Big Ideas, Small Business--Learning how to run a small
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Big Ideas, Small Business

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Before we went into business for ourselves with our local coffee shop, my complete restaurant experience was as detailed below.

22 years of experience working with Chick-fil-A

That’s it. That’s all I had to go on.

My roles at Chick-fil-A over the years had ranged from Team Member to Shift Leader to Assistant Manager to General Manager to Training Director… you get the idea. My roles were very diverse, and I did learn about a lot of different facets of the business.

This experience has served us very well in our business. However, Chick-fil-A is a large chain restaurant business, and there are many things which are very, very different about our local, small business.

Stacy realized long before I did that I needed help in many areas. I know that’s a shocker, right? I have come to the point that when she says I need help, I believe her, even if I don’t see the need for help myself.

Some things were handled by our corporate headquarters which I never had to think about.

Food Suppliers

First, I have to give a shout out to Vienna Coffee Company, in Maryville, TN. Vienna has been our coffee supplier from the beginning, and we could not have made a better choice. They have been outstanding in quality, reliability, flexibility, and customer service!

Big Ideas, Small Business--Learning how to run a small business.www.thebakeristalife.comCoffee

One of our main food items that has to be right is our coffee. We pride ourselves in serving fantastic coffee, and that starts with the quality of the coffee from Vienna Coffee Company. I knew very little about coffee before we began to prepare to follow our dream. Vienna taught us and coached us every step of the way on the supply side of the coffee business.


We are a Coffee Shop and a Bakery and a Frozen Custard Shop all in one. The Frozen Custard came later, you can read about that in our post “Adding a Layer to Our Business“.

The bakery side of our business produces about 15 ready to serve items on our menu, as well as several add-in ingredients to recipes for shakes and other Frozen Custard Special items.

We need a lot of different ingredients to pull that off, and my first attempt at getting them was, well, it was a disaster.

There is just no other way to say it… I thought I knew what I was doing, but I was dead wrong.

I was in way over my head when it came to food vendors. Before we even opened, I had already been approached by several different companies and reps. I didn’t know which way to turn. I had never had to negotiate a food vendor contract before. I was lost.

I went with the first big company, the one that seemed the most aggressive in getting my business.

Ugh, I get sick just thinking about it.

To make a long, sad, heart-wrenching story short, our relationship with that vendor was terminated less than three months in. Stacy and I started shopping for all of the groceries needed for our business at Aldi.

If you have never attempted to check, load into your cart, and purchase 15 dozen eggs at Aldi at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday, I highly recommend it. It will do wonders for your patience. Actually, no, don’t do this if you value your cardio health. These were some of the most frustrating, stressful times we have experienced in business, and we weren’t even in our building!

Eggs are just one of a myriad of examples I could give. It was not uncommon at all to arrive at the grocery store only to find that they did not have what we needed. They were out of stock. That meant another trip to a different store to try to locate it. All this while also trying to stick to the same brand every time for consistency – it was a complete mess.

I am very happy to report that we now are able to use a different, far superior food vendor. We also order some of our needed items with a free grocery pick up service. That’s right! Order it and pick it up without going inside people – it’s the best!

Big Ideas, Small Business--Learning how to run a small“Paper” Goods

Paper goods refers, in this case, to any disposable item used to prepare or package food or drinks. So cups, lids, sleeves, plasticware, napkins, straws, parchment paper, bakery tissue sheets, gloves, …

You get the idea.

Before we opened, we shopped around, a lot, for the best price on paper goods. We found several options, but eventually settled on The Webstaurant Store for most of our paper goods. The only drawback to using this web-based restaurant supply company was shipping costs. They easily had everyone else beat on product price, including other internet companies, but the shipping costs were pretty high.

We did calculations on every product, and in nearly every case, The Webstaurant Store came out less than anyone else, even with the shipping added back into the price of the items. They won our business.

More recently, The Webstaurant Store has added a new “Plus” membership for $99 per month which offers free shipping on most items. I was spending more than $130 per month on shipping, so when this came along it was an easy decision. After joining plus, we began shopping for many other items with “Webstaurant” and, for the most part, it has been a very good experience. We have also saved a lot of money.

Rethinking What I Thought I Knew

I am still learning, daily what it means to run a small coffee shop/bakery which also happens to make and sell Frozen Custard. What I thought would be easy has been anything but easy. Decisions I thought I could make in my sleep have cost me more sleep than drinking coffee too late in the day, which does frequently happen.

Stacy keeps reminding me, and she is right. I have to reprogram my mindset. I have to adjust to the fact that everything affects everything else. Some aspects of this business which I never had to think about in my past experience are all part of the balancing act.

I am forever grateful to her, and I am getting better at listening. Getting slowly better.

Have you ever found yourself in over your head? What did you do? Who pointed it out to you if it wasn’t obvious? Comment and let us know! Let’s learn from one another!

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