September 21st, 2014 | Rachel
Only a three month lag between posts this time. Progress?
As expected, life is crazy. I’m neck deep in my campaign for city council, with a thousand houses left to canvass and the public forums coming up in two weeks. A majority of voters here vote by absentee ballot, so most of my campaigning [and fundraising] has to be done before the ballots arrive in early October.
On the business front, change is coming. Our food truck, which should have been here at the beginning of the summer, is finally nearing completion. We just added a new member to the team, and there will have to be even more hires made and employees trained after the truck arrives. Even though progress is slower than I would prefer, it is still amazing to watch an idea come to life and grow into something tangible.
These words, attributed to a writer named Dr. Howard Thurman, come to mind often:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Although I have been feeling the weight of all of the recent stress and responsibility — and having a Want To Do List that is far lengthier than my Can Feasibly Do list — at the core of it all, there is an excited and satisfied feeling of being alive.
I never would have believed I’d last this long after investing most of my life savings into starting a business and burning through the rest as we worked full time to reach the point of profitability. The truck delay has been quite an obstacle, since it has always been the cornerstone of our business model, and yet we’ve managed to make do and struggle through the instability and uncertainty.
I can see why being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone. But for some people, myself included, the challenge and risk is invigorating. Our human capacity to create and build is far greater than any of us realize. That’s why I think it is better that I didn’t know what my path as a start up business owner was going to look like. You can gather as much information as possible, assess the risks and carefully plan, but you’ll never know the unforeseen challenges until they hit you. When that happens, you have to dig down and find the resolve to keep moving forward.
Running for city council has similarly been a transformative and affirming experience. This is something I’ve known I wanted to do since I was 10 years old. It is one of the most compelling reasons I had to move to a smaller community where I could realistically get involved with my local government.
Three months after I moved to Sonoma, I emailed the mayor to ask how I could get on this path. Six months later, after I moved inside the city limit and became eligible to run, I began what has become an extensive network of meetings to meet as many community leaders as possible to learn about this city and the people in it. I’ve met with everyone from the city manager to the public works director, leaders from a number of nonprofit organizations, business owners, school officials, local experts on discrete issues, and many people who just have a heightened interest in and concern for the community.
In addition to paving the way for an educated and supported political campaign, these one-on-one meetings, as well as nine months of attending city council meetings and public forums, have given me a glance behind the green curtain to see how all of the wheels are turning to create a living and breathing city. It’s fascinating.
It’s also inspiring, not just because I find it all so interesting and want to be a part of it, but also because I am seeing so many ways people are making meaningful contributions to the community by pursuing the things that make them come alive. History. Birds. Cookies. Kids. Baseball. Tomatoes. I hesitate to even begin listing the possibilities because I could never stop.
Follow me out on an optimistic limb for just a second and imagine what a community would look like if everyone was doing something that excited them. Pretty spectacular, right?
June 29th, 2014 | Rachel
Before I scare you off, no, I’m not talking about religion or spirituality.
I hate the word “busy,” and I am trying to remove it from my vocabulary. Let’s just say life in the past six months since I last posted has been very full. When I turned 31 in January, I knew this was going to be my biggest year yet. I knew it was going to be the second year of operation for my business with considerable growth and change as we actualized our goal of building a food truck. I didn’t know that the food truck would take a lot longer and considerably more energy than we anticipated, nor did I realize business would sky rocket even with out it. I also didn’t know that this was the year another dream would come true: running for public office.
I’ve officially thrown my hat in the race for Sonoma City Council. The election is in November, and I am blown away by the support than I have gotten so far. I wasn’t planning on jumping in so soon, but the landlord of the my last house suddenly terminated our lease, and I suddenly found myself living inside the city limit, a requirement for candidates. On top of that, the political climate is right and the way the seats opened up have presented an opportunity to get very involved in municipal government, one of the main reasons I chose so move to a smaller city. If nothing else, running for office has already connected me with an inspiring number of local decision makers and community activists, and it has pushed me to learn more about the City of Sonoma and what is important to this community. The new connections have also been great for business and my personal life and have allowed me to get involved in other organizations and causes that are important and fulfilling to me.
Some people have rightly pointed out that embarking on these two major projects in the same year is a little, well, insane. But I know that the time is right, and I have the time, energy and ability to take the plunge. Standing on the edge of any large scale project can be intimidating… or terrifying, and, from my experience, the swim towards success entails a recurring cycle of excitement (dude the water is awesome!), feeling overwhelmed (these waves are intense!), panic (I’m drowning!), and the amazing realization that the pieces are coming together and you have accomplished something (woohoo, I’m swimming with dolphins!). There will always be challenges, obstacles and unexpected turns, but the cycle is just that, a cycle, and you have to constantly renew your faith that the dolphins will appear.
There is a Catch-22 in starting and building a business. You create the vision and get to work. At first, the concept is small enough that it is completely within your ability to operate. Eventually, you’ll grow, and you’ll need help to accomplish your goals. But, you haven’t yet achieved your vision of a fully functioning business, so you have to find people to help you as business grows and have faith that your careful planning and forecasting was accurate.
I am in the business of food. I don’t have any professional training in this field, but I had enough of a knack for it and a solid vision to get it off the ground with only the help of my business partner. We created the concept, developed the menu and learned how to produce it for our customers. Eventually, he and I could serve up to 50 people pretty well on our own. Then, we got our first opportunity to sell to a hundred people. We still couldn’t hire any employees, so we called in favors with friends to come help us prepare and cook for a number of larger events last summer. It was important for the business that we took these new opportunities, because they paved the way for even more business. With the help of our friends, we continued to grow through the summer, but as we entered the fall, we knew that we needed consistent help that could take over some aspects of production. They would learn the processes and become more efficient, and we would be able to focus on other areas of the business, like improving the menu and developing and growing the business.
Fast forward to today, and we have four part time employees, all with food experience, and we have the added assistance of two (paid) teen interns for the summer. We are also looking to hire an experienced cook, which is necessary to elevate the quality of our food and the efficiency of the staff to the level where we want to be. We can now comfortably cater to crowds of 200, and we regularly get emails from people requesting our services. It’s gotten to the point where the demand is greater than Arthur and I can physically keep up with, even with our growing staff.
Lately, we have been so consumed by the day to day operation of the business, that we haven’t had time to step back and figure out how to delegate more of the production responsibilities to our very capable staff and how to focus our own energies on creating a sustainable operation that is able to achieve a higher level of capacity. We also haven’t sat down and discussed more ethereal components of the business, like defining our company culture or hospitality philosophy (the latter of which is an essential component of our business concept that was never articulated because Arthur and I had an assumed understanding of the kind of southern hospitality that we want to emulate).
I’ve already turned this into an essay on business development, so I won’t dive into the financial aspect too deeply. Suffice it to say that the adage of “it takes money to make money” is very true, and although we are on the road to sustainability and have the confidence of our lender and financial advisers, we aren’t there yet. So, it takes faith to keep moving onward and upward, even though our current position can be unsettling.
And so, a theme of this year is faith: faith in myself, faith in the dolphins, and faith in the universe as a whole.
As an addendum, the beautiful side result of investing everything you have into a business is that it forces you to simplify and prioritize. In the last three years, I’ve seen my salary go from six figures to zero to making just enough to scrape by. It’s easy to give up costly habits and unnecessary expenses when you are completely committed to creating something that inspires you and that you believe in. On the other hand, I also look forward to the day that I can (occasionally) indulge in my favorite past time of shoe shopping.
January 16th, 2014 | Rachel
Home for the holidays, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
I was sitting on the front porch of Poe’s, a popular bar on Sullivan’s Island, SC, recounting a conversation I had had with my grandmother the previous night. It was about holding grudges.
“I only hold grudges against people when they disappoint me,” I said, pausing and sipping a gin and tonic.
Then my friend Travis chimed in simultaneously with precisely my same words as I finished the thought, “Which is everyone.”
I’ve had this conversation several times over the past few months with other admitted perfectionists. We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards that we then, consciously or unconsciously, apply to everyone else.
I’ve always maintained a fairly open policy about the types of friends I want to make. I resist settling into one particular group and prefer to float somewhere in between. The benefit is being surrounded by an eclectic and diverse crowd of friends, and I take particular delight in bringing them all together. Anyone who attended one of my parties in New York could probably testify to that fact. In Sonoma, this has proven harder to do with friends scattered between Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa. Its easier for me to stay friends with people when I hop from group to group. Interactions stay casual and few expectations are formed.
Inevitably though, there comes along an individual every now and then that I connect with particularly well, and we spend more time together. This is when the problems arise.
The unfortunate truth is that at the end of the day, everyone is going to let you down. You will be misjudged, wrongfully accused, forgotten or ignored. Someone jumped to conclusions, refused to listen, failed to support you or flat out insulted you simply because they are a flawed and imperfect human being. I know this for a fact, and yet when it happens, my fragile, sentient heart shatters from disappointment.
Up until now, I’ve been stuck at this point. How do I maintain a relationship with someone who is unable or unwilling to abide by my Code of Acceptable Behavior, particularly when it is someone who has gained access to my inner circle of trust?
Formerly, the answer is immediate expulsion. Push them back out to the periphery and vow to never give them an opportunity to disappoint me again.
Ah, there it is: the grudge.
Hastily built out of anger and hurt feelings, then reinforced with a thick layer of pride and fear of getting hurt again.
The problem is that maintaining that barricade requires a great deal of mental and emotional energy. Not only does this divert energy that I can be investing into positive, productive relationships, it blocks me from moving forward in my own personal development. I recognize the harm in them, but I hold onto my grudges because it is too uncomfortable to scrape off the fear and pride that keeps me from dealing with the initial disappointment and then moving on.
That is, until this year.
I am consciously letting go of the grudges I have been dragging behind me, examining initial injury and then moving forward. As my friendships grow, I accept the fact that people aren’t always going to react the way I want them to or to behave in a way that I prefer. I am putting my expectations on the shelf and am opening my mind to the people and personalities I am going to meet. When conflict arises, there will be no automatic deportment to a prison built out of resentment and injured ego. Some relationships will naturally drift apart while others draw closer together in light of a successful resolution.
Yes, it is the Year Of Jubilee and all sins have been forgiven. Welcome to 2014, the Year Of No Grudges.
January 5th, 2014 | Rachel
I just returned from spending the holidays back south. I was in Alabama for a week and a half for Christmas and Charleston, SC for a weekend for New Year’s Eve. This morning was my first back in Sonoma.
I had a leisurely morning of watching Zoolander and then walked down to my neighborhood coffee shop to catch up on some work and say hello to some of the baristas and regular patrons. On my walk home, an elderly woman whom I’ve passed many times with a hello and a wave was standing at the gate of her picket fence. She asked if I had heard of some sort of food item that involved artichokes and spinach.
“Spinach artichoke dip?” I asked, crossing the street to where she stood.
“That sounds right,” she said. “Do you have a recipe?”
I said I didn’t but it was something I frequently saw at parties so it shouldn’t be hard to find. She said she was going on a walk to find someone who had it. I wished her luck on her quest and returned home.
I sat down on my sofa, opened up the old laptop and found a highly rated recipe for spinach artichoke dip from allrecipes.com. I printed it out and headed out the door, saying hello to my neighbor who was working on his car in his driveway. The woman was no longer by her gate so I stopped to write my name and address on the recipe before tucking it in her door.
“Did you find it?” a voice said. I turned and saw her standing in her garden. She had an empty lot next to her house that had been turned into a beautiful garden. I stopped by there many times during the spring and fall to take photos of her roses.
I gave her the recipe, and she told me one of her neighbors said they bought some over in Petaluma. I suggested a market in town that would probably have it too. She looked at the recipe and said she would try it, and I told her I loved cooking too and actually owned a food business.
I soon learned her daughter loved to cook, one of four children plus several she had adopted. “I told you I lived in Alaska, didn’t I?” she said
She had not.
I learned she lived in Alaska for over 20 years working on pipelines. She went to school to learn welding. “It’s a wonderful occupation for women,” she said. She stopped and asked if I wanted to see what her grandchildren made her for Christmas.
She instructed me to sit in a chair in the garden while she fetched a book. The title page revealed her name: Juanita. The book was a biography of her life. In the back was a report one of her grand kids had written about her for school, along with a copy of a newspaper article about her contribution to the “new gold rush” in Alaska.
She actually started off as a nurse but didn’t have the stomach for it like her sister did. So instead she became a welder. Later she would relocate her family plus two of her neighbors to Boyes Hot Spring (our neighborhood right outside the Sonoma city line). She’s been in her house for over 50 years.
“You have come to the best neighborhood. It is very special,” she told me, although it wasn’t always that way. After a violent crime not far from Juanita’s house, the whole neighborhood banded together to make the area safer. They had street lights put in and agreed to be more vigilant. Today, the neighborhood is practically Mayberry.
She pulls over a short gardening stool and sits on it. I learn she is 87. She brags about being able to lift anything in her yard, better than some men. The secret to long life, she said, was staying active. I agreed and told her about my busy grandmother who just turned 85.
Juanita credits the women’s liberation movement for the life she has had. “We can do anything now. And the thing that makes us so successful,” she said “is our ability to multitask.” She also expressed thanks for being born in the United States, being well aware of the lack of opportunity for women in many other countries. After moving to Sonoma she went back to school and got a job as a psych tech.
We talked about different people living in the neighborhood, as well as the businesses nearby. She told me about her neighbor across the street who was the person she called when one of her children died. A young man in a black t-shirt walked by and I learned he worked at the local development center and had injured his back subduing one of the patients. Juanita had worked at the same institution but took a night shift and agreed to be their news writer for seven years so she wouldn’t have to tackle anyone.
“So your name is Juanita?” I asked, since we hadn’t actually introduced ourselves.
“Actually my name is Anita, but when I moved here I thought I’d fit in better if I had a more Hispanic name.”
The conversation turned to me, and I gave her a synopsis of my own working life so far: attorney in New York City turned food business owner.
“Then you know exactly what I’m saying!” she exclaimed. “You are going to fit in well here. People are going to love you.”
As the conversation wound down and I got up to leave, she asked how old I was. When I said I was 30 her eyes lit up.
“If only I knew what you know when I was 30,” she said emphatically. “I can tell you are going to do great.”
She gave me her phone number, and I said goodbye and walked back to my house, stopping to chat first with the neighbor working on his car and then my next door neighbor who recent listed her house for sale.
A special place indeed.
August 19th, 2013 | Rachel
Remember my first catering gig at the film set? We did it as a barter for our Kickstarter video. Well, the video is not only finished and awesome, the whole campaign is coming to an end in less than two days. Please check out the video and consider supporting my new food business as we expand from a catering company to a food truck.
Initially, I thought I wanted a truck because they are trendy and a great way to test a food concept in a range of geographical areas. Now that I have done some outdoor catering, I know that having a truck also reduces the amount of heavy equipment that has to be unloaded and loaded (and sometimes rented) and includes everything we need to be up to health code (a catering tent at a public event in Sonoma County, for example, requires netting, hand and utensil washing facilities, and lots of sterno and ice to keep the food at the proper temperatures). And customers think trucks are way coolers than tents.
Check out our video and consider donating to our cause in exchange for some pretty cool rewards. The campaign ends at midnight Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, August 21.
Here’s the link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1208035185/financial-fuel-for-the-drums-and-crumbs-food-truck