, because she loves the restaurant, it’s her heart project and now she does everything she can to be there, to be present every night.
The client wants to be spoiled, precisely because nowadays he has plenty of options to choose from; if he comes just one time when all that could possibly go wrong, actually goes wrong, maybe some ingredient is finished, or that chef had a bad day in the kitchen, he will never come back, that’s for sure. And so it is very important for me to be here, to anticipate the problems and fix as much as I can, to say: Ok, don’t do anything, I’ll run quickly and buy what is missing, or put them at the bar and I will bring a table from the backyard, I will bring the extra chair. There is always something: and now, I ordered 6 chairs from Ikea and chairs for children. But only by being here I can tell what needs to be improved.
The recipe for opening a restaurant, after Ozana’s formula
You fill in with joy by helping people to enjoy themselves
“Ozi is born to keep a good house”, a common friend used to tell me when talking about the bistro manager and it become even more clear to her during the evening when the two of them cooked homemade burgers for their friends, but Ozana behaved like it was an official dinner: everything had to be in place, even the napkins had to be perfectly arranged on the table. “Are you a perfectionist?” I asked Ozana. “Only regarding the things that are really important for me. I can’t say I am a perfectionist: look, it’s been ages since I try to lose some weight.” Even though she studied at the Law school she never wanted to become a lawyer, because in that field ”somebody will get hurt, no matter what you do, one side will lose. And I like to make people happy.”
You use your lessons learned at home, from your family business, but you trust your own vision and your capability of doing things in a different manner
Ozana’s family is well known in Bistrita due to their two restaurants that they own and the weeding chambers, which are booked every weekend:
“Due to the fact that we have the restaurant in Bistrita I have always been curious about what was happening in this field. My parents were busy most of the time, so I was spending my time at the restaurant, in their office, observing how they were running the business. In the meantime, I started to travel and everywhere I went I was curious to see how a certain restaurant is managed, how is the food, or the design, or the specific things for that Horeca business and when I started my own restaurant I already had the foundation, the basic knowledge.”
However, there were some challenges and one of the biggest was to convince her father to agree on working with an interior designer for her bistro in Cluj-Napoca and to invest in everything that means image, atmosphere, quality furniture and materials, because in Bistrita, everything was made how her father thought it was best, using his constructor and businessman mindset and knowledge: “When I saw the two of them at the inauguration party, drinking a glass of wine like to old pals, I was the happiest”
You surrender completely to the imagination and expertise of one of the best interior designers for restaurants in Cluj-Napoca, but you make him to get so involved, that he actually exceeds his “job description” responsibilities, and passes from paper into the field, calling from “Central” store to tell you that he can’t find proper belts to tie the pendants.
The designer was Gosho Stefanov, the artist who worked for places like: Nuka Bistro, Toulouse, Wonderful Time, Muura Steak House, or Noa Club, to name a few:
- I suppose it was an easy choice.
- His portfolio was more convincing than what I saw at the other designers and I also saw, right from the begging, that I can work with him. Gosho was involved to the fullest, he was here every day and he explained to me every detail, how he imagines that it would be done and I had to take care that the design would become reality.
- So the design was completely his?
- Yes, it was his ideas that we work with. Practically, the place had as an inspiration the sixties in America, the colours that were used then like blue, white or wood. If you two, three episodes from Mad Man you can see the design of that time. Anyway, I wanted to have something that you can’t find elsewhere in Cluj. This was my role: to be that little devil from Gosho’s shoulder and tell him that this idea I already saw it somewhere else, this chair it’s used in that place, this one too, we need to change this, that.
You let your dad do the job when the Italians want to charge you extra.
- The materials are of very high quality, aren’t day? I saw that you have marble in the bathroom.
- Yes, it’s true. And this black thing from the bar, which is a mix of stone and some sort of Japanese plastic, we struggle with it, it was hard to handle, it broke and we had to buy another piece of it. These pipes were Gosho’s idea, but we couldn’t make them exactly like he wanted to. We made them ourselves, here; my dad bought them, painted them and put them together.
- We had no other option, because nobody wanted to do it, this being something that they never saw or did before. Only some Italians agreed, but they made us an offer, which let us stunned. I said I will not pay 5000 euro for a lamp. It was the same with this cabinet. Gosho designed it and my father made it.
- Gosho was satisfied with how the design came to life?
- Yes, he was thrilled. He even made us little surprises. For example, this hanging pendants… it was his idea to tie them with this belts and we went to search the right belts. All this bottles that you see here, we personally stick them just to be sure that they will look good. I really think that this project got to his soul.
You only serve good food, with homemade pasta, after the Italian recipe and quality meat, of animals raised on organic farms, like Black Angus beef.
“Regarding the chefs, I can say I was very lucky. There is a head chef and a total of 8 employees in the kitchen. I met them in the summer and they came at several of our weddings from Bistrita, I saw how they work and I also went several times to eat at the restaurant where they were working, so I had plenty of occasions to study them and to take the decision.”
- How did you choose the menu? I imagine something like Masterchef, with all kinds of plating and delicious food being served to you.
- I hit a point in which I had two head chef and it was something like you described: one of them was suggesting one kind of meal, the other one another kind, one of them study in Italy and you could tell by his meal proposals and so on. The thing is that you can’t be so relaxed in those moments and “enjoy the show”. I was pretty stressed out because I was thinking all the time: will the customers like it? Is this really good? Will anyone else besides me enjoy this? But we tested the food on how many people we could, regardless he was a waiter, chef, relatives, friends or workmen. We have a diverse menu, ranging from burgers, to appetizers, pasta, sea food.
- What’s your favorite dish?
- We grew up in Bistrita with a certain conception about what means a great Steak Tartar and I couldn’t find a good one nowhere in Cluj. And here, at 25)DowntownFlavours we make it after our own special recipe, like we do it in Bistrita. It’s an exquisite dish if you make it well. And the, there is the pork tenderloin with grilled potatoes, which is the favorite of many of our customers, or the plate with sea food is really good. Anyway, we wish to keep a dynamic menu. We had a fast menu before Christmas, a winter menu, and now we’re preparing our spring menu. Also, we want to change the principal/base menu once a year because I don’t want that people who come here often to get bored with the food we’re serving.
You chose your staff carefully and you have the patience to see them grow and work together as a real team
“The employees must be active, always present and I also need to be between them, to see how they interact with the clients, to see h they work under pressure, or how the meals are.”
- Do you think they are afraid of you, a little bit?
- – No, I don’t think so. I am here all day and I can joke with them, I can be a little playful, because I see the pressure they are facing every day, I can see how tiring it can get. I am lucky to have them.
“Our client, our master” it’s not just a dictum.
Ozana is always paying attention at customers needs and their reactions during the time spent in the bistro. The waiters must ask if everything went well, if they enjoyed the atmosphere, the food. Also, when they ask for the check, they also receive a form to give a feedback, if they eant to.
“We changed the music several times: at the begging it was too commercial, than too loud, or “too” house. Now it’s lounge-jazz. We also changed a lot of recipes; the burger had many sauces and now it only has one, for example. But we are open to suggestions and improvements. ”