2015 was probably not a year I ever could have predicted. Sometimes I’ll think about it and realize that I dealt with 100 cats (literally), that my kitchen staff trimmed down and leaned out while somehow producing more than ever, that Simon and I got back into working FOH, that I wouldn’t have a day off the entire year unless I physically left the state, and that I would watch some of my fellow business buddies flourish while watching others fold.
It’s a year that’s given me a lot of perspective. I’m not sure I agree with anyone who says it was a terrible year or a great year. It was just a busy year which was unpredictable in ways that were both good and bad. I don’t think we ever really had a time to reflect on it during the year and finally, three days into the new year, I’m sort of forming an opinion on 2015; it was just an odd year.
For many of our food friends, 2015 was around the five year mark of owning a business. For some, it was a little more than that and for others, a little less, but 5 years is a good median guess. I think that for all of us, it came as a big surprise to be half a decade invested into something, and still be working it like a small business. As I talk to my friends, I think we’re all so surprised about what sort of issues we have at this point in our business. We’ve proven that we can make it and survive past the first two volatile years with hard work and that we have the spirit and dedication to keep powering forward, but are any of us going to really truly “make it” like have our own Food Network Show or become nationally cherished cookbook authors or win James Beard Awards or get bought out by a big corporation? I don’t think any of us were hungry for fame, but more of a question is, how does one survive in a brutal market like NYC where rent is high, the price of living is high, competition is fierce, and the attention span is fleeting? I respect those who are powering through, and honestly, as an economist, I also respect those who have the foresight to see when they are too far under and have the ability to step away with their dignity. I would rather be a business that said, “This isn’t working” and closed on my own terms than a business where other people would whisper under their breath that it wasn’t working while dying a slow and long drawn out death.
I don’t remember if Simon and I had big goals or dreams when we started in 2010. I think every day we made over $200 was a surprise for us that first year. Our big dream probably was to have our very own kitchen so we opened a store within 2 years and a second store a little more than a year after that. We have accomplished a lot, but there is no handbook to guide you on what to expect at year 5. When we started, we were able to devote more of our energies into the product and to interacting with customers and that’s because we were the only employees. We had complete control over the business. If we weren’t actively doing Macaron Parlour stuff, then Macaron Parlour was closed. Now at least one shop has staff in it from as early as 6:30am and as late as after midnight so the business has grown to embody something far beyond just the two of us. I think as we’ve grown, and I think I am speaking for other businesses as well, it feels as if we, the owners, are stretched thinner and further away from the product. We worry about paperwork, our employees, regulations, and so many other things that has pulled many of us away from what we had originally loved – producing a good product and connecting that product to its consumers.
The past few months, I’ve been actually able to work more in the kitchen than I have before and we’ve been producing a better product because our staff gets the benefit of having me around to explain things more in depth. Doing so gives me a lot of satisfaction, but it’s practically a joke that I can almost never do something from start to finish without a distraction, whether it be a sales person calling my cell phone, an emergency at Meow Parlour, or a delivery coming in just when it’s the most inconvenient. It’s insane to me that I can still be so proud of producing a great batch of macarons, but it also kills me a little that I very rarely get a chance to just revel in what I’ve produced. I am truthfully also dismayed that I don’t get to recipe test as much as I would like to because when you have multiple stores with different hours, there is always somewhere else I can be with matters that may be more urgent than a new cookie.
I like being my own boss, and I love the kitchen staff I work with every day and I really don’t mind working every day, but I can see now that age will not let me do things on the same path forever. I am one of the youngest people in my group of food friends and I just turned 30. At some point, I will probably have to tackle those responsibilities that many of my peers from high school and college are already dealing with, things like mortgages, owning property that has a lawn that needs to be taken care of, and having kids. On one hand, living in NYC has allowed me such a long grace period where I could avoid those things that I have always referred to as “adult” things while selfishly partaking in “me” things like opening a storefront and fostering cats. On the other, I feel far behind on those things because how are people my age having their 3rd kid while I still have a roommate? (to be fair, that roommate is my sister) 30 is a big emotional milestone for people, even if it isn’t a physical one. I’m at the same age where some of my friends who haven’t opened a business yet start to feel sad or bad or some other negative feeling about working under someone rather than being the boss. While they envy the fact that I can make the rules, I envy the fact that they probably don’t need an entire drawer of a filing cabinet just for invoices! But owning your own business is like any gamble, it can go really well, it can break even, or result in a big loss and I really don’t blame anyone for choosing security over such a gamble.
We ended this year by hiring new staff to tackle logistics and paperwork. We had to think outside of production and sales and start thinking about how things move from point A to point B. Simon doesn’t need to spend three hours a day printing out shipping labels when we can be doing something else. Having the budget to have staff that isn’t strictly kitchen or sales is probably the 5 year milestone we were looking for. It’s given Simon the opportunity to start using his barista skills to make drinks in the UWS and it’s reduced some of the distractions that prevent me from completing my kitchen tasks. Most of the relief is actually for Simon and I think he feels weird to see that these people he has hired to help him are thriving at their jobs, things are completed in a timely manner, and his workload has lightened up considerably. I wonder if passing this milestone means that we’ll soon go back to doing more of what we love. If we have team members that help us with those aspects, they will probably be able to do them better than we could since they don’t have other distractions, and we could do a better job at what work is left because we will have less on our plates. I look forward to seeing things come full circle. My hope is that for 2016, Simon and I can go back to the basics.