FOODĒ's First Year on Earth


Day 359: Our Project.

Joy and I had – a plan.  We wanted to stand back during one service and watch our staff in action.  We wanted to see what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, and what needs to be done so Joy and I can take a half of a day off.

That plan lasted about 20 minutes.

Here’s the issue: Joy and I still do too much.  We still struggle with giving up control.  We micro-manage.  We need to stop that.

We have a Sous.  I have a right-hand woman.  And, Molly Molly Molly is making a brief return to help run the dining room.  We have really, really good people around us.  We need to let them do their job.  We need to figure out if they are doing their job.  That can’t happen if we continue to have our hands in every single detail.

So, we took a step back and we watched.

We started in the kitchen.  Couple of things we noticed: the hot line calls on to the cold line to do too much.  If, for example, the hot line ran out of pork belly – the cook would call out to the folks on the cold line to cut them more.  However, it’s not the cold line’s responsibility to do that – and it means that the cooks on the hot line aren’t prepped for dinner service.  That’s a major problem.  Another major issue: wiping the plates.  The edge of those white plates should be polished.  The person eating should see their reflection in the edge of those plates – and too often, they’re not.  Wiping the edges is an after-thought.  That blows me away.  Those chefs and cooks are in most mornings by 7:30 preparing the food – why is plating it an after-thought?!?  That enrages me.

We moved downstairs.  Molly Molly Molly was on cash stand – so I wasn’t worried about a thing regarding that.  I had two women running around like crazy, up and down the stairs to go get food – instead of one person running and the other person making sure the customers had drinks, had cleared plates, etc.  The scene felt almost chaotic.  Then, I had a guy ask me about a wine price.  I told him the prices were on the back of the menu, but he didn’t have a menu – and in that instant I realized that we should also have the prices in our tiny market, too.

We went back upstairs and instantly the chefs on the line asked Joy for her help.  Our project was over.

In those 20 minutes, we saw our crew doing a lot of really good things.  We also saw a lot of room for improvement.

Joy and I are going to do the same thing again tonight.  We’re going to make this place great.


Day 358: All I Learned About Business …

You know how some people read books by Warren Buffett or Donald Trump or Suzie Orman or about Steve Jobs to figure out who a person is that created such an impressive business empire?

I’m pretty sure the best business advice I’ve ever heard comes from Jay Z and Kenny Rogers.

Stay with me here …

There’s a song in which Jay Z says “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business … man … ”

Think about it – is that not brilliant?  He is a business, man.  He has turned his life into an empire.  The man is a phenomenal artist.  He’s probably a better businessman.  Everything that guy does makes him money: from his clothes (he has his own line) to his music (he owns the label) to his love for sports (he owns an NBA team).  He had no reason to make it to the top – except one: each decision that he makes has turned him into a business … man …

Obviously, on a much, much, MUCH less scale, I feel that I, as a small business owner, should be doing the same thing.  Each move should be carefully plotted, each decision should have a benefit.  If I can’t justify my decision as a smart business move, I need to let it go. No Emotion.

And then there’s Kenny Rogers … the man who so brilliantly sang “you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run.  You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table, they’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.”

Okay, sure … this lesson comes from a gambler.  But isn’t it really great advice?  There’s a move I really want FOODE to make – but I can’t.  I was presented with information, and that information doesn’t go in accordance with my bottom line.  I have to walk away.

So, there it is.  Some people have their MBA’s, I have life lessons from Jay Z & Kenny Rogers.  I’m cool with that.

Day 357: Meeting With Our Accountant.

We met with our accountant on our day off.  It was a two-hour meeting, and it was incredibly helpful.

We asked if we were on the right track.  The answer was, much to our relief, yes.  We asked if we were doing okay. Yes.  We asked why, if we were on the right track and we were doing okay, did we not have more money in the bank.  We quickly learned that was something we had to answer.  She pointed out that we give her financial information at the end of each month  – she’s not involved in the day-to-day operation.  She doesn’t see what’s going on in the kitchen each day.  She doesn’t see the dining room.  We have to start answering our own questions.

Our accountant pointed out that our labor percentage was well within industry standards.  Our food costs, however, were high.  That, she said, is something we have to figure out how to get under control.  Is there too much waste?  Are portion sizes the same on each plate?  Are we updating our prices as food costs go up?

As far as the dining room: how many covers do we have each day?  Do we base our estimations on customers, on table turnover, or on chair turnover?  Joy and I just kind of looked at each other.  We don’t have those answers.  But we will.

Our accountant said we “must protect the corporation.”  Everything we do should protect the corporation.  Every move, every decision – everything.  Joy and I got it.

The accountant brought up some other stuff.  She told us in the future we may want to consider offering our employees simple IRA’s.  She says there’s a tax benefit to it and it helps retain good workers.  She said it appears Joy is the more emotional thinker than I am.  I think I do have an easier time separating emotion from decision-making than Joy does.

We learned a lot.  And in true Beth & Joy fashion, on my way out I saw the accountant had thrown away a bunch of old rubber bands.  I reminded them of everything they just told me about watching every dollar and making sure I understood where each cent was going.  Then, I reached down in the trash can and took the pile of rubber bands.  It was undoubtably not a high point of my life, but I did need rubber bands so it probably saved me a couple bucks.  I’m not proud.

One more thing…

Each time Joy and I head to the accountant’s office, we like to see how many of her promotional pens (the pens publicize who she is, what she does and has her phone number on them) we can walk out of there with.   The answer was three.  One time we got out of there with 8.

Next time I’m shooting for 10.


Day 356: Cool Moment.

Joy and I had a business meeting at Hyperion the other day.  I guess it was as much of a business meeting as you can have in a very crowded coffee house.

When we were leaving, some women sitting outside of the coffee shop yelled “Hey, FOODE!”  Joy turned around, said hi, asked them how they were doing.  They screamed back, and I’ll never forget it: “You ladies got it going on!”  It was short, it was simple, and it made two exhausted women go home and pass out with giant smiles on their overworked faces.

We’ve had a lot of cool moments, but that was easily one of the best things to happen to us during this first 365.

Day 355: Sissy vs. The Steelers (Sissy Loses)

My big brother was in town this past weekend.  He’s a fancy attorney who lives in Pittsburgh with his amazing wife and their three boys.  He’s one of the funniest guys in the world and seeing him is a treat.

My big brother was here to watch my other brother’s wrestling team – my family takes wrestling very seriously – in a tournament or dual or something.  I should know what type of event the team was participating in, but I don’t.  That’s kind of crappy of me.

Anyway, like I said, my family takes its wrestling very seriously.  So, I didn’t bother my big brother during wrestling time – and I didn’t bother him because I knew he was coming to see me for Sunday Brunchy Stuff.

So on Sunday, I waited.  And I waited.  And I waited.  No big brother.

And then it hit me.  You know what else my family takes very seriously?  Their beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.  And the Steelers were facing Tim Tebow in an afternoon playoff game.

I sent my brother the following text at 3pm, after I figured out what happened: “Hey jerk.  Where are you?  Are you ditching your sissy to watch the Steelers?  Eventually, a voicemail  from my brother that had all the following excuses: I’m sick, I’m almost home, I didn’t realize our sister was still going to FOODE for brunch, I slept in, I didn’t want to drive south of Stafford.  Never once did he mention his Steelers.  But I’m no dummy.

So, J. Bird – you’re busted.  You ditched sissy to watch the Steelers.

That’s pretty funny.

Day 354: Surprise!

We had been waiting … and waiting … and waiting.  We knew the day would come.

I looked up, and there she was: the inspector from the Health Department.

Now, Joy and I – and the entire team – pride ourselves on having one heck of a clean restaurant.  We’re a bit obsessed with it.  Shute, we’re so crazy about it, six months ago we decided to lose an hour and a half in the middle of our day to shut down so we could scrub the place between lunch and dinner.

So, we were ready.  We thought.  The goods new is, so did the health inspector.  The last line of our inspection reads “Observed the overall facility  clean and excellent cooking and holding temperatures of potentially hazardous foods.”

But we made some mistakes.  Some “critical mistakes.”  They are mistakes that we didn’t know we were making because it’s our first go at this.  The good news is, they’re easy to fix.

Here’s some of the things we need to change:  Everyone who is preparing food needs to wear something in their hair to keep it pulled back – that includes men.  We need to label our dry spices.  We shouldn’t be using as much sanitizer in one of the sani buckets.  We need to make sure our cutting boards aren’t too scratched up.    We need to store raw meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge.  We need to make sure plasticware is air-dried before stacking it.  I think that’s most of it.

I think some people fear the day the health department comes in for a surprise visit.  We actually enjoyed it.  It’s always good to learn – and our inspector really did a good job at making sure we understood our mistakes.  She says she’ll be back in 30 days to check back in.  We’ll be ready.

Day 353: Opinions Matter. Kind of.

I think I mentioned that Joy and I feel we’ve made some critical errors we need to fix as we try to push this little beast forward.  I’ve been a manager before – but I’ve never worked in the restaurant industry besides little odd jobs while growing up.  Joy has been in the restaurant industry, but hasn’t managed.  Both of us thought it was smart to ask our employees questions regarding how our operation is run, what we can do to make their jobs more productive and more enjoyable.  Good questions to ask — but unfortunately, I think we accidentally blurred a very important line.

That line separates an employees thoughtful opinion about their job productivity – and for lack of better words, allowing them to bitch about work.  For instance, I don’t care if you’re overwhelmed because we’re busy.  I do care if you’re overwhelmed because we’re busy and we’re set up in a way that does not allow you to do your job in a clean, safe and efficient manner.

I quoted my mother the other day, when I told an employee that if “he can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I told him I didn’t care about his personal thoughts.  And honestly, I don’t.

We pride ourselves on letting each employee have a voice.  It’s important to us.  But because we sought so many opinions early on, I think we created an environment where people think they can say whatever they want.

We’re going to correct that mindset.  Starting immediately.