Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Walking Alongside the Craftsperson

Whenever I am away from the shop for a few days, I wonder if I’ve passed on everything I know?  Are my staff ready to go it alone? Have I covered everything? 

Training well creates a comfort zone so that I can trust my staff and believe the shop is running as I would like it to when I’m not around to assist or correct.

In late November, I was away for a few days and I had the opportunity to be a part of a training that took this even further.  I was able to participate in a class with a craftsperson whose hope is to pass on traditional methods for dry curing meat.  My teacher loves what he does and does not want to see this “craft” disappear after he is gone.  Crafts must be passed along, shared, instilled in others.

I chose to take the class to try something new, to go in-depth with someone who is an expert, to glean their knowledge, and to immerse myself fully into a new skill.  I knew that just watching a video or poring through a book wouldn’t offer the same experience as participating. Sharing the experience with others offered me the benefit of other perspectives and the ability to have others with whom I could share the memories of the class.

I appreciated the practical application of this craft class. We were making a product and hopefully are able to use these skills later to reproduce the product we were making. It was truly an “on the job” learning experience, we learned what needed as we went along, working sequentially, taking each new step together.

Back at the café, I’ve been trying to finish a training manual that would be a how to book for my staff so they could also learn “on the job” when needed.  I know that sometimes it helps to have a reference to turn to, to go deeper, to review, to remember something that hasn’t been attempted for a long time, or just to check against a standard.  It wouldn’t replace the actual live training I do with each staff person but it could be a good supplement.

Over 10 years, I have had to learn quite a bit to keep this shop running with our unique model, and so I’m also putting this together to offer something to anyone who is looking to start up a café.   Instead of thinking that I have some sort of trade secret to keep, I’m feeling more like the craftsperson that wants to pass along the things I’ve learned.  

I have had opportunities recently to share this knowledge with a team of young women who would like to open a coffee shop that supports cats and cat owners. I am working with a computer programmer to develop an online manual and training simulator (many years to go on this one) that would be open to anyone on web to use and add to so we could learn from each other and collaborate to improve our café’s services.  And, yes, I have wanted to provide a way for someone to step into my shoes if I were to be out for a while or to pass this on when I’m ready to let go of it (many years to go on that option too). 

As it turns out I will be away from the shop for an extended time as I recover from shoulder surgery in early December.  Much like the time I hobbled around the shop on crutches after my Achilles tendon repair, I know I’ll feel in the way wearing a sling.   So, instead I will be using my time to be useful as a writer and coach from the sidelines.  I hope that what I learned last time (note to self: re-read blogs from that summer) leads me to be better prepared and balanced during this away time. 

One thing I learned was the importance of having good communication channels. This time around, I’m aware that I will need to focus on my ways of communicating with my staff.  I am guessing that I will get lots of practice.

It was a delight to have time to get away from the shop for a few days.  I was able to make space for a learning moment.  There was a rich environment created by having People who were excited to learn a new skill surrounding me.  And even though I was out of my comfort zone, I felt supported and I was encouraged to ask questions.  It felt good to not have to be the one with all the answers, to not have the responsibility of making it all work out right, to be able to just watch when I needed to step back a bit.  I’ll hope to hang on to those learning’s during my December recovery time so that it too can be a chance to grow.

At the end of this month, I will mark 10 years of operating Butter Bakery Café.  Every day still has elements of that first one – a sense of the unknown, a desire to learn, and goal to follow the sustainable green path.  I hope to have many more ahead, and look forward to meeting you along the path.