Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Balancing the Pace

When my two children were infants, my wife and I played a simple tickling game with them as a gift of playful love. It used a little rhyme, ‘slowly, slowly, slowly, up the garden trail, slowly, slowly, slowly, goes the little snail. quickly! quickly! quickly! all around the house! quickly! quickly! quickly! runs the little mouse!’  It included slow movements during the snail’s lines to build anticipation.  As each slow plodding finger step moved from our child’s toe to their nose, we could watch the growing enthusiasm for the “tickly mouse fingers” that would draw out squeals of delight.


The life at my café these days isn’t really that much different.  Periods of slow, casual, calm times and bursts of hectic, scampering and high energy, followed by quiet, calm. slower times, followed by more bursts of speedy, high energy dashing around and so on.  We try to develop a rhythm for these each day; try to get a sense of how long a period of calm might last; or to develop a sense of anticipation for the next big rush of activity.   Eventually the rhythms take shape within each day, as do the days of a week and the months and seasons as well. 


One of my tasks as a coach and manager at my shop is to help my staff be productive in both the slower and speedier times. As I learn to anticipate the patterns of slower and faster times, I can help my staff prioritize their efforts to fit the needs and speeds of each phase of our day.  I also use this to prioritize for daily and weekly activities and to budget for longer patterns of greater or lesser revenue. 


As a middle school student, I took on track and field as one of my chosen sports.  I had an innate speed (genes from my mother’s father I’m told) and a willingness to compete.   While I was best at the shortest distances, my coach challenged my to try longer runs as well.  Unfortunately my desire to run a 400 yard race the same way I ran my 100 and 200 yard races, meant that while I led for much of the race, I rarely had enough left for the end and would often be passed near the finish.  Learning to pace just wasn’t a part of my race mentality. Many years later I became determined to finish a marathon.  As I trained for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, I needed to set aside my sprinter-spirit and take on the long-distance runner’s mindset that could help me create a pace I could sustain for miles upon miles.


Just recently, with the help of Sunrise Community Bank, I was able to secure an SBA loan for my business. This allowed me to refinance the high-interest credit card debt (the kind of capital banks like to share with new businesses) I needed to use to start and build my business.  It also provided working capital to complete the last phases of our move from Grand Avenue to Nicollet (since we just couldn’t afford all of the initial construction items).   I now have way to look ahead 10 years and plan for a future for my business where its debts are paid off.


Growth for any business is a series of short bursts, slow steady times and more short bursts.  The crazy opening hype must necessarily shift into a more sustainable pace for the ability to grow over the long term.  But yes, grow and keep growing becomes the challenge.  Much like the rings on a tree, every year of life is about growth.  Some years the rings are quite thin, some they’re large.  If I were to take a slice of the tree that has become my business, I’d surely be able to point out the wide ring after taking on a full time neighborhood baker (2007) and the thin ring that marked the year of road construction along Nicollet Ave after our move (2013).  Years of down economy (08-10) would easily contrast in the shape of the rings of the years of growing investment and development around my new location (13-15). It’s a story that can only best be seen, however, after you’ve made the cut to the tree.  In the midst of it, the actual growing time, it’s just slow times and fast, followed by more of the same in varying durations.


August?  Well, kind of slow for me, as my summer staff gets into their groove and customers take off on longer trips.  Slow enough that even I can imagine taking some time away.  But then kind of fast as preparations for school-year schedules begin to take shape and the approaching fall creates new demands. Then kind of slow again, and well, yes, at some point…


Enjoy your walk along the green path - slow or fast - as it may present itself.  I wish you the opportunity for delight in both.