So 2014 was a very crazy year and we accomplished more in that single year than we had ever dreamt of doing in the early stages of our business.
We opened our second location at 560 Columbus Avenue in February. We were able to build a following in the neighborhood and it’s incredible that we’re on the daily routine of a lot of our neighbors. The Upper West Side is a place where you have to be a part of the community in order to succeed. I love that it can still be busy there on a rainy day because it means that people are leaving their homes to join us for a cookie, a muffin, or a coffee. It’s what I envisioned our business would grow into. I pictured our business growing as Simon and I grew older and went through different experiences. I want us to be a part of the lives of families just as I hope that when Simon and I have kids, we’ll have a regular place that is part of our own rituals (I would also prefer that we’re regulars at a place that’s not my own bakery…).
In the late spring/early summer, I changed our production schedule in the kitchen. We were doubling our production three times a week because one of my cooks and I were getting in there at 6 or 7 am to start the day. It helped us get through the holiday season. This is the first time since we started participating in the Union Square Holiday Market (2011) where we were actually able to keep up with the demands. We managed to keep between 20-24 flavors on the shelves at any given time. Last year by mid-December, we were lucky to have 9 flavors and there was almost nothing in our display case after Christmas! Changing the production schedule not only increased our output, but also helped streamline things. Even as our kitchen staff reduced, our output increased and we became more efficient. Now that we’re in a slower season, the staff is so efficient that I’m struggling to find more work for them in order to keep them occupied. Honestly, I am really pleased with how well they’re doing and it makes me really proud to have such a great staff.
I had the opportunity to branch out a little, business-wise to do something that I felt really passionate about (cat lady here!). One of my cooks, Emilie, and I opened Meow Parlour, NYC’s first cat café, in December. When I went to management school, I had heard of this mysterious thing called owning a destination. For the majority of business owners, we would never be part of a destination. For most businesses, our consumers would be people in the neighborhood and we would rely on foot traffic and minor word of mouth to keep our business sustainable. We leased spaces for Macaron Parlour where we felt the business would do well in that neighborhood. When it came to opening NYC’s first cat café, Emilie and I knew that we could build the business anywhere and people would come. We chose to be downtown and our location is within eyesight of the Hester Street Fair, which is where Macaron Parlour got its start. We ended up opening 2 storefronts (a cat side and a bakery) in December and we opened NYC’s first cat café. It’s so rare to be a first in a city like NY and I can’t believe that we did it, but we did. It’s incredible to me that we built a store on this very quiet street and people are coming in from all over the city, and all over the country and the world to visit.
I’ve never really been responsible for the front-of-house at Macaron Parlour. That was always Simon’s job. Since Emilie and I started Meow Parlour, it’s become our responsibility to run the business from the front and back ends. Emilie comes from the kitchen like I do, so we didn’t have a lot of strong experience between the two of us. We were in a unique position in that we had to create a system for something that doesn’t already exist in NY. We weren’t able to check out our competition (because there are none) and due to the complexities of NYC, the systems that work in other cities might not work for us. So we had to build from scratch. We had to imagine the flow of service, how many people it would take to achieve our goals, and how to run this business. There’s no precedent and we had to work every station before handing it off to our employees. On one hand, it was refreshing to set a standard, and on the other, we were terrified! We also had a very limited timeline to get things right because of the excitement surrounding the opening. We were lucky that we got things settled within a few weeks, but we’re still working on some kinks. The key was constant communication. Fortunately, we text each other all day and have established several lines of communication with our staff while they’re at work. While it means that we’re on our phones all the time, it also means that we can know what’s going on without having to be there and it streamlines our work as owners. Some of these things are things that I believe would work well at Macaron Parlour, too.
More storefronts (now 4 for me!) means more headaches. Simon and I like being business owners. The longer that we have done this, the more clear that it has become that we have very distinct styles. We’re different, but we complement each other. Neither of us could have had the business or the success that we’ve had without the other. We usually tell people to stay out of business with your spouse, but it seems to have worked out for us. However, our rapid expansion means that we’re losing some of the elements we loved when there was just one Macaron Parlour. When we had a single store, it was so much easier for Simon and me to manage. We got to know our staff really well and we always (ok, I’m lying, we usually) kept on top of inventory. As we grew, our sense of family changed. It was like we were parents sending some of our kids to college. There was a lot of anxiety at first, a lot of miscommunication, and we are still trying to figure out how it works. We see our staff less frequently as they rotate through the two stores and keeping on top of inventory is a much more complicated process. We go through long stretches of time without seeing everyone and organizing meetings takes weeks of planning! I call it growing pains. We went through a giant growth spurt last year and our staff has more than doubled. Our family grew further with the addition of Meow Parlour and now we have over twenty staff members between everything. As we spread amongst the different stores and markets, we really need to redefine family. I think of our staff as our family and friends and while it’s harder now, it’s important for us to go out of our way to make sure they feel that way about us, too. I’m proud when we hold BBQs in our backyard at St. Marks to see how many of our staff members show up, but it’s weird when those events are the first time some of the folks are meeting each other. Getting to know everyone better is a goal of mine for this year.
I can’t believe that we’re now entering our fifth year of business. It’s incredible how quickly time flies. To put it in perspective, only 6 years ago, I was floundering at a job that I wasn’t growing in. I had difficulty picturing a long term future at a desk. I was a good employee because I always looked for opportunities to do things differently, but it took a lot to keep me motivated because I was unclear about where it would lead me. I met Simon 5.5 years ago. I started pastry school about 5 years ago. I got my first restaurant job 4.5 years ago. We opened our first store 2.5 years ago, our second store last year, and Meow Parlour opened two months ago. I turn 30 this year and I tell myself that I’m still young enough to not have to make big decisions, but on the other hand, we have staff that rely on us so we have to be smart when we do make decisions.
This year is a good year to reflect upon all of our hard work and to think about how to make what we have even better. We have a beautiful new website, great staff, two wonderful Macaron Parlours and a whole lot of cats that we’re going to help to find good homes. One of my own cats, Mr. Socks, is constantly asking me for a bigger home. I feel like it’s time for me to be accountable to him and work on streamlining my work life so I can give him more attention and maybe be able to move into a bigger place. Who knows? By February last year, I didn’t know that NYC wanted a cat café so there’s a lot of potential for change!