Breaking Bread: Simple Gesture, Great Example

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 05/17/2016

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So many times we walk or drive by. We may empathize and sometimes get involved, but many of us don’t often do enough.

This simple story is too important not to share, and so refreshing in light of all the negativity we’ve been barraged with. The picture and accompanying story were shared on the Massachusetts State Police Facebook Page on 5/17/16.

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A Selfless Meal, and Conversation, for Two

We were shown this picture from a third-party who had not taken the photo, nor knew anything about it, other than they thought it was taken in Fall River. After a little digging, we were able to locate the citizen who had taken the photo. The citizen said the well-dressed Trooper in a suit appeared to be having lunch with a panhandler on Davol Street in Fall River. The citizen was struck by what he saw, snapped the photo, and posted it to a Facebook group in Fall River, captioned “And they say chivalry is dead…….Much respect.” We are grateful to that person, who thought to take the photo and share it.

After a little more digging, we found out the trooper is Luke Bonin, who is assigned to the State Police Dartmouth Barracks. After reaching out to Trooper Bonin, he was a bit surprised that someone had taken his photo, stating that he wasn’t seeking or expecting any publicity for it. But we pressed him, and he very reluctantly told us how he ended up sitting on his cruiser’s bumper that day sharing lunch with a stranger.

Trooper Bonin had just left court when he drove by the woman, who appeared down on her luck. She was holding a sign and asking for help from anyone who would pay attention. Trooper Bonin continued to drive on – directly to a local establishment, where he ordered two meals. He returned to the woman, pulled up, and exited his cruiser. Thinking he was there to remove her from the side of the road, she immediately stated to him that she would leave, that she knew she shouldn’t be there with her sign. But Trooper Bonin told her, “I’m not here to kick you out.” He then extended the two meals and told her to pick one.

They then sat, shared a meal, and a conversation.

Yes, Trooper Bonin, we know you do not want or expect publicity. We know you didn’t want to be noticed, but you were, and the job is proud of you. We commend you for your selfless act, and for “doing the right thing” for someone less fortunate than most people.

We have extraordinary troopers on the Massachusetts State Police who conduct themselves honorably, and perform selfless acts, every day. Most times, it goes unnoticed. But not this day.

[All text below picture courtesy of Massachusetts State Police Facebook Page.]

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Boston ‘Mom and Pop’ Shops-Chapter 3: Olive Connection Brookline, MA

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 03/9/2016

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This series, introduced in a blog post on 1/30/16, celebrates ‘Mom and Pop’ shops in the Boston area, and soon beyond. These blog posts are dedicated to owners of restaurants and small businesses who respond to a questionnaire designed to capture their experiences of owning, working, and operating a business together.

All italicized comments were furnished by the owners of the business.

Olive Connection, at 1426 Beacon Street in Brookline, MA, is a retail specialty food store with olive oils and vinegars from around the world along with everything associated with olives.  We specialize in the tastes and flavors of food, and customers can taste and select what they enjoy. With great ingredients one can make a simple meal delicious. We want our customers to always find something new with seasonal products and new offerings.  Sometimes we’ll offer the unexpected for a wow experience. The store is owned and operated by the Sapoznik family of Brookline. (Husband and wife, Carol and Morry, and son, CJ)

Carol is the Big Cheese…the CFO-advertising.

Morry is the Salesman Extraordinaire and  janitor.

Charles (CJ) is the General Manager, keeps us in inventory, schedules all of us and the employees, and is the muscle in the schlepping of the packages, and salesman.  We all have our hand in selection of the products, but CJ is largely responsible for this area. 

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Server Not Servant (SNS): Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Boston?

As a family we have lived in Brookline for 28 years.  CJ went to school in Brookline and Morry was an educator in the school system in Brookline before retiring.

SNS: Any education (or other) degrees, awards or certifications you care to share?

Carol is a retailer, graduated college with a retailing degree and had a 45 year professional career, 42 years at Crate & Barrel before retiring.  Managing store personnel and operations and merchandising  made up most of her experience.

Morry has a Masters in Education and was an assistant principal at Lawrence Elementary School in Brookline.

CJ has a culinary degree and has been working in restaurants and resorts in Colorado before moving back to Brookline.

SNS: Have you worked together before your current business?

We have never worked together as a family, so this is the first.  When we started our journey of exploration to plan, we said that at any time if one of the 3 of us did not want to do this we would not go ahead.  To be together in this venture was the point of it all. 

SNS: How many hours a week do each of you work?

We are open 7 days a week, and most times there are 2 of us together.  Occasionally, all 3 of us are there together but we all have our different roles.

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SNS: Did anyone give you any advice before you started working together?

Yes- try to keep on schedule with business meetings.  And gave us a name of a shrink that specializes in business relationships.  We thought that was odd…and funny…at the time!  We have not called on him yet.

Do your homework before you start looking for a space.  We had lots of business advice from other small family business owners. 

SNS: How would you describe you’re working relationship?

Carol- Most of the time, 95% it is good.  There are the moments where it is shaky and we have to have a cooling off period.  I think I drive my family crazy. I talk too much and want to talk things through and that bugs them.  When I treat my son as a son and not a business partner he gets angry.  My fault.  I think he would say the same.

Morry- The business relationship works because of the solid relationship we have had  many years as a couple. You have to have trust  and enjoy each other’s company.

CJ always says we have to chill and take it one day at a time and not get too ahead of ourselves.  Take time to enjoy the success.

SNS: Is it harder or easier than you anticipated?

Not harder…we were realistic about what it takes.

SNS: What do you like the most about working together?

We are talking to each other every day about something…it is nice…short and sweet.  No surprises…keeping each other informed is key.

SNS: How have you avoided killing each other?

Carol- We need our space…and quiet…and being in the store by ourselves…too much togetherness is also not so good.  Give each person the freedom to do their work.

Morry- Keeping a sense of humor.  If that does not work…take a walk.

SNS: What do you rely on your partners to do in the shop that you’d hate doing?

Morry is the neat freak with cleanliness and keeps us all in line.  When he is gone for a few days we have to fill in and realize all he does.

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SNS: What qualities do you value most in employees?

Morry- They have to be a good person, have a positive personality,  enjoy working with people.

Carol- They have to be fully engaged, and have ideas and love to help customers.

SNS: What do you enjoy doing most when you’re away from the business?

We all enjoy traveling, so we are taking trips this year to far away places, either together or separately…one person left behind to run the store.  The trips all involve food and finding new resources.  The food trade shows are one way but that is a given, we all need to share new ideas and what others are doing that we could learn and take back to the store.

 

SNS: Do you cook at home?

We all love to cook for recreation, entertain, experiment for new tastes.  Read cookbooks as novels. All our meetings revolve around the table eating and talking about food and sports. 

SNS: What are some of your favorite Boston area restaurants?

Locally in Brookline we love La Morra, Taberna de Haro, both of which we go to weekly.  Washington Square Tavern, Fairstead Kitchen, Pomodoro, just to name more favorites.  We love to try new spots.

SNS: Any dreams\fantasies about opening a restaurant completely different than your current shop?

We have to evolve our one location to have seasonal offerings, changes for interest, and keep our one-time customer coming back.  So we have to keep our head down and concentrate on making it better and better.  There is so much to do.  The gift business is huge and we are just tapping the surface. Social media, and how to connect to our customers and respect their privacy is tricky.

SNS: What characterizes your favorite type of customers?

We love all our customers and the diversity of Brookline and surrounding areas is a key to success.  Some beginning cooks, some developed chefs.  There is something for everyone.  The young children are lovers of food and enjoy tasting too. 

SNS: What are you most proud of about your shop?

That we have customers that like our stuff…that is the report card.  They think the environment is comfortable and warm and that we are friendly and helpful and appreciate them.  They have told us that. We have items they cannot find anywhere else. 

SNS: Any upcoming events you’d like to share?

We are partnering with our Greek Olive Oil producer for a Greek night on March 23rd.  We are also partnering with La Morra Restaurant and our Sicilian Olive Oil producer for a Sicilian night on April 5th.  We have free demonstrations every Friday with Sweet Rose Bakes and planning 4 Saturdays of how to make a great salad dressing.  And more to come…so education and having fun in the store is key.

SNS: Any advice for couples thinking about working together in a restaurant/small biz?

Morry- Make sure you enjoy the other person’s company, have a sense of humor, respect each other for what they can bring to the mix.  Trust them like a friend, not like a spouse or son.

Carol- This has brought us closer as a family…so what else would we be doing?…we are never bored, that’s for sure.

Keep asking yourself…are we still having fun?…because that is the point.  Being together, having fun, and not taking ourselves too seriously.  The mood of our family transfers to the customers and to our staff.  Make it light and keep laughing. 

Our customers want a local business to succeed…are always asking…how are you doing?

That is very rewarding.  Providing something unique is appreciated buy all.  It’s an exciting challenge.

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If you’d like to participate in this series, please email Patrick@servernotservant.com. And please forward this blog post to ‘Mom and Pop’ Shop business owners who might enjoy sharing their stories. I’m also seeking a Boston media partner to share these posts. Thank you.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. No compensation was exchanged between Olive Connection and Patrick Maguire/Server Not Servant in exchange for publication of this post. Sharing of this post by Carol, Morry and CJ Sapoznik and affiliates via social media is anticipated but not required. Thank you.

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Grace & Gratitude

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 03/4/2016

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This is too inspirational and important not to share.

Sarah Livesey exemplifies genuine hospitality in a seemingly effortless manner. Moments after meeting her at Blue Dragon in Boston, I was very impressed by how she handled our group, simultaneously giving us direction and comfort that we were being taken care of. Subsequent interactions confirmed the ease with which this consummate pro takes care of her guests, staff, and the house. Yes, ‘I remember more about how she made me feel than what she said’.

After a serendipitous, life-changing diagnosis, and in the midst of treatment, Sarah embarked upon a project that was intended to be ”a visual representation of all the love and support that I [Sarah] have in my life.” She collaborated with artist, Ari Hauben to tell her story through a work of art accompanied by a moving short film.

“The intention of this piece of art is to create a visual representation of all of the love and support that manifests through the healing journey. To highlight one’s ability to choose perspective and outlook on all things. To activate deeper levels of consciousness, by tapping into creative power. To use challenge as a platform for growth and inspiration. To access now for strength in the process and later as a reminder of this moment. To superimpose an image of what comes next, to help me, and others to heal.” – Sarah Livesey

Sarah, thank you for sharing your grace, gratitude, and story with all of us.

Please take a moment to view the short film and share if the spirit moves you. Thank you.

Grace + Gratitude on Facebook

[Shared with permission of Sarah and Ari.]

 

 

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Boston ‘Mom and Pop’ Shops-Chapter 2: Vee Vee-Jamaica Plain

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 02/15/2016

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This series, introduced in a blog post on 1/30/16, celebrates ‘Mom and Pop’ shops in the Boston area, and possibly beyond. These blog posts are dedicated to owners of restaurants and small businesses who respond to a questionnaire designed to capture their experiences of owning, working, and operating a business together.

Vee Vee is a 35-seat neighborhood restaurant opened in 2008 by Kristen and Dan Valachovic at 763 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, MA. Thanks to Kristen and Dan for their insight and experiences. If you’d like details about the “Reiki session gone awry,” you’ll have to visit their restaurant…

SNS: Please provide a very brief description of your restaurant and mission.

Kristen & Dan: Our goal is to create a comfortable neighborhood restaurant with simple, tasty food for both vegetarians and omnivores, featuring local beers and a small, but excellent selection of wines.

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What are your individual titles, roles, and responsibilities?

Kristen: I’m a server and host, also in charge of bookkeeping, payroll and pretty much all admin stuff. Dan tends bar, hosts, and is in charge of the physical plant. He also knows where every single thing in the restaurant is. If you can’t find it, just ask — he knows.

Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Boston?

K: I was born and raised in Dedham, MA, spent a few years in Brookline, and moved to JP in 1994.

Dan: I grew up in upstate NY. I had a rock band with some high school friends and we came to Boston in 1991 to make a go of it. I moved to JP in 1994 as well, when the band thing was fizzling out.

As a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you “grew up?”

K: I thought I would be an artist — whatever that means.

D: A rock musician.

What other jobs have you worked besides restaurants?

K: For many years I had a “real job” in the design field; first as an interior designer, then in graphics. I continued to work part-time at my old firm through the first year we were open. I remember on the restaurant’s opening day I had a deadline at my design job. It was stressful doing both, but I had to make sure we had some reliable income.

D: Sadly, nothing too interesting.  My first job was at the bottle return counter in the local Grand Union.  My next job was slightly cooler– clerk at Strawberries Records and Tapes.  After that, all of my jobs were restaurant-related.

K: Dan always forgets, but there was a period of about a few years in there where Dan worked landscaping. He took a step back from restaurant work for a breather, and I must have as well because that was the only time in our 18years together that we had “normal” schedules. We both got up in the morning, went to work, came home and had dinner together every night. We had weekends off, too. It was weird. Not terrible, but ultimately not for us…

Dan on the bar

Dan on the bar

What was your first restaurant-related job and where was it?

K: There’s a tiny restaurant in Endicott Circle in the Dedham called Fisherman’s Restaurant. I worked there for one day in junior high school until they fired me. Then it was on to a multi-year stint at Mister Donut on Route 1 in Westwood. This was in the 80′s, when it was apparently acceptable to have a teen-aged girl or two working alone at a donut shop on the side of the highway.

D: I worked for a summer as a delivery driver at a steak delivery spot called “Steak Out”. I wish I still had that hat…

How did you meet?

K: In 1998 when Centre Street Cafe moved to its current location, owner Felicia Sanchez turned the old spot (current home of Ten Tables) into a little Mexican place called Mi Casita. I lived around the corner and was a regular customer, so Felicia hired me to design the sign and asked me to coordinate with Mi Casita’s manager, Dan. I set up a meeting to discuss the sign with him, and he didn’t show up.

D: I had a lot going on…

K: I wasn’t impressed. He seemed entirely uninterested in talking to me, and I had no romantic interest in him. But then, we found ourselves finding excuses to be together. We never had a proper date and have been solid since then.

How long have you worked together?

K: I ended up working weekends at Mi Casita in order to be close to him; it was a small place: a cook, a server, and a dishwasher. Later our friends opened Zon’s, and we were both on the opening staff, Dan as manager, me as a server (I was still working full time in design).

How many hours a week do each of you work at your place of business?

K: Dan is actually there more than I am, he likes to putz around. I’m probably there officially 30 hours a week, but I’m in and out of the office, plus doing things from home. We work on the floor together on Friday and Saturday nights, plus whenever else we need to.

Did anyone give you any advice before you started working together?

K&D: Well, everyone said it would ruin our relationship. It hasn’t.

How would you describe your working relationship?

K&D: “Good cop/bad cop?” Maybe a little of that, but also, in day to day operations we trust each other enough to go with something if one of us feels strongly about it. We pick our battles for small stuff, but for bigger things we always have to be on the same page.

Is working together harder or easier than you anticipated?

K: Easier. We came about our division of labor organically and it seems to work well. I can’t imagine doing this solo, though!

What do you like the most about working together?

K: Seeing our hopes come to fruition, but also having Dan’s perspective instead of just my own. He often sees things I miss and vice versa.

What do you like the least about working together?

J&D: Difficulty in stepping away from work, from thinking about it and talking about it 24/7/365.

How have you avoided killing each other?

K: Dan is very calm and patient, that’s why he hasn’t killed me yet. We defer to each other’s strengths.

What do you rely on your partner to do in the restaurant that you’d hate doing?

K: Taking care of broken equipment. I don’t speak the language and I’m not especially handy.

D: Paying the bills

What qualities do you value most in employees?

K&D: Commitment to our vision, loyalty, respect.

What is the wildest thing that’s ever happened at your restaurant?

K&D: A Reiki session gone awry, at a table, on a jamming Friday night. It was shocking and gross, let’s just leave it at that.

What do you enjoy doing most when you’re away from the restaurant/business?

K&D: Heading to the outer cape, definitely. It’s our happy place. We don’t have a house there, but aspire to someday. We also love a good road trip to experience other restaurants and bars. Portland, Maine is a favorite.

Any issues you care deeply about that you want to share?

K&D: We love our JP neighborhood. When we decided we wanted our own place, we never considered looking anywhere else. It’s like a small town in the big city.

Do you cook at home?

K&D: We had our kitchen redone last year, so, yes, finally we can cook at home. We have 2 nights off together, one we go out, one we eat in. Often we’ll have overly ambitious cooking plans but then end up doing something simple like spaghetti carbonara.

Do you schedule ‘date nights’?

K&D: We’re good about having date nights, pretty much every Monday. We really try to stay connected in a way that doesn’t involve working. Once upon a time we had things to talk about besides the restaurant, and we don’t want to forget that. Our last date was a big one — a 6-day trip to the Caribbean, very relaxing.

What are some of your favorite Boston area restaurants?

K&D: So many restaurants, so little time! We love other Mom & Pops like Seven Stars Street Bistro and Brewer’s Fork, although we don’t get to Charlestown nearly as often as we should. We also love Neptune Oyster, Toro and eating at the bar at Mistral.

Any dreams\fantasies about opening a restaurant completely different than Vee Vee?

K&D: All the time! Sometimes we look around and think maybe we should have done this or that differently, and wonder what it would be like to start all over.

What characterizes your favorite type of customers?

K&D: We have an excellent group of regulars and it often feels like an ongoing conversation with old friends. We just continue where we left off the last time they were in. We love that. But we also love when someone comes in for the first time and tells us how comfortable they feel, like they’re a guest in our home. That’s the best.

What are you most proud of about your restaurant?

K&D: We’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I’m thrilled that we we’ve been able to create the neighborhood spot we envisioned, with wonderful customers and an outstanding Vee Vee family. We couldn’t ask for better people around us.

Any advice for couples thinking about  opening a joint, or working together in a restaurant/small biz?

K&D: Figure out where your partner excels and let them run with it. Trust your guts. If something feels wrong to either of you, it probably is.

K: If you’re thinking about opening a place, have a firm vision. It can be tempting to try to be everything to everyone, but the sooner you realize you can’t, the better. That said, a bit of flexibility can be necessary, too. There’s a balance in there somewhere. Also, your relationship with each other should always be more important than the business.

D: Choose the name very carefully. You’d be amazed how often people mistakenly assume that we are a vegetarian or vegan restaurant just because of our name.

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If you’d like to participate in this series, please email Patrick@servernotservant.com. And please forward this blog post to ‘Mom and Pop’ Shop business owners who might enjoy sharing their stories. I’m also seeking a Boston media partner to share these posts. Thank you.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. No compensation was exchanged between Vee Vee and Patrick Maguire/Server Not Servant in exchange for publication of this post. Sharing of this post by Kristen and Dan Valachovic, Vee Vee and affiliates via social media is anticipated but not required. Thank you.

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Boston ‘Mom and Pop’ Shops-Chapter 1: Formaggio Kitchen

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 02/9/2016

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As I announced in a blog post on 1/30/16, this series will celebrate ‘Mom and Pop’ shops in the Boston area, and possibly beyond. Over the next several months I will be dedicating blog posts to owners of restaurants and small businesses who contact me and respond to a questionnaire designed to capture their experiences of owning, working, and operating a business together.

The first person to email me with her tale and insight was Valerie Gurdal. Valerie is co-owner of Formaggio Kitchen with her husband, Ihsan Gurdal. I lived in the South End neighborhood of Boston for 13 years, and loved having Formaggio right around the corner. Their selection of cheeses, beer, wine, charcuterie, and specialty items are legendary in Boston, Cambridge, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Thanks to Valerie for sharing her story and launching this series.

Valerie: Formaggio Kitchen is three small retail specialty shops: Cambridge, Boston, NYC. We fondly refer to Cambridge‐FK as the mother ship, which was started in the late 70’s by Norma Wasserman. Ihsan, my husband started in 1982 and I started in 1984. We soon started a slow buyout of the business from Norma. Like most things at Formaggio, we have grown slowly and organically. So we didn’t start out with a mission statement we both started out as counter help who soon discovered we loved food retail. As time when on and we started taking on more responsibility, we wanted to know more about the source of the food, the producer, the farmer and we started traveling, which then led to our importing of the products we found.

SNS: What are your individual titles, roles, and responsibilities?

We are both co‐owners of all Formaggio operations. The Cambridge shop, South End, NYC and the Annex. The Annex is our warehouse where all the goods we import get delivered, mail order headquarters, and classroom facilities. I, Valerie, run the south End shop, Ihsan runs the Cambridge location and we have a great manager in NYC. (The NYC shop is only 250sq ft) Together we decide on the direction of the shops and areas where we need to improve. We choose the product lines that we import, and make staffing and travel decisions.

South End

South End

 

Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Boston?

I was born and raised in Miami and loved it. I came to Boston for college and never left. I still hate winter and I travel with food in my glove compartment out of fear of being stranded in a snowstorm, and I’m a loyal Miami Dolphins fan.

As a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you “grew up?”

As a kid I wanted to be an FBI agent, or a spy. I came to Boston to go to Northeastern to major in Criminal Justice and Accounting. I ended up graduating from BC instead.

What other jobs have you worked besides running your shops?

I always worked with food–waitress, prep cook, catering, and then Formaggio Kitchen.

What was your first restaurant‐related job and where was it?

94th Aero Squadron next to the Miami International Airport as a waitress. I loved the adrenaline rush and camaraderie of the staff. And I made enough money to send myself to Spain for 6 months.

How did you (and Ihsan) meet?

When I returned from Spain and moved to Boston for school I stumbled upon FK and decided I needed to get a job there so I could return home to Miami and open a shop like it. So I applied for a job. That was 1984 and Ihsan, my now husband, hired me. It was lust at first sight and I really did want to learn everything about the business. I kept daily notes and still have them. I was going to call my store in Miami, Sunset Corners. I think the location is still a good choice.

How long have you worked together?

We worked together daily from 1984‐1999 when we opened the South End location, and I now work in the South End location and Ihsan is in Cambridge.

How many hours a week do each of you work? (How many of those hours overlap when you’re both working together?)

Varies from season to season, anywhere from 8‐12 hours a day. We have been doing this going on 30+ years, so by now we have cultivated a great team around us.

Did anyone give you any advice before you started working together?

No, we didn’t even think about it. We dated while working together, got married, and still worked together. We really weren’t one of the couples that talked and planned things out, even though I am a planner. Guess love does that to you…

How would you describe your working relationship?

We are better at talking about the shops than working together daily in the shops. We are both opinionated, both always right, and stubborn–all those good qualities. But when we were in the same shop we each had different responsibilities and departments. That helped our relationship.

Is working together harder or easier than you anticipated?

When I first left to go to the South End, the shop was slow and I was used to the busy crazy pace of Cambridge, and I missed Ihsan. Soon I discovered I could never go back. I like having my own control. We work so differently. I am better at the big picture, Ihsan is better at negotiating with vendors, public speaking, the face of the shop, and teaching classes.

What do you like the most about working together?

I like that our overall vision is the same that we love to eat and drink so wherever we go we seek out restaurants, food shops, markets and of course, cheesemakers.

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What do you like the least about working together?

Ihsan gets too intense and I have to voice my opinion and really the staff doesn’t need to witness our power plays.

How have you avoided killing each other?

A second shop.

What do you rely on Ihsan for that you would  hate doing?

Ihsan is better at the negotiating prices with vendors, not my strong suit.

What qualities do you value most in employees?

Honesty, commitment, passion, and being on time.

What do you enjoy doing most when you’re away from the business?

Anything in the sun. Lots of travel, cooking, eating, horseback riding, boating, trying my hand at gardening, so far not so good.

Any issues you care deeply about that you want to share?

One of the things I love about the South End location is there are so many independently-owned businesses. If people don’t want every neighborhood or every town to look and feel the same, Gap, Pottery Barn, Starbucks, etc…, then the consumer needs to support the independent shops. These shops give character and individuality to neighborhoods. I don’t want to visit a new city and walk around and see the same shops I see at home. I want to experience something unique in each section of the city. The big stores can out purchase us, but in my opinion, they can leave the neighborhoods soulless.

'Mom and Pop'

‘Mom and Pop’

Do you cook at home?

We do cook together at home. During the week dinner is very simple usually a piece of grilled fish with what we call ‘razzle dazzle’, basically a salsa which can be chopped tomatoes with hot peppers, lots of herbs, citrus or a caper-based one or bread crumb-based, whatever we have around, and a salad, maybe a vegetable. We always have lots of dried hot peppers on hand. We have a large group of friends in Westport MA where we have a house and over the weekends we entertain a lot, anywhere from 6 to26.  Our group of friends all like to cook together and we tend to grill and eat more meat and drink more wine. Since our weekend groups tend to be large, we started doing potluck which works out great since everyone has their specialties. When we go to someone’s house we usually bring the cheese and charcuterie platter, go figure… During the weekdays we wake up early around 5‐5:30, walk the dogs or unload a ‘file’ shipment from Europe and go either to the gym or directly to work so I consider having coffee at home on the weekends a luxury. Ihsan makes the coffee, toasted Pain Poilane with fresh goat cheese and simiit toasted with cheese and turkish anise seed and fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice.

Do you schedule ‘date nights’? How often? What did you do on your last ‘date’?

We always find a night to be alone. Fridays when we get to Westport, we almost never go out and spend the night cooking at home just the two of us. Date night during the week can be as simple as a night at home‐‐good food, good wine, good company. One of our last formal ‘lets go out on a date night’ was in the summer we drove to Al Forno in Providence and ate for about 3+ hours. The waiter was perfect. We ordered so much food and he paced it perfectly. He didn’t bring out all the food at once crowding the table–oysters and martinis, rose with the next four plates and a grilled pizza, and then we were still hungry so we ordered the rib eye steak.

What are some of your favorite Boston area restaurants?

Our go-to restaurants in the neighborhood are Coppa, The Butcher Shop, Row 34, and Branchline in Watertown.

Any dreams\fantasies about opening a restaurant completely different than your current shop?

As you grow in a business you tend to stop doing the things that you loved in the beginning‐‐helping customers, doing the little things. You tend to end up doing a lot of admin work, which I like. I am lucky to have a good balance of both. We aren’t a restaurant, so a fantasy would be a small neighborhood (Cambridge) wine bar that we could walk to with really simple food from our travels‐‐combining all our favorite tapas bars in Spain and mezes in Turkey, bistros….

What characterizes your favorite type of customers?

Polite. we have customers who come in every day, some two or three times, and while we can’t always please everyone and sometimes run out of things, it’s so refreshing when the customer is polite. We pride ourselves on our customer service.

What are you most proud of about your shops?

We’ve been doing this job for 30+ years and still love most parts of the business. I love our product selection, the staff’s knowledge of the products, and our customer service. Our tastings and classes are a great way to share information with our customers. I am extremely fortunate here in the South End to have a very supportive core staff, but at the same time dealing with staff is also one of the most challenging aspects of the business.

Any advice for couples thinking about working together in a restaurant/small biz?

Have different roles and responsibilities. Try to remain calm and don’t take the work home with you‐‐easier said than done…

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If you’d like to participate in this series, please email me at Patrick@servernotservant.com. And please forward this blog post to ‘Mom and Pop’ Shop business owners who might enjoy sharing their story. I’m also seeking a Boston media partner to share these posts. Thank you.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. No compensation was exchanged between Formaggio Kithcen and Patrick Maguire/Server Not Servant in exchange for publication of this post. Social media sharing of this post by Valerie and Ihsan Gurdal,  Formaggio Kitchen and affiliates is anticipated but not required. Thank you.

 

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