Week 1

(1Dec – 5Dec2014)

My first week of business was nothing short of a crazy interesting learning experience I found thoroughly satisfying. Yeah, you read that right. It went something like this…

Oh, and as you read, keep in mind that I have developed an ability to laugh at myself when things go wrong just as I can find great joy even in little things when they go right.  So while you may prefer to read that everything went well, no hitches, no bumps, everything is polished & smooth, that’s just not the truth of the matter … things started out bumpy and got better, and I can laugh at the tough stuff and celebrate the recovery phase.

Monday December 1st — Failed Production

  • At the beginning of my first day I tried a triple batch of Almond Biscotti in one of the big mixers at the bakery – and it completely flopped. The dough wasn’t mixing and some gray ooze appeared on the bowl – I had to throw everything out.
  • The company (cell) phone wasn’t working. The battery wouldn’t charge, there was a lack of signal in the bakery, and I wasn’t able to tether my computer to the data signal that also wasn’t there – all things contrary to the purpose. I took a break from the 3-batch Almond Biscotti debacle to head out and address my phone issue – ultimately to no avail.
  • Not knowing what happened to the Almond batches, I needed to start producing in a way I was confident about. I switched to my personal 5-quart mixer and produced for 3 businesses. Many of these batches didn’t turn out right – the cookies broke when I cut them. I thought I hadn’t properly adjusted for the temperature of the commercial ovens. Ultimately the product was edible but it was not right. As you can imagine I was quite frustrated. (The problem was with the chocolate recipes – which were popular among the orders I was filling. I found out the following week that the issue was with the type of cocoa powder I was using – which I’ll write about in the week-2 blog.)
  • Dad helped me from the time I got back from the cell-phone-fix outing. We left bakery at 11PM having only produced a lot of not-right biscotti … not to mention a lot of personal disappointment. I went home thinking about my first day, that it was just one day – and of course that I had come too far for this to discourage me. It made me think about the (8?) years of seeking employment prior to starting this company … I had picked up a saying that was representative of what I did … “When times are trying don’t stop trying.” I went to bed knowing I’d return to the bakery the next day with refreshed vigor.

Tuesday December 2nd — Successful Production

  • Just before leaving the house for the bakery I received a call from Three Sisters Farm Grocery following up on placing an order. Now I was off to the bakery to fix everything I made for the 3 businesses the day before along with an additional store. No pressure … right.
  • When I arrived at the bakery I asked John, the owner of the bakery and his business JW Desserts (I rent space from him) about where I might take my failed biscotti from Monday and Almond batches that didn’t mix along with the gray ooze. John instructed that the ooze occurred because I didn’t attach the bowl correctly to the mixer, and the dough didn’t mix simply because I wasn’t stopping the machine to scrape the ingredients off the bottom. None of that occurred to me because I assumed this commercial mixer was like my Kitchen Aid, and these things don’t happen with that. Live and learn. As for the not-right biscotti, I could take & donate that to the soup kitchen in Langley that produces lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and write it off as a donation.
  • Needing to get started on production, my dad took the Monday biscotti to the soup kitchen. When he returned he said the kitchen crew was happy to receive it and that they don’t usually get something like this in. My dad was also carrying a Mason jar full of hot chicken soup – he said the kitchen staff offered it to him. This struck me as an amazing thing … one of my dreams for what I might do with this company is to fight hunger with helping to support food banks. It wasn’t my plan, but as it turned out the first act of my company was to contribute to a soup kitchen. I was happy just to donate, and as it happened that the first thing my company did was to give as I had dreamt – and without expecting anything for it we got a jar of soup. It’s a simple thing, and it’s beautiful. I’m humbled by this, I’m grateful for this, and I like to think optimistically that this is just the beginning. I think that was the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.
  • Dad stuck around for the day. He wanted to see my production work out right and to help me get caught up. He made himself available for any loose end I needed picked-up; his help was invaluable and I was glad to get to spend the time with him at the beginning of my company. For the first half of the day I was going with what I know – I was cranking my batches out one at a time using my 5-quarter mixer. As the afternoon stretched on it seemed that progress was plodding. I weighed my options and decided to try working with one of the big mixers again. I had around four batches of Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti to make with a few other batches of flavours to finish the day. I rolled the dice with the instructions John gave me and it all worked. This time dad & I left the bakery at 10 PM – the biscotti for 4 stores had been produced and everything came out right.
  • Tuesday was about 180-degrees different than Monday. As I saw things come together better than the day before I said what I understand Da Vinci to have said – “I’m still learning.” I have plenty to learn about this new business venture – all elements of it. I realized that the day I go home saying “Everything went well today; I didn’t learn anything new.” is plenty far in the future … and the day that happens is probably the day something really went wrong.

Wednesday December 3rd — First Deliveries

  • Dad and I got to the bakery to handle the packaging/labeling, loaded everything into 12gal totes according to where the deliveries were going. We work well together, which is good because the packaging is currently a bit of a slow process. Biscotto goes into a bag, the bag gets weighed, the weight gets hand-written on the label, the label gets applied to the bag, and the finished package goes in its tote. Since I don’t know the general weight of my packages just yet this adds detail to the production.
  • First delivery was to Useless Bay Café (or is it Coffee) in Langley. The staff apparently was expecting me. I was directed to bring my tote to the end of the counter to unload. 3 or 4 staff members met me with eager curiosity. I realized then that I should have brought samples for them, thought to bring with my next delivery.
  • Second delivery was to Greenbank Store & Grille. I connected with Brian Cedar, the owner, and he immediately set up a display by the front door. I got a picture of him with the product – and my company received its first check.
  • Third delivery was to Three Sisters Farm Store on the north side of Penn Cove. For me this was a special stop. The original inception of my company in January 2013 was to start as a cottage business then shift into being a commercial business once it grew large enough. During these many months a number of business owners received samples of my baked goods and expressed interest in carrying my products once my company became a commercial business. My understanding has been that the Three Sisters Farm is the largest food producer on Whidbey Island; their products are local-grown/made and all natural, as are the other items they carry. My plans changed when they said they wanted to carry my baked goods – that was the ‘critical mass’ of interest for me to start as a commercial business. I met with the manager – Jessica, who is one of the three sisters. I made the delivery and then attempted tripping over one of their displays on the way out.
  • My last delivery was to Drag N Fly Espresso in Oak Harbor. I got to meet the owner, Tina, and talk small-business shop a bit.

I should also mention that Saturday night before the launch the south end of Whidbey Island received a pretty good delivery of snow. There is a personal significance to this – I have had many good beginnings with snow. My first Xmas was white, I got my driver’s license in snow, and my move to live full-time on Whidbey Island was in snow – to name a few. I take this as a good sign.

If you’re wondering where my writing is about Thursday & Friday, it’s not here. I haven’t had much time, and I’m finishing writing this on the 14th – I frankly don’t remember what happened. Also, I realize you the reader may be more accustom to better polished blog post article things instead of these bullet-point notes – chalk that up to the same ‘lack of time’ reason. Which brings us to this – the good news and the bad news … the bad news is that I’ve started a company and I haven’t exactly come up for air yet; the good news is MY COMPANY HAS LAUNCHED!!!

Best, Don

PS about Week 1 – I had some dental surgery about a week before the company launch, which also added to the trials/tribulations. On one hand, I couldn’t sample what I produced because I was on a soft-food order from my surgeon; on the other hand, I had a number of pleased volunteer taste-testers. While I can carefully consume my biscotti now, I am supposed to remain on soft foods into January – so if you’re passing through Clinton let me know, it will make my surgeon happy to know I have samplers … I’m quite certain it would make you happy, too.

Est. 1Dec2014