Opening a Store
When we first started, a lot of our food friends told us not to open a store, or they shared the horror stories of having their own retail space. Things like, ovens breaking down, crazy customers, or even better, the health inspector showing up the day that your fridge decides to break. With the carefree lifestyle Simon and I had where we committed to a few events a year, a small number of big wholesale accounts, and only 3 days a week in the kitchen, we had a lot of free time. Not enough free time to go away for more than 2 days, but during slow months, we'd actually be able to go on brunch, or visit friends, or my favorite hobby, lay in bed for as long as possible We didn't have too much to worry about besides the business of having a successful business. We were making enough money for two people to get by on, but not enough for two + 1 tiny dog (so we have a framed picture of a dog, which cost us nothing b/c we got the frame as a gift). Even while working five weeks straight at the Union Square Holiday market, we were still able to make it to my parents house for an overnight trip on Christmas to do that favorite hobby of mine (which included a fireplace this time. I swear that the fireplace was going for 6 hours and Simon and I were passed out in front of it for 5.5). We had a business that had stressful times, but in the food world, it was still a low commitment business.
The reason we made that jump from that lifestyle to opening a store is really for our customers. We were asked countless times about our store, whether we had one, and how they can purchase from us if we don't. Eventually, we realized that we had to grow into a store, if not for us, then for our fans.
The entire process of finding the store was super easy. We got lucky in that way. It went by in a blink of an eye. For us, it was like, "Oh, there's a space at 111 St. Marks Place. Ok. That's going to be it." And it was. Construction wasn't so easy. The gut renovation probably would have taken us about 3 months, if we weren't such newbies at it. We hired a great architect to help push us along and to force us to consider everything, from the flow of service, to where the plugs should go. Our contractor turned out to be a very practical man who would ask us to reconsider certain things for the sake of efficiency. ConEd went on a strike so we couldn't upgrade our electricity for two months. We ordered a custom macaron display fridge and got the run around for over 6 weeks and after we couldn't take it anymore, the fabricator was like, "Ha ha. I made you this salad bar. I'm going to pretend this looks something like the drawing I made for you." My sister and I wandered around Bowery, looking at chairs and tables. We took turns sitting in them and pretending to eat, or modeling for photos to take to the store. Simon shopped around to find the best deal on signs. Our architect took us to pick out marble. What's interesting that it was really hard to find the right vendors, but once we did, it was fairly easy. We looked at marble at 3 or 4 places, but at the last spot, we found the pieces we wanted within 10 minutes. I looked at a dozen stores for chairs, and I walked into one store and it was sitting right by the door. Our oven and sheeter came from eBay. One freezer came from Craigslist. We got a ton of stuff from Costco. Looking back at the past 7 months, I can't believe how much we've learned and how creative we got when it came to shopping.
Did I mention that we got married in the middle? It feels like that happened years ago, but yesterday was the 6 month anniversary. We had a beautiful wedding, but even that was less stressful than the store. At least then, I knew Simon was going to marry me even if the food sucked or my shoes were ugly (food was great. I had "wedding flip flops" and those were comfy!). With the store, there's no guarantee that people are going to come.
I've been part of an opening before. With that experience in mind, it was my goal to make mine as smooth as possible, but you really can't. You can set a deadline and say, I will be open by this date. The problem is, there are so many little things popping up that the smooth opening didn't quite happen. If we kept pushing it off for things to be "perfect" then we probably still wouldn't be open now. We opened before the cushions for our benches arrived and the first batch of blondies was the first time I made that recipe that way. The first time I made a large batch of croissants was the day before we opened and the batch was so large that my sheeter didn't want anything to do with it. We had wires hanging out from our ceiling for the first few days. Our speaker system died on the second day. I didn't place the tea order on time, so we had to run out and buy some a few hours before opening. We weren't sure about our employee clock-in/clock-out system. We were still trying to set stuff up with our accountant. Honestly, it was messy. We got lucky, though, b/c we have a great team and they held our hand while we blundered our way through the opening.
I say "blundered" in regards to our opening, but that's only how it felt to me. We are like swans - lovely and graceful above water, but with our feet paddling furiously below the surface. Simon charmed everyone who walked in and I was in the back with Marissa, baking thousands of macarons. It felt like no matter how many we made, half would be gone by the next morning. It's a good problem to have, but I was stressed about the idea that we might actually run out (we didn't). It also doesn't help that now I have my own kitchen and I'm in there 14 hours a day, that I'm able to take something from an idea to production within a few hours...that's what happened to our Cheetos macaron. I looked at some orange cheese powder, thought of Cheetos, and the next day, I tested out a batch. While that particular flavor is going to only be around for Halloween, it's insane to me that I was able to turn it around so fast. That's something we never would have been able to do before. But now that there's an outlet, I'm in the kitchen even longer than anticipated.
We're open now. It took us over half a year to get here, but we're here. We're still in our soft opening, but at least our doors are open and we're cranking. For the past week and a half, we've been working some crazy hours b/c I can't keep up in the back, but now that Madison Square Eats is done, maybe I'll get ahead. One of the reasons why we decided to close on Mondays was so we can fix small errors and catch up. Soon, there won't be so many things to fix anymore and we'll be open all 7 days of the week, and from morning to night.
Every day, I am still amazed that we have a store and one thing none of our food friends have ever mentioned is how many people want to meet the owners. Most people settle for meeting with Simon, but I get beckoned from the kitchen at least once a day to talk to the pastry minded folk. People want to hear our story and oh boy, do we have a story. I didn't think I would like it as much as I do. I like talking to people about what I'm trying to do through food or going out to talk to someone who really likes something they had at the store. Perhaps b/c I only go out for the nicest people, that's why it seems really lovely, but it makes me happy that anyone wants to have a real chat with us about what we're doing. When I'm really tired, talking to someone who has nice words gives me the energy to run back to the kitchen, keep on going, and still adhere to my quality standards. It's fuel for my soul and that alone is enough to reassure me that we made the right decision about opening a store.