Two weeks down, and still smiling…

I do apologise for the rather slim postings of late.  Once we get used to having a cafe to run, no doubt we will be able to return to normal service!

This week, we have been steadily increasing the time we could spend on maintenance jobs whilst letting Jane have full run of the kitchen and restaurant. Highlights have been a few busy days; meeting more very interesting people; and having a surprise visit from our eldest daughter en route to Scotland.

The entrance lobby, now complete with coir matting to complete the look
The entrance lobby, now complete with coir matting to complete the look

Mike has now finished re-glazing the front door – so its time for me to get out my paint brushes again.  I have moved some brick shelves out of an outhouse; moved wood from the bin store into said outhouse; moved bins into the bin store (how radical are we!?!) and then spent the afternoon gardening – totally blissful.

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would never have expected to be posting a picture of bins!
If you had asked me a few months ago, I would never have expected to be posting a picture of bins tidily parked in a bin shed!

I have also been playing around with the accounts, since today is the end of our financial year.  We have visited a local garden centre and purchased the necessary to turn our summer planters into winter highlights just as soon as the frost gets at the pelargoniums.


Bedding plants, ready to go into the planters
Bedding plants, ready to go into the planters

But the most important thing this week – I have had my first Welsh lesson!  I now know just how badly I have been pronouncing the letters of the alphabet and many of the local place names.   I also now know how to ask “Sut dach chi heno?” and hope to find out how you are this evening….  Or I could say “Dw i’n dysgu Cymraeg” so that everyone knows I am just beginning in the language – perhaps we could set up a coffee morning for local welsh-learners to come along and have a good old natter?

This weekend’s task, along with completing the year end stock check, is to create the spreadsheet of tasks necessary between now and opening our first accommodation next year.  This is likely to create tension between Mike and I, since I like to organise, and Mike not so much – he is more a seat-of-the-pants sort of chap.  I hope the passage will be smooth, especially as it will be our wedding anniversary on Monday, and we plan to go out for dinner so I am hoping we have at least a little to say to each other.

Phase one of mission accomplished, and still exhausted!

Our cafe / restaurant has now been open for 8 whole days.  I am pleased to report that our systems are settling in, and customers are beginning to arrive.  Over the last few days, we have met some fascinating people, many of whom have shared with us reminiscences of the times they worked at Plas, or dined here, had Christmas parties here and/or honeymooned here.  Jane’s cooking is being very well received (especially her special order for cheese straws), and Mike’s cooked breakfasts appear to be hitting the spot.  As ever, I am gently bustling around, paddling below the surface in order that we present the illusion (I hope!) of a serene operation and well planned activity.

Highlights this week have been:

  • increasing traffic on our Facebook/penaeldroch site.  I am struggling to learn this new method of communication, but will persevere!
  • a surprise visit from Jeannine and Lucy, friends from Newmarket.  When we last saw Lucy (22 years ago), as she reminded us, she was a big fan of Count Duckula videos and we had only 3 children….
How the years have flown... Jeannine and Lucy with Jess and Carrie, and a rather disinterested Jasper
Jeannine and Lucy with Jess and Carrie, and a rather disinterested Jasper
  • We were delighted to receive a wonderful bouquet of flowers from our Dutch friends, the Bommeljes, along with a bottle of fizz to help us celebrate.  It reminded us of four much loved people (our and their parents) who used to be the bond between us, and my hope that they would all have approved of what we are all now doing.

We have finally managed to get to the top of our new dentist’s waiting list, and managed to have a check up, which was a great relief for Mike who needed a little remedial work following our 9 month wait.  We have both had a day off (sequentially, naturally – I suspect it might be a while before we can have a day off together), but we are delighted that having put up some signs, folk are beginning to find the restaurant.  I also visited Dolwyddelan’s Macmillan coffee morning and had the pleasure of meeting a few more near neighbours.  And we had our first visits from both motor cyclists and pedal cyclists today, so obviously our new promotional flyers are beginning to help spread the word.

On the work front, Mike has fitted a closer onto the front door and re-glazed 3/ 4 of its panels.  We have been visited by our architectural designer with a structural engineer and hope to have detailed plans for the new stairway very soon, and for our next phase of work shortly thereafter.  Mel has been in to continue her work starting the eradication of Japanese knotweed and Rhododendron ponticum on the site.  We are aware this is the start of a long process, but at least we have started….  And I have been trying to bring order to our financial records, as our financial year end falls next weekend.

As I was driving between Pont y Pant and Blaenau Ffestiniog earlier today, I noticed that the foliage colours are beginning to change.  The stunning forest in which we live is just beginning to cloth itself for the autumn and I will try to take some snaps next week to share this glory scenery with you.


So now we are open – but what then?

So, true to our word, we opened on Friday last, having taken action based on some of the very useful feedback on Thursday.  Now three days into the new regime, we can report that business is slow but steady.  We have been thrilled at how many locals have taken the time and trouble to drop in and wish us well with the new venture.

Our first paying customers:

What lovely people we can see!
What lovely people we are having the pleasure of serving!


For the next week, we will be focusing on sorting out the advertising for this new venture, as well as doing some of the essential domestic chores that we have shirked recently.  Mike and I are both going to have a whole day off – each – I know!  How radical is that!  And then, by mid week, we plan to have a Board meeting (or perhaps a quick coffee break, maybe with one or two of Jane’s cakes) to decide in what order to approach the next steps.  Will we start by tackling the major roof leak over the old kitchen?  Or by repairing and repainting the external walls near the entrance along with the front door?  Or to insulate the new hot water tank?  Or start the refurbishment of the toilets?  Oh, decisions, decisions….

It’s been a long pregnancy (9 months plus 3 days)…

….but finally, today, we delivered our pre-opening trial day and it went well- as far as we could tell.  Under the circumstances, I won’t bore you with details of jobs undertaken since I last blogged but rather focus on us having got to the end of the first stage of our many stage refurbishment programme.

We had contacted a few friends who had helped us prepare to launch the business since we arrived last December, and invited them to come along today to test our systems.

Was that a latte or a cappuccino I am supposed to be making?
Was that a latte or a cappuccino I am supposed to be making?

I started the day as a total rookie on the coffee machine, but ended up feeling rather more as I imagine a barista should.  Jane did sterling work in the kitchen, providing various flavours of scones along with soup, bacon baps, and a Victoria sponge to complement her range of millionaire shortcake and flapjacks delicacies.

Mike drew the short straw and was banished to clean the long corridor after he had cleaned away all his tools from outside the restaurant.  He turned the tables somewhat by spending much of the day chatting with visitors, but then more than earned his keep through liaising with BT to ensure the new WiFi hub in the restaurant worked.

The weather was certainly with us this afternoon, along with the horses and some riders:

We had some walkers who dropped by to fill water bottles, but got more than they expected...
We had some walkers who dropped by to fill water bottles, but got more than they expected…


or is the view better this way?
or is the view better this way?


Another view of the restaurant
Another view of the restaurant

We asked each guest to complete a feedback form, and are delighted that much of the feedback is as we might have expected and thus can relatively readily be addressed before opening for real.  And so we have decided: we will take tomorrow to address much of the feedback and then

OPEN ON FRIDAY 16th September!

Shaun has volunteered to update the Facebook whilst I update the blog, so a special credit:

Paul and Shaun enjoying a late lunch of Jane's carrot and lentil soup with cheese scone
Paul and Shaun enjoying a late lunch of Jane’s carrot and lentil soup with cheese scone

but our heartfelt thanks to all who helped today.

The menu for the next week is likely to include: Brodies Teas and Coffees; sandwiches and paninis; soup and baked potatoes; bacon baps; Jane’s cakes and flapjacks, along with various cold drinks, beers and wines.   Hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with hot food available until 4 p.m.   Once we have mastered the delivery of these, no doubt the  menu and, in time, the hours will expand.  A priced menu will appear on the web pages as soon as I get over the shock of what working all day has done to my ageing body.


OMG we are so close…

I can’t believe it!  No, really – we finally seem to be close to opening.

Since I last wrote, Ann and Chris have been in to hang pictures;

It's tricky to hang things on walls which are neither square nor vertical!
It’s tricky to hang things on walls which are neither square nor vertical!

I have bought the crockery, and been to the bank to explain we are nearly ready… the electrician has been in to certify Mike’s work….we have put the fridge and freezer into position and switched them on….

Store room now nearly ready to receive food
Store room now nearly ready to receive food

Yvonne and Julie visited this weekend and have been wonderful sports, giving a hand to clear up some of our most disgraceful little messes as well as doing the lion’s share of the cooking.

The kitchen is slowly developing...
The kitchen is slowly developing…

Even more impressively, Yvonne walked to Betws-y-Coed earlier today and will send us her route in a few days to share, as she tells us it was absolutely stunning.

We have been practising different recipes of paninis over the weekend, which has also seen Mike finishing the plumbing, Julie and Yvonne clearing down the restaurant space, and me doing some patching to the paintwork.

The restaurant area before we let Julie and Yvonne loose on it...
The restaurant area before we let Julie and Yvonne loose on it…


...and afterwards
…and afterwards

Today, unusually for us, has not been a total day of rest.  I went to church but then, after bidding goodbye to Julie and Yvonne, we went to B&Q for light fittings and then to Bookers Cash and Carry to buy food and other bits and bobs- ready for the restaurant to start!  On our return, I am cooking Sunday lunch whilst Mike undertakes the last outstanding big job – he is encasing the electricity consumer units (in the new kitchen) in a cupboard so that they (and all we are cooking) can be kept clean.


and when we get tired, we try to remember that this is what it's all for!
and when we get tired, we try to remember that this is what it’s all for!

We have also received some wonderful feedback via Facebook (you can find us at facebook/penaeldroch) – and it only took me four phone calls with our children and several attempts to respond vaguely as I had originally intended.  Grrr – I am going to have to arrange some serious training in social media if we are going to get this right, but I plan to set up my much-needed welsh lessons first!

I am still not 100% sure when we might be open, but I do believe tomorrow Jane is likely to be prepared to test the cooker and other equipment, so I guess I can be confident we are now very nearly ready…..oh the excitement (and other things best not mentioned here!)

The kitchen, with just a few more tweaks to complete before we open it to Jane
The kitchen, with just a few more tweaks to complete before we open it to Jane

I don’t think the photos will actually help as much today as usual, since things may not seem to have progressed much in the last two days despite our best efforts.

But I can confirm:

Mike has almost finished plumbing in the 3 sinks necessary in a commercial kitchen.  Of course, the least we say about yesterday’s mini-flood, the better, but the water pressure here is considerably higher than Mike has been used to, and that tricky little olive had missed the end of the pipe Mike inserted, and so when the pressure was turned on, things moved that we weren’t expecting would move.

Sorry about the gloom - hope you can see the pipework on the walls
Sorry about the gloom – hope you can see the neat pipework on the walls

We took delivery of the cooker, griddle and chip fryer, and have ordered the work tables.  I have been to the builders merchants several times to collect the necessary kit, and try to convince them that I have more than a passing knowledge of what is required.  It seems every time Mike sends me with a list of requirements, there is always a key bit of information missing (what size, madam? and how many will that be?)  Today’s conversation centred around whether I required a male or female threaded end on the tap tails.  Points to anyone who can explain how I should have blagged my way through that one!  Mind you, I think I got brownie points when I didn’t replace our worn out blow torch with a DIY model (i.e. pretty much a straight replacement) but instead was persuaded to get a plumbers blowtorch (so much hotter; such a fine focused flame; so much a higher cost!)

Mike has also filled the whole in the concrete floor of the lobby – when the cement has dried, and the fire door been fitted, we should be ready to put the door mat in place…

Not sure how clear it is that the holes have been filled in
Not sure how clear it is that the holes have been filled in


The Environmental Health Inspector (who dropped by yesterday lunchtime) commented on how much we had managed to achieve since he visited in December; and our horse-riding visitors from Chester also commented that they plan to return once we are open, so I guess we just need to keep putting best foot forward for just a few more days….weeks… surely not months!?!

Mike and I have spent some time today remarking that yesterday was a lovely day.  It was the only day for weeks when the horse riders (Amy and Jo) elected to sit outside rather than come into the building due to wind / rain / cold – but due to our punishing work schedule, we spent almost no time out in the sun.  Today has reverted to type for this year so far – I am not sure if it clear from the photo but it is tipping down, even though the forecast was for light rain this morning clearing away by lunch time.

View from front door
View from front door this evening

I am sitting here utterly worn out as Jane and I had a serious shopping trip to Llandudno today.  We now have bins, brooms and mops, baking trays and cutlery, and even some food.  Meanwhile Mike plumbed some more, and liaised with the fire alarm company who came and installed the sensors and control panel today, along with servicing the portable fire extinguishers.  My actual working contribution for the last two days has mostly been painting, but as this is gloss work, and touching up where walls have been marked, that will definitely be a photo not worth the taking!

So all in all, its beginning to feel more like a business about to break forth.  We still seem to have a considerable list of things to do before we can open, but as the revised alcohol licence for the premises arrived this morning, and as we now have a fire alarm system and a fire risk assessment, can it be much longer before we can open for business?  All that stands in our way is a fire door and about 25 other items to check off….

The cooker has arrived…

We have several photos to share with you today, so I’ll just cut to the chase…

We have removed the old carpet from the lobby, in preparation to fill some gaps in the concrete before laying the matting – ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots follow:

Lobby as it was...
Lobby as it was…


...and now with carpet removed
…and now with carpet removed – but see those holes!

We have put the special skirting in the kitchen and store, assembled one set of sinks, and taken delivery of the cooker (but it’s shy, so we have left it in the box for now).  It’s the hand sink that is loitering in the box on top, and we haven’t shown the grease trap – we thought some pleasures should be ours alone.

Sink and cooker - and sorry you can't really see the skirting
Sink and cooker – and sorry you can’t really see the skirting

I have been painting – this picture shows the trunking for the vent which has now almost disappeared into the walls, having been coated in our special anti-bacterial finish

Trunking now almost completely camoflaged
Trunking now almost completely camouflaged

Today we have been doing lots of twiddly, fiddly, bits, so for instance I fitted the five floor tiles shown below in readiness for us to fit the wooden board finish (now that Mike has worked out how to do this!)

Missing tiles in place - nearly read to finish the threshold...
Missing tiles in place – nearly read to finish the threshold…


whilst Mike also worked on the plumbing.  And last thing this evening, we assembled the new shelves – just so that we could check they will definitely fit into the space we have reserved for them.  We are very pleased with them, and look forward to Jane filling them tomorrow.

Shelves, ready to be laden with Jane's shopping tomorrow (shortly after I finish painting the trunking above)
Shelves, ready to be laden with Jane’s shopping  (shortly after I finish painting the trunking above)

You may like to know we have also had some interesting visitors this week.  We had a lovely couple of horse riders here on Sunday from the US so obviously we discussed Brexit and Trump among other things.  We also had a visit from Andrew who used to teach climbing here when the house was owned by TI in the 1960’s.  He has sent us some super documents from the time, which will enable us to piece together a further part of the building’s history, and we have also had a visit from a lovely chap who used to look after security at Plas Hall and he had some very interesting tales to tell!

Anyway, sorry to cut and run, but I must return to the delights of writing our Fire Risk Assessment.  First draft complete, but I just need to check we have covered all the essential points before submitting it later this week, ideally before the fire alarm system is made live.




Have cooker hood – really must order a cooker…

To save any anxiety – in case you were worried whether we had made any progress this week –  I can confirm that the kitchen and lobby are beginning to shape up, and any day now we should be able to re-glaze the front door (which I am really looking forward to as the lobby is currently rather dim).

In no particular order we have:

– finished painting the walls in the kitchen and the lobby (and fitted skirting boars to the lobby)

Lobby, now painted and with skirting boards
Lobby, now painted and with skirting boards

– flowed a poured cement/latex finish onto the kitchen floor, and then painted with an antibacterial epoxy finish (see far below)

– prepared the electrics for inspection early next week

– fitted the door on the kitchen store

– stripped the paint from the front door, and then primed it

Front door, partly stripped
Front door, partly stripped

– been visited by Rhydian from the National Park to instruct us on the detailed use of weedkiller to eradicate some very unwelcome plants over the next few months.

So far, so regular.  We are particularly proud of two more recent achievements:

– firstly, we have fitted the cooker ‘hood’ to the wall.  This was quite a tricky business as it required drilling holes in both the cooker hood and the wall which had to line up with batons in the wall, and with each other.  Second time lucky with that one, and that was only because the hood is so heavy required all three of us to hold it up…

Cooker hood successfully wall-mounted
Cooker hood successfully wall-mounted

– and secondly, we have installed the vent from the hood to the external wall, which necessitated building a wooden surround across the ceiling (since this will be washable, whereas it would be quite a challenge to clean the flexible ribbed aluminium hose which now runs through this box).

Mike channelling Rolf - can you tell what it is yet?
Mike working the construction out as he goes along – can you tell what it is yet?


Just the last little bit to paint and then we have a day off!
Just the last little bit to paint and then we can have tomorrow off!


This plywood trunking hides the extractor vent. Of course it will need painting - anyone for primer?
This plywood trunking hides the extractor vent. Of course it will need painting – anyone for primer?

So, all in all, we are looking forward to our rest day tomorrow!