Today I had the most devastating lesson in customer retention. First let me set the stage properly, Pinx did not lose any customers. In fact we (Bumper and I) made our weekly Wednesday delivery to our Law Firm…Money, Money, Money (real firm, but this is a fake name). I personally look forward to this delivery because I get the opportunity to visit my favorite SF Deli “Shorty Dolemite”. Every week I look forward to the Wednesday special their signature Roast Beef sandwich. Oh so tender, mouth watering, succulent, and requiring absolutely no condiments whether you use the Au Jus or not, it is the PERFECT sandwich. In the past 8 months I think I have personally provided 8 converts by my impassioned recounting of the virtues of this monument worthy of the Earl of Sandwich. Again to put this in its context, I am not a fan of sandwiches at all (burgers and Philly Cheesesteaks don’t count as sandwiches). So now that the stage has been set…let us begin.
Today we had an incredible challenging day: 3 jobs that would once more drag us out into a 14 hour run. After the breakfast job went out to the Presidential Offices of California University, we harnessed our energies to get the Short Rib Loaf Lunch out on time. Though we were preparing our own signature dishes – and doing our due quality assurance testing along the way – I could not help but hear the call of my sandwich! We got the order out on time. As a matter of fact we were early. Bumper and I got the buffet set up in record time. We walked our customer through his order: the carnivore, vegetarian, and vegan options. We left the building to strike out for our lunch.
On the way up the block, I noticed the sandwich board did not have the “usual” special. Surely this was a mistake. Or possibly they have the special available for their faithful customers. Bumper and I entered the doorway. With two registers before us both occupied, I was provided the opportunity to scan the board and the menus. This was not boding well. It appeared my sandwich had been erased from all memory like some sick plot twist from MIB 3. When I finally got the front I asked the question to hear the words that felt like, “it’s not you it’s me”…IT’S GONE!
Are you kidding me? The greatest sandwich known to man is gone. Not to return because the drought does not produce the mushrooms for the recipe. On the one hand, I can understand the Chef’s commitment to his craft. I have battled people behind challenging Chef’s parings. When you have a product you believe in, you don’t want to produce an inferior product. After all it’s the product that breeds loyalty. But is it the product alone?
Walter White schooled us that the purer the product (better the quality) the higher the yield, less waste is produced and the greater the profit. We are not talking about River Dance inspiring Blue Magic, but Green Eggs and Ham (figuratively). So the key to customer loyalty is having and maintaining a very high quality product. Consistency. With that consistency, you have to have availability. Can your customers get it? The beauty of this deli, is that they created a demand by only providing the product on certain days creating a controlled demand situation. But the next trick is to keep the customers coming back. With the menu change, I was absolutely gut punched. How many other customers felt the same? Of course, I am very serious about my food. Some people wait in line for Spiderman Foamposites or Jordans, I wait for food. But I digress….
What did this lesson bring home to Pinx? If it’s a fan favorite…LEAVE IT ALONE! For this to work, we have to be engaged with our customers. Their voice has to be loud and clear, so we don’t make moves that alienate the very constituents that are our life’s blood. Keep the favorites just scarce enough, to make the people crave us. Don’t allow supply chain issues cripple our operation. Have a “Plan B” because people are serious about their food. I learned my lessons. It is easiest to keep and grow a relationship with an existing customer (building on what you have) than to find new customers. So I’ll introduce our customers to our tasty treats, they’ll try them and the relationship begins. We’ll keep introducing items as we grow, but we’ll keep the menu both familiar and unique.
Because life is short…everyone should eat something memorable.
The Pop Up has come and gone, and we are left wondering, why did we do this? The big day was a long one – I think we (the brain trust) did a collective 28 hours on our feet – and a REAL introduction to the Restaurant Business.
We have had quite a few successes and to this point everything we have done in the food industry has been moderately successful (food festival, private catering, private chef, commercial catering, corporate events, packaged goods, etc.) so in our minds a restaurant – which is still Chef’s ultimate goal – did not seem like too much of a stretch for us. We’ve served thousands at the food festival, how hard could it be? We have a new found respect for the game.
Our first challenge was getting the space presentable. Our location was a musical venue. It has been used in the past as a pop up, but true to our vision, we had to “Pinx” the place. Easy right? Well not when you only had 9 hours to execute that. Where were you when I needed you Robert Irvine? That two days and 10K could have come in handy. We had to move furniture, clean, decorate, and prep for the service in the span of 9 hours, following an event at the venue. Needless to say we got it done.
The space – once transformed – was absolutely beautiful! Thank you to 2Complete, Tres Chic, Unica Party Rentals, Abby Party Rentals, and Solidified Elements. We have some amazingly talented family, friends, and Success Investors (we work so closely it is hard to call them vendors) without whom we couldn’t pull off half the things we do. Pics will follow.
The kitchen crew was ab fab. Not BBC AbFab like, but truly Absolutely Fabulous. The Graduate ran point (the expediter in the kitchen is much like a point guard, or conductor) like a Steph Curry/Chris Paul Hybrid Borg Child! It was beautiful to behold. I know some of the staff wanted to call her the Shepherd’s Sister, but I appreciated her command of the troops. Mello D and the Director were in the paint holding it down like Mutumbo and Mourning used to back in their old Georgetown Days. They had the Shrimp n Grits and Red Velvet Pancakes orders filled like they had worked for Chef Ramsey in a past life. Sue (finally finding her way off a milk carton once more) and Keisha Burns were on the backend fulfilling the Waffle, Frittata and Fruit orders. We even had a sixth man, well woman actually, we’ll call her glue because she stepped in to help hold Sue and Keisha together. Thank you Glue.
The real anchors though were the Sud Busters three. Like Thor’s compatriots these fellas kept the kitchen purring. It’s funny when you go to a restaurant you never consider all that happens in the back. All you want is your food in a timely manner with good service. I know I never considered it. And I saw firsthand what happens behind the curtain. The mask is off the wizard, and I have much greater appreciation for the unseen workers. Their labor makes it easier for the servers to look good.
So that’s what was happening behind the curtain the real show was the Barnum and Bailey act in the front of the house. After running around like headless poultry for the better part of 4 hours getting ready for the curtain to drop, everything was in place and the guests began arriving 15 minutes early! We started seating the first two waves and everything went swimmingly. Then it was 10:15 and the flood gates of the Foodie Horde descended upon us like the Walkers upon Rick’s horse at the end of episode One. The rush was relentless for the next 3 hours. Our room was bursting at the seams (70 person capacity) the waiting area and onto the street. Chef – I guess this day since she spent the majority of her time on the floor, was GM – ran around so much that her feet (though supported by some lovely pink suede Cole Haan Air wedges) were throbbing by 2PM. [Air wedges…c’mon man! That is some seriously good marketing because where are you going to put the air pocket in a high heel? I’m just saying.]
We missed Hustle Man. He wasn’t able to join us because he was in Cancun or Cabo or some other tropical locale. When you work hard, you get to play hard I guess. Mr. Positivity AKA Swiss Army Knife was on the floor with some new players: the Spanish MacGyver, Print Lady, Baker 2, and Fearless Lady. We could never have done it without them! The Service Assistants, the Hosts, and the runners all had a hand in our big day. The only problem was, we created such a cool vibe, no one wanted to leave. In the end, I guess that’s a good problem to have. Next time though…it will strictly be first come first serve. What were we thinking?
So if you made it out to the kick-off of our newest division in our food empire thank you for your support. There will be more to come. If you were not lucky enough to make it, stay tuned for news on our next happening. I will say this, and this is a paraphrased quote from one of our guests, “the food was so good it gave my (fetus) the itis”.
Life is short…eat something memorable.
In case you hadn't seen the work that went into marketing our big introduction into Oakland's foodie scene....here is just a smidgen of the work.
The drums can be heard in the distance. The march toward the location is drawing nearer.
Life is short...eat something memorable.
This is surreal. Just two years ago, Chef and I were completely sleep deprived as we prepared for our life changing event (our first SF Street Food Festival). We spent weeks agonizing over every aspect of our operation. Meetings with Logistics Prime, Mover and Shaker, La Cocina and countless other folks were the norm, largely because we were so afraid of failure that we poured every ounce of energy and dead presidents we could into insuring the festival was a success. Two years later, I guess it is safe to say it was.
Year one, we amassed some of our now legendary players: Monk, Number 1, Sue, Number 2, Logistics Prime (our personal lean management consultant), Mover and Shaker (our personal connection to the stars), the Water Boy, Benjamin Button, and the Government Twins. To be fair some of these folks (the last three) were grandfathered into the operation because of the familial nature of a fledgling enterprise. Mover and Shaker…well it was all her fault that this train left the station with Chef and I chasing to get on board, so technically she owed us. In this first 12 months we had many growing pain. We joke now how it would take us an entire week to execute a 40 person gig: planning, purchasing, preparing, staffing and delivering. What a difference some time has made.
Year two, we amassed more talent and some systems for success: Marketina, the Director, Sunday’s Best, the Deacon, Keisha Burns, Hustleman, to name a few. Our menu expanded. Our customer base and customer fulfillment grew. We developed a footprint on the web which continued to funnel business our way. And we kept growing. The terrible twos showed us some ugly things about our capacity, and need for talent. We had some epic growing pains, but from those we got stronger. The stretch marks from those times remind us even today, who we were and who we need to be.
Now as we enter year three…why is there no name for year three? Everybody knows about the terrible twos or sweet sixteen, but what about the other developmental years? Surely there must be something that happens in a person/entity’s life between two and sixteen that is memorable and earmarked by some adjective. But I digress. As we enter year three, we have found that we have outgrown many of our situations. And now our plans, as beautiful and Camelotish as they were in our Naiveté, do not make as much sense. This is the beauty of life…it happens. It is our responsibility to adapt to it, or it will swallow us whole. So for us, our plan was to get a fleet of mobile trucks, then a facility for our catering operation, and later a brick and mortar restaurant. Well, our operation has grown to the bursting point and we need a building like yesterday! This is before we even put one beautifully wrapped truck on the street.
We are working in the world of the “new money” – which really is silly, because whether your money is old or new, it all looks and spends the same. We had our first “old money” event just two weeks ago. And let me say, that the test drive of the Tesla was cracking! So now we are working for the old money, the new money, and the regular money. All of whom, like the same thing…our unique menu. This same menu is what is keeping us in demand, which is in turn causing the strain on the operation and the new stretch marks.
So with all of this in mind, we jumped headlong into the heretofore unknown waters (relative to us) of the Pop Up Restaurant! Crazy right? But actually it makes perfect sense. Follow me now. If the goal is to own a restaurant, and we want to be successful, we will need experience. The Pop Up gives us this opportunity without the major risk of capital. Check. If we want a restaurant we need – wait for it—funding. We can’t get funding without investors (Angel or Crowd) seeing the value of our product. The Pop Up allows us to show these investors and patrons our vision, so we can confidently show the worth of our brand. Check. If we want our restaurant to be successful it will rely on the talent providing an exceptional experience to our guests. The pop up allows us the opportunity to showcase the amazing folks we have had the pleasure of working with these past two years in our catering operations (which when you think of it, is just bringing a restaurant experience to a location—at least that’s how we do it).
Now at 2 in the morning on Pop Up Eve, I am once more pacing the floor in my mind as we dot is and cross ts, getting ready for the big day which at this point is a scant 31 hours away. Technically, we will be at our posts in 27 hours, but the first plate should be hitting the guests table (if the reservations are holding and everyone is on time) in 31 hours, well 30 hours and 57 minutes. I wonder if moving forward, all the major Pinx events, are going to be like this?
Life is short…eat something memorable.
Things at the Waffle Cave are bonkers right about now. We have exactly 7 days until we open our first Pop Up restaurant. It’s like we are having a baby all over again. Mind you both Chef and I are past the safe age for child bearing, well technically since I can’t bear a child I guess she is but you get my point. But this event is bringing with it all the requisite stress on the body (in this case the Catering Business). Fortunately, the village we now have is stronger than ever.
It is funny how this little enterprise was born from Peer Pressure. Friends pushed us out of our comfort zone to do something we had never done before, because they believed we could do it. I say we, but we all know the culinary talent is really Chef. I am just her Food Evangelist, spreading the news and bringing the buzz. As more and more people come to try the goods, and the more people talk (hurray internet, Yelp, and referrals), the greater the demand for our product, or the challenge to our paradigm to create and expand our offering. The greater the demand, the more capacity we need to fulfill that demand, and here is where the miracles happen. Every moment in our fledgling growth where we have been stretched to our absolute end, talent appears. I mean what we needed at the time we needed for the long haul or for a short period of time, there has always been a ram in the bush.
First there was Monk AKA Number 1 AKA Sarge. This dynamo of organizational efficiency – and good friend of Chef – has been with us from the beginning. She has almost as much sweat equity in this thing as Chef and I. Sue…well she was Chef’s first true Sous Chef. She learned many a trick at the feet of our Savant. She left us to move on to Biotech pastures. Marketina was hands down the best EA Chef ever had. But she has moved on to some tech company in the city. Sad face. The Director has become more and more integrated into the operations. Right when we needed more kitchen talent with operations, she came on board and kept Chef from quitting at least a dozen times. Of late we have added the Graduate: not like Dustin Hoffman but Culinary School, professionally trained. And in her short two months with us she has put in almost as much time as Sarge. Mr. Positivity and the Artist have joined Tweeta in coming to regularly contribute in the kitchen, the bakery, the back office, and in front of customers. Sunday’s Best AKA Keisha Burns has been both dependable and loyal…even though she enjoys everything well done. Hustle Man and the Waterboy have been stalwarts on the line. Just this week we found our dishwasher, Blue collar man! His work has been VALUABLE! This group has become the backbone of the land of misfit toys (if you worked with us for just 3 hours you would understand), taking the burden from Chef and I allowing us to focus on growing the brand.
The brand…it sounds funny when I hear it. But it is real. In the past 2 months, the brand has brought us to multimillionaires, titans of industry, and professional athletes. I saw Bugatti, a Lexus IFA, and I drove a Tesla (the car show is coming next week and now I only have 4 cars left to drive on my bucket list). We found out from a Phone Mogul that the next big thing in mobile phones is the Google Nexus 7. I’ve been looking for it but it looks like it isn’t even out yet! As Garret Morris would say, “[Pinx] has been beddy beddy good to me”.
So with a mere 7 days to go till the pop up, we are in logistic meetings, purchasing meetings, staffing meetings, as well as the daily operations. We step back and think all this came from waffles? I mean Waffles. Not a restaurant, not a restaurant. Waffles. I can’t believe it. So I now simultaneously thank and curse you Mover and Shaker. And to everyone else that was at the house on that fateful Saturday morning when we had that big brunch and you all said we should have a restaurant…your foretelling is coming true in one week. I can’t hardly believe it.
Life is short…eat something memorable.
In the midst of our operation (catering, lunching, dinner-ing, baking, and the like) we e ever considered what would our true success look like. Yes I would love to sit in a Mr. Burns-like office overseeing the deployment of a network of Food trucks weaving across the Bay Area like one of Grandma’s lace doilies. Sure, Chef wants to run a quaint little brunch spot (a cross between Cheers and Bette’s Diner) seating 50 at a time with a waiting list. We would simultaneously have Monk, Sarge, or Number 1 running the catering operation with the help of Hustle-man and a few of our other stalwart pillars of dependability.
Yeah, we have a vision of what we want to look like and what success would be. But that vision is challenged by the stark reality of real life. This path (entrepreneurship) is not for the faint of heart. I do recommend that if you are so inclined to break from the traditional career path to carve out your own niche, pack your resolve, fearlessness, and courage.
Bootstrapping ain’t easy. One of the great lessons that we are all taught as children is that we can pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Well, the reality is you can only lift yourself as far as your resources will allow. At some point, you will need HELP. The danger of borrowing money from friends and family is great. Money is powerful. It can destroy families and friendships. The cold part is that as life happens – needs arise – and you have that need for an answer (dollar bills to pay some) you are so tempted to take the easy way out. But we can’t lose sight of the end game.
We have had offers of late that have challenged our vision. Partnerships presented themselves to us, but the deals were not based on where we wanted to go: quaint spot and a fleet of trucks. The temptations came because it was an easy path to our end, but at a cost. Fortunately we have an incredible network including our own personal Sage. When we were able to climb the mountain to get counsel, it was INVALUABLE. Oh yeah, make sure you have a mentor for your journey. What we found was that we had to maintain what we have built and where we want to go.
Now we received a call or an email that challenged us in a new way. Were we thinking big enough? Should we be thinking about a cooking show? Chef would never sit in front of a camera. She hates to be watched while she watches TV! I know she wouldn’t stand for being watched while she was cooking: sorry Next Food Network Star. But we would entertain a spot on the Great Food Truck Race! I’m just serious.
Who would have thunk that this outfit that won that contest 3 years ago (thank you Mover and Shaker for your prodding) would grow to be a blip on the radar of the channel we enjoy so much? So with that being said, take a moment to rsvp for the pop up on November 30, 2013. Chef is laying the groundwork for her quaint little spot: tables, china, flatware, uniforms, wall décor, and menu. We took a part of the core team on a field trip to Iron Chef Sushi so they could take notes. Prepare your minds, because after 2 days of turkey dinner and sandwiches I am certain you will be up for a change of pace.
After all life is short…eat something memorable.
The work week – or rather the predictability of the calendar – makes life digestible for people. We know what to expect when we go to work on Monday (everyone is going to be groaning about the end of the weekend). We know the camel will be walking around the office shouting HUMP DAY on Wednesday. Friday afternoon everyone who actually came to work is looking to leave to get a great start on their weekend. Well the workweek/ and workday of the entrepreneur is not so predictable.
In the past two months we have found our new calendar. First let’s dispel the myth that the entrepreneur sets their own schedule. Poppycock! In the catering game, we only are in action when we are hired. We are hired according to the needs of our customers. Now with that being said, we have to build the brand, market the name, and represent ourselves well enough to gain a following so we can get referrals and additional gigs. That pattern of activity has made Friday, Saturday and Sunday our Monday, Hump Day and Friday! It is wild.
So with the new work week, you can imagine that the team is stretched. Monk is as faithful as ever. I have to admit that there has never been a person with so much personality who could simultaneously bless and vex. But she has been with us in the trenches from the beginning and her loyalty cannot be compared. Hustle Man is still in the trenches (he loves this industry) along with his other jobs, but he adds to us with his industry experience. Sunday’s Best aka Ms.Burns (I will leave it to you to figure out why we call her that) is in it to win it. She too is loyal. It is hard to find folks who will be at the grindstone in the Waffle Cave at 1AM and return for the next shift at 7AM. Trust us we have tried and are trying. Tweets isn’t just tweeting about us but she has been in the trenches and in front of the customers bringing her own sunshine to the party. We have added the Mechanic and the Draw-er. The latter was aptly named by Monk in one of our delirious marathon sessions in the Cave. The Draw-er –who has claimed to be a great baker (we found that his baking had previously come from boxes) – brings processes and humor to the team. The Mechanic brings us a lot of talent and experience (butcher, lean management, and even some deli/catering).
This band of misfits have been available and invested in Pinx. Now as we forge forward towards our new frontier, it becomes very apparent that our plan (fleet of trucks) needs to be amended. We are growing to the point we now need a new facility that will allow us to grow to our full potential. The reorg is complete. We have added new systems for growth. You can find software and apps for just about everything now a days. So now Chef and I are balancing our time between logistics, cooking, operations, sales, banking, staffing, marketing, shopping, research, parenting, marriage, recovery, Duck Dynasty (my new guilty pleasure, at least until the Walking Dead returns), Iron Chef, contract negotiations, dishwashing, menu development, scratching and surviving.
With all this going on and the ongoing battle between House Republicans and Democrats to maintain or defund “Obamacare” these self-employed food folks, have to find holistic ways to revive. Hot stone, Shiatsu, Sports or Thai Massage, hey, look (in the voice of Uncle Si) just rub these knots out of me so I can walk upright jack! Every job takes a little out of us, but until we can go to rehab (thank you Obama-care) we will find out how we can continue to bounce back so we can give each diner their best.
So, keep sending out your well wishes for us. Did I mention we are working on our first official pop up restaurant? We’ll be bringing our tasty delicacies to a temporary location near you very soon.
Life is short…eat something memorable.
Where does the time go? I mean it seems like it was just a few hours ago and we were scrambling to juggle the festival (our annual celebration/right of passage) and a few other jobs, and now the month of August has come and gone! Seriously? Not only were we not properly informed about the sleep deprivation and changes in the quality of life (the random dinner/lunch date with the partner/wife often devolve from the keeping the love fresh and new to a meeting about staffing, vendors, or sales) but there was absolutely no warning about effect upon the space time continuum. Doc. Brown did not need a whacked out De’Lorean to travel to the future, all he needed was a recipe for Bananas Foster Waffles. But I digress…
The changes that we have seen in the past 30 days or so are exciting. We are on the precipice of something tasty. I’ll let you in on the secret: Crowd funding! Who would have thunk that the Great Recession of ’07 would yield so much change in our world? The distrust of the financial establishment (this is not a political piece so get your hand out of my pocket) and the challenges that food entrepreneurs encountered led to creating creative ways of acquiring capital. Amidst this revolution came forth Kickstarter.com, Slow Money, Credibles.com, and others who would be so bold as to help folks like us move on up to the big leagues.
We continue plugging along with the catering making and expanding our name throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. And now the time has come to find a new and improved waffle cave. I know, Batman never moved from beneath stately Wayne Manor. But let us not forget that Bruce Wayne was rolling in old money, where we are just a couple of foodies who love to share and make people feel good with food. When you don’t come from that old money like the Dark Knight your financial future is determined by who knows you. This may be why Sales and Marketing folks will always be in vogue (not that I am biased or anything) but someone will always need to move product and brand the company for the public.
Because of Chef’s mad skills in the kitchen and our love of people, and service, we are now known by a few folks (see www.yelp.com), and judging by what we can find on Yelp and Google, most people are enjoying what we are serving. So with Sarge, Number 1, Monk, Tweeta, Hustle Man (our latest talent acquisition the young man with big food dreams and 15 jobs), Sunday’s Best (another newbie who can’t seem to cook, bake, or walk without singing some hymn), and the rest of the motley cast of characters, we will be moving on up to the east side (brick and mortar locations) and getting our deluxe apartment in the sky (AKA Food Truck). We just don’t want to hire any Florence Johnstons.
Life is short…eat something memorable
The average human lifespan yields us roughly 25550 days (70 years at an average of 365 years). If we eat 3 times a day that gives us roughly 76650 meals, so my question is this why do we fall into familiar habits and eat the same things week after week?
I personally did not like chicken for a good 30 something years (I won’t give my age the power of acknowledgement, because then I would have to claim true mid-life, and I am not ready for that). Why you ask? Well if everything tastes like chicken (rabbit, alligator, mutton etc.) then it stands to reason that chicken tastes like nothing. If it tastes like nothing, why waste energy eating nothing when we could eat something? Chicken was just not something that I enjoyed.
Sure it is the wonder meat and it can be prepared many ways – in my best Bubba voice – Pineapple Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Fried Chicken, Lemon Pepper Chicken, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Chicken Roulade…and here is where young Forrest fades to the aside. But if this is the sole option consumed how boring a meal is it? No matter how many ways you rewrap it, it is still chicken! Well Chef single handedly changed my perspective on this.
In a single meal – the Smackin’berry Fried Chicken – I was enlightened to the beauty of the treatment. Never before had I experienced multiple taste buds engaged on the same meal: sweet, spicy, salty, umami. After the application of Crunch Berries to the blank canvas of chicken and the emergence of the beautiful masterpiece, my mind and palate were illuminated.
Now, some 4 years later, we are inspired by food. We enjoy food. For us it is no longer just a utilitarian task of biting and chewing, but savoring, detecting, identifying, and deconstructing. We eat to enjoy. We eat to be inspired. We eat to learn.
So what have we learned lately? It has been quite a while since you have Bananas Foster Pancakes and Bananas Foster Waffle, and Tempura Shrimp with Spicy Mayonnaise and Wasabi Aioli. The Bananas Foster Waffle will be making its debut August 17, 2013 at our birthplace: The San Francisco Street Food Festival. I will say that the combination of Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Bananas, Meyers Rum, and Candied Walnuts atop the fluffy Waffle with a just a hint of Banana and a kiss of nutmeg is a specter that will haunt you at least as long and far as the Sweet Potato Pie Waffle with the Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce, and the Peach Cobbler Waffle with the Peach Cobbler Compote.
Life is short (now you know why we say that)…eat something memorable.