It takes a certain kind of superpower to run one of Cambridge's most popular new restaurants, train a puppy, and still spend a few hours a night testing out new recipes at home—but Tracy Chang does it, and she does it without caffeine. You might get winded just reading about a typical workday in her shoes, and that's okay, because we did, too. Maybe break for some breathers while reading this one and swing by PAGU for some fuel—ramen, anyone?
I usually get up around 7, but sometimes it’s a little earlier than that because I recently got a puppy. She’s a black pug, because I’ve always had black pugs (Pagu is actually Japanese for pug).
So yeah, at 7-ish, I usually take care of her immediately—she’s potty training, so that means taking her down seven flights before she has an accident. This is all actually very new to me because I’ve always raised my dogs in the suburbs where I used to be able to just open the door and let them go outside, but now there are stairs to go down. By the time I get back upstairs it’s 7:20 or 7:30, which is when I jump into my routine. I like to wake up and see if I have any immediate messages on my phone, and if there aren’t, I’ll try not to read email just yet. Instead, I’ll spend some time centering myself for the day—my boyfriend and I will do some acro yoga or meditate to stretch out for the day. While doing that stuff, I’m usually thinking about all kinds of things. When I was a kid I used to think about what I was going to wear in the mornings, but now I pretty much wear all black all the time, so I don’t worry about that anymore. I think about the meetings I have or the kind of homework I owe people, like emails, marketing materials, or new dishes.
After yoga, I’ll make some non-caffeinated drink—usually hot buckwheat tea. I already have a lot of energy, so if I had caffeine I’d probably be shaking. At this point I’ll turn on my computer and check some email, do any kind of scheduling, set up meetings for the week, and check some local restaurant news or press coverage.
Just before 9, I’ll be on social media for about half an hour. I’ll look through any interactions or mentions we’ve gotten and I’ll respond to those personally. I’ll also check on the weather or what people are in the mood for so I can come up with a social media post. I just started working with someone else on our social strategy, but I’ve really been the one running it since we opened.
We’ll do events coordination and planning to make sure managers have everything on their calendars. We have a long laundry list of to-dos for events, so this time is usually me making sure the menu is finalized and we’re all good to go on Facebook and Eventbrite for tickets.
I usually check in to the restaurant around 10. I’ll check in with my managers and with my front of house and back of house teams to see what’s up today or if they need help. Then, I jump into different meetings. That could be an interview, it could be checking in with managers to evaluate staff, really all kinds of things.
Around 11 or 11:30, I like to check in about how breakfast went. I’ll check in with cafe managers or talk about menu changes. Usually if we’re introducing a new menu item, we’ll have a soft launch and a hard launch. A new item could be a special for a couple of weeks (or at least three days), and we also rely a lot on feedback from our regulars when it comes to testing out new dishes. We have really wonderful regulars who come like three times a week, and we think they know what this neighborhood and community wants. We want our menu to feel really participatory.
We don’t close between breakfast and lunch—once we open the doors at 8 AM, we don’t close until 11 PM. 11:30 is when we start serving lunch. At this point, I check with the host stand, our push is 12 to 1, which is a lot of business lunch. We’re looking at notes, making sure we’re aware of big parties. I also pay attention to dinner reservations around this time. I like to communicate with the host to make sure they’re on top of those reservations since the host is really the first and last person people see.
I’m usually checking in with folks on the floor and regulars. I’ll also check in with the bar for their prep for the day. I’ll also circle back on some emails, so I’ll do three or four different things at once.
We usually have a management meeting depending on the day. If it’s Wednesday or Thursday, I’ll have a BOH and FOH meeting. Otherwise, I’m usually meeting with someone outside the restaurant—it could be an interview, a potential collaboration, or someone checking out the site for a corporate event or a wedding. But 2 to 3 and 3 to 4 is really meeting time for me.
We do family meal at 4 and then pre-service at 4:30. I usually snack throughout the day, so I don’t really eat at this time, but most everyone else does. Back of house is pretty quick, just going through any allergies or celebrations. FOH pre-service is usually much longer, it could be teaching about champagne or some wine, for example. I usually talk about our menu because a lot of items we do have deep-rooted stories for me. Like Guchi’s Midnight Ramen—I’ll explain who Guchi is, why it’s midnight ramen, that kind of thing.
Around 5, service starts. It’s usually pretty quiet this early on, and I’ll go say hey to bar regulars, a lot of after-work people who are just grabbing a drink and hanging out. I’ll also check in with the managers who are running the evening service.
6 to 9 PM
From 6 to 9, I’m usually in service. For the first six months of the year, that meant a lot of kitchen time. I was on the line, it was all back of house. For the past six months, I’ve been in the front of the house, pulling wines for servers, opening bottles, and meeting guests. It’s been really cool to talk with people and learn about how they heard about us.
I usually wind down around 9:30 or 10. If there are events, I’m here until the event is done, or if there’s a fire, I’ll stick around to help put that out. That said, the latter doesn’t happen all that often because our team has now been together for quite some time. The fires are pretty rare nowadays.
In the restaurant, I try to make myself as useful as possible while also making myself the least important person in the room, if that makes sense. I just feel that everyone should be able to function without me. My philosophy is basically that if I’ve taught you how to do your job or I’ve found someone who has been able to teach you how to do your job, you don’t need me to hold your hand and hang around watching you. People will still grab me for one-off questions about allergies or wine, and that’s great. I’m the extra and of course, I love to pitch in.
I used to do a lot of closings, but now we have some other people I can rely on to do that. I’m usually out by 10 PM.
When I get home, I’ll go take my dog out and I’ll R&D something. This is actually something pretty peculiar about me, I think. Whenever you talk to chefs they’re like, “Oh, I have like maybe Coca-Cola or some champagne, maybe some cheese in my fridge, that’s it”. I usually have some kind of project going on—like, I’m frequently marinating something. I’ve always needed that creative time. That’s how I was when I worked at O Ya and when I worked abroad. I’ve always needed to take home some inspiration and channel that into my work while it’s still fresh. I have a really crazy amount of energy, I’m told, so I guess I use it to work on this kind of thing. Some of my best ideas have come from this process, and this 10 PM to 12 AM stretch is really good for me.
Whenever we create something new, we really talk about what we’re nostalgic and passionate about. Another cool thing about our kitchen and how we create menu items is that we use everything. For example, we serve a lot of seafood, but instead of throwing away the bones, we make this amazing seafood stock. We take bones from our jamón and we make stock from that, too. It goes in paella tacos, and it is incredible. That’s the kind of R&D stuff I’ll play with at home that just really excites me.
By 12 or 1, I’m either really jazzed about something I’ve been working on at home, or I’m passed out with my pug on me.
—As told to and written by Oset Babur for The Thirty-One Percent