Grand Designs: Alma is expanding to make you feel more at home

Behind the scenes

Cafe Alma // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Work is underway at Cafe Alma // Photo by Aaron Davidson

As a two-time James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Service, you can bet staff needs at Roberts’ newest place are figured into this revamp. It starts at the front door, making sure each guest feels like they’ve come to the right place.

“It’s very intentional,” Roberts says. “It’s our home, and you’re staying here temporarily, whether it be for a meal or for a night, and we want people to be received in that way that it feels like, we got you.”

Another component to making guests feel at home is making staff happy and relaxed. “I really like my spaces to flow because they contribute to the team working well,” Roberts says. Even when working with architects on Brasa, he insisted on determining layout. “[Designers] haven’t spent a million hours in the kitchen,” he says, which is perhaps the qualification Roberts leaned on most in drawing the postage stamp of a kitchen at Restaurant Alma.

In our homes, we want big sprawling sinks and kitchen islands to maximize counter space. But in professional kitchens, small is the sweet spot. Roberts extolled the benefits of bringing line stations one foot closer to the cooler: “That’s an extra step! An extra step for a cook is inefficient and makes them tired by the end of the night. So you shorten that up to three feet; now you’ve got a happy cook, an efficient station.”

The Kitchen at Restaurant Alma // Photo by Aaron Davidson

The Kitchen at Restaurant Alma // Photo by Aaron Davidson

That’s not to say he isn’t thrilled at the prospect of more than doubling his kitchen space with this project. In addition to the café space, there’s room for a back kitchen extension, complete with all the tools necessary to do the things hatching in Roberts’ brain these past dozen years: their first deck oven, an area for whole-animal butchery, walk-in coolers and freezers for pastries, and whatever else they can dream up.

Though the expanded capabilities will surely add some new twists to Restaurant Alma’s menu and the revamp will freshen up design, both Jensen and Roberts are aiming to keep the place true to its original spirit.

“[It’s] still the place that you come and you dine, and you are slowing down,” Roberts says. “We’re going to celebrate that tradition because we don’t think it should go away. Despite formality and fussiness and all of that stuff not being cool, we do really want to protect that.”

But with a “little sister” café next door, maybe those still intimidated by the idea of a tasting menu will finally make their way into Alma for a pastry or a cocktail. It’s about time you stopped by.

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