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On Being Open

Updated: Apr 13, 2019

We've been a little quiet on the blog for the past few months, but here's to getting back in the habit of posting regularly about the ins and outs of operating a business. But first, OH MY GOD WE'RE ACTUALLY OPEN!! It seemed like it might never happen, but the moment did finally come on January 30, 2019. As you may have noted from our past posts, there were several false starts, with our opening delayed by everything from a long wait to hook up new electrical service to inspectors heading off early to enjoy a long weekend. But when the last of 8 separate inspectors had signed off and departed, and the barista team was assembled, we were SO ready to open our doors! Customers began coming in right off the bat, telling us they had been passing by and watching construction from their office buildings above, just waiting for our doors to open. It was emotional seeing their excitement! Equally emotional was watching the barista team shift into gear, powered by confidence following weeks of training, but even more so by their strong sense of ownership and enthusiasm. With blenders whirring, coffee brewing and hot snacks coming out of the oven, we were in business!

But it wasn't all smooth sailing. During our first day, we stocked out of what we thought had been a week's worth of menu supplies and found ourselves having to disappoint people while we scrambled to restock. And, as if the universe wanted to put me back in my place, that very first afternoon I managed to slice my finger open to the point of needing stitches. The most rookie of rookie mistakes! But also a moment of humility, followed by an hour of having to lean on a well prepared team while I headed to urgent care. And so it has gone: some painful lessons in food service operations, small emergencies, helping hands, fast recoveries, and subsequent new ways of doing things (Knives out of the dishwater. Always!). Here are my early observations on what it's been like during these first few months:

Observation #1) Having a new business is like having a newborn I often said I felt like an overdue pregnant lady leading up to our opening (FAQ: When's the opening? Me: "It was supposed to be last week!"). Now that the baby is here, the analogy continues. I am overjoyed but exhausted. Days are long, but the time flies by. I am up too early. I am always in a ponytail. And I cannot predictably take a phone call, or host a visitor or eat a regular meal. Yet it's a pretty amazing accomplishment, creating this new thing. When people tell me she's beautiful, I'm very proud!

Up early with "the baby". Photo courtesy of Suzy Pratt

Observation #2) Customers will shape your business From the beginning, I had fairly firm plans for my concept - what it would be and would not be. However, the second we opened, our customers started to evolve it. Case in point: My fusion coffee shop, designed be busiest in the morning and taper off throughout the day, is exactly the opposite. Instead we start quietly and ramp steadily until I can confidently say we are hosting Seattle's most happening chai happy hour from 4-6 PM! In other words, customers have found an occasion for us in their day I didn't predict. Similarly, what most people come in for the most isn't my planned "Indian spin on espresso and a few grab-and-go pastries". Instead, it's our Indian Street Food savory items, chai and filter kaapi, and these categories provide a constant challenge to keep prepped and ready to serve the crowds. This experience has shown me that intentions and plans are one thing, and reality is quite another. Yet reality is way more fun! (See my note about Chai Happy Hour, a joyful thing to stand back and watch). In today's world, there are ample opportunities to hear about your customers' reality, whether through what they buy, their comments to staff, survey responses or online reviews. Really hearing our customers is affirming and fascinating, and occasionally frustrating, like any relationship. I believe our success will depend on keeping those listening skills sharp.

Our Ride or Die Barista Team

Observation #3) Working is food service is really hard. It's been a couple of decades since I regularly wore an apron and stood on my feet for long hours. Now I easily register 8 miles of walking during a typical work day. The constant lifting and bending that comes with working in a small space reminds me I am not really part of Gen Z, as much as I try to pretend. Beyond the physical, it's stressful and takes concentration to get right, and to get right with a smile. Even with my privileged and stable personal life, which is more than many of my staff enjoy, I struggle to keep things in perspective when faced with the ongoing stress of a line out the door and customers waiting for their food. All this to say, as an employer I can work hard to make life as good as possible for my young staff. As a customer, at Lassi & Spice or elsewhere, you can remember to be kind and empathetic. And don't forget to tip! Tips help pay for rent, college tuition, food. When in doubt, remember that it probably means more to them then it does to you.

Observation #4) It's fine to be me. My final point before I wrap up is to talk about leadership. I'm privileged to lead not just a company but a team of 10 amazing people. Over the years working for good and bad bosses, I've been exposed to different styles of motivating and communicating. At times I've been told to be me but in a different way, to mold to a corporate culture and use the right buzzwords. With this new business, I am the corporate culture, and I can't be anything but my authentic self. Being Me as CEO means I'm that boss who's still figuring it out, who's dancing when a good song comes on, who tells the knife-in-dishwater story as a cautionary tale (and to show you she is far from perfect), who thinks you deserve another chance, and is looking at ALL the numbers in detail, daily. Ok maybe hourly. Yes, all these choices are subject to dissection - I'm a woman with a persistent inner critic after all - but for now, they represent who I really am as the best boss I can be. That is good enough. Good enough is how I've made my way through motherhood. And for the latest new baby, little Lassi & Spice, it seems to be working just fine.

Cheers to being open, to all the listening and learning!



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