Monday, September 1, 2014

Risky Business

When we first started, we didn't want a store. It was too risky. We were afraid of all the issues that came with a store like rent costs and equipment breaking down. We were worried about the variables and the unknowns.

Things changed for us in 2011 when I went back to school to study Culinary Management at ICE. Throughout my six months there, we worked on creating a business plan for our future business. Since I already had Macaron Parlour, I wrote a business plan for a tiny store somewhere out of NYC. I pictured us in Hoboken. Even though we got our start in NY, I was just afraid of the seemingly cutthroat environment and the idea of failure loomed too heavily over me. Even though my teacher told me that I had a very reasonable business plan with very reasonable financials that showed us to be profitable, I couldn't believe that we would ever make it in NY.

While I was writing this business plan, Simon and I got it into our heads that we should be at the Union Square Holiday Market. It was four months away, but we felt like the next step from being a business that was at one weekend market and doing wholesale for maybe 2 stores into one that people take seriously was to participate in a serious event. It would test our ability to run a business - like a test run for a storefront. Before, we had like 5 days to plan for a weekend of sales, but never anything to challenge us to spend every day engrossed in the business. To do this, we applied to Madison Square Eats (owned by same company, Urban Space) and Simon swung by the office to try to convince them that we were a serious business. I quit my job, and suddenly had incredible amounts of time to dedicate to making the worst photoshop diagram of what I thought our booth would be. The diagram had no depth, perspective, and it did not (AT ALL) show our aesthetic. I'm pretty ashamed of how it looked, but someone liked it enough to give us a booth.

Our booth was less than 25 square feet, but it was still a real challenge to keep it stocked. We had to hire our first sales employees and beg to borrow pastry cooks from our fellow food friends at our commissary kitchen. We'd be filling macarons until 3 am and I would have a lot of difficulty in making it to our booth by 10 am. Nights when we weren't at the kitchen were spent trying to figure out financials and forecast production. It felt like we were selling out every day and unable to keep up, but in reality, we always had macarons to sell and our booth was always open. It was a totally new and amazing challenge and we ended up being able to participate in the Union Square Holiday Market.

Participating in long term markets put us in touch with customers on a daily basis and they asked us for a store. Forgetting all our fears, we started looking in the East Village. It's close to our home and we figured that there are no other macaron shops there. I found our spot quickly, but Simon hated that I chose a 1100 sq ft space because he felt that it was too big. Our space is made of two storefronts and he wanted us to take just one to minimize our costs. The price was right and with two storefronts, I pictured having a kitchen on one side and our retail space on the other. I wrote a business plan, did the financials, had everything checked over by my teacher at ICE and it just made sense for us. I knew it was too big for us at the time, but I hoped we would grow into it. For the first six months, Simon was right. We used half of the kitchen, our menu didn't seem big enough to cover the whole display counter, and I couldn't get my act together on developing our classroom. Even family started to intervene and say that we were wasting space. Other small businesses started coming by and asking to rent space, but I was adamant that one day, we would use all of it.

We were very pleased that as we grew our staff, we grew into our space. It wasn't until we started having days off that I realized that the true benefit of having the bigger space was the fact that we were able to get the staff to allow us the time off. If we had only half of the space, we wouldn't have been able to really train people. Training a large enough staff to cover all of our needs while we're absent is a blessing. We were even able to take two trips since opening. We had more vacation days after opening than we did before we opened.

This all could have gone poorly. We could have gotten too large of a space and never grown into it. It was a real risk we took and it paid off. It was a big financial risk and we were lucky enough to have an existing reputation that helped us speed through the process of growing. Perhaps if we were opening for the first time and no one knew about Macaron Parlour, things wouldn't have gone so well. It could have taken us over a year to grow into the space. While St. Marks Place is busy, excitement about our opening helped people get in. When we first started, we couldn't afford to fully staff our place because of our rent costs so Simon and I worked like crazy. Once our business kicked off, we were able to hire more people and scale back our own hours at the shop.

Now, we're really grateful for that seemingly poor decision. If we didn't have the larger kitchen, we never could have continued to participate in markets because we would not be able to get the staff to do enough production. I love that our retail side has enough tables in it to be packed on a Friday night and to hear the excited voices of people as they eat through a box of 12 macarons. Now we have a second store and over a dozen staff members. Simon and I get two days off a week (not consecutive, yet). We bought our first car together for our business (macaronmobile?!). I have enough people in the kitchen and they're capable of producing so much that I don't need to be there as much as I used to. I'm pleased with how things have turned out for us.

I generally live my life on the safe side. When it comes to our future, we had to take a risk and it paid off. As a business, we have to weigh every single decision we make. We have to look at the upsides and the downsides and see if the upside is worth the difficult journey it's going to take to get there. For example, our second store cost more to make than the first store despite being less than half of its size and it's in a neighborhood with high rent and very little food options. It seems risky to be in a place where other businesses have not survived before, but we hoped for the best. It's been 6 months since we have opened and it's been a great decision so far.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Learning from Others

Simon and I just took a weekend trip out to LA for a friend's wedding. We carried over 300 macarons with us on the plane to do the wedding favors and we got "ooohs" and "aaahhhs" wherever we went. It was really nice seeing our macarons on the west coast and giving gift boxes to some of our old friends that we met up with. So many of our friends out there had only seen the pictures of our macarons so it was great to finally let them have a taste.

We really cannot leave NY without looking up bakeries. For me, it's fascinating to see what works in other demographics. We love visiting tiny places where you could find the owner working at the shop and we like looking at large businesses and chains. There's a lot to explore at every different level of business, from the smallest to the largest and we wonder what we can learn from each one. Every business starts differently and it's all just so interesting to me.

The way that Macaron Parlour came to be is a very NY story. In 2009, we were in the midst of a recession. Simon lost his job and I got a pay cut at my job. The recession gave us an opportunity to rethink our careers. Do we want to do more of the same or do we want to make a change? I wasn't making a lot of money and I was in a low position, so why not finally make that leap into a career that I would like more? Simon and I didn't meet until the end of 2009, but we had things in common. We were itching for something new. We were young and we had no responsibilities. We did not have any excuses to not do what we want.

Meanwhile, the food scene was starting to explode. The Brooklyn Flea was born and tastes were moving towards more artisan foods. I know that I suddenly became interested in having better food. It was really a great time to start a new food business.

We were lucky to start when we did. We took a leap when it was very risky and it panned out. We had a tiny budget and it worked for us. Now that we have 2 stores, we have a bigger budget and the money seems to disappear just as quickly. We used to work 12 hours to produce 200 macarons, which would last us a week, and now we can do that in only a fraction of the time, but we cannot keep up with our sales. We have a lot of good problems, but sometimes I feel very alone in them.

One of the nice things about visiting other places is seeing if they share similar problems and seeing how they may be coping with them. I've seen places sell out of flavors, but in bigger businesses, it feels like the flavors reappear miraculously within hours. I wonder how big their staff must be, how many hours a day they are producing, how big their facility is, and how they figure out what to produce next. I like trying to peek at the systems in place in large chains, watching the flow of customers or how the menu is laid out. I figure the people who're in charge of operating large chains also pay to get the right research done. I notice environments where the staff is friendly and when they're standoffish. There's a lot of things to notice and learn from other places. I get ideas for not just menu items, but things like where to place an air vent if I were to get a new piece of equipment.

I look at fixtures and think about things I would get if I had the money to buy it. It's odd that when I fantasize about an unlimited budget, I imagine that I would still be glued to Macaron Parlour and I would still be working 6 days a week. Our kitchen would have Central Air and we would have a walk-in freezer. I think about a display fridge with marble in it and shiny new fixtures. I fantasize when I walk into really fancy cafes about being able to afford to do the same. But I appreciate the creativity of businesses in situations more like ours. Fantasizing will get me no where, but adjusting to reality will improve our business. For example, in the beginning we weren't able to afford custom boxes, but after visiting other places, we realized that we could make do with custom stickers until we could afford the boxes (we have the boxes now!).

I liked visiting LA because their issues are very different from ours. A lot of our business is from foot traffic - it's usually not a "destination," but Los Angeles is not a walking city. I can't imagine starting a small business there without the goal of becoming a destination. Parking there is nowhere near as difficult as it is in NY, but since more of your customer base would be driving in LA, you need to be sure that parking is available nearby. I also wonder about the sense of competition in a place where all the good places seem to be so near and so far from each other - as in 10 minutes away seems far for me, but it doesn't seem that far when you're in a car with the radio blasting. There's a lot of different challenges and it's something I think about with each new city I visit.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of adjustments that can be made. It's easy to become comfortable, but we have to change if we're going to improve. Our biggest problem right now is the best kind of problem - we're selling a lot and we don't have the best storage situation. I suspect that what I really need to do is to move into a larger kitchen, but the idea of becoming separated from our East Village store is heartbreaking to me. If we did that, our staff would be out of touch with the production of the product and our kitchen staff would not see the end result of our hard work. I can see it already with the UWS location. Some of the staff who work there have never seen our kitchen in action and they wonder why cookies don't magically appear all the time. Those who work in the East Village know how many hours we spend working and how futile it seems to be in the fight to keep ahead. For now, the best I can do is more shifts and keep trying to improve the flow. Until we can afford to make the big changes, I still have to figure out what we can do with what little we have. It's important for me to remember that the problems I face as a business owner are not unique to me. Many other businesses have been through this before and come through victorious on the other side. Remembering this is comforting to me.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A New Career in Five Years

This past weekend, I celebrated my 10 year high school reunion. I've kept in touch with only a handful of friends, many of whom did not make it to the reunion. For some of the people I saw over the weekend, I haven't seen them in ten years. For others, I last saw them at the 5 year reunion.

Five years ago, I was still working in the world of PR. I had just graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and finished my first year at the Maison Sapho School of Dressmaking & Design. After finishing undergrad, I was convinced that I would spend the rest of my career in a fashion related field so I jumped in full-force with the job, a second degree, and of course, dress-making skills. I have no regrets about any of them, but it's interesting to see that I did not end up in fashion.

At the 5th year reunion, I spoke to former classmates about my job and how I had just taken the Introduction to Baking course at ICE. I told them how much I loved it and that I liked baking more than my real job. Even some of my classmates commented on how I was in a transition period during 2009 with a lot on my plate and no idea where it would take me.

By the time I met Simon, late in 2009, I was planning my next steps. I considered moving to California to go to the Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. Meeting him kept me from moving and I chose to go to school locally. We knew quickly that we were a serious couple. It took longer to figure out that we were ok working together as business owners (um, we still fight about it to this day).

In five short years, I made a complete life change. I'm not wondering about a different career, I'm wondering about whether I can do my job better. I used to hire a trainer to help me lift 10 lb weights and now I carry around 50 lbs of sugar on a daily basis. We own two bakeries!

In the weeks after my last post, Simon and I have trained our staff for the UWS location and phased ourselves out. I'm no longer there every morning and Simon is there 3-4 times a week. I go in unannounced to check things out and see how everything looks. Nicole helped us put a lot of great systems in place in the new location and they're so great that we're working on implementing them downtown.

Our kitchen team is getting faster and more efficient. We're testing out a new schedule. I'm coming in with another member at 6 am to try to get a set of macarons made by the time everyone else arrives a few hours later. In return, I get to leave early. It makes me feel really uncomfortable to leave while people are still working, but I felt like pulling away is something I need to do. I fight myself every day to stop micromanaging so I can focus on the bigger picture. For me, the bigger picture is to make sure we have enough macarons for what we need, take the opportunity to test things, and to actually have a work/life balance. Some people believe it's impossible to have that balance while owning a business, but four years in, I'm still optimistic that one day, I will have 2 days off!

I hear a lot of other stories about how difficult it is to be in food. It's fascinating how it's different for everyone. Some people commit to a life of working 80+ hour weeks. Some people work really hard for a little bit to get their business off the ground and others involved - a great sous chef, a co-packer, etc. -  to keep things going, which frees up their time to pursue other things. I've never wanted to hand off all of the work to someone else, but I feel like if I'm still working this much 5 years from now (aka 9 years into being a business owner), then I have not done things right. I love working, but I'd like to actually have the time to do things like actually use the gym membership I paid for, eat more Shake Shack, learn how to fry eggs over-easy, and buy a new couch. It's hard to figure out what is the right balance where we're not micromanaging, but we're not so hands-off that we're losing quality.

But we'll see what the future holds. I can't believe we have a second store and it's all been so seamless. Being in business is so much easier when you have great people to help you and it wouldn't have been this easy without Nicole. The classes wouldn't have been as smooth without Simon to help ease up the mood with jokes to fill in potential awkward silences. Our customers have been incredibly sweet and receptive to our new store. We only have "good problems" and that is not something to complain about!

In five years, I went from being an employee who wasn't sure about my future to a business owner. I wonder what I'll be able to chat about during my 15 year reunion.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

First Day Off!!!

Today marks the 3 week anniversary of our store opening at 560 Columbus Avenue.  We have been testing out the new oven (hate it!), figuring out the neighborhood (everyone is so nice!!!), and trying to just get the flow down.

In some ways, opening this new store has been easier.  We have Nicole, our new store manager, helping us hold down the fort.  She has been beyond amazing with her cheerful personality, and more importantly - strong organizational skills.  This opening could not have been as smooth without her.  I cannot even imagine what would have happened without someone like her to lead our great team.  Now that we have two stores, we can't devote our entire energy to the new location.  Simon and I are splitting our time between the stores.  I start uptown to bake at 6 am and then make my way downtown to our kitchen in order to help with our regular production.  Simon spends half of the day driving back and forth between the two locations while trying to tackle every challenge one step at a time.  The three of us are exhausted, but so pleased with the outcome.  Today is the first day that Simon and I have had off since we opened and I'm really happy that we managed a day off before the 1 month anniversary.

Expanding is a very scary thing to do.  On one hand, we took the scariest plunge of actually opening a business.  We've made it this far, but we could still fail.  We're not made of money...we took what we could from the first store to invest into opening a second because we believed that it would be worth it.  We reached out to our fans and asked them believe in us enough to donate to our Kickstarter (we got the espresso machine!!).  If the UWS doesn't work out, then we're out a lot of money and time.  People assume that it's easy to expand once you have one location down, but every additional location is another risk.  We're obviously in the very early stages, but I have a good feeling.  We have a really nice landlord and while we're a little north of the regular beaten path of the Upper West Side, people have been bursting into our store to let us know that we're a welcome addition.  The funny part is that they do this without actually tasting a single thing.  I guess we picked a good spot if people are so excited that they'll declare their love without actually testing it out first!

For me, the most stressful part has been the menu.  It's hard to guess what people want and I have to hope that they eat like I do.  I love my food rich and with a lot of texture.  I want my brownies to taste like deep chocolate and my croissants to have a crunch to it.  We had to add many new items to the menu to accommodate an earlier schedule and while a lot of it was fairly easy, part of me knew that adding more savory additions would be a wise choice. I eat a lot, but I don't have a savory background and I don't cook.  We have a few pieces up there like a pesto pretzel, chipotle scone, and morning bun.  Our neighbors have asked us to make more, but it's a tough thing to do right now.  I still schedule myself into our kitchen production for 6 days a week so it's hard for me to pull away to test new things out.  I feel like I'm burdening the team if I don't put in my share of the daily tasks so I tend to do my other duties like paperwork and recipe testing either really early in the morning or after everyone leaves.  With the long days we already have, I don't really want to stay too long in the kitchen.  I know it takes me a while to unwind when I get home before I can go to sleep and sleep is precious. The good thing about a menu is that it's always a work in progress.  It's never done.  We just have to keep going, keep doing, and see what makes sense for us.  I like the idea that this is an open-ended task that everyone participates in.  I got the hard task of coming up with an opening menu down so once we figure a few more things out, I think I'll have the time to keep testing and tasting. 

No one ever asked us why we opened another shop.  Only our attorney asked us if we still liked each other enough to do this.  Simon thinks we're crazy that we opened another shop without ever setting ourselves up to have at least 2 days off a week.  My parents keep calling to tell me that they think it's exciting that we're taking risks because they were always too timid to do so in their own careers.  His parents are still reeling from the risk we took by getting such a large original space, but still incredibly supportive when we told them of our wishes to open another.  My original business plan said that we did not want more than one store.  It just happened organically.  Obviously, it's a scary thing to do when you don't have everything figured out perfectly, but who ever does?  It's like saying that you're not going to have a second kid until the first one turns 18 and you've already learned what you need to do in order to get that child through to adulthood.  We had a good feeling about our business and the direction of our company and we went for it.  I wrote a new business plan and we all agreed that it made sense.  I think that we were starting to get really comfortable with our first store now that a lot of the kinks have been worked out and we needed more challenges to keep us at the top of our game.  We're certainly pretty tired from all of this, but I think it'll all be worth it in the end.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Secret's Out! We're Coming to the UWS!

It's been hard to keep it a secret for the last few months, but we're opening a second location in the Upper West Side.  Starting next month, you can find us at 87th and Columbus.

I'm really excited about this new store.  It's easy to believe that we could just do the same thing in the East Village in the Upper West Side, but that's not true at all.  Every neighborhood comes with its own personality.  The East Village has a really cool downtown vibe, great evening crowd, and a lot of tourists.  Simon and I suspect that we'll have a lot of people in the morning and during the day in the Upper West Side so that alone sets it apart.  I'm not sure about all the other differences yet, but we'll find out when we get there.

To accommodate all of those differences, we get to produce a modified menu for the different stores.  While we cater to the after dinner crew in our first store, we'll have something we've never done before - a morning crowd - at our new location.  We'll have breakfast pastries!!  That alone is super exciting!  Our sales team is thrilled to learn that we're getting a new espresso machine for the new store, too.  Starting next week, they're going off to Blue Bottle to train on an espresso machine and learn the Blue Bottle way of life. 

Our new store is quite a bit more expensive than the first place.  You would think that since we've already done this once before, we would have figured out a way to do it for less.  Here's the thing, we cut enough corners the first time around that we got the work done for the budget we had (this is also why we never got an espresso machine downtown).  Our new location is smaller, but our space didn't come with the same character as we have for our first store.  Our Saint Marks Place store has these beautiful brick walls and the original wooden beams are exposed on our ceilings.  The building is over 100 years old and you can feel all the history when you walk into the store.  The new store came as a blank empty canvas and while it was amazing to not have to repair termite damage in the ceilings or discover collapsed brick walls behind the drywall, it also meant that we had to build in the character.  We bought reclaimed wood for our ceilings.  We brought in tiles from the first store.  We looked for ways to add texture to the space while keeping it clean and ways to invoke the same feelings at the different locations.  Also since the space used to be the lobby for the building and was recently converted into a storefront, we had some challenges with bringing in plumbing and heating/AC (this part alone accounts for 2 months of headaches!!).  Each new space has its own quirks and trying to create consistency isn't cheap!  Even though we didn't have to build out a kitchen, we somehow ended up spending more on it than we had for our entire first store.  The last few elements are our display case and espresso machine.  Deposits are down on both so we're halfway there, but we're raising the rest of the funds through Kickstarter.

We set up a Kickstarter to help raise money for all the last minute things at our store.  We have the location, we're done with the majority of the build out, but we still need help.  It was a hard decision to ask for additional funding through Kickstarter when we already have one store open.  If we were going to do this, then we probably could have raised a lot more if we did this before our first store.  We chose not to then, because we weren't sure how we felt asking for funding we didn't necessarily desperately need.  Last time, we didn't pay ourselves for 6 months while we got the store off the ground, but we can't make those same sacrifices this time around because we have responsibilities to our employees and vendors. Now that we have actual employees, payroll, insurance, etc, and all these other constant running expenses while we're preparing to open, the way we value money is different.  As we reach our crunch time, we're feeling the effects the wacky weather had in slowing down our holiday sales.  We were fortunate enough to have beautiful weather the previous holiday seasons, but the holiday shopping season last year was a week shorter and the weather was much colder than we would have liked.  We're reaching out to you because we need your help.  We're 90% there, so we just need a little push to get us those last 10%.

I also feel better about being able to actually produce on our rewards.  In the months before we opened our first store, we were still working on developing our packaging and shipping methods for it.  We were unsure about the format of the classroom and it still took me several months to actually have my first class.  Our menu wasn't fully done yet.  There were so many variables up in the air that I would have been too nervous about putting up rewards on Kickstarter that we may not have been able to follow through on for several months.  Now that we have a store that's been open for over a year, I'm very confident on our ability to deliver!  I think our rewards are really reasonable in terms of price and value.  We hope you can participate in helping us get our espresso machine and get this new store open!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Open for over a year?!

We've been open for over a year now.  The past year just flew by and I can hardly believe that we're once again finished another holiday season.

So much has changed since last year and they're all good.  I can't believe I own a store.  I can't believe I own a store with my husband.  Most people can't believe we're still married to each other.  For us, marriage is easy.  Even owning a store isn't as bad for us as it seems to be for some other people

For the first 8 or so months that we were open, I was at the store from before opening to after closing.  Thankfully, I don't have to do that anymore.  We have such a good team in place that we don't have to be there all the time.  It happened just in time, too.  I think I finally reached the bottom of that endless well of adrenaline that I had when we first opened.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  It just means that my body is saying, hey, take care of me!  Simon's well still seems full, but I know he's exhausted and sometimes all the things going on seem overwhelming.  We have so many things to worry about that it's easy to forget that we're just human.

I'm really proud about what we accomplished this past year.  I worried that we would sacrifice quality in order to produce quantity.  We're producing more weekly than we ever had and for a second, we slipped on quality.  Some macarons that normally wouldn't pass my test somehow slipped through the cracks.  We never changed ingredients, but the product didn't look as good as I wanted it to look.  It made me realize how easy it is for a company to cut corners.  I don't want us to make money off of something that I wouldn't want to pay for.  While our team has grown, I've had to reassure each of our employees that I think it's more acceptable to throw away a bad macaron than to try to sell it (or if you're lucky, bad macarons that make it as far as the display case are given away).  I'm proud to say that our store has been open for a year and while I'm sometimes a little sad about how many macarons we had to get rid of, I still care a lot about the quality.  It means a lot to me and I hope that we are able to maintain this level of quality throughout the years.

I also cared a lot about being more than a macaron shop.  I wanted us to be a place people could go to daily, even if it's just to say hi.  I wanted us to have a menu that we could be proud of and I believe we accomplished that.  I'm proud to say that we're a friendly neighborhood bakery now.  A lot of it has to do with our staff.  Being a boss terrified me.  I wasn't sure if I would be able to manage a team.  We started by hiring really well and we have an amazing kitchen team that I look forward to working with every day.  Our sales staff include some of the nicest and funniest people.  I'll stay at the shop later to hang out with them when I'm not too busy.  There's still a handful of things that I'm having a hard time handing over, but they and I are getting there.

As we work on trying to figure out what the next steps are, our team is growing.  I had worried a lot about how we would find good staff.  In my mind, I was afraid that we would have difficulty finding people who wanted to work at a small bakery.  I didn't have to be scared because we found such a nice team of people.  The people in our kitchen work really hard and I believe we do really enjoy working together.  We gossip while filling macarons, or talk politics while piping them.  We talk about cats while scooping cookies and show off the latest new meme during lunch time.  Simon is amazed at how well we all get along and how the team has grown.  When we have a lot of work to do, no one complains and we all just put our heads down to get things done.  For me, it's always been important to show them that I'm not just hiring people to pass work off to, I want to work beside them and with them and I think they can see that.

Meanwhile, our sales staff hangs out in our store when they're not even scheduled to work.  We can't figure it out, but they seem to just wander in on their days off to just hang out, do homework, or wait for their friend to get off work before heading out.  Simon and I joke about how they volunteer to show up without us paying them, but really, it's a huge compliment.  They hang out with each other outside of work, text us pictures of things that remind them of us, and write us notes about funny things that happened after we left the store that day.  How could I not be happy with them?  One of our team members told us that she's never worked at a place before where no one had any real complaints.  Sure, there's a few things that could be better (ok, a lot of things), but at least we know we have a team that will be with us to get there.

During the holidays last year, we were working 14-16 hours a day in order to keep up with production.  We were panicked about our packaging being stuck in a warehouse and we had actually run out of boxes for our macarons while playing phone tag to coordinate delivery.  Simon had to work the counter for the majority of the day because we didn't have enough staff.  We were half as stressed this year even though we're doing two markets, our menu is twice the size as it was last year and we took on a huge wholesale account.  That's how I know we're doing well - we're handling growing with less stress.

Since last summer, Simon and I somehow became cat ladies, but it's made a really big difference in our lives.  We went from treating going home like it's just a part of our day to being excited about going home because three little faces will greet us when we opened the door.  I never pictured myself as a cat person, but it's been really good for both Simon and me - for our relationship and our sanity.  I didn't think about how important it would be to be motivated about balancing work and our personal life.  I think anyone who opens a business needs to remember to find something that they like doing outside of work.  If I didn't have a reason to go home, I would probably continue to spend a ridiculous number of hours at work.  When Simon and I found Mr. Socks outside of our apartment building, we started working faster, cleaner, and more efficiently at work so that we could get everything done and then run home to play with the cat.  Motivation is a big deal.

It gets easier with time.  Simon's family comes from a place where they don't understand how we could let other people open or close the store when we aren't there.  My father is the only keyholder to my parents' store and if he's not there, then the store is closed.  To us, we couldn't be a good business or good bosses if we didn't put a little faith in others.  People step up to responsibility if you show them that they're important to you.  So far, everything has been great and I know that the future holds more exciting things.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Macaron Classes

We finally launched our classes last Friday.  We had been promising classes for years and it just never happened.  In the beginning, we tried having classes at the Hester Street Fair, which would have involved lugging out a toaster oven and Kitchenaid stand mixers, but they never quite happened.  So many things went wrong - either not enough people signed up to make it worth it or it poured and the idea electrical wiring in the rain terrified us.  For a while, we didn't have a kitchen that was accessible enough for the public to take classes in.  So, when we decided to open a store, we designed it so that there would be a classroom space built in.  When we first opened the store, we were so overwhelmed with having a new store that I pushed it off for January, thinking it would be slower then.  While it was slow in January, I was so exhausted that I spent the entire month just trying to recover. 

After being open for about 11 months, I finally felt comfortable about a lot of things.  We were in a good spot with our production, we didn't have a lot of things going on, and we had a restful week in the kitchen.  So it was time to stir things up and start teaching classes - finally.

I remember how difficult it was when I first started making macarons.  Trying to figure out how to make them without any baking experience and without any idea how to make meringue was a mess.  It wasn't until I took the professional class that I started to get an idea of how the whole process works.  Getting the opportunity to see them made in person was really the stepping stone to learning how to make them myself.  Taking the class was so valuable to me that I was nervous about making sure our class was good enough for our students.  I know a lot about macarons, but would it be enough?

Since then, I have helped teach all of our employees how to make macarons.  Even our sales team has spent a few hours in the kitchen learning how to make macarons.  So far, all of the macarons have turned out.  After teaching a dozen people how to make macarons, my kitchen team and I were ready to get started.

I'm really happy with how our first class turned out.  We were able to be super comprehensive and our students made some beautiful macarons.  Each student got to go home with over 60 macarons and hopefully they're able to make their own macarons at home, too.

So, we offer classes now in our kitchen at 111 St. Marks Place.  We can fit about 4 people comfortably for some hands on instruction with a great student/teacher ratio (4 students, 2 teachers!).  We get to teach our students how to make French & Italian meringue macarons and a handful of fillings.

Click on the photo of the macarons we made from our first class below to sign up for a class.