Owning a NYC Food Business is Grand, and Other Lies Pinterest Told Me (Part 1)

by Angela Brown on June 23, 2014

in Boutique Businesses, Cool Condiments, New York

 

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Oh, Angela. Over the last seven years of running little old Eat Boutique, I’ve felt many of the same emotions. I’ve found a kindred spirit in between Angela’s words and sentences, painful and inspiring. If you want to start a food business, read this first. (And, Angela, I owe you a beer sometime to celebrate the fact that we’re doing what we’re meant to do, and sometimes, that’s super hard.) Tomorrow, Angela will share her quick recipe win that dresses up any humble dinner, so come back, okay? xox, Maggie

I had grand ideas. When I began thinking of writing about owning a piece of the New York City food scene (along with my husband and a close friend), I decided I would create a super positive post about how far we had gone in just three short years, from selling our slow braised meat sandwiches and seasonally-inspired condiments at weekend pop-up markets in Brooklyn to opening our own storefront on Manhattan’s Second Avenue and maintaining a year-round roster of more than a dozen pop-up locations throughout the city.

I’d write something incredibly dreamy, something I would have wanted to read back when this whole business of ours was still just an idea, to inspire readers to take the leap and open their own place. My post would be like Pinterest in prose-form, complete with talk of cute shop décor and stories of browsing food markets in the name of work.

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But then this past weekend happened. It was one of our busiest weekends of the summer season. In addition to our storefront and our catering schedule, we were set to participate in three different pop-ups (in three very different neighborhoods), as well as a music festival that required half our team  for more than eighteen-hours per day for three days straight.

In short, we were up at 3:30 a.m. on Friday, worked until 2:00 a.m. on Saturday, and then we were up again at 6:00 a.m. to repeat the whole schedule for two more days. It was on Saturday morning, while lugging a wobbly hand truck stacked with cases of bottled water and bags of ice up a muddy hill, balancing my phone on my shoulder, with my husband freaking out about a missing sign that this post popped back into my head.

The idea of adorable linen aprons, perfectly-plated food, mason jar utensil holders and leisurely days spent experimenting with new recipes was nowhere in sight. But isn’t that what owning a food business is supposed to be? Before I had an opportunity to fully process my own thought, one of the cases broke, sending two-dozen plastic bottles rolling downhill through the mud. As I found myself sprinting across dirty puddles to catch them, all I could think was this:

Pinterest lies.

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People ask me what it’s like to own our business all the time and, to date, the best response I’ve come up with is that it’s a lot like having a baby. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning until the moment we close them at night (if we have time to close them at all), every breath we take and every decision we make revolves around our shop: this thing we created together, this thing we believe in, this thing we are terrified of and love more than anything else in our life.

Together, we’ve watched as our business – our “baby” — took her first steps, and cried together when she tumbled, horrified that she would be broken forever due to our own negligence. We’ve teared up every time someone has said a kind word about her, trying to remain entirely humble, but unable to hide the fact that we are really, really proud.

We’ve fought with each other when we’ve disagreed about how we should raise her, and called family members in the middle of the night, frantic and begging for their wisdom. We’ve drained our bank account so that she can have a better life. We’ve ditched friends because she needed our full attention.

We’ve traded crisp button downs and mature flowy blouses for bleach-stained t-shirts knowing that, despite our best preventative measures, our baby will end up spitting braising liquids all over us by the end of the day.

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To be honest, there are definitely days when I think, why are we doing this? Our lives would be so much easier if we both just got nine to five jobs and called it a wrap. But that’s just it: to us, it is so much more than just a job. Our shop is a part of us, our family, a huge piece to the puzzle that is our shared life.

I think the best advice I can provide to a prospective shop owner is this:

  • Don’t do it for the money or the glamour (neither of which actually exists, despite what our Twitter or Instagram accounts might suggest).
  • Do it because you cannot imagine your life without it.
  • Do it because, even in the absolute worst of times (there will be many), you know in your gut that you will really, truly, fully stand by your vision and your brand.
  • Do it because, despite all the bad days, you know that your shop will bring you a great sense of joy and pride and a real sense of purpose that simply didn’t exist before.

Remember: Tomorrow, Angela will share her quick recipe win that dresses up any humble dinner, so come back! xox, Maggie

Photos courtesy of Angela Brown.

Eat Boutique discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers and shares our version of #foodgiftlove. We share recipes, maker stories and city guides to eating boutique. We host tasting events and markets for food makers, cookbook authors and food fans. We craft seasonal, regional gift and tasting boxes and sell individual items that you can order in the Eat Boutique Shop. You can also follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagramTumblr and Pinterest.

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Angela Brown

Angela Brown is a freelance writer and a co-owner of Mayhem & Stout, a New York City-based artisan sandwich company. Her writing has appeared in web and print publications including Culinate, Design Sponge, Food 52, Kiwi, and Saveur.com among others. She is the voice behind the food blog The-Chefs-Wife.com where she writes weekly narratives inspired by her experiences owning and operating a piece of the NYC food community.


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