7 lessons from entrepreneurship and opening my own café

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.

A photo of SUPERETTES very first catering!

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!

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San Juan, Puerto Rico (Vegan) Food & Travel Diary

On the south east side of the Carribean between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Carribean Sea lies an island that is 100 miles long and 35 miles across. When you land in Puerto Rico and walk out of the terminal the last place you might think you are is in the United States, but in 1898 after the Spanish-American war we appropriated Puerto Rico under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Now Puerto Ricans are natural born citizens of the United States. On the island they take US dollars and more people here speak perfect english than in Los Angeles (at least that was our experience). As a US Citizen, this is a fantastic place to visit. There are no customs lines to go through at the airport and a passport is not needed to travel to this colorful, richly cultured and majestic place.

Breakfast on the plane: avocado and almond butter banana on noble bread

I’ll be honest, prior to my visit here I did very little research in terms of food assuming I’d have no problem finding healthy vegan eats. Not having too high of expectations mine were simply blown away and the vegan and vegetarin food here gives Los Angeles a run for its money. There are several resturants catering to those on plant based diets and most typical resturants had at least 1-2 options for non-meat eaters. Below is a vegan food diary of San Juan, PR should you be planning your next trip here.

Guava Curry at Ocean Park Cafe

Just off the main resturant street, Calle Loiza, Ocean Park Cafe sits comfortably a couple block up from Ocean Park Beach. They have a wide assortment of vegetarian and vegan options, including a menu for your four legged friends. Yes, people! they have a dog menu. We had the Guava Curry (see above) and the Pink Hummus, neither of which dissapointed. The service was friendly and quick, although the place was not very crowded when we were there. We grabbed a table outside and sipped on wine while waiting for our food. Come here for a healthy meal near the beach, grab a table outside and enjoy the sounds of the island.

breakfast in the condo with ingredients from FreshMart

Cooking in your airBnB?

Should you have a kitchen where you are staying be sure to check out FreshMart, a natural grocery with similar brands to Whole Foods and lots of organic produce. They have a location in Candado on Ashford Ave. We went there several times during our stay to cook food at “home.”

Ali Baba – tucked inside a strip mall behind a Starbucks sits Ali Baba. If you weren’t looking for it you would absolutely miss it. The signage is minimal and the construction on the sidewalk was instrusive but after a few looks to our right and left we spotted it. Based soley on quality yelp reviews, we chose this place for dinner and enjoyed every last bite. They had several vegan options all of which we ordered. The creamy hummus was complemented by the crisp crunch of cucumbers, the tabouli was bright with fresh parsley and the plantain stew was spiced perfectly with just enough local flavor to make it something special. Unfortunately we went at night time and I did not get any pictures. Come here for an intimate dinner date, snag a corner table and enjoy your the company of your dinner companion.

Berlingeri Cocina Artesanal – if you are looking for a place to leave you inspired and full then Berlingery Cocina is the place. With fantastic food, an instagrammable interior and friendly staff we went here twice on our five day trip. The chef and his team elevated soup and tacos to new levels with black bean and planain stew, mango tofu taco with house made vegan macadamia nut cheese, and lentil salad to write home about. This was easily my favorite meal on the island. They are only open Monday-Friday 11am-3pm so be sure to squeeze it in on an afternoon near the ocean.

Berlingeri Cocina Artesanal

Coco Bana – A few blocks east of Ocean Park Cafe lies Coco Bana another healthy vegetarian and vegan eatery on Loiza street, which seemed to be THE street for quality restaurants in San Juan. With a wall of windows this cafe is bright and inviting with a clean interior and open kitchen. Filled with locals and tourists alike all enjoying locally inspired yet globally infused cusine. I ordered the Pink Burger (pictured below) which hit all the right notes, savory, sweet, crunchy and smooth, I could probably eat this all the time and not get sick of it. The color alone would bring me back. I also ordered a fersh green juice here to counter act all the beer and wine  I had and later would be indulging in.

For the flight back home we stopped by FreshMart again and loaded up on carrots, hummus, mixed nuts, fresh fruit and granola bars.

Eating in San Juan with specific dietary needs was a seemless experience and as easy as it gets with options on every corner. The food here really blew my mind and makes it all the more appealing of a place to visit.

Happy New Year everyone!

xo, Cara

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How to Make Whipped Body Butter at Home

whipped body butter

have you ever wanted to make something but were intimidated by it, thinking it would be too challenging? it might surprise some of you but i had always felt this way about roasting beets. up until about 2 months ago i had never roasted one or cooked one on my own before, opting for the pre-roasted ones at trader joes or whole foods. i imagined they would be so hard to peel and chop that i would almost certianly be exhuasted by the experience or slice my finger off. true story. this year has been all about facing fears for me, i.e. quitting my job, becoming an entreprenuer, and yes…, you guessed it, finally roasting a damn beet! much to my surprise its really not that hard at all, very similar to a sweet potatoe. i have to laugh at myself for this one, its pretty ridiculous. needless to say, i’ve roasted several dozen beets this summer since they are readily available at the farmers market from McClendon’s Select here in phoenix. another example of my fear totally getting the best of me would be making homemade beauty products, including toothpaste, lotion, and perfume. I always assumed it would be really hard, time consuming, the result less than stellar. it always occured to me like something i would not be successful at so i never tried. the number of times i have read that not trying is the ame as failing is leaving me with the feeling of redundancy by mentioning it again here but geezuz, its sooo true. not only was this whipped body butter easy to make, its pretty freaking awesome and it gave me the opportunity to use my kitchenaid mixer for the very first time (thanks mom for the gift)! a new thing that has become an issue of sorts is how dry my skin, particularly my hands, since moving to phoenix and being in a kitchen all day. its borderline unbareable at times. itchy, flaky, burning, reall rough, ugh. this is of course in part due to the hundreds of dishes i wash daily at the cafe but the super dry heat out here makes my skin feel like the parched earth of southern california. on the flip side, my cousin and best lady friend have buns in the oven so combine those elements and it was the push that i needed to face my fear and make body butter. i wanted a gift the soon-to-be mommys could rub on their bellys to decrease stretch marks and i could spread on my entire epidumis that was chemical free and smelled really lovely. volia. moral of the entire story here is to face your fears, give that thing a try you have been holding back from. who knows. you just might surprise yourself!

This is deeply hydrating, moisturzing and safe to use on your skin. No chemicals, parabens, or ingredients you cannot pronounce.

Here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup  organic coconut oil (i bought the big tub from costco, kirkland brand)
  • 1 cup shea butter (I purchsed this combo pack)
  • 1 cup cacao butter (I purchased this combo pack)
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot powder (I used bobs redmill)
  • 10-12 drops lavendar essential oil (i love this one)
  • 10-12 drops peppermint essential oil (I used this one)

equipment: kitchenaid or hand mixer, large bowl, oven safe pan, containers with airtight lids

 

Directions:

  1. pre-heat the oven to its lowest setting, mine was under 300. combine your oils in an oven safe baking pan and put in the oven to melt. keep an eye on your oils as you do not want to cook them, just melt them so you can mix them together
  2. once melted, remove and add in your essential oils and arrowroot powder. the arrowroot helps the lotion feel less oily on your skin and is optional. the essential oils are optional as well as this smells really good on its own, but i am a sucker for lavendar and peppermint together.
  3. whisk everything together well and place in the freezer for 30 or so minutes. Since its extra hot in phoenix my oils needed about 45 minutes so keep an eye on them. You want the oils to start to solidify, be a similar texture to a thick gel, not rock hard. You should be able to mix or break into the surface with minimal effort.
  4. transfer to your cake mixer and whip into butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. it took me about 25 miutes to get it to the texture i was looking for.
  5. transfer to airtight containers and use as needed

 

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Summer Pasta with Lemon-Thyme Mushrooms and Arugula and an Update

summer pasta with lemon-thyme mushrooms and arugula3

its been exactly 6 months since my last blog post. A part of me wants to have this dramatic reaction and make it mean something that i stopped blogging on a regular basis. like i slacked off, got lazy. The other part of me wants to be compassionate, understanding and realize that sometimes life happens. you quit your job, move states, go through a tough breakup, and open a cafe. sometimes that’s what gets in the way of wordpress. i realize now how much blogging was a creative outlet for me when i used to spend my weekdays making the lives of attorneys easier. its no surprise that on my time off i cooked, photographed and blogged. now that i do what i love for work i don’t necessairly need an outlet hence the blog falling to the wayside. i get to create recipes and cook all day for work. hello dream. sometimes i get a rush of nostalgia for my previous life but can shake it rather quickly when i realize that having a fancy sounding job and making a lot of money is the boobie prize…, i wasn’t fullfilled. my life is about sharing healthy, sustainable, delicious food with my community. its about creativity, love and self expression. i do miss la, though. i don’t feel nearly at home in phx. i feel as though i have been sent on location for a film shoot and once the project is complete ill be back in the city. at least thats the plan. i can’t stay away for too long so i make short trips back as often as possible and this last one something pretty magical happened.

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Savory Breakfast Bowl (Gluten Free and Vegan)

Savory Breakfast Bowl

It’s 2016 and sort of hard to believe that another year has passed by. Can you? Maybe you’re just as shocked as I am. Maybe not? I always find the holidays and year end to be a time of reflection filled with notaslgia but I am at a turning point in my life. 2015 will be remembered as the year I distingushed what I am committed to going forward as I continue to shed the skin of my former self. I am becoming a grown lady. It will be the year that I realized “someday” does not exists and I only have right now to chase my dreams. There were many accomplishments and triumphs but the biggest one was finally quitting my corporate job to take a leap of faith into entrepreneurship. I am opening up a cafe and I am scared as hell but nothing great comes from comfort zones and lets just shout from the roof tops because I officially stepped outside of mine! The future is uncertain but it is exciting and I can not wait to see what 2016 has in store.

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Vegan Baked Ziti Pizza

Baked Ziti Pizza #vegan 4

I am clearly not on a low carb diet anymore, that was soo 2005. And screw diets anyways, they don’t work. That being said this is truly a hearty indulgent dinner but so much fun and oh so good.  On my way home from Chicago after Thanksgiving I was watching Diners, Driver In’s and Dives on the plane and one restauranter offered a pizza with pasta on top. My Italian heart went through the roof and immediately decided I needed to make a vegan version for the blog. So Voila! I give to you Vegan Baked Ziti Pizza. Traditionally a baked ziti is pasta that is slightly under cooked and then finished off in the over to al dente with loads of cheese and meat. This is similar such that the pasta is baked but while on top of an already cheesey pizza. The result is rather delectable!

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Persimmon and Basil Creme Galette

Persimmon and Basil Creme Galette #vegan 9

This past month I’ve found myself in aggressive moods propelled by moments of angst over the impending changes at work and in my life (more on that another day). I can’t help but think the current state of our world is also a player in this game of nearly getting the best of me on a regular basis. The barrage of headlines about war and terror and red verse blue cast a shadow on my otherwise sunny disposition. How does one deal with it all? It makes me feel like I am treading water in uneasy seas.

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5 Ingredient Almond Rosemary Crackers with Fig Tapenade

5 ingredient rosemary almond crackers

This past week I have spent a generous amount of my free time in the kitchen and I ain’t mad about it. I flew up to San Francisco last Friday with my boyfriend to visit my dear friends K&C who recently moved and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at home together on Sunday night. The evening began with a trip to a really cute local market called Oceana in Pacifica where we gathered ingredients and snapchatted away about some superfood ice cream we discovered (username: CaraCarin). Immediately after getting home we got to work, Christina on the crackers and me on a pear chutney. It was just like old times and I couldn’t help but feel nostaligic as we laughed and sipped on red wine together in the kitchen again.

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Holiday Kale Salad with Fennel, Sweet Potato, Apple and Pomegranate

Winter Kale Salad 058 #vegan #glutenfree #kale

Over the last 9 years I have been living apart from my immediate family spending 8 of them in Los Angeles and 1 in Melboune, Australia. There have been many years where I haven’t made it home for the holidays for various reasons including school, work, boyfriends or because sometimes going home for the holiday’s is difficult. Like many, my parents are divorced and figuring out which parent to spend what holidays with isn’t always easy. On the upside, so many people I know and love in LA also don’t go home for the holidays so there is always a friends-giving or gathering of the like so I’ve never felt like I missed out. However this Thanksgiving I am traveling with my dad back to Chicago to see the extended family- cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My traditional Italian family is not very vegan or vegetarian friendly so I have been thinking a lot about what I want to contribute to the meal and this kale salad recipe is a serious contender. 

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