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.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Growing Up!

We started in 2010 - around the same time as many of our other food friends.  We started at a single weekend fair and expanded to other markets, online shipping, and now a store!  But when we first started, we worked all of the events ourselves and we made all of our friends at the markets.  We brainstormed issues with our friends who were going through or just went through the same things.  We lamented on the weather and how much it sucked for sales or high-fived each other over being mentioned in the same article.  Our businesses were small enough that we had the free time, but not enough money to go on a vacation.  We bonded over the many things we had in common.

Walking through markets now have a different feel.  We see the names of our friends' companies, but we often don't recognize the person working there.  Sometimes I feel sad that I didn't get a chance to see my friend, but mostly, I am happy that it means that their business is doing well enough to not be there.  We've all grown - some have stores now, some have cookbooks out, and more importantly, they all have staff to help them grow.  I can't think of a single friend we made who decided to quit his/her company.  I've seen some start up companies appear at markets and disappear.  I have shared kitchens with people who had bad attitudes and wasn't surprised to see them close shop after a few rough weekends.  I've watched stores under construction for 5 months, only to go out of business within 3 months of opening.  So, I'm proud to say that the food friends we've made over the years are now stronger than ever.  We can now afford vacations, but have the difficulty of planning them due to how busy we are.  We're quitting our corporate jobs to make our business our full time job.  We're navigating the world of payroll and healthcare for our staff and on the prowl for bigger and better opportunities.  Our businesses have grown and we're now proud business owners.

I think what really helped us was having each other to rely on.  We were lucky to start around the same time as dozens of other businesses - people who found an opportunity to take a leap of faith at a time that the artisan food scene was exploding in NY.  We met our friends by spending long hours with them, sharing stories about our struggles, and gossiping about where we felt the food scene was going next.  We had late nights at our commissary kitchen during the holiday season where we chatted about how much we were looking forward to having a day off in January.  We borrowed employees from each other and shared information about vendors and potential wholesale clients.  It was important for us to make those friends and to have those friends to count on when we needed them.  We got our first wholesale account through Scratchbread, and one of our biggest from Robicelli's Cupcakes.  Talking to Liddabit about their holiday plans two years ago made us realize that we were thinking too small and that got us to imagine the big picture.  If these people weren't so generous with their information, where would we be now?

It's important to have a good attitude when you start up a project this big because there's going to be a tough road ahead.  That good attitude will lead you to other people who also have good attitudes.  Having the strong network really helped us grow.  Since I'm an introvert, it also really helped to have a friendly husband help make those ties.  It's hard to strike out on your own and not ask for help and it's a mean thing to not help others when you can.

I had fantasized about opening a business for years.  In college, I pictured myself owning a tiny bakery and just being happy.  Back then, I didn't know how to ask for help and I didn't know what it would take for me to get there.  As a reflection, my dream was small and probably too small to be sustainable.  I was lucky to meet Simon at the verge of my career change - just 2 months before starting pastry school - because he had dreams about a bakery food truck so it made sense for us to work together as we fell in love with each other.  He helped me make connections and grow my dream until it became sustainable.  Today, Simon and I work far harder than I ever imagined and together, our business is greater than what I dreamed of when I was alone.  I really believe having friends with big dreams has helped inspire us to push for more and to be bigger.  We and our fellow business owners use each other to assess where we are and where we could be.  Without realizing it, as all of us grow, we bring our friends with us through recommendations, good gossip, and by taking their lead.  The success of our friends is a big win for us as a group and we all dream of being able to say about the other, "I remember when..."  I truly believe that one day, we'll be able to say that about one of our friends and I hope that they will be able to say that about us.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Difference As An Owner

I am a store owner now.  For the first few months, I thought nothing of working 90 hours a week.  I didn't mind working 7 days a week and being there from 9 am to 2 am.  However, no matter how much time I put in, it just felt like there was more work to be done.  Simon tried kicking me out a few times to go home and get some rest, but I would always find something else to do.  I could prepare stuff for the next day!  I could make a small batch of macarons so we could have 21 flavors the next day instead of 20!  In my mind, there were plenty of things I could do and even though I was physically tired, mentally, there were a million things going on.

I complained about a lot of things.  Most of them were complaints about the results of good problems.  I whined about getting a last minute order for 500 pieces the next day and how we would have to stay past 2 am to fulfill it.  Since we were so broke from all the delays related to our opening, we needed the money and it had to be done.  We were buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner for our employees b/c we were working so much.  I was gaining weight from not leaving the store.  Simon never slept.  Our home became a mess and we never saw our friends or family.  There were plenty of things that a lot of people would complain about.

But my complaints were only superficial because they weren't really gripes.  The truth is that I complained just to complain, but I could do it because so many things were going well.  I wasn't complaining about a lack of sales or a fear that the business wasn't going to work out.  I was complaining about things employees complain about.  They can complain about the long hours and the loss of their personal life, but none of ours did. We tried what we can to try to minimize these sorts of issues on our staff because even the best employee is nowhere near as tied to this business as we were. 

I went through an opening before, as an employee.  I was very committed to the work for the first few months and I worked crazy hours to fulfill all the demand.  I was very proud of what I was accomplishing, but I burned out.  That didn't happen when it was my place.  Even when I felt burnt out, there was an internal well that I could tap into and suddenly, it wouldn't be as bad.  But even though I didn't burn out this time around, I knew that no one else, besides Simon, had that same internal well.  So we were careful with our staff and asked them if they could just do us a favor by working some overtime because it's Christmas, or it's someone's birthday so they requested a day off, etc.  We made the environment fun so even when they got tired, they understood that it's not our intention to run them down. 

Simon and I have our lives invested in Macaron Parlour.  Even when we were tired, it was do or die for us.  We had to do it, first because we were in the business of doing well, and because if we didn't do it, how could we ask someone else to help us?  Our future success depended on working through the difficult issues for the first few months and so we were willing to go through it.  As owners, we had to be the first to do the dirty work and we had to guide our staff to help us.
When we first opened, we had a very lean staff because we didn't have a large budget for payroll.  I am so thankful for the people we did have who helped us get through such a tough time.  We made it through Sandy, we made it through the holidays, we made it through a lot and no one really complained about being tired or miserable.  We hired well and everyone understood that we were going through the bumps of opening.

Yet there's still so many bumps in the road.  I guess it's never-ending.  It's funny that even when I couldn't pull myself away from the store, there were still so many things that went undone.  We had a black pole in our store that I used as a measure of how overwhelmed we were.  Our store is mostly white, but for some reason, we had this pole that was 1/4 black only at the top and I hated that it was unfinished.  No one noticed it, but I stared at it every day.  It was one of those things where I said that I would tackle the pole one night after all the customers left.  This didn't happen until about 5 months in and it was only because I was in the alone store one night after Simon went out to dinner with some friends.  If I didn't have 2 hours to kill, and only 1 hour of work to do, the pole would still be unpainted today.  Now that the pole is done, I planted a peach tree in our backyard, and I bought a new flour bin, and etc etc.  There's only going to be more and more things to tackle.  I guess since it's my place, I stare at it a lot and wonder about how to make it better.  I like to think that I'm not so overwhelmed anymore because I tackled that pole.

I had never felt this way before, not in any jobs I had.  I liked the fact that I could leave to go home and specifically not think about work.  Unpainted poles weren't my problem.  I cared about my jobs, but I didn't lie at night thinking about whether our neighbor chained his bike to our railing again or if I ordered enough ingredients for the next few days.  My heart goes out to all the small business owners out there, who've been through a lot of difficult days and nights, wondering if they've really made the right decisions.  It's really tough when you've got your entire life invested in something and you have no promises that it's going to work.

So, 8 months in, Simon and I had our first day off.  We didn't go into the store for an entire day.  It felt really strange, yet it felt so good.  It almost felt like we had grown up.  I'd still work 7 days a week, 14 hours a day to help the business work out, but being able to step back and say, "I don't have to be there all the time," feels incredibly good.  It took longer than we thought it would, but I'm proud we finally did it.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Parents and My Business

I don't think my dad has ever been on vacation.  As far as I know, he's never been on a plane since landing here from Korea over 30 years ago.  The only passport he has is from when he was a young man and even though he became a US citizen a few years ago, I don't think he's had a need to get a new passport.  He's not a man of many words and every now and then, I get a glimpse of the kind of person he is.  A man tried to mug him once with a knife and my dad kicked him.  He did not get mugged.  He taught me how to ride a bike and accidentally helped me be one of the best free-throw shooters in my middle school, even though I can't dribble a basketball.  I learned how to draw under his guidance.  I remember testing out slides with him for the two-story playhouse he built, complete with monkey bars and a sandbox.  He did all this while working 6-7 days a week for the past thirty+ years.  He hasn't taken any sick days, not even when he got stung by over a dozen bees or when he got bit by a spider and his entire back turned black.  Some people my parents knew decades ago stopped asking about him when I was in my teens and I wonder if it's because they were afraid it was a delicate subject since they stopped seeing him around.  My dad just works a lot and works hard and has helped give us a wonderful life.

In the meantime, my mom has been by his side, helping hold down the fort.  They own a business together and while my dad holds down the business end, my mom had been juggling the business and the kids.  The idea of taking a maternity leave probably blows my mother's mind.  I remember how tired she was after having both of my younger sisters and how she would wrap up the babies and take them with her to work.  She'd spend all day with a baby tied onto her back and no one in my family found that unusual.  She used to drive home in the middle of the day to pick us up from our various after school activities, drop us off at home or at Kumon or at piano lessons, then go to pick up my dad.  Now that we're all older, all adults, I hope that one day, they can go on a vacation together.

I think about this a lot as a business owner.  I think about the sacrifices my parents made and Simon's parents made for us to get to this point.  My parents always took the responsibility of their business upon themselves and were reluctant to trust others.  They saw employees they cultivated over two years disappear and reappear with their competitors.  They heard stories about friends who taught the business to their most trusted employees, who then opened up the same business next door, but with better prices.  They heard too many horror stories and worried about it happening to them.  As a store owner now, this, too, makes me so reluctant, but I know that we can't run the business by ourselves.  We did that for two years and believe me, Simon and I work great together and we can hand-pipe thousands of macarons in a day without saying a single word between us, but we can't do this forever.  I think working so much has started to take a physical toll on us and on our relationship.  We've hired some great employees, but even now we realize that if we ever want a day off, we need to be able to put our trust in more people.  I would like to be able to take a sick day if I were to get bitten by a spider and I don't want to have to rush back to work within a week of having kids and baking all day with a baby strapped onto my back.  I'd like to take my parents on a vacation and force them to do something crazy to them - sleep in and not work.

It's time now, to expand our team even further.  So we're hiring more members.  We need both counter staff to help with managing the many macaron fans out there and kitchen staff to grow our menu.  I promise that we really do have a lot of fun at our store.  Even when we're really tired, or it's been a bad day, it's still a better day than a decent day at some of the other jobs that I've held.  At the end of the day, we bring strangers onto our team that become our friends and that's what makes it such a good environment.  We're going to spend long days together, so we need to all like each other and be in a place where we can encourage each other to better, both in the store and out of it.  If you're a good person, who's friendly and willing to put in some hard work and you're looking for a job, or even an internship, we're looking for you.  Help Simon and me take my parents on vacation!

So send us a message through our website: or email us at macaronparlour(at)gmail(dot)com.  Hopefully you can understand that email address.  I just know that there are weird robots out there looking for someone to post their email up so they can send us spam.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How long have we been open for??

Hm...This is a question we get a lot.  In the beginning, there was a sense of beaming pride as we said, "Two days!  We've been open for TWO DAYS!!!!"  Now it's more like, "Is it 4 months?  Four months and how many days?  Well, October 11th is when it happened."  It's still exciting to have people just stumble into the store, surprised that we exist.  I wonder if the enchantment will continue to last years down the line or if we'll be scratching our heads, thinking to ourselves, "Well, it has been like 7 years...are we still a hidden gem?"

I think this is the longest stretch of time I have gone with working continuously, 70+ hrs a week as in without any days off.  I'm not sure how Simon does it.  He gets up early each day, regardless of what time he went to bed the night before, and he's just ready to go.  I spend the first hour of each day fighting to keep both eyes open at the same time and then fighting to get them to focus properly.  Simon is the endless well of energy and I'm so happy that he's up front and I'm hiding in the back. 

As tired as I get, it's hard to step away, still.  I had imagined that we'd smooth things out sometime in January and we'd be taking at least 1 day off a week to take care of things or relax or something.   I sleep in one day a week and I spend the first hour or two of that day thinking about work, what needs to get done, should I help in the kitchen or do paperwork?  I think about work, but I make an active effort to not work until I actually show up at the store.  Simon slept in for the first time this week, but I think he still made it to the store within the first hour it was open.  There's still a real sense of guilt for me to not actually work and I think that's normal, for now.  I think it'll be normal for the first 6 months, but if I can't manage a day off a year from now, then I know that there's some serious issues going on.  Either I don't trust my staff or I'm a huge control freak.

The thing is, I am a control freak.  It breaks my heart to look at bad macarons, even if they're not mine.  I am sad looking at them online.  I am sad when I see it in pictures.  I am sad looking at them in a store.  I am especially sad if they're in my oven.  Three years later and I still feel really proud when I make a really good-looking batch and I still feel really bad when I have one that came out less than stellar.  I think that starting off with 6 months of really bad batches has primed me to feel proud about good ones for the rest of my life.  I still strive for that perfection and thousands of macarons later, I still care.  I care about the other items, too, and it's still hard for me to give up that responsibility.  There are a few things I still make on my own because I'm still trying to figure out what method is the best.  I really care about what we make and the pride I have over our products trumps any desire I have to compromise quality for the sake of profits.

I think people have noticed.  I know how much the French care about the quality of their pastries and for them to even suspect that I am one of their own tickles me.  I love the idea of waltzing out of the kitchen like, "I am not what you think I am."  However, when I waltz out, it often turns into me feeling really small, young, and totally awkward.  I'm not gifted at small talk so my pimp walk is really all I have and there's nothing to back it up.  So at best, I poke my head out, smile, acknowledge that I am not French, and hide back into the kitchen.  I've used this walk maybe 3 times and then decided that I don't have enough swagger for it.  I feel awkward calling myself a chef, so I suppose I have to nail that first before I can try to brag.

Four months feels like a lot of time, but it really isn't.  I pushed so many things off when we first opened, calling them "January Problems."  The January problems are now February problems and maybe soon March problems?  We're still a little overwhelmed with being new business owners.  To the point where it took us 3 weeks before we looked at one of our signs and noticed that while writing it, "earl grey" somehow ended up as "oorl orey."  Just yesterday, I realized that our kitchen could really be reorganized to improve our efficiency.  We're still trying to figure out how to fit in our classroom.  Our architecture drawings suggested we could fit 8.  Now I'm not sure we can fit 4 and those 4 people would have under the age of 13 to avoid feeling cramped.  I want to get tables to force ourselves to really figure it out.  Simon wants to wait on the tables so we don't get the wrong size.  This debate can go on forever.  We made a few compromises because we couldn't afford what we wanted and still open on time, but now that we're open, we have to go back and readdress those compromises to see if we're ok with what we have or would going back to the original plan substantially improve our experience.  I had thought 4 months was a long period of time back when I was a naive non-store owner.  Fortunately, it really hasn't been that much time.  People are still surprised to see us.  I am still surprised we actually have a store.  I think we have enough time before that surprise wears off for us to address those February/March/forever problems.