Marching Forward

So much has happened, but I haven’t processed it all yet, so it still hasn’t really hit me.  Maybe it’s because I can’t really see the accomplishments, and since I have a terrible habit of measuring my accomplishments in objects as appose to actions, it wouldn’t look like much in front of me.  So I wrote it down in order to have merit.  They are as follows, in no particular order:

Helped my best friend finish packing as she moved across country ( Portland, OR, you are very lucky)

Went to FL to visit some old and dear friends

Formed an LLC

Finished my business plan

Cold called a broker

Started my loan applications ( note: started, but haven’t finished)

So far this is looking like a pretty balanced list.  Notice the ratio of business and pleasure.

For February being such a short month, I definitely feel as though I’ve accomplished a lot.  However, I wasn’t feeling that way at the beginning of the month. I began February stuck in the mental grind of drudgery.  The snow, the cold, the insurmountable task list. So I begin the one day at a time approach.  Making ‘to do’ lists, just to cross items off.  Slowly, but surely, each task got handled. Not measuring my current self’s productivity to my old self’s productivity also had it’s advantages.  Too often I measure myself up to my peers, and my past accomplishments.  I had to remind myself everyday that that was then, this is now.  ( I highly recommend this notion)  Seeing all the accomplishments listed, however small they may seem on paper, really feels like something.  Some of these tasks were really hard on my emotions, like helping my friend Whitney move.  She’s been a huge part of my life in Chicago and has been my number one pusher from the get go.  If I had a motive, Whitney thought I could do it.  Alas, she was ready for a change of scenery, and in my own way, I was too with my own aspirations.

Other tasks were daunting on paper, but in reality, weren’t that hard at all.  Forming a company this day in age is not difficult. There’s search engines and sites designed to help you ask yourself all the introspective questions about how you want your business to run, and how much of it will impact you, the owner.  After that, it’s just a matter of filing and writing a check.  Then you wait…. and wait some more… and then you come back from a vacation in Florida only to find that they’ve stamped your approval and you can go about your day. ( I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I felt just seeing the stamp of approval though!)

I know I have direction, but when moving toward a goal so big, I sometimes lose sight of it.

To build on the momentum, after thinking about how to execute pop ups around Chicago, I was approached by Meghan of Baker Miller Bakery and Mill House, who offered their bakery to host a pizza dinner.  The more we talked, the more excited I got.  Use their flour? Sure!  Should we sell tickets? Yes!  Maybe make it a residency for a month and see how it goes? Yes and Yes!  So now the next project at hand is, well, you know, figuring all of that out.  Marching forward in deed.  I’ll keep everyone posted with updates.


i just followed the recipe

Now that it’s January, affirmations begin…. or are continuing, depending on your angle.  I ‘ve always found it hard to follow New Year’s resolutions. It’s like creating a recipe for life success.  One that will bring you love, good health, success and happiness mixed with the feeling of accomplishment.  Whether it’s easy, or difficult, staying on the path isn’t my strong suit.  Typically I need my girl Friday to keep me on track.  Left to my own devices, my mind tends to wander.  Sure, I start out strong, with goals and lists, plans and schedules.  Yet sometime around March, I find my intensity waning.  The luster of staying on the path, has lost it’s shine, and I’m drawn to the rabbit hole of netflix binges, too much caffeine, and off kilter sleep patterns.  Sure, I want to see results, be they big or small, but I’m a sucker for instant gratification.  Now that winter has shown it’s snowy frigid face,  I haven’t even started.  I find myself already being drawn to the glow of the computer and not to do anything considered productive, or cooking up a storm to battle the freezing temps outside.

Back in December at least I had the ‘excuse’ of the holidays, and adapting to a new work life.  One with enormous potential (opening a restaurant) and goals were swimming in my head:  Start a company, fill out paperwork to establish an LLC.  Make appointments to look at potential spaces and google census reports of particular neighborhoods that had a need for a homey pizza place that I could call my second home. ( Have you ever read census reports?  They are very boring and not very shiny.)

Now, come January, I’m having a hard time finding my footing.  Each step seems enormous and impossible to take.  That’s when I realize this pattern of mine, big goals luring me in with promises of success, and feeling whole once again, only to realize that there is no finish line.  No end. And suddenly, those plans feel insurmountable.  I start to feel a circle of thought that feels like defeat.  You know, that train of thought? You start to think of all that needs to be done, how much money each checkpoint will cost, how as soon as one thing is ‘complete’ there’s ten more waiting in the wings for attention, that leads to more plans, more paperwork, time and money.  My time and my money.  My time.  I’m not ready to give up my time!  I just started to feel like a person who gets eight hours of sleep!  I don’t want to be on the endless spin cycle, do I?  And so, I stop.  I avoid, I procrastinate.  It’s all so big, and hard, because I don’t really know what I’m doing yet. I begin to feel incompetent and question my abilities.  Maybe I don’t have enough drive?  Maybe it’s fear? Or, maybe I really can’t do it?  Can’t.  See, I’m already relinquishing my control with just one word.  Where is my girl Friday?!

Following a recipe though, that’s easy, and very gratifying….recipes have a plan and there’s a beautiful picture that shows me exactly what I’m making.  ( I tend to not pay attention to recipes that have no pictures.  I know there’s lots of amazing recipes out there that don’t have pictures, but I can’t bring myself to make them, I just want to know where I’m headed, I’m a very visual learner.  Jaques Pepin’s, La Technique, is the best example I can think of.  It’s all pictures.  Pictures, of EVERY step.  It must have cost a fortune to publish!)  Recipes have an ingredients list, so I know exactly what I need to have on hand in order to produce this beautiful picture.   And there’s steps!  Little ones, that each lead me closer and closer to the finish line, and after about an hour (depending on the recipe, this time estimate may be cut in half, unless you’re cooking in high altitude, in which case it should be doubled.) I have something tasty and delicious to share with others. They give me feedback.  We share, and there’s that feeling of connection.  It’s a great way to gain perspective.  Now, see that wasn’t hard at all.  Here’s where I let you in on a little secret…. follow my train of thought here, there are no bad cooks, simply bad recipes.  I mean, if you have a great recipe, and follow it, you will succeed! Or at least that’s how I think.  If a recipe produces an unsuccessful outcome,  it wasn’t me or my abilities, or lack thereof.  It simply was never going to work out.  The picture made promises it couldn’t keep.  It was the Ikea bookshelf instructions missing two very important steps, and an Allen wrench.

So, really, all I need to do is find the best recipe and follow it to achieve the results I have pictured in my head.  Great! I know what I need to do! All my procrastinating can end!   Too bad that reality doesn’t really exist.  Sure there’s recipes, directions, and plans that map out the course of beginning a business.  The website has them all, categorized and proficient.  Except, there’s the matter of taste or preference, and decision making that can only come from the owner….me.  I have to decide what makes sense for me and my business.  I have to weigh in on the order of things, and the ingredients list, and measurements.  I have to write the recipe.

I’ve written lots of recipes.  It’s actually not that hard, I simply find a recipe I like and change it to meet my tastes and expectations.  After testing it over and over, and maybe over again, I adapt, edit and publish. That’s right, when writing a good recipe it helps to have a good recipe model. And when starting a business it’s good to have a good business model.  One that fits the profile of the business you are creating.  Then you simply adapt, edit and publish, and wait for the people to speak.

So that’s where I’m at.  I can think of a number of restaurants I enjoy, Floriole, Cellar Door Provisions, Blackbird, Smalls BBQ, Nomi, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Chicago Kalbi, Tortas Frontera at both terminals in O’Hare Airport ( yes, I listed airport food, but it’s great food that just happens to be in an airport, locationlocationlocation), and that’s just off the top of my head. What about you?  I’m curious about other perspectives.  What is a business model that you’ve experienced and like. It doesn’t have to be a pizza place, or even a restaurant.  Whether it’s their service, website, location, menu, or managing style, tell me about it.

welcome to Our House

 My family is one of storytelling…going all the way back to when I was a kid, my mom would play a cassette recording of my granddad telling tall tales.  This would subdue my brother, sister and I on long car rides. My aunt and cousin are both in fact professional storytellers. My mom even has a story time for kids at the public library in my hometown. Even now as an adult, I will binge listen to podcast like The Moth, and This American Life because it takes me back to those soothing days of sitting still and listening.  Story tellers have a super power over me, they slow everything down, so that I notice all the details, and take them in one at a time. Most everyday entertainment is in fact a story that’s been nuanced by the teller, be they a musician, playwright,  or director, they have a vision that they want to share with their audience. I feel that desire exists in all of us, to share our vision and be heard.  I am no exception.
One can only imagine my sore disappointment, when I found out I don’t tell the best stories. I can usually see the moment I’ve lost my audience in their eyes.  This tends to happen right after the opener, mid-sentence, and to be honest, I’ve probably lost you already too….  This has been my lot since I was a kid.  The problem is, I have too much to say and have yet to refine that skill of editing my thoughts before they become out loud.  This comes to fruition when I begin circling the cult-De-sac inside my head, repeating myself and searching for a way out, because either I’ve forgotten how the story ends or the point I was making.  (At this point, friends, family and co-workers can jump in to concur.)
So, yeah,  story telling wasn’t my gift, but I still had this strong desire. I needed to share and communicate with an audience. To connect and relate to them, to have a common bond.  I found this in food, and to be more specific, bread baking.  (Bread carries some serious weight in the land of story telling).  Baking had become my super power. I’m able to share, relate and tell a story to my audience, about the ingredients and their origin, to why I put them together, to what it reminds me of, and how I feel every time I make it. Professional chefs call the sum of all that inspiration, and I call it a story. It’s the simplest task to eat a meal, but to slow down , taste, and to reflect on that experience, of the food, that someone painstakingly prepared, that’s more than just inspiration. That meal is telling a great story of its experience, and it taste better because of it.
I started as a cook, and it taught me about ingredients, and why I should know their origin.  Then I moved to pastry where  art and science ( still two of my best friends) met me at the front door. All that intensified when I became a bread baker.  This was my calling.  The day to day’s of feeding the starter, and mixing the flours to create a unique flavor, to the patience that is needed for a long slow fermentation that adds depth. Everyday on the bread station looks exactly the same on paper.  Some would call this monotony, but bread bakers call it a meditation.  Things are never what they seem, the calm and smooth exterior of the dough, holds a force bubbling up inside.  A baker has to listen to the starter and the dough. The weather weighs in and the dough changes its pace, so the baker has to follow.  When rhythm is met and balance is created, it’s magic.

 Surprisingly, it was a long journey to get to the point where I’m at today, where bread meets cooking, and they have a love child called pizza.  If  I thought bread was my calling, then pizza was a nostalgic vision of  home.  It brought together all the different sides of my experience in the food world.  Whenever I got tired of making bread for the day, or was trying to feed the kitchen in a hurry, I’d throw together some pizzas, and it literally pleased everyone.  Every friction filled cook I’ve ever worked with has found the time to stop what they’re doing to eat pizza.  Pizza is the perfect food to eat in a kitchen because it doesn’t require plates or silverware.  And the truth is, it doesn’t matter if the pizza you had as a kid was good or bad, your memory of it is special and untouched.  As every good story-teller knows, that’s the golden moment, you’ve connected with your audience over nostalgia.

Even though I was running kitchens and bakeries for other people, I found my voice.  Refining, editing and feeding people pizza, became all-consuming .  Pizza is my vision, voice and vice.  And not just any pizza, the best pizza I could imagine.  Apparently the public thought so too, because we were drawing quite a following.  What started as a tangent to a bakery once a week, begin to fill up more and more time, and energy.  It was at that point I decided to leave the bakery where I was working to focus my attention to building a restaurant of my own.  Where Pizza’s the star.  In the mean time, while I’m going through all the boring stuff like paperwork, and punching numbers, as well trying to learn things that my younger, naive, self never thought I’d need to know, I’ll be writing here about the process.  The good, the bad, the confusing.  From the starting point of my business plan (almost complete), to the day I open the doors, I’ll be here writing it all down, and posting recipes as I go.

Welcome to Our House, this is my story.