Monthly Archives: March 2013

To Whom I’d sell Alive Juice Bar, Part I

I’m not going to sell it to anyone.  I’m going to sell it to someone who can grow and continue to express core values of the business.  I don’t want to come in and find shit like wheatgrass being sold for five bucks and I’ll continue to expect employees to be intense and focused, not bubbly and fake.  I just want a different personality and mindset to run the business, a gentler, softer presence, someone who can refine established practices and products.  I want Alive Juice Bar to evolve.  New products, better processes, more effective outreach.

By “gentler, softer,” I don’t mean nicer.  This is a business — no minimum wage, no union protection, no tenure for owner — business owners don’t have the luxury to be nice.  Being nice is easy, it’s lazy, it’s one step above acting like a douchebag, and that’s why there’s so much of it in the world, so much that it’s a cheap commodity. Being nice is not the same as being responsible, compassionate, patient, kind, and understanding.

Put it this way.  Pretend you’re a teacher. What would you do after an earthquake big enough to topple a few bookshelves?   Nobody is hurt, everyone is okay, just jittery. What do you, as teacher, do?

a) Stop class, act jittery and anxious because that’s how you feel.
b) Have students clean up mess and continue class as if nothing happened. Assign double amount of homework and quizzes for rest of the week.
c) Stop class, bring in school psychologist to discuss how everyone is handling the event and “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

If you picked A, you’re self-absorbed.  If you picked C, you’re nice.  If you picked B, you’d do what famed math teacher Jaime Escalante did in real life (and he asked that a psychologist NOT visit any of his students to discuss event).  Escalante was able to get students at his poor inner city high school to pass the AP Calc exam at rates unheard of except at the best schools.  His “dynasty,” as he called it, crumbled after he left.  You think it was because his replacement wasn’t nice enough?  Who do you think is more responsible, the “nice” teacher worried about the amount of pressure placed on kids or the tough one who works them harder than they’ve ever worked?  Which teacher works harder to ensure students have a good future?    

As a parent (imagine yourself as one if you don’t have kids), what would you prefer to do if your child isn’t able to play, after an hour of practice, two bars of a piece assigned by piano teacher?

a) Congratulate her for trying her best.  Give her ice cream and watch her favorite movie with her.
b) Make her keep practicing until she gets it right.  No dinner or breaks until she gets it right.  Stay up with her until she gets it right, even if it means an all-nighter
c) Tell your kid it’s not her fault she can’t get it right.  Ask piano teacher to assign easier pieces.     

The real life mom who picked B has a daughter who played solo at Carnegie Hall at age 14 and is an undergrad at Harvard.  Who is the more patient, loving mom?  Love is an action, not a feeling.  That’s the primary message of I Corinthians 13.  And if it is a feeling, it ought to be painful and exhilarating.

Look at those at the top of their professions.  Bill Parcells publicly humiliates his players.  Bobby Knight grabs and screams at them. Barack Obama believes in the Bobby Knight school of training and his White House basketball games are reportedly vicious. Michael Jordan puts anyone who doesn’t meet his standards down.  Everyone is a “fucking” something or another to Hillary Clinton. Steve Jobs explodes, calls his employees “Fucking Dickless Assholes” when they can’t meet a deadline.  Marissa Mayer is in your face for this and that.  Marco Pierre White will throw hot risoto at an employee who complains.  White’s apprentice, Gordon Ramsay…just watch one of his shows.

Not saying the Buyer has to act like any of these maniacs.  We’re not trying to win any Micheline stars. I especially don’t want anyone to throw anything hot or sharp at my employees.  Just want the business to thrive and to do so, the Buyer has to know what it takes to run one well.  If you find the behavior of those at the top of their professions troubling, then you’re not cut out to run a restaurant.  If they inspire you, if you want to work for them, then running a restaurant is the right job for you.  Let’s talk.

By “gentler, softer,” I mean someone with a subtle but effective presence.  Someone who leads by example. Someone unassuming. The person most people don’t notice until there’s a crisis, which is when this person takes over and shows his/her mettle.  Someone who won’t yell at customers who walk in with a Frappuccino.  Someone who will play fewer songs about death. Someone who won’t charge customer a dollar to change the music.

Future Plans

I’m leaning toward selling Alive Juice Bar sometime in late 2015, assuming I can find a buyer — ideally an employee — I trust.  The business should be running smoothly by then, with all equipment in place, bookkeeping in order, employees trained, and the brand reputable and established. If shouldn’t be too difficult to operate. To ensure continuity of service and values, I’ll do my best to sell to an employee, I’ll be prepared to provide financing. I won’t sell to anyone without retail experience in restaurant setting. I’m not going to let someone fuck it up.

I think by 2015, Alive Juice Bar will do better under the direction of someone with a different personality and temperament from mine.  I’m better suited to starting than running a business.  I’m rough, I have little patience with refinement, and established businesses should always be refining practices and products.  I’m hoping to find someone with a softer presence, someone with a gentler touch.  I tend to produce aggressive, tenacious, uninhibited and controlling employees, which is what we need when we’re trying to establish ourselves. There soon won’t be a need for this kind of style. We should become more subtle, gentler.

I’ll probably move on and open a small bistro (really want a space with high ceilings) and concentrate on dinner service.  Ideally, the bistro would operate as a juice bar for breakfast and lunch. That service, if it happens, would be outsourced to someone — ideally someone who has worked with me for at least a year.  Bistro offerings will be simple and modest, mostly peasant food from around the world, experienced in a blue collar intellectual setting.  Not sure if I’m willing to take investor money to start such a business.  We have two years to think about it.

Those interested in purchasing Alive Juice Bar or operating a business (juice bar) within a business (bistro) should keep in mind that while I prefer to sell to someone with a different personality from mine — someone more refined and subtle — the person I sell to should have similar values to mine. To those who are interested: do your research and then we’ll talk.

Evolving Purpose of Alive Juice Bar

I started Alive Juice Bar for many reasons.  One was to diversify — and not necessarily critique — SnoKing neighborhood food offerings and experiences, to provide an alternative to the usual.  We’ve worked to normalize, demystify marginalized produce such as kale and beets by making them taste satisfying to those wary of or unfamiliar with such ingredients.  We’ve introduced more nutritious alternatives, such as our raw carrot cake w/almond frosting.  We’ve deliberately played what many consider an “unusual” mix of music.  Put simply, we’ve been working toward making customers become comfortable with being uncomfortable, to experience Alive Juice Bar as a liminal space where the sacred becomes profane, and the profane sacred. That will continue to be our purpose. We’ll continue to push the limits of what’s acceptable not only in our diets (which I find extraordinarily limited), but also in our minds. The hope is to create the conditions to attract culturally significant restaurants typically found in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill.

I also wanted to challenge troubling narratives about health and nutrition. Too many assume that the economically “poor” in the US can’t afford to eat and live well. Or that one has to be committed to to all sorts of outrageous and sometimes dangerous diets to maintain a “healthy” weight. Or purchase expensive supplements of controversial value to be healthy.  These assumptions aren’t just wrong, they’re dangerous. They lead to wasted productivity and subtle class warfare that can destroy a nation.  We’re still in the business of putting an end to hysteria regarding food and health.  We can’t let eating well become a function of socio-economic class. We can’t give the economically “poor” another reason to quit life.

Two purposes have emerged since we started.  We now sell our brand of cultural values and standards and challenge those I find intolerable. The growing problem of health in America isn’t about resources, it’s about cultural values and standards. Cure the disease, not its symptoms.

We’re also going to do more to work to help clarify confusing nutrition concepts (eg. glycemic index), debunk outrageous claims (eg. wheatgrass, ionized water), and to help more people become comfortable with the scientific method and critical reasoning practices.  We’re not promoting scientism — the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach — we have respect for many time honored practices that haven’t been rigorously tested in peer reviewed clinical trials.  We just want to build a public that’s more skeptical and less suspicious.

There are other purposes, but I think these are the four main ones about which customers should know.  Customers should know what they’re supporting, how we’re working to change the cultural landscape of the neighborhood.

Future of Alive Juice Bar

We’re at the halfway mark of a five year lease, which means we have to plan for the long-term future of Alive Juice Bar. Short-term, I’m aiming for minor renovations this December. The place will still look quirky and homespun, but neater, more organized so we can better advertise non-food products like books and mugs (coming soon!). So we may shut down for a few days sometime in December, or at least reduce hours during construction — open for breakfast and dinner only.

Also need to focus on getting the place running smoothly and efficiently.  That is, hire a bookkeeper who can manage the financial paper work (it’s a disaster!); install POS system that’ll keep track of customer Credit and Tabs system and allow you to pay off your Tab from home; maybe hire someone to pay bills on time so we don’t get dinged on late fees). There’s going to be less focus on increasing traffic, more on increasing sales per customer and fixing costly leaks (we lose a three to four hundred dollars a month on unpaid Tabs because people forget about them. We lose a hundred a month on late fees because I can’t remember to pay my bills on time).  The store needs to be in a condition where I can sell it.  Not saying I’m going to sell it, it just needs to be running well enough so it can be sold.

Long-term, I’m considering the following options:

1) Stay put, do a major renovation, expand offerings and sign a 10 year lease.  Live a quiet life.

2) Sell it (to employees) and open a small full-service bistro.  The bistro can operate as a juice bar for breakfast and lunch. Outsource the juice bar side of the business, which would allow me to focus on dinner service.  (Running a small bistro has been a dream of mine). Live a quiet life.

3) Stay put, find Darth(ette) Vadar to lead expansion and take over the world.  Hectic, intense life.

4) Stay put, find Darth(ette) Vadar to lead expansion, kill Darth(ette) Vadar, sell business to Sith Lord most capable of spreading Alive Juice Bar values and products.  Spend eternity in Hell.

Will discuss the purpose of Alive Juice Bar in next post.