Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for a lot of really important reasons. I love how Thanksgiving brings friends, family and neighbors together as sort of a kick-off to the holiday season. I also love the delicious foods, family recipes, and sharing a wonderful meal with those you love. I love the crisp fall weather, the gorgeous jewel tones on wreaths, fallen leaves, and pumpkins. For all of these reasons and many more, Thanksgiving is the highlight of the holiday season for me, mostly because of its simple message.
In the historical context, the tradition of Thanksgiving is deeply rooted American culture, having evolved from a harvest celebration between Pilgrims and Native Americans, to the modern-day day of feasting we now enjoy. What is most meaningful to me about Thanksgiving is that it's a holiday that everyone can celebrate. Christians, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, men, women, and children can all find SOMETHING to be thankful for.
The notion of gratitude is an important one to me. With gratitude comes a sense of humility and sobering truth - none of us has prospered without the help of another. No matter how confident, competent, intelligent or talented, any amount of success we've come to enjoy is at least partially due to the support, encouragement, belief, and good will of others who have come alongside of us and helped us reach our goals, sell our products, build our businesses, and realize our potential.
Three Little Birds was a hobby at the outset; a distraction from the toxicity of my former workplace. 11 months later, Three Little Birds is a growing, successful enterprise - not because I'm a genius, or because I'm an amazing chef, or because the market needed my product. Three Little Birds is a hobby turned livelihood because of the amazing support and enthusiastic buying habits of my customers..
This year, as I gave thanks for family and friends, creature comforts and health, I gave particular thanks to all of you, who continue to support this company in large and small ways. I gave thanks for the understanding of what I was trying to do, the patience of those who still don't see the bags on the shelves of their favorite grocery store. For those who understand that good businesses, like good food, take time.
Thank you for being here. I wish all of you the happiest, healthiest holiday season ever.
I'm a realist. I like to study, research, investigate, and dig for information. When I decided to turn my granola recipe into a business, I knew that it was going to be a long road from the kitchen to the grocery store shelves, both figuratively and literally. I was counseled by the Michigan State Product Center about the several steps I would need to take, as well as the possible delays I would inevitably encounter as I went from production to retail. 10 months into it, there are still delays, and many months before everything will be "just so", according to the State of Michigan.
At times, this has been frustrating. At times, this has been irritating. At times, this has been a baffling set of time-wasting circumstances. At other times, it has been a laughable insight into the slow-moving cogs of bureaucracy. All of the frustration, irritation, and winding roads have led to the realization that the foundation of any business is patience and determination.
No matter what your business, no matter what your occupation, a key ingredient in the recipe for success is the ability to keep the long view in mind, even when you're met with a giant brick wall. A wall is just a wall; it isn't the end. Behind a wall is something else. Seldom are walls a permanent blockade.
It's important, when faced with a wall, to take some time to assess the situation, collect yourself, but then act. Don't let a temporary obstacle become a stand-still.
Inertia is an incredibly important element to the completion of any project. Losing momentum is a common mistake that many people make, simply because the fatigue of disappointment, frustration, and delayed success can ultimately sideline someone on the path towards reaching their goal.
When met with a set-back or delay, take the time to meet with a friend or mentor to blow off the steam and then move on. It's natural to feel like quitting, but it's essential that you don't. Surround yourself with people who support you and believe in your mission. Even the most positive person needs a cheering section.
Most importantly, be a cheerleader for someone else who is just starting out. Chances are, you know someone who is in need of a little boost. Helping a friend or colleague face the challenges in their career not only benefits them, it will help to keep things in perspective for you.
Keeping a fresh, optimistic and hopeful perspective will ensure that you will reach your goal. As Dale Carnegie wrote, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
I started working towards the launch of Three Little Birds back in January, when it became apparent that I needed something to be excited about. I love starting businesses and all of the challenges that come along with making something from nothing.
In a lot of ways, starting a company is like developing a formula for a recipe. In cooking, once you learn the basic fundamentals of food preparation, the recipes are general guidelines. Learning which foods compliment each other and which pairings to avoid is equally as important as learning proper cooking technique. After all, even perfectly cooked, no one likes tuna & banana scented creme brulee, right?
So, once you learn and master the techniques, and then you figure out which ingredients come together to make the perfect dish, it's a lot of interpretation after that. The possibilities are endless because you know the framework within which you must work. Anything after that is controlled trial and error, theory, and careful and thoughtful execution.
The other important thing in cooking that many people don't take into consideration is that knowing your audience is incredibly important. I learned this after a very irritating experience a few years ago. My family is not a "food" family. My family does not love, like, or appreciate what I would consider "good food". Let me clarify. When I say, "good food", I understand that could be very subjective.
I, personally, have an appreciation for fine dining, having the extensive culinary background and working experience that served as the foundation of my early career. However, I don't LIKE fine dining. To me, fine dining is like fine art. I don't get it. I just don't get it.
Fine dining always leaves me feeling like I'm missing something incredibly important, forcing myself to like something I really don't like, and searching for a reason that I should like it. After a multi-course micro-meal, I feel disappointed and let down. Sure, foam and food cooked in a vacuum is neat, but, where is the substance?
I stopped doing fine dining when I realized that everything I made was something I wouldn't want to eat.
So, that being said, to me, "good food" isn't fine dining, but to someone else, that may be the case. To me, "good food" is whole, carefully and thoughtfully prepared, properly cooked and seasoned. It's approachable and natural (I'm not into processed foods and fake ingredients). Good food is satisfying on an emotional level, as well as the ordinary satisfaction derived from satiating your hunger.
When my brother turned 30, I made him a birthday cake. It was a vanilla chiffon cake, filled with vanilla bean pastry cream, strawberries and blueberries, finished with vanilla bean buttercream icing. I was VERY excited about this cake. It was a labor of love from start to finish.
It was, to me, the perfect birthday cake. He, however did not see it that way, and was disappointed that I did not bring him a "Fun-fetti" cake. No lie. Guess who never got another birthday cake from me ever again?
So, knowing your audience is important. If you're "fine dining", that's awesome. Just make sure that your audience likes "fine dining" too...and that there are a lot of them Or, they like to eat this way almost every day of the week. Otherwise, you've got a problem on your hands. And, hint, when I'm using "fine dining" here, I'm not referring to food, I'm referring to a business model.
So what does any of this have to do with granola? Well, a lot actually. My granola isn't for everyone. It's not inexpensive. It's actually a lot like the birthday torte I prepared for my brother. And, at the risk of sounding like a total b*tch, Three Little Birds granola is to other granola brands what my torte was to "fun-fetti". BOLD statement. But, like Kid Rock says, "it ain't braggin', motherf*cker, if you back it up".... (pardon the crude lyrics).
Anyway, I'm approached by a lot of people who want to start their own food businesses, and they ask me for advice. I'm sure that after my start-up reality check, they wish they hadn't asked. There are a lot of reasons NOT to start your own business, but, they don't outweigh the reasons to forge ahead.
Do your homework and do a reality check of your own. There are a lot of fun aspects of owning a food business, like making your product, designing packaging, logos, and websites. There's a lot of really not-so-fun details that suck up a lot of your time and money.
If you're short on people who will give you a reality check, you can always call me. It's now my second job... and, actually, it's a lot of fun, too.
Stacy Sloan; Chef & Founder of Three Little Birds