Monday, June 21, 2010

Ah, to be the bosswoman

While the past few weeks have been a steady continuation of making great cheese meet wonderful cheese freaks, there have also been many reality checks around what it really means to be "the boss". Since I know I have readers out there who are interested in potentially starting their own shop some day, I figure it's more than worthwhile to share some insights on this otherwise incredibly droll subject.

When you open your own business, regardless of industry or trade, you suddenly take on a ton of responsibility that is pretty delicate in nature. You may be the boss, but really every person you make a transaction with is the boss, plain and simple. It's definitely an odd feeling to have so much and yet so little power all at the same time. While I am the end where the buck stops to my employees, and to some degree, my suppliers, I am on the other end of the spectrum in relationships with customers and neighbors. I would definitely say that if you've never managed subordinates in one way or another, you'll be ill-prepared to run your own show. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, I've known a handful of people who just have the type of personality that lends itself to assuming authority without being an asshole - a very delicate balance indeed. One thing that I've noticed, as much as I absolutely abhor making generalizations based on gender, is that men are given much more wiggle room when it comes to asserting themselves in the workplace. I don't agree with it, I really wish it wasn't this way, but the fact remains that when a man is in charge and asserts himself in the eyes of those under him and his equals, he can get away with a lot more and still remain simply assertive and demanding of respect. When a woman does the same thing, it's a fine, fine line between asserting the power she has in her position and being perceived as a squaking, arms-flapping, irrational bitch.

I've crossed this line a few times in the past few weeks, and while I'll save you all the details, it's overwhelmingly frustrating. You speak up for yourself diplomatically over and over again, it repeatedly falls on deaf ears, and when you finally decide that enough's enough and make a more bold statement in the spirit of finally being heard, suddenly you go from being seen as a Cathy to The Chicken Lady. If only I could lay fresh eggs!

And so it goes. I knew I'd come up against situations in which I'd feel my novice status reeking off me like onion breath, so it's not a huge surprise, but it still sucks.

On the positive side, I have the pleasure of being "the boss", of some really amazing employees. I seriously could not be operating without them, and I am forever grateful that they happened up on me right out of the starting gate. I've been through the hiring process before in several different jobs, however I was never the final say in who got the job. I've always been one who leans towards hiring for personality; learning curves are learning curves no matter how much experience a person brings to the table, but if you can't work well together then what's the point? I've looked for people with a passion for cheese and personalities much like my own; vibrant, friendly, and hard-working. So far, so good, and just two months in I already have a full day off that I can enjoy stress-free knowing that my shop is being cared for by people who mirror my own level of commitment as much as I could possibly ask. So cheers, Calf & Kid Cheese Vixens!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A tidbit of downtime

Today marked a really important achievement for me: my first Sunday off! After just six weeks open, I think that's one hell of a thing. I have my amazing staff to thank for this, as I feel entirely comfortable leaving the cheese reins in their hands so I can take a few hours off here and there. Tomorrow will be the last Monday "off", spent running errands and catching up for the week, after which I will be open 7 days a week to meet the demands of the cheese-loving population of Seattle.

On the business end, I could not be happier. I can't believe so much time has gone by so quickly, and that's a testament to how busy we've been. Every week I order hundreds of pounds of cheese, and I look at my overstuffed deli cases and fridge of back storage and think "crap, how am I going to sell all this?" Then by Sunday the case is down to three quarters of it's capacity and I am amazed over and over again at how much the product just sells itself. Of course, it's not really all as cut and dry as that, I monger the heck out of my cheese, and I love it. Long ago when I was coming up with bits and pieces for my "elevator pitch" for investors, one of my favorite lines was "You will walk away with a cheese you love and a great story to tell." I'm so plussed to say that is really the case. If you ask me what day of the week it is, I'll be stumped for five minutes, but ask me about amazing washed rind cheese from Jean Faup of the Pyrenees and I'll give you a 2 minute history lesson.

On the cheese end, I am beyond stoked to have some really unbelievable cheeses in stock this month. Locally, Gothberg Farms up in Bow, WA has been making greek style yogurt that is transcendent, as well as some amazing grilling cheese called Queso Blanco: pressed curd with a little apple cider vinegar that carmelizes upon hitting heat and is just Delicious with a capital D. Also from Ancient Heritage in Oregon comes an aged cow and sheep mixture called Hannah Bridge. I am doing cartwheels over this cheese. I'm twiddling my fingers with delight at the thought of the first rounds of Queso de Oveja from Black Sheep Creamery near Chehalis, WA, which should be leaving the cave very soon. There are so many more, but those are a few at the forefront of my brain right now.

From across the giant pond, I am expecting my first delivery from Neal's Yard Dairy, which will bring all the great cheddars and stinky Stilcheton my devoted customers have been pining for. From France, I have a few rounds from Jean Faup, a third generation cheesemaker and affineur from the Pyrenees. His cheeses are absolutely divine; perfectly balanced and delivering a flavor experience that makes you feel as though you're sitting among the high mountains of northern France. Also arriving next week will be a small air-shipment of lovely, delicate cheeses from France and Italy, including my much-loved La Tur, a three-milk bloomy rind mound of cheese ecstasy, and more of the "brain cheese" from France; the stinky, creamy, gorgeous Langres.

I'm very proud of Seattle for loving these crazy cheeses that make my knees buckle every time they hit my mouth. Vive la fromage!