Wednesday, August 31, 2011

more...of just about everything.

The months just fly by, and there's a lot that I'd like to blog about in order to keep a record, and always lots to communicate to all of you. But it just doesn't work out that way so much. I (rightly, I think) prioritize keeping the day-to-day operation here under control, which is a growing job as our business grows. We had an unexpectedly busy summer, in terms of customers and revenue - where last year we got less busy in June through August, this year we're busier every month. This is partly a function of having new neighbors with growing businesses, who attract more people to the block (who sometimes want a coffee or a waffle or whatever), and partly just us attracting new customers through word of mouth. Honestly, since we opened, it's been all we could do to keep up with growth, and that's still the case. Good problems to have, they say. Someday, I'll be trying to figure out how to get more customers through the door, but right now, you all just keep on coming. Thanks for that. :)

Growth means constant adjustment - we built systems that worked reasonably well at the beginning, but every few months we've had to re-engineer what we're doing to make our operation more efficient and consistent as more customers decided they wanted to spend their money here. We've had some problems along the way - some things haven't worked out as well as we'd hoped, and sometimes staff and customers suffered for it. But on the whole, we've been doing pretty OK. We've also managed to build a stronger crew over time - each time we grow the staff, I feel like we improve. We're at a point where three quarters of our staff has been here for over 6 months, and almost half have been here a year or more. This in a business which has only been around for a bit more than a year and a half in an industry known for high turnover - I think we're doing pretty well on that front, and hope we continue to.

We've spent a lot of the past 9 months adjusting our food menu, adding new bakery goods, establishing rotating specials (and adding new things to the menu as we went). Also, we've had to improve the speed and efficiency of our counter operation - turning out food and drinks faster, ringing sales faster, setting up stations so that two people can work side-by-side when things get really busy, improving our inventory and prep schedules, etc. We've also really beefed up our entertainment calendar - we've got live music every Saturday, and most Sundays, and our standing Friday evening happy hour (with DJs, movies, and other fun stuff). We're getting more great performers, more great art, and more great folks to throw their events here, and have even more coming. We've already planned out the remainder of our arts calendar for the year, and have some exciting stuff coming that we think you'll all really love.

We're focused right now on making some adjustments to our coffee program - we recently switched our decaf to a new product that we like a lot better, and we're making some minor recipe changes as well (watch for those over the next month or two). We're also improving our general drink quality and consistency - although we've always had some great baristas, we also had to hire folks who could handle food, and they haven't always had the best coffee chops. I'm happy to say that we've made some good progress on this front in the past couple months, but there's more to be done - we'll keep at it.

We're really excited to be hosting our first multi-venue art show in September: Fuzzy Logic - Oakland Threads is a group fiber arts show that will be hosted here and at James and the Giant Cupcake, and Threads of Transition, Patterns of Change - Rabari Textiles of India will be hosted by A Verb for Keeping Warm. We'll be opening both shows on September 9th, from 5-10pm, with DJs, free cupcakes, popcorn, happy hour specials, and a screening of The Muppet Movie. It looks to be a real swell time, so make a point of dropping by.

But, maybe the most exciting news...right now, we're working on re-building our parklet! Park(ing) Day is next month (September 16th), and we're one of many Oakland businesses who will be deploying temporary parklets during that weekend. Ours will be the most permanent of the crop, and we're told by the folks at the City of Oakland that there will be an RFP issued in the next several weeks which will allow us to apply for one of eight parklet permits to be granted in a pilot program. I see no reason why we would be denied a permit, and I can't wait for the day that the parklet becomes a permanent fixture of the block.

As part of the Park(ing) Day brouhaha, we're helping the Golden Gate Community Alliance build new sidewalk furniture for several businesses on our block (The Essence of Beauty, James and the Giant Cupcake, and Kinks Beauty Supply). We're using a design similar to what we did for the parklet for sidewalk planters and benches, and really trying to integrate the entire block in the parklet experience. I can't tell you how excited this makes me. I hope you feel the same. The planter/benches will become permanent fixtures of the block immediately - although we'll need to take the parklet away after the weekend, the sidewalk furniture will remain.

Park(ing) Day weekend is shaping up to be a three-day block party here at SP/Alcatraz: we'll be listed in the nationwide Park(ing) Day directory, and expect lots of folks coming by on Friday to check out the parklet. We're having our regular Friday night happy hour that night on the sidewalk adjoining the parklet, which ought to be fun. On Saturday (9/17), St. Columba Church (across the street from us) is having a big yard sale in their parking lot, and the folks at A PLACE for Sustainable Living are planning a street closure and block party on 64th and San Pablo for the day (details soon...). On Sunday (9/18), we'll have a sidewalk party with entertainment from noon-4:00, and will again invite press, politicians and other folks from the area to soak up the parklet vibe and get excited about our parklet and Oakland parklets in general. We'll be circulating a petition for signatures which will help ease us through the permit process, and also stamping Oakland parklet passports all weekend long. Passport holders will receive a 10% discount all weekend as well (more details about passports coming...).

We've got more in store...Halloween/Dia de los Muertos things in October with a great solo photography show by Varese Layzer; a group food-themed art show in November, with a special Plaid Friday party, and more, more, more!

Also, I think we can officially declare Laptop-Free Weekends a success, thanks to all of you. We've managed to do something a little different here, and our customers love us for it. I hope some of the folks who harassed me and us in the early days have taken the time to stop by and experience what we're doing, and that maybe we've helped a couple people see things in a new way.


Stop by and share the love. It's real.

sal & the actual crew

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