Finding Treasure on Rock Islands

I never thought I’d grow up to be a business owner. “Entrepreneur” was never on my list of dream board careers. Although, come to think of it, I never really had a dream board. I’ve always been more of a, have a flicker of an idea and begin to build it before having the blueprints in place, kind of gal. This, I won’t lie, has gotten me into a few pickles in my life.

In myyounger years I was impulsive and forward-thinking. Not forward-thinking in thesense that I contemplated the immediate future and how my actions would affectmy life, but more in a, I can change the world kind of way. To be clear, Inever changed the world with this way of thinking. The most common worldchangers, I’ve learned, are those who make small intelligent changes in kind andconcrete ways every single day of their lives.

Once, I moved to Vancouver Island on a whim. I sold all of my worldly possessions, quit my job and with nothing more than a duffle bag and a pack of ciggys in my purse I set out for the West Coast. I’ve always had a pretty solid work ethic, between that and a strong economy packed full of entry level jobs I did not have a difficult time finding work. I was shacked up with my great grandma, who to this day was by far the coolest roommate I’ve ever had, and was feeling safe in my new life.

One evening a group of friends and I were drinking beers on this little rocky beach just a few blocks away from my home. The sand was still warm from the day’s sun beating down on it and the ocean water was refreshing and cold on our feet as we dipped them in.

Someone said, “Hey I wonder what is on that little rock island out there?”

“Let’s find out!” I cried because I was a few drinks in and looking for an adventure. I assumed that my beach friends would have followed me as I spontaneously ran over to the ledge where we sat and dove into the unknown water.  Instead they all watched me in utter in bafflement.

Ashley, my now sister-in-law yelled after me, “what are you doing?! You’ve been drinking, the water is near freezing and there are disgusting fish in there!” Ashley, although quite the doer herself, has always been the more calculated between the two of us. If she were a strong and stealthy hawk, I’d be an erratic squawking pigeon with something to prove man.  

The rock island was nothing special and there were indeed many, many disgusting fish which grazed my feet and legs while I floated there summoning the energy to swim back. Upon returning, nobody was impressed with my reckless impulse and they all made sure I knew that nobody swam in this bay. It just wasn’t done. I felt that I wasn’t too worse for the wear, although exhausted and possibly suffering from a mild case of hypothermia, I was okay. However I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t find any cool treasure on my excursion. And not to mention the parental like scolding I received upon my return I had to admit, my “fun and exciting” swim ended up bust. 

I’ve grownup a lot since then, I’ve realised the value of my life and the lives around me. I am not a thrill seeker in that sense anymore. My body has become round and soft and does not bode well against physical feats of daring such as swimming long distance in oceans any longer. I still do, however, seek thrills in other ways.

Being a small business owner is scary, thrilling but more importantly it actually means something. There are challenges and excitement and so many moments of doubt it has become a daily exercise to quell them.

There are many times, when life is being especially rough on us with money problems, bad customers or both that I think about how we came to be here. I wonder if in part it was my foolhardy spontaneity that brought us to these difficult times. I wonder if I had only been a bit less hasty, thought the process out a bit more thoroughly, maybe the tough times could have been avoided altogether.

I do not mention Jamie in all of this foolhardiness because, in truth, the only flagrancy he possesses is a bit of road rage and doing nearly anything to make me happy. He is a wonderful and supportive husband. I often am baffled as to how I landed the guy.

The truth is, if spontaneity brought us the difficult moments of owning a business it has also gifted us the amazing moments too. By the tireless efforts of my obsessive advertising and Jamie’s amazing skill and hard work in this business we have built it from the ground up. We have made friends and adopted a loyal and loving community. We have donated our fare to charities and catered weddings. We have laughed with our patrons over silly puns and the sheer ridiculous size of our sandwiches. And some might say that we are simply a sandwich shop, but to anyone who looks a bit closer we are so much more.  We are a Panini Tribe. 

So I may still be a bit reckless in my way of approaching life. I like risks, especially when I can foresee them working out in my favour and I becoming a famous Panini Queen! I often do not have it in me to think of the danger involved. I suppose that is something I should probably work on. Because like wildly jumping off of a ledge into unknown water, in business there are many “what-ifs” and many many ways to sink. But if you have the skill, the drive and a bit of beautiful riotousness the difference is, you almost always will find some hidden treasures when diving head first into business.

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Mistakes have been made, but so have sandwiches.

We never went to business school. Our business school started from the day we uttered the words, “let’s start a sandwich shop.” See, this sentiment already shows how naive we were. One does don’t “start” a sandwich shop. One begins to slowly put it together piece by piece but once one realises how difficult it is going to be they consider calling it quits but eventually sees that too much time and money have been invested and discovers it is ultimately too late for one to back out. So instead we began to glean business knowledge from anyone we knew who was smack dab in the middle of it. This is not to say that a crash course on QuickBooks wouldn’t have been beneficial, but there is still time for that.

Every business owner needs an ally. We are fortunate to have many allies in our corner. From family and friends to other local business owners. When we decided to build The Hot Wire we didn’t know how tightknit this city’s small business sector was. Within the first few months of operation we had other entrepreneurs coming in, introducing themselves and offering tidbits of advice which we gobbled up greedily and continue to to this day. I am not going to lie when I tell you that I’ve had more than one “girl crush” on the strong and amazing business women I’ve met so far on this journey. I continue to watch them dutifully and try to embody their every move.

We also did not have “startup” money. It is difficult as a newbie restaurant to get loans from the bank, as I have mentioned in previous posts the restaurant biz is a fool’s errand and nobody really wants to contribute to a fool’s errand. Although Jamie has years of kitchen and managerial experience we were green to small business startups so the entire endeavour was foreign territory to us. This was our first dilemma; how to get some dolla’ dolla’ bills in our pocket ya’ll.

The town where we lived was a tourist town, peaking in mid-summer with tourism but remaining quiet and slow for the rest of the year. We had both grown up there and knew it was not the place for us to start a business. Not to say it is not the place to start a small business, it simply was not the place for us to start our small business. We wanted to find a location relatively close to home but far enough away to feel like we were doing this thing on our own.

So less than a year after having the “what about a sandwich shop” conversation we sold our home, downsized a smidgen and moved four hours away (the perfect distance to feel empowered and independent yet still safe) which is how we came up with a meager starting budget for our panini dream.

Now, when I say meager I mean meager. I’m pretty sure that some restaurants spend the same amount on their HVAC systems as we spent on our entire startup. We made mistakes. We went with a bay that had been stripped down to the bones. We had to purchase all of our own equipment and ventilation to be installed and to this day there is about ten electrical outlets less than what we need, drastically limiting our options for setting up our line. This all meant we had very little budget left for decor. We DIY’ed a lot. Turns out that is part of our charm! We have customers comment daily on our weird and eclectic decorations and our homemade tables and chairs.

Of course it wasn’t all compliments and kisses: Marco Z from Yelp found our concept “confusing and awkward” and gave us a 1 star rating.

It was our first bad review and I cried for days over it. As a small business it is difficult getting bad reviews. It feels as though that one review could and will shut you down. I must admit, now looking back, Marco Z had some solid points. For example, why were we calling ourselves a café without even having an espresso machine? Also, forgetting to put music on and having people walk into a silent abandoned “cafe” may have been a bit creepy. I get it.

So after a brief pity party spent with a bottle of wine, spooning my small dog Chevy, and indulgently blubbering about all of my woes to his uninterested doggy ears, I returned to work the next day and started making some changes. We stopped calling ourselves a café and started using buzz words like, “bistro” and “bakery” and it helped. We made sure the radio was turned on each morning and there would always be someone to greet customers. We didn’t do anything about our decor because, well, we were still pretty poor. No amount of constructive criticism from Marco could change the cold hard facts man.

I still think about that first bad review, because to date we have never had another review like it, but now I can see its value and acknowledge how we as a company grew from it. So thank you to all the Marco Z’s out there, you keep small businesses like us in a constant state of angst and begrudging evolution.

It wasn’t all trial and error though, we did make a few smart decisions too. Like not purchasing expensive equipment before we even opened the doors. All of our equipment was bought second hand and we are still using the home-style Hamilton Beach panini presses we purchased for day one. They are reliable and they’ve gotten the job done. It was tempting to seek out and buy shiny new equipment since we work on an open line and the customers would be seeing what it was we were working with. However we didn’t want to have to reflect the price of $500 dollar presses onto our sandwich prices.

I look back and see the evolution of this sandwich shop and I am in awe. We’ve made so many mistakes. We’ve struggled and nearly called it quits on several occasions. Sometimes it just feels like too much. So many parts of this business have not come naturally to us. We came in blind and we felt our way through the rough and scary patches. We scrambled at times. And fought for inches forward only to be thrown backwards with faulty equipment and expensive fix-it bills.

Some days you can find me huddled into myself crying in the bathroom because a customer nonchalantly calls me old or ugly or fat. These things actually happen, this is not a writer’s lie. For some reason being behind a counter opens a person up to all sorts of horrible name calling.

Some days Jamie is overcome with book work and it feels as though the pressure of a business that is still being built sits upon his shoulders and the weight of the thing may just break him in two.

We have made many mistakes in this business, but we have learnt from every one of them. We have made lasting friendships, learnt more about business than we ever could have in a manager position and most importantly I get to creepily watch my idols from a not-so-far distance. So you  see, everything happens for a reason.

Mistakes have been made, but so have sandwiches. This is our unspoken motto now. We have held on through the thinnest of circumstances and we will continue to do so until…Well, obviously until we have built this thing into a multi-billion dollar panini empire and we can say sayonara to all this hubbub and sit back sucking up mai tais on a beach and never have to think about small business again.

So I’ll say it again for the cheap seats in the back; mistakes have been made, but so have sandwiches. And there you have it people, the secret of business.

Shhh, don’t overthink it, just let it wash over you like the beautiful knowledge nugget it is.

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The Baking Hour

It is 4:00am and I am dragging myself out of this cozy bed. It is 4am! Why am I dragging myself out of this cozy bed!? Jamie sleeps beside me, his body is warm between these flannel sheets. It is very still and very dark in the world right now. It is the baking hour.

I remember when the kids were small babes and they slept for only a few hours at a time. I remember sitting in a big blue rocking chair beside their crib while I fed them and imagined our future together. I’m not going to lie, tiptoeing around the house to get ready for a job where I bake bread and cakes at 4:30AM each day was not what I had in mind. But life is weird, our paths are winding and I have grown to love and find comfort in this life we are building.

I kiss my now much older and wiser and stronger children on the foreheads before leaving. Sophie is sprawled every which way on her bed, approximately 5672 stuffed animals are propped up around her assumedly staving off the lurking monsters. She does not flinch when I plant one on her.

Lars sleeps still and calm, much like every other night. I think that he must expend all of his energy during his daytime escapades and once he falls asleep he does not move for the next 10 hours. He is recharging. His hands are folded on his chest leading me to immediately think of a creepy blonde murder doll or something so I gently move them to his side and brush his hair off of his forehead.

These kids. They make me smile, they make me cry, they frustrate me until I am driven into the bathroom where my only source of solace lies with a rollback can of muscles and a box of wheat thins; there I shall sit munching away the woes of motherhood. But these kids are also the reason my husband and I do what we do. We wake up early and work far into the night some days. Building a business is not a fool’s errand. It takes hard work and guts and the ability to seemingly live off of virtually no money at all. Come to think of it, maybe it is a fool’s errand. Somedays, on the nearly unbearable days, I definitely would agree that it is. But it is our fool’s errand.

The shop is cold in the wee hours of the morning. The warm smells of bread and bacon are not a staple at all hours of the day…or night. I flick the lights on, warm up the equipment and look at a list of things to do.

This is my favourite part of the day. With a strong cup of coffee in hand I activate the yeast for the breads I will be baking and begin the day. I take pictures for our social media pages and prep food for our second smaller location located in the Lethbridge Public Library. Yes, you read that right, we have a café located in a library. Awesome, right?!

You know, I make it sound all perfection and awesome-sauce but don’t get me wrong here, I’m describing a great morning. They aren’t all great mornings.

Some days, I wake up at 5:15am to find my alarm did not sound. I am frantic before my feet hit the floor because if there is one thing that gives me soul crushing anxiety it is being late. Even when I only need to be accountable to me, the boss.

I spring out of bed, brush my hair, forget to put deodorant on, eat a banana on the drive to work, get to the shop to find a scary looking shadow just outside the back door. I Decide it is too scary to go in that way because of said unknown shadow. I Go in the front door and am accosted by a drunkard asking to come inside. Obviously I Say no but also apologise profusely to the stranger because I am unable to use the term “no” as a full sentence. Working on it. He advises that I am a dumb bitch and continues on his journeys. I start to retrieve yeast from the cooler to find we are out of yeast. We are also out of milk and rye flour. I stub my toe on the cooler when I kick it out of frustration. I begin making sandwiches for the café and slice my finger open. After 15 minutes of disinfecting prep space and finger I slap together a half-assed open routine and go and cry in the office for 20 minutes.

So you see, it’s all in the way the cards fall my friends.

When you are a business owner who operates and works the floor of your business it is so important to remind yourself of the things you love. The love things. The love things are so damn important you guys. It is easy to focus on the ugliness of business. The politics, the negative comments from people who know so much more about your business than you do. The lack of time and money. The crazy hours! The scary things about entrepreneurship. And to be honest the scary things can be downright crippling at times. This is why we all need something to keep us going, to remind us why we are building this thing.

Often it is in the baking hour, when life is quiet and still that I remind myself about the love things. I like to think of this sandwich place that was just a glimmer of an idea in our wandering brains only four short years ago. I look at how it has grown and morphed into this ever evolving creation. This creation that has Jamie and me and Lars and the Soph written all over its heart and soul. And that, that is my love thing. That is the thing I keep showing myself when it feels like it is all just a little too much.

Regardless of what you are doing in your life, the love things matter. They are basically the reason we do anything at all. Figure out what your love things are and live for them.

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My Children are Panini Pushers.

 

Lars and Sophie are adorable children. I know this sounds indulgent and bias because they did after all live in my body for nine months and I have raised them to be the upstanding individuals they are today. But, seriously, they are hashtag amaze.

Sophie has the wonderfully confident and mature disposition of her Dad with an artist’s head and hand to match. She is shy and cautious and quick to avoid awkward peopley situations. She can be funny when we least expect it by using words and phrases that make her sound like she is 8 going on 42. This is literally what her babysitter said to me the other day. “Sophie is 8 going on 42.” And I’d have to agree. She is an amazing girl.

Lars is lean and quick and always willing to lend a hand even if he is in the middle of fighting a crazy hard boss on Super Smash Bros. He is kind and well liked. His imagination is always moving and running, just like his heart and his body. He is seldom still but always knows when somebody in his immediate circle needs a cuddle. Lars is animated, he is beautiful and strong. He is an amazing boy.

Now that we have the awesomeness of these two laid out I will lay forth how they are in fact trying to push our product on literally everyone they come in contact with.

A few months ago Lars and Soph were at the shop and Lars was waiting outside the washroom to use it. The man who had been in there came out and he and Lars got to talking. After their convo the customer walked over to the register and proceeded to tell me that our son was a fine young man. He was talking this guy’s ear off about all of the great healthy food options we make from scratch here at The Hot Wire. I swear I didn’t not train him to do that. I’m not that obvious in my brainwashing skills.

Last week I was bringing some cupcakes to the school for a Halloween party, it was then that I realised how committed both the kids actually are to the business and the selling of our pressed sandwich product.

“Hi there, I’m Lindsay, Sophie’s mom. Sorry it’s taken me so long to stop by and introduce myself, busy busy…” This is the part where I make some kind of weird exasperated guttural sound like I am the only one who knows what it is like to be busy and I must sigh heavily or groan to highlight this fact. Then I realise that this is a rude thing to do so I clumsily follow it up with, “I know you must understand.” And look around knowingly at her disaster of a classroom.

*It wasn’t actually a disaster, that’s a writer’s lie to make the story more relevant. (More on my compulsive lying later.)

“Oh don’t worry at all, it’s so nice to meet you.” This wonderfully sweet woman who looks like she was born to be a grade three teacher says to me. “Thank you so much for the cupcakes they look amazing, did you make them yourself?”

“Yes, thank you.” I say trying to match her cheerfulness which I immediately fail at and just end up sounding like I am mocking her. “Ahem, we own The Hot Wire Panini it is a sandwich shop on 3rd avenue,” for the record I ALWAYS introduce our shop like this. It’s not for the sake of this blog that I am mentioning its location. I do this all the time. It’s like I am trying to subconsciously plant the name and location into the brain of whomever I am speaking with to assure they will seek it out next time they are driving down 3rd avenue south Lethbridge, Alberta…Okay that time I did it for the blog.

“Oh I know that. Sophie has been telling me all about your guys’ restaurant ever since the first day of school.”

Warm fuzzy feelings wash over me when I hear that my girl is so proud of our family business that she speaks about it in class with her teachers and peers.

“Yeah I once made the mistake of handing out (Insert popular rival franchised sandwich shop here) and was met with total horror from Sophie.”

“Oh?” I ask this as a question but it comes as no surprise. A cold sweat washes over me.

“Yeah she said and I quote, ‘oh no! There’s no way I can take that coupon home. My mom says that they are our nemesis’ she actually said nemesis isn’t that funny? And that she can never step foot in the door of that shop without bringing shame to her family.”  Now, I get that this sounds like one of those writer lies that I was telling you about but in this case, unfortunately this is the truth. Ever since becoming a small business owner I have been enforcing in our children that chain fast food stores are pretty much the devil incarnate. Or at least that they certainly do not need our money because their name drives enough business their way already.

The words that Sophie’s teacher reiterated to me that day did not come as a surprise because it is the sentiment I preach to my children verbatim each time we drive by one of these big name, high traffic franchises.

“Oh. How funny. Kids are weirdos.” I reply. The slow wide smile creeping over my face is odd, I know it, so I begin to slowly back out of the classroom while looking at the invisible watch on my wrist. I muster something about having to get back to the shop. Just before I leave I offer to donate some free Hot Wire coupons for next time she is doing give always in the classroom to which she happily accepts.

I am smiling as I walk back to my car and not from the horrifically awkward conversation I have just endured but because my kid is awesome. My kid, who usually doesn’t seem to give a whatsit about our business is actually an at school advocate for it.

These two are always surprising me with their quick wits, funny antidotes and their smooth and charming way to sell product to anyone who is willing to listen to an adorable kid talk about sandwiches for a while. I think they may have a bright future in advertising.

 

 

The Journey Started a While Back, I’m Just Late to the Party.

“Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” -Elbert Hubbard

Life has a way of coming around full circle. Ugh. Did I really just start this blog like that? out of all the sentences I could have mustered up, it had to be that?

7 years ago I was having a very difficult time in my life. I was a young mother of two young humans and like many young people in this position I felt as though nobody understood the exact set of trials and tribulations I was going through.

Writing has always been the outlet. The way I purge the bad feelings of insecurity and unease from my reeling brain. So seven years ago I started a family themed humour blog called The Blogging Mama. It opened me up. It allowed me to meet other like-minded people and converse and connect with a writing tribe that I called my own for many years.

The Blogging Mama evolved into a columnist position with my local newspaper. I began writing a weekly piece called Me Plus Three which ran for a little over two years in the Red Deer Advocate. It was a wonderfully fulfilling time. I was busy writing, connecting, making people laugh and most importantly raising my family while doing it all.

Fast forward to present day. My family and I live in Lethbridge, Alberta, own a small but popular sandwich shop and I have not put pen to paper, pardon me, finger to keyboard in over six months. It sometimes astounds me how many lives we live throughout one lifetime.

We’ve owned The Hot Wire Panini for two and a half years now and we are growing and learning and holding on to our sanity as best we can. Small business is not easy business. Add juggling family, marriage, a fleeting social life and not to mention the ever surfacing ego I am vainly trying to squlech and we’ve got ourselves a recipe for an interesting and darkly comedic Netflix dramady. *Seriously Netflix, I am open to offers. I’d pretty much take anything.

Some days I find myself bursting with pride and gratitude for what we have built. I revel in the thrill of carving out our own path and working with hardened grit towards our goals. And on other days I curl up in the fetal position and rock myself until I fall into a restless whimpering sleep.

Maybe writing down our experiences will sooth the bad days and preserve the good ones. Maybe this blog will serve as a therapeutic release. Or maybe it will just give me a reason to hide away for an hour each day. I think I will be fine with any of these outcomes.

Our customers deemed us Mr. and Mrs. Panini mere months after opening the shop. I, of course, ran with the names because it is basically the dream team of marketing tools and it fell directly into my lap. So here we are, almost three years in and I have a hankering to share the stories, the sadness, the scares and the beautiful things that come along with opening and running a small business.