Makin’ Lemonade & Sweet Sour Cream

When life hands you lemons, sometimes it’s all you can do to zest those suckers, let alone turn them into lemonade.  Snow, slush, freezing rain & the polar vortex have conspired against small business owners, like no other winter that I can remember since I opened in 2008, or frankly since moving to NYC in 1999. Squinting at the half-full glass takes effort. I’ve been buried alive in a recipe costing model and reviewing vendors for alternative pricing for weeks. This is a responsibility one would think I would do on a regular and frequent basis. Truth be told, I punted this responsibility for 5 1/2 years. I just couldn’t pay attention to all those details. And I was lucky that I didn’t “have to” because I had a little cash cushion. I am calling b.s. on myself.  Of course I had to; I just chose not to, so I could focus on fun stuff like launching new products (SR perfume comes to mind). Guess what? You always “have to” so that when you’re handed a giant sack of lemons, you can still make the lemonade.

As Plato said “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Yup. Getting beat up by sluggish sales and a long winter has required me to go deep-diving into excel, scrutinizing our costs, examining how we engineer our recipes, how we purchase, who we purchase from, and how much we purchase. It’s a giant eye-popper and the takeaways, while shocking, are empowering.  As a result, we’ve been undergoing a radical change in the kitchen on how we purchase, shifting smaller local purchases to larger bulk buys from our main food purveyor. Buying ingredients in bulk that previously got very little playtime requires the chefs to embrace cross-utilization like never before in the history of SR and results in new recipes (the fun & tasty part). It requires them to manage our freezer and fridges to the nth degree and tighten up on forecasting. These are not small changes, and I appreciate that change can be challenging. However, when you make it to the other side, you’re glad you went through it and there’s no doubt you’d rather be where you are, not where you were.

So while a 10 pound tub of olives stares down the expiration date, we are ahead of the situation. Turbo-charging recipe development to create delicious ways to minimize waste and survive the bad weather and economic slowdown is one of our answers.

A special mention goes to Inoteca and Cafe Noir, two businesses that I’ve admired. I studied both of them along with Keith McNally’s empire when I was putting together the business plan for Sweet Revenge® in 2007-2008. They nailed their patron experience, completely brilliant in their decor, branding, vibe, menus and service.  In their wake, they leave behind fond memories of excellent times.  I wish their owners all the best as they navigate their necessities and their re-inventions.

I’m counting my blessings and looking forward to relief from the weathergawds soonly.

Bottoms up on the half-full glass of lemonade topped with zest & creme fraiche and some marinated olives as a starter.

Wishing the next 11 months of 2014 are prosperous, happy, healthy & saner for all.