Coco Gazette

The Terrible 2’s are over - Coco Turns 3!

By Noreen Ovadia Wills

April 2012 — The Gazette deadline happens to coincide with Coco’s 3 year anniversary. On many levels and for many reasons, Coco’s 3 year anniversary is a minor miracle. Our first winter open, I made regular customers promise to come in during January. We had the “we ran out of cash $100 for $120 hole in the wall special” to expand into a restaurant. We traded breakfast sandwiches for chairs so our customers had a place to sit. We went from 3 employees, 2 of which were me and Nick, to 12 full time year round employees this winter, not counting me & Nick. We even have a bakery manager now – Sadie. She will be in charge of wrangling bakers all summer long just as Bob is in charge of wrangling everybody else.

            We spent part of the winter making up new stuff while we weren’t cooking the stuff already on the menu. The conversations go something like this.

In February, Noreen says, “Can we put asparagus on a sandwich? I really think we should put asparagus on a sandwich.” Noreen wanders off to frost a cake and Bob goes off to prep falafel for lunch.

Bob turns up on the bakery side of the restaurant and Bob says, “And chicken” Noreen: “You hate dealing with raw chicken and I do too.” Bob: “Well, ya, I’m a vegetarian, but chicken goes with asparagus.” Bob goes off to start on the food order. Noreen wanders off to contemplate the things she should theoretically write on the food order list.

Noreen; “Hey Sadie, if we were going to make a chicken and asparagus sandwich a) would you eat it and b) what kind of bread would you put it on?” Sadie: “What about bacon, can we put bacon on it? Then I would eat it.” “Let’s ask Bob.” 45 minutes later, Bob comes back to check on the produce in the walk-in. “Hey Bob, got a minute? So what if it was chicken and bacon and asparagus?” Bob: “And shallots – bacon and roasted shallot aioli.” Noreen: “Cheese or no cheese?” Bob: “Swiss – it is Wisconsin after all, and a little Dijon marinade on the chicken.” Sadie: “Rosemary – rosemary buns.” Thus is born after 2 hours of wandering around the kitchen and one quick trip to the Chequamegon Food Co-Op, Bob and Sadie’s Excellent Chicken Sandwich. We ran it for a lunch special twice and received such rave reviews that it’s going on the menu next week.

We started making no-commercial yeast whole grain sour dough on Wednesdays. We started Pasty Wednesdays, with frozen pasties available all the time. We added our sautéed apple, turkey on cranberry walnut sandwich to the menu last fall. And then we hit a wall. All winter, we tried to create a gluten free bread. Being bread bakers we tried what any good bread baker would try – start with a basic recipe and mess with it until it came out right. No such luck. After months of trial and error (beat the eggs more), and error (add baking soda), and more error (add more yeast), etc. we chucked the initial recipe and started all over again. Rich with skepticism, I brought in a whole new recipe to try. We made a few loaves and lo and behold, we had Coco Classic Gluten Free. Gluten free, feels like chewy bread and tastes like it too. It makes great French Toast. Coco Classic Gluten Free is baked fresh for sale on Mondays and available frozen for sale the rest of the time. We’ve added gluten free brownies and gluten free chocolate chip and ginger molasses cookies. We also have gluten free muffins currently available on Mondays only, but possibly 7 days a week this summer.

We’ve been toying with peanut butter frosted cinnamon rolls and as soon as we get some more Belgian Milk Chocolate later next week we’ll start making our Mocha Mousseline cake as much as we possibly can. This is my new favorite food. It may be favorite food of all time. Like any other great baking recipe it started like this: A Red Velvet cake recipe that had the red removed and some coffee and chocolate added, way too many leftover egg whites, and a bar of milk chocolate that had been searching for a purpose. When we frost cakes here at Coco, we slice the tops off so that we have a flat surface to work with. The day I made this cake for the first time, I wandered around to all my staff with cake tops, a pastry bag full of frosting and a collection of spoons. “Here try this.” “What is it?” “Just eat it – it’s my new favorite food.” They are all sold. I’m trying to figure out what food group I can classify it as so I can justify a daily snack of cake top and mocha mousseline.

I guess, after all, we here at Coco did have a productive winter. We didn’t have much shoveling to do. Myra was in town about once every 6 weeks and due back soon. Wonder if I can sell her on a peanut butter cinnamon roll? Kamron is chomping at the bit for the first Island Market order and perhaps jumped the gun just a teensy bit on saving boxes for shipment – they’re piling up fast.

Some of the cast of characters has changed – new bakers, new counter people, Superman lost his legs and arms but a new one is on order, the Peeps are finally ensconced on our occupancy sign. Its 70 degrees today and windy which of course resulted in a big rip in Northern Wisconsin’s only infinitely repairable duct tape “Open” sign. I’ll fix it at 5 am tomorrow. Tomorrow night it’s supposed to snow – go figure. Do we serve hot cocoa or homemade lemonade? Whatever it is, it’s here at Coco 7 days a week 363 days this year.



How to get a red new convertible

By Noreen Ovadia Wills

June, 2011 – We thought we’d kind of try and sort of sneak the Café open a little bit, but Washburn is a small town and word got out. It could have been the sight through the windows of 8 people carrying a pastry display cooler that weighs more than a dinosaur and is twice as old up a step and 15 feet into the “new” building. Perhaps it was the 6 or 8 extra people working all hours scrubbing salt and pepper shakers, grills, stoves, shelves and what not or maybe it was the sounds of the hammer drills and Sawzalls almost 24 hours a day but somehow our loyal and local clientele found out we were opening a restaurant.  On Monday, April 4th, 2011, I knocked the dust off my line cooking spatula which had been in retirement some 5 or 6 years and made breakfast for 38 people.

Change is difficult for some people and many of our year-round and seasonal returning customers had been worried that things that they love might disappear from Coco. Fear not, we still have all of your Coco favorites – cinnamon rolls, kolache, bobka, turnovers, bread pudding, chocolate cheesecake, soup, deli sandwiches, Harvest Grain bread, Polish Rye, etc. We have just grown a bit and added a breakfast and lunch menu. Astonishingly enough, we even have almost 40 chairs inside and we now fully admit having a WiFi connection. We have even convinced a surprising number of Chequamegon Bay denizens that Falafel is yummy.

We were pretty sure summer was coming despite the weather. The Washburn Beautification Society had been encouraging us to get flowers out, some of our long missing snowbirds were returning and Myra had plans to rent a house for the summer starting a little before the middle of June. We knew our first big Island Market order of the year was brewing with the return of Marilyn and Ed and we had heard rumor of a small mention about our Harvest Grain Bread in the June/July issue of Lake Superior Magazine. Still, we were skeptical. Sales of Hot Cocoa were still high and frost and nail biting temperatures still greeted our early morning bakers.

Then, as usual, all of a sudden, kawammo, summer was here. “By the way, Sadie,” I say, “We have to make two and a half batches of baguettes today.” She is fairly new to Coco and hadn’t been through any big commercial bread orders yet. I didn’t warn her that two and a half batches translates into 96 baguettes. “I’ll help roll.”

Kamron looked at me excitedly, order slip in his hand, and said “Cool – summer is here – the first big Island Market order of the year.” When he got done crostini-ing (a verb meaning ‘to make crostini’), slicing, bagging and labeling with a sigh of relief more than a few hours later I reminded him that during July we do at least that much twice a week.

“So, Bob, the Co-Op upped their hummus order to 24 of each kind.” “Hey, Noreen, Living Adventure called in their first order of the season – 50 cookies, 2 loaves, Turkey Chili and corn bread and Stage North is out of Artichoke Dip and Spanakopita.”… “And the Star Tribune called, they want a recipe and we’re out of cheesecake again and bred pudding.”

At the end of Memorial Day weekend, I looked at Bob and Keith and said, “We are never doing this quite this shorthanded again. For sure we need a morning dishwasher and at least two other sets of hands.”

We did however find out how many eggs it takes to serve 250 people breakfast. And we found out how many people we need at the front counter on a busy Saturday. It’s not two, definitely not two. It’s way more than two. I also discovered that when pushed, conveniently present, and confronted by an exhausted looking mom, teenaged daughters can be called upon to strain raspberry sauce.

Above all the most important thing that I discovered over the course of Café Coco’s big first season weekend is this: I can pester Nick, mention to Nick, hint to Nick, request from Nick until I am blue in the face that we need a certain relatively large expenditure item – in this case a new food processor - and Nick conveniently files my request in that foggy place in his mind that every man has somewhere next to the “honey do” list. I had been working on the concept of a new food processor for approximately 3 months.

“You know, honey, when we open up next door we’re going to need a new food processor.”


“Well, in case the old one breaks. We have lots of stuff we use a food processor for now.”

“Are you planning on breaking it?”

“Well, no, but it’ll break just when we need it most. We need back up.”

3 weeks later: “Honey, we really need a new food processor.”


“Well, in case the old one breaks and then we can also have a dedicated garlic chopping food processor.”

“Are you planning on breaking the old one? Doesn’t the dishwasher work? Won’t it get rid of the garlic?”

“We’re not planning on breaking the old one, but if someone drops the lid and the little plastic dealie breaks, it’s over.”

This scenario repeated itself several times over the course of a long three months. Then the Chequamegon Food Co-Op decided to order hummus from us. Sous Chef Bob said “We really need a new food processor because if this one breaks, it’s really gonna suck.” I got on the phone. “Honey, Bob says we need a new food processor because if the old one breaks in the middle of 25 pounds of hummus it’s really gonna suck.” Within 30 minutes a new food processor was on its way to Café Coco.

I thought about this overnight. The next morning when Bob came in I pointed out the three month long struggle and the power of “Bob says” to Bob and asked him to back me up. Nick made his morning appearance in search of a breakfast sandwich and some coffee. “Honey, Bob says I need a new red convertible.” Bob said “Really, Noreen needs a new red convertible or perhaps a ’65 mustang.” “Right” said Nick. I’m still waiting. In the meantime, Bob said we needed a new blender. We now have two.

Things are different at Big Coco - a little noisier, a lot more staff, sometimes more fun, we got a new rubber chicken or two, lots more room to relax, lots more food to choose from, but the heart and soul of Little Coco lives on 7 days a week, 362 days a year.

And remember – never, ever fry bacon naked.

Duct Tape – Not Just For Making
Wallets Anymore

By Noreen Ovadia Wills

April, 2011 – Shortly after we opened, Nate, the owner of Washburn Hardware asked for his “Open” sign back which he had graciously lent to us. An “Open” sign was one of the many overlooked tiny details such as extra toilet paper that I had forgotten prior to opening Coco. I couldn’t find a sign that I liked on the Internet, so I made one out of fabric. About last August, I noticed that it was looking a little ragged or destroyed depending on your perspective. About last December, I finally bought the materials to make a new one. And sometime between Christmas and New Years, I finally put it together. It took a surprisingly long time. My family was skeptical at best. I proudly dragged it into the shop. “Check it out!” “Yeah, OK, nice,” the troops said. “No, really, check it out – it’s made out of duct tape.” “Seriously?” “Yup seriously.”

Because Highway 13 and Coco are somehow aligned perfectly with the windy lake or a gap in the Islands or the center of the Universe we sort of have our own little Chicago Windy City effect here on the main drag. Our summer chairs, the big A-frame sign, decorations, and the open sign have all been found misplaced on the sidewalk and/or in the middle of Highway 13. In fact, just this weekend our new open sign blew down in 40 mile an hour wind gusts and a customer tucked it into what was left of the snow bank outside. He said “It’s kinda shredded.” “No problem,” said I, “It’s made out of duct tape.”  The next morning, I fished around under the counter, found the red and blue duct tape and wah-lah – good as new. I am going to wager to guess that we may have the only infinitely repairable duct tape “Open” sign in Northern Wisconsin, and I thought Gramma Crabby’s duct tape wallet was cool. I may have to make another sign to hang on the “new” building next door so it can be seen when driving south on Highway 13. Double cool.

Bob, Keith and I actually did sit down with pens and paper and then typed up an actual plan for our restaurant opening. Amongst our main foodie players here at Coco we have approximately an accumulated 51 years of restaurant experience, not counting Honey (Nick the carpenter and chocolate covered bacon consultant) and Honey (Suzanne the marketing consultant and former famous Madison waitress). You’d think a menu plan would be a piece of cake (bad pun not intended) which it sort of is and sort of isn’t. Fortunately or unfortunately all of our foodie staff love to cook at home like I cook at home – make a quick stop at the store, open the refrigerator and get creative. We have a morning “what did you make for dinner” Q&A almost every day. They are all good chefs at home and at work.

The parameters of planning a menu and actually writing down recipes as we create make for a different and long process. Our original plan called for “something Indian, Masala, Raita; Thailand; Hot Potato Thing – did we get rid of the hot potato thing? Scooterific’s really swell stuffed French Toast; Mac and Cheese; Seitan Gyros; Italian Beef in the interest of marital harmony; Falafel; I really want to try that twice cooked squishy oatmeal thing I read about; Ham and Cheese or did we put that on the kids menu? and Quinoa – Noreen’s project.” Hmmmm….  

Sous Chef Bob is getting nervous because the kitchen isn’t done. I, on the other hand, have seen Nick put together an entire finished front counter in less than a day so I am getting nervous because the menu isn’t done. To alleviate our stress, we did what most committees and executives do – we had another meeting. We even used chairs and pens and paper again and coffee, lots of coffee. No one ever sees us all sit down together and people around us get a little jumpy when we do. Now we have a really scary thing called a “Time Line.” Bob just typed it up and emailed it to me.

This week is “Beef Week” at Coco – today it was a Blue and Blue Steak Sandwich we experimented with: Blue Cheese Rosemary Bread, caramelized onions, blue cheese and beef tenderloin. Consensus: really good but needed to be toastier. I admit, I was hungry and pulled it out of the oven a little soon. We started messing around with a not-a-pork-because-beef-is-already-here-and-we-might-like-it-better-Cuban. The Seitan Gyro (say-TAN Year-oh) is perfect and so wonderful that all of our meat addict taste testers were blown away. We got to cross the Gyro and the Falafel off the to-do list along with some side dishes today. That was gratifying. Next week is “Fish Week.” Smoked and fresh Lake Trout and which breads and what flavor combos and do we really like the pickled onions with all that allspice?

And then, sigh, there are all the small details that we all have just been ignoring such as ordering salt and pepper shakers, what kind of hot sauce to have available, and chairs. Chairs would be a nice addition. Just because we all stand up and eat (you restaurant employees - former and current - know exactly what I am talking about) doesn’t mean our customers probably want to.

I keep emailing Myra updates. She says it’s a “wild new world of taste.” She’ll be back in early March for a couple of weeks again. Hopefully she will get to taste some of the things I keep emailing her about. I did finally tempt her away from a cinnamon roll during her last visit one day with a Bayfield Strawberry and Mango Bobka. Hah!

We’ve been telling people that Café Coco will be opening April 1 – that’s right, April Fool’s Day. What could be more appropriate? But then we actually looked at a calendar and discovered that April Fool’s Day falls on a Saturday. I really wanted to try and sneak open. Just sort of start making food with menus and chairs and salt and pepper shakers and what not one day like a Tuesday and not really tell anyone. We may still try that which will buy us about a 24 hour grace period before word gets out. But ultimately, absolutely, barring any unforeseen disasters such as a week long power outage, Café Coco will open on Monday April 3rd.  Since we are going to start out doing breakfast too - no over easy eggs, but a small and delicious breakfast menu – we really don’t want to open on a Saturday morning. Plus, Nick has to move the front counter over night so we won’t have to be closed for a day and since we close at 4pm on Sundays he has a whole extra three hours to get everything situated in its new location next door prior to 6:30 am when we open on Monday. We will not be closing for our renovation/expansion so as usual we are open 7 days a week 362 days a year.

In the meantime we’re in the market for some old sturdy armless wooden chairs.


Butter - one of the four major food groups

By Noreen Ovadia Wills

 January, 2011 – Suzanne (aka Honey) is the wife of our morning cashier Keith and being Internet employed she spends a lot of time at Coco during our slow winter morning hours between 9 and 11 working, observing, updating Coco’s Facebook page and what not.  Somewhere on Coco’s Facebook is the very entertaining “Never Fry Bacon Naked Flow Chart” courtesy of Suzanne.

At any rate, one day shortly before Christmas she caught me eating cinnamon roll frosting out of a bowl with a spoon about one o’clock in the afternoon. She looked at me a little funny. “What? I need a good sugar buzz to get me through the rest of today. I’ve got 11 dozen snowman cookies to decorate.” Since that day my diet has been a minor fascination for Suzanne. She never sees me eat salads or hummus or eggs or turkey but she always seems to catch me eating bakery items. She cocked her head at me once as I ate two chocolate cookies chased by two brownies. “What? It’s the end of the work day and I have to go make dinner for the family. Chocolate is one of the four major food groups.” Gramma Beth (aka Oh Omniscient Crabby One) swears up and down that there are four major food groups: Chocolate, caffeine, butter and salt. I figure I am well covered. Suzanne, for all her commentary, is French by heritage and appreciates a good butter cream frosting.

In the interest of adding variety to my diet and also because we did year-end inventory and found out exactly what we put in the freezer all summer, we defrosted the first of the Bayfield Strawberries today. They’ll take a couple of days to cook and cool and turn into something yummy like strawberry-orange Bobka, but now that we found out that we probably have a month’s worth or more, I figure why wait until February.

Myra is back in town for a couple of weeks and my goal is to make something tempting enough to pry her away from her daily fresh out of the oven Cinnamon Roll. She’s a tough sell.

Speaking of Myra, she was the very first person to take advantage of our Coco-Hole-In-The-Wall special: for a mere $100 you get a $120 gift certificate, redeemable one cinnamon roll at a time if you so choose. No expiration date. Ever! Good for anything Coco, all the time. Coco needs a little more capital to finish out our expansion eastward project. Contractor and carpenter big Nick had to have rotator cuff surgery and little Nick at the ripe old age of a year and 4 months has become incredibly proficient with his little plastic hammer but is still a little bit too short to be installing headers in load bearing walls.

Our “100 for 120 Hole-In-The-Wall” special lasts through February 28. If you’re out of town, give a call or send a check and we’ll mail you your gift certificate and you can use it all summer and beyond. If you’re in town we’ll be happy to let you sign our soon to be missing wall and enter your name in the Honorable Swinger of the First Blow with the Sledge Hammer drawing. (Yes, that is “Honorable” not “honorary” which means the winner of the drawing actually does get to use the sledge hammer to whack the first hole through the wall. I can assure you that this is a relatively gratifying feeling having whacked several walls slated for demolition with sledge hammers before and some that were not.)

We did manage to get one hole in the wall before Nick’s shoulder took a dive. We can go in and we can go out and in between the buildings in the back of the kitchen. We’re excited about that, but we’d be more excited if we actually had a working kitchen and room for customers to stretch out and enjoy the free Wi-Fi which we have had all along but keep a well guarded secret.

Because we have such faith in our 100 for 120 Hole-In-The-Wall Special based on 72 hour sales data, Bob and I are going to sit down a week from Monday and actually have a meeting. With paper and pens. Sitting down in chairs. We might even use a table. We might even type it up. We are actually going to formulate the thing we always deny having – a plan. Yup, a real menu plan. By the end of February when you ask what we will be serving next door once we get that hole in the wall, I will actually have an answer other than “really yummy stuff.”

My family has enough faith in me to accept nebulous answers:

Marit, “Mom, what’s for dinner.”

Mom, “Chicken.” Mom stares blankly at a raw chicken and starts rummaging through cupboards. 15 minutes later….

Nick, “Honey, what’s for dinner.”

Mom, “Chicken and those Asian noodles that Marit likes.”

Marit, “Oh! Are we having that stuff that you make with the noodles and the chicken in that one pan.”

Mom, “Ya, sort of but without the Napa Cabbage because we don’t have any.”

Marit, “Can I use chopsticks.” (Marit has been a proficient chopstick user since the age of three)

Mom, “Sure.”

Marit, “COOL!” 15 minutes later …

Omniscient Gramma Crabby pulls up, “Hi, the boats are quitting tomorrow. What’s for dinner?”

Mom, “That Asian Noodle Chicken stuff that everybody likes, sort of but without the Napa Cabbage and I added some of the last leeks I had and no green beans, I promise, and we’re out of the good soy sauce.”

Omniscient Gramma Crabby, “Oh. Can I use the computer.”

Sometimes when they ask me what’s for dinner I say “Stuff. In a pan. Just eat it!”

So, I am just theorizing here, but having been in the restaurant business awhile, I am kind of guessing that customers a) do not have the time for such an interchange; b) will not accept “Just Eat It!” and c) might want to have some sort of idea what they might be consuming. And although “that Asian Noodle Chicken stuff that you all like with the Napa Cabbage” may make it onto Coco’s new menu because it really is good, it should probably have a name. So we’re really going to have a meeting and make a plan.

In the meantime, what’s for dessert? What else? Chocolate.


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