These certainly aren’t the most important lessons I learned while running my business, but they were definitely the most unexpected. I could have done without all of these, to be honest, but I feel they are worth sharing. Feel free to share your unexpected lessons learned in the comments below!
1. Sometimes, you need bleach. As a founding B-Corporation, we had strong environmental standards. When we first started out, we used “Sun & Earth” cleaning products exclusively, and we were committed to not using bleach. And then we met Tom. Tom was a regular with a fairly small child at his side—old enough to walk, but not potty-trained. Maybe 18 months? As he was packing up the stroller, Tom took his child (I don’t remember if it was a boy or girl), and plopped him/her on the front counter at the window. It was a fairly explosive “plop,” shooting the poop in the baby’s diaper up, out, and onto the counter. He looked at me and said “Angie, we have a problem.” I said “no Tom, YOU have a problem!” And then I realized that this was, in fact, MY problem. After I escorted him to the bathroom to clean up, I promptly went to the hardware store and bought some bleach.
2. Architects aren’t perfect. This was our first coffee shop, and apparently it was also a first for our architect; we didn’t fully realize the amount of storage space we’d need, nor did we plan for an office or minimally, a place to keep a safe. In addition to having rearrange our small walk in with every delivery, we stored cases of drinks on top of the walk-in, and built shelves that sat on top of the ice machine. Storing money was another unexpected challenge. Until we installed a safe, we hid the cash somewhere in the kitchen and texted each other where it was for the following morning. My favorite hiding place—the oven mitt.
3. Label your squirt bottles. This really is a no-brainer, and it’s something the Health Department specifically looks for. But getting the staff to label things consistently? It’s a challenge. We went through an entire morning making barbecue sauce mochas until a kind neighbor came back to tell us that her mocha was oddly spicy.
4. Garbage grinders aren’t magic, and plumbers are expensive. One busy Saturday afternoon I came back from a tour at Green Meadow Farms to find a plumber snaking a case of oranges out of the drain. In addition to entire cases of orange peels, garbage grinders also don’t process stringy things, like celery. And who knew that coffee down the garbage grinder spells smelly disaster? Oh, and when you’re looking for that small part to the blender or iced tea dispenser, I bet I know where to find it! It is required by the Health Department, so be sure to cover proper usage in your training to avoid these pitfalls. Your P&L will thank you.
5. Organic=no pesticides=well, pests. Seasonally, we sourced organic produce from local farms. In particular, we had microgreens that we used as a spring mix. In these microgreens, we found little worms, but not before a customer ate them and freaked out. She actually thought she was going to get worms, like “parasitic worms!” I said “no, you just got a little extra protein today, but you’ll be fine,” clearly trying to downplay the blunder. We refunded her lunch and luckily, we never heard from her (or her lawyer).
6. The 6’5” crazy guy wearing fatigues, wielding a pocket knife, and shouting obscenities whilst shaving in your vestibule mirror on a daily basis, is bad for business. I painted over the mirror, which became a great chalk board sign, until someone swung a ladder into it and it shattered.
7. Coffee shops are the perfect setting for pick pockets. Well, any place that offers counter service as opposed to being seated. It’s easy for these folks to walk in unnoticed and take advantage of your paying customers. I installed security cameras, worked closely with the 9th District to make an arrest, and even once printed a picture of a known pair of pick pockets and posted it on the front door, labeled “BEWARE.” Our best defense was instituting better customer service training. I trained the staff to walk around the café periodically to interact with customers. As soon as they knew we knew they were there, they left. And our customers appreciated the better service.