Monday, August 18, 2008

Open Call

Oprah has not called yet. I'm not put off by it, I know she's busy. But I thought I would just put myself out there. Maybe she doesn't know I'd be interested. In fact, there are a lot of great shows out there whose producers should be made aware that, yes, if invited, I would indeed be happy to showcase our little cookie topped cupcakes and cakes for their enjoyment. Top of the list, next to Ms. Winfrey, of course -- Martha Stewart. We both went to Barnard College. She seems to have done more with her degree than I have, but that aside, maybe she would think I could bring something to the dessert table at least. I've also seen some cookie topped cakes in her catalogues over the years, so we apparently are simpatico when it comes to styles. Next, Rachel Ray's Show. I just think she would dig what we're doing and give a perky exclaim when she saw our stuff. And I want to hear what nickname our goodies would get. Cookie toppos? Cookie cakies? Where would she take this? Finally, I would do the Today Show, but I would prefer it if Natalie Morales would host the segment. She's having a baby soon, and we could top some cupcakes with little booties or baby chicks or onesies and really get to show off. She also seems very sweet. I'm a little too local for the Regis and Kelly show and I'm not sure if Regis would get what we do, but Kelly has three kids, so I'd like the chance to market myself to her and get at least three solid gigs a year there.

Finally, as a side note, I'd like to invite David Sedaris to work at my bakery for a month or so. He seems to have a varied resume and I doubt would find the prospect absurd. His sister, Amy, also makes cupcakes I understand, so maybe he'll want to check out what we do here to pass on some tips to her. While I do need the extra pair of hands always, it's more for his own enjoyment that I think of him. I imagine he would thrill at the prospect of writing the ridiculous phrases that pass for serious instruction, criticism and conversation here. "You forgot to put the pink bow in the monkey's hair. See, it's written right here. Pink bow." "Replace the elephants with giraffes and add more lions." "You put black hooves on the pigs?" "The border on that cake looks like lots of little boobs." I could go on, but I'll save it for David to discover himself. (And if Amy wants to come, too, that's fine with me.)

I Swear

I've been feeling a little guilty about the tone of my last entry, my cartoon curses and sailor's tone, especially since my husband thought I should lighten up and write a little bit about some of the good aspects of owning one's own business. When I find out what those things are, I'll let you know, but in the meantime my last entry got me thinking about my language. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. We do have a lovely little bakery here. It's cheery, well lit, with frosting colored walls and cases filled with yummy sprinkle topped cupcakes. Our main customers are little ones and their parents. We make fun little cookie decorated cakes that are often iced in pink or baby blue. Don't you just imagine Snow White in the kitchen, happily humming a tune as perfection emerges from her offset spatula? Well, OK, that IS Jess, our pastry chef, (most of the time) but it's not me. And that's the thing. This is the food business. Anyone who ever waited tables for a summer during college, or even just read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, knows that kitchens are foul-mouthed places, with f-bombs flying by the minute. While that's not exactly the case here, it could be. I enjoy swearing very much. It releases the tension. Since this is food, food to order with multi-faceted specifications here and there, and lots of orders that are all over the place in terms of designs and colors and names and messages to get right and ways to package them, things get f*#@ed up. I usually walk in the door to greet my co-workers not with "Good Morning!" but with "Anything bad?" Meaning, did the sh@$ hit the fan while I was out making a delivery or getting supplies. Food is a stressful business. People who go into food, I believe, generally have an earnest desire to please others. When this goes awry, even in the smallest way -- perhaps we don't live up to our own standards, not necessarily the customers' -- we feel it deeply. To compensate for the disappointment and frustration that comes with the job, I could drink or smoke or do drugs, but that's all very expensive and time consuming. My chosen vice is swearing. Mind you, I've cut it down since opening the store, for fear of little ones in earshot, and that it seems to unnerve the staff, but there was a time when it was much worse.

I used to share a bakery space with another cake person who ended up becoming a dear friend. I will out her here by saying she likes to swear, too. I won't say we bonded over it, but neither of us blinked an eye over a G*d d@#$%it or m&*(her f#%*er every so often. In fact, after I had my son and was out of the business for over a year, we would see or talk to one another as often as we could to catch up. She was in the throes of her successful business and of writing a book. And I remember noticing to myself when we chatted, she swore A LOT. Actually, I have no idea if it was a lot. It was some, but I had been out of the food business for so long and been dealing with a little baby instead of a little business, that any seemed like a lot. Without the food business, there was different stress that for some reason didn't call for that brand of swearing. But, a year and a half later, I was back in business, and back to my old ways.

So really, who cares, right? You may be wondering what this Polly Anna is going on about? Everyone swears. Yes, many do. Some even at work. Everyone while driving. I am less concerned about my French, and more concerned about this Mary Poppins/Eddie Murphy dichotomy I've got going. Is it a betrayal to all those who visit our bakery or website and get a warm fuzzy feeling from what we do to learn that it's a job, and an often frustrating, maddening, difficult one that drives people to seek solace in lunatic rants? Does it rain on the parade of all future cake decorators choosing this career for its sugarplums and moonbeams? Yes, it does. And I feel bad about that. But f#$& it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ground Hog's Day

Our bakery has been open just over a year. In that time, I have let three people go, including the original pastry chef, an intended key player, had two no-shows and had another two give notice. That's seven people in one year. My current lease is five years. If I stay in business just those five years, for giggles, let's do the math. That's 28 people who will come and go for the balance of my lease. I will fire 42% of them, causing me no end of pain leading up to that point and angina, nausea and fear of karmic reprisal during the actual firing. I will have 28% break my heart by leaving me for greener pastures and another 28% f&*% me over.

Of course, I understood going in there is high turnover in the food business, but to experience it from the end staying, not leaving, is much more painful than one imagines. Ironically, it's not due to the dreaded firing of some manner of jackass or the sadness of a talented employee's resignation or the out and out f@#* you of a no show. The pain is that I have to experience every mistake I ever made with my particular recipes, my particular method of cake and cookie decorating, the way I have to box cake, store a food item or render a design, over and over and over again, on top of the other mistakes I am making managing people, money and operations. I don't get to be free and clear on the things I actually know because I'm delegating those tasks to others who, for a time, don't know what I know. What I've learned not to do, I get to experience for the rest of my time as a cake shop owner with each and every person who puts on an apron here.

Mind you, I am sympathetic to the learning process and the fact that it seems in baking (and decorating) you have to make a mistake once with everything you touch in order to eventually get it. It appears when working with recipes, the associated quirks are not something of which you can be made aware and understand intellectually. Well, this is what I tell myself. And I do admit, when I am down a man in the kitchen and I have to jump in to bake off cakes or cookies, nine times out of ten, I completely screw it up because I have been working in the office, finishing cakes, delivering cakes or designing cakes and I haven't as much as turned the oven on in weeks. Despite this understanding and the acknowledgment of my own fallibility, it's no less painful to deal with, especially when relived with each sudden or eventual departure and the consequent new hire.

So, what's the answer for this constant turnaround? I have no idea. I am in the process of trying to streamline operations, create procedures, make rules, communicate better, but this all takes time. And people.