A year ago I quit my job in Los Angeles, CA and moved to Phoenix, AZ to open my first business, a small breakfast and lunch joint called SUPERETTE cafe. I have since sold the buisness and its under new management but its lessons I will hold on to wherever life leads me. Below are 7 of the top lessons (certainly not all) I learned from my first year of entrepreneurship and opening my own cafe. These lessons are not limited to experience in food service as they undoubtedly cross over into all industries so I hope you get something out of this list whether you are seasoned, new or still thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship!
ONE: You’re in the People Business. – Prior to opening the café a trusted friend advised me that “I wasn’t in the food business, I was in the people business.” DANG was he right. I legit repeated this back to myself over and over again. This is soooo true for any business really… no matter the industry but when you deal with your customers face to face daily it really rings true. When you are passionate about making a difference in the world with your product or service it has to be about the people whose lives you will touch. In the beginning phases of creating the cafe I read a book called Sacred Commerce about using business as a path to enlightenment. It describe business in a way I had never heard of before…, using it as a tool to make the world a better, more vibrant place. It, along with my friend’s advice, re-centered my focus to the people who came through my doors. I had an opportunity to have an impact in their daily lives and potentially their health. What a PRIVILEGE it was!
TWO: Experience isn’t everything – A couple years back I worked for a top litigation lawyer in Los Angeles and after only being employed for five months I asked for a 30% wage increase. I know this is crazy, a 30% raise!!! Where did I get the nerve?! During our conversation he asked me what I thought was the key component to giving someone a raise. I said experience and he agreed and then told me that I had almost none (I had just left my job as a women’s contemporary fashion buyer and had never stepped foot in a law firm before) but because of my drive, grit, passion, tenacity, curiosity, desire to learn, and being open to feedback he was going to give me the raise as he saw it as an investment in me and ultimately what I could do for him. I learned that those traits are far more likely to determine success then prior direct experience. Although having experience is helpful it is not the sole driver along the road of building a business that profits and has an impact on the world. I know this because I had never stepped foot in a commercial kitchen before and I had only a handful of months experience as a waitress under my belt when I took the leap the to become a restaurant owner. Statistically speaking I was doomed to FAIL! However, I self-educated by reading books, articles and watching every episode of The Profit—no joke, its educational AF! Not having experience leaves you malleable and less likely to be “stuck in your ways.” Ultimately if you want to do something but never have, do not let that stop you. Just go for it and learn along the way!
THREE: Mentors are invaluable – Within my first month of being open a customer asked me if I could cater an office meeting for 30 people. 30 people might not seem like a lot but I had NEVER catered anything before and I had just opened the café a couple weeks prior… to say I was nervous and intimidated by the request is an understatement. I was down-right modified by it. How the EFFFF was I supposed to figure this shizzzz out? MENTORS! I called my mentors who had more experience than I in catering and restaurants. A mentor is someone who is more experienced and knowledgeable then you who can offer guidance and advice on your business which is P-R-I-C-E-L-E-S-S. They walked me through how to prepare the meal, what serving platters to buy, how far in advance to prep the food before delivery and how to do that while still managing the regular flow of service and orders at the café. It doesn’t matter if you need help with decisions as big as whether to take your company public or as small as tile selection for your kitchen walls (true story) having a mentor is invaluable. Seek them, honor them, and utilize them.
FOUR: Consistency is key – show up, show up again, show up again and don’t stop showing up. Things don’t always happen as fast as you might have planned but no one remembers the girl that gave up! As long as you make a concerted effort day in and day out you will see results over time. The way this translated into the café was by always opening up on time (harder than you might think), making sure the food was consistently fresh, styled nicely and prepared as quickly as possible for quality service. Doing this over and over again turned customers into fans and helped me win people over. They came to expect a certain level of service and striving to continually provide that kept them coming back. Even when I didn’t reach the bar I would admit the fault and ensure them I would do better next time.
FIVE: Entrepreneurship is a love/hate relationship – There are days when I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about everything that was happening with my business and then there were days were I couldn’t wait to close my eyes because everything that could go wrong did. Being able to take the ups and downs in stride and having the strength not to make big decisions while emotional is key. Its imperative to stay committed to your vision while always remembering why you started. Remind yourself that almost all the mistakes you make can be corrected and have a lesson folded in.
SIX: Know your customer and create for them – although having passion for what you are creating is a key ingredient to success and fulfillment in business knowing who your customer is and what they want is vital. You will almost certainly fail if you do not find out who your audience is and what they want. As many of you know reading this blog I eat a predominately plant based diet. It’s been over 6 years since I’ve had meat but I learned quickly that if I only served the food I wanted at the café we would have failed miserably. After all less than 1% of the US population is vegan. Not saying vegan restaurants cant be successful (we all know otherwise), my cafe was located inside a large office building which meant that I was not a destination location, I had no street view and I had to appeal to all different kinds of people, diets and lifestyles. We served chicken, ham, turkey, bacon, sausage, chicken, beef cheese, and of course vegan eats. I wanted to be successful, give people what they wanted and share vegan items with people in a non-forceful way. Although it was very challenging and I often felt inauthentic, I looked at the café as a opportunity to share the good news of plant food with those who might have otherwise over looked it. I would offer vegan specials (like the salad in the picture above), talk about the importance of vegetables for longivity and health while still having something for everyone. Ultimately I was there for them not the other way around.
SEVEN: Having a growth attitude is the best attitude -“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” Napoleon Hill once said and Buddah teaches “that which you think you become.” You most likely have heard these quotes before and I now believe them to be true more than ever. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a business owner. I read autobiographies by successful people, listened to their podcasts while driving, watched their YouTube videos in my free time and regularly talked about it with my friends and family about it (full disclosure: I STILL do all those things!). I once even had the audacity to tell my boss at the time that I WAS going to be THE BOSS one day! Sure enough… It was this growth attitude that not only got me to where I am but allowed me to be successful at something completely new to me. Whenever a challenge presents itself keep a positive attitude and trust yourself to do whatever it takes to figure out how to overcome it. Believe that you can have an impact and effect change and you will. Two of my favorite quotes to hit this home: “Optimism is everything. If your not optimistic its GAME OVER.” Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of vayner Media and “Life is growth. If you don’t grow you die,” Phil Knight, founder of NIKE from Shoe Dog.
Sharing is caring! Id love to know what some of the most valuable lessons you learned either at work or by running your own business. Please leave a comment below!