Monday, August 15, 2011

The Closure, The Crew & The Colossal Catch Up

Seven months, hundreds of pounds of flour and thousands of eggs later, I'm back and a little unsure of where to start (Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...).

Okay. Let's get serious. An out of state reader whose Tulsa visits never coincided with our shop's open hours let me know that there were never any 'completed' pictures of The Frosted Bowl added to the blog. He's right. Once things got to rolling, they only picked up speed, and the time got away from us. So after digging through some now old files, we present the following:

Seeing the sign on the building made it official. There really was no turning back at that point. It's like I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes...

Each of the above photos were snapped prior to our opening and prior to the shop completion. Apparently we never took any photos after we opened. Also before the opening, we baked a few 'dry runs' in an attempt to figure out the new oven. (Looking back we needed a few more dry runs [and a few more weeks].) Snapshots from the dry run are below to provide a better idea of the front counter for our out of state friend.

So with a few dry runs under our belts (and really no clue of how our world was about to be rocked), The Frosted Bowl opened it's doors to the general public on February 22nd - and our lives were forever changed. And if not our lives, then at least our sleep patterns. Seriously. More on that later.

That first day was crazy! We had a ton of friends stop by to show their support in addition to some folks who had seen the ad in the paper or the news online. There were even flowers and plants sent by some supporters. I was pleasantly surprised as they were totally unexpected, and we still have one of them - though it's in bad shape. Looking back I think every pan in the kitchen was dirty, and I don't know how we made it to the second day. Neither mom nor I had slept at all the night before opening, and while we had help from the rest of the family that day and evening, I'm still a little shocked that we made it to day two.

Day two brought a smaller crowd as many of our friends and well wishers weren't back, but we still had plenty to keep us busy. As the days went by, we realized that we weren't as prepared as we needed to be. We needed additional cookie sheets, prep tables and a cooling rack. Through bargain shopping and by spreading out purchases, we slowly gathered the necessary items, but even with the proper tools and supplies, chaos reigned. We needed some organization - and that's where my brother came in. He's an organization guru with a handy side and the tools to support it. He hung shelves in the kitchen, in the mop sink closet and in the office, and suddenly things got better.

In spite of all of the progress that was made, we were still severely lacking in perhaps the most important area - manpower. You see we were basically operating on mom-power. Sure, I was here, and other members of the family were helping daily as well, but without mom there would literally be no Frosted Bowl. She was here early to power up the oven and bake for the front counter each day that we were open. Originally we operated the front counter five days a week. As time went on, the 16, 18, 19+ hour workdays quickly began to take a toll, and we decided to close the front counter except for three days a week. I think the entire family needed a break, and we had determined that Tuesday and Wednesday weren't that busy anyway.

During this time the phone started ringing. At first the calls weren't that close together. But then they picked up speed and came much more frequently. Like contractions and child birth, as the calls became more frequent, the pain intensified. People wanted cake. And we wanted to sell it to them. The problem was that we could (and can) only make so many cakes in a week. Some people actually called and wanted cake the same day, but that just isn't how we operate. We don't keep a freezer stocked with cakes to pull out and decorate. Everything is made to order. When people became obviously frustrated when their orders were turned down, it wasn't nice. The first time I got hung up on was a little painful (and shocking). What became even more painful was when I didn't refuse the orders when I should have. It led to extremely insane weekends that took us to the edge of breakdowns and heart attacks, sleepless nights spent working in the kitchen - and rushed substandard cakes and poor service. There were (and are) so many Saturdays that I watch the sun rise with the Beatles stuck in my head.

Somewhere along the way in all of the front counter prep and cake marathons, we became tired - and by 'we' I mean the entire family, and by 'tired' I mean completely exhausted. Yes, I just said we cut back hours to help out, but that still wasn't enough. It's been awhile, but if I recall correctly, I was at the shop six + days a week - even with the reduced hours. Mom was here almost as much. My grandmother (Mawmoo) was here almost as much too. My brother, sister-in-law and niece were here. Dad fetched the milk and whatever else we needed or ran out of and forgot to pick up ourselves. My sister was there from time to time as well. On top of that there were a couple of friends who volunteered and were instrumental in keeping things rolling. It has been shocking to realize how much time is involved in operating a shop - even if that shop is tiny.

So on a Saturday in early June after another sleepless night spent in the kitchen, we made the executive decision to close the front counter of The Frosted Bowl. It was too much, we needed to be able to focus on cakes, and we needed to sleep. We made the announcement on Facebook and put a sign in the front window. Though we've had some disappointed folks, the timing was perfect. Within mere days of the closure, one key family member was put in a neck brace and wrist brace, and another was hospitalized for a scheduled surgery (and another emergency/follow-up surgery two days later). Our staffing was almost gone. Sure, it was only two people, but they had to be cared for, and that pulled additional resources. I suppose that's one of the downsides of running a family operation. A family emergency has the potential to bring everything to a screeching halt.

Fast forward two months. The Frosted Bowl is still here baking away. Most weeks we bake cakes and cupcakes, but we will bake the other items from the front counter if they're ordered in time and in a large enough quantity. We closed to allow us to focus on cakes and to provide down time for sleep and behind the scenes work, and part of that has taken place. We definitely make more cakes now. When the front counter was open, we would do six - eight cakes a week maybe. Since the closing of the lobby, we've jumped to as many as 23 cakes in a week, but we average around 15. Sadly we still have to turn down orders each week, because we simply can't keep up, but we're trying to be better.

Staffing over the past two months has remained almost all family.

Mawmoo (grandma) is here faithfully Thursday - Saturday, and she's amazing. She is a cleaning machine who doesn't know how to take a break. In addition she'll help with whatever we need. She has added ribbon to wedding cakes, made edible trees and roping, painted cakes and perhaps made one of the greatest contributions to the shop since we opened - she started organizing my files! The piles on the desk are dwindling, and it's all because of Mawmoo. Since we opened there just hasn't been time for this type of work, so we're stoked that she's been able to get to it over the last few weeks! Without a doubt we would not have survived the summer without her, and she continues to be our biggest asset. I truly can't give her enough kudos. On top of everything else she does here, she stopped by today to drop off a plate of roast beef, fried okra, potatoes & gravy, corn on the cob and hot rolls. She's one fine grandmother.

One cool cat working on another on a recent hectic Saturday, Mawmoo.

Another key member of the staff is my sister, Mandy. She's been here on Thursday and Friday on most weeks since the closure, and she has become quite the cake maker. She truly has a knack for it, and if you purchased a cake over the last few months, there is a good chance that she worked on it. In addition she enjoys the behind the scenes work of emails and phone calls. I find this very comforting, and as time goes on, I look for her to be more and more involved with this area of the operation.

Of course we still couldn't keep the place going without mom. She's still here at the drop of a hat to help or run errands, and she is the sitter who keeps the nephews to allow Mandy to come play. When we're low on linens, she takes care of the laundry too. Mom's is also a night owl, so she is perhaps the most sympathetic on the late evenings. She frequently comes in to save the day in the middle of the night, and dad is sympathetic enough to go along with it.

A few weeks ago, we excitedly welcomed our first intern to The Frosted Bowl. Brajhelle comes to us from the Pastry Arts Program of Platt College and has already shown herself to be helpful.

Finally, I'm still here. And with the increase in accepted orders each week, it seems that I'm only here and nowhere else - aside from the supply runs and late night food runs anyway. Yes, I exaggerate - but only a little. Many times over the last few months, I've pondered selling my home. I'm really only there a few hours a week (It has security, you would-be thieves.) to shower, check the mail and (on a few lucky nights a week) sleep. But with a cot in the office here at the shop and with showers at truck stops, I could seriously cut down on the overhead. I jest. Sort of. It's just that I keep standing in the kitchen with a spatula or pastry bag in hand as people walk past the front windows. They're laughing and joking. They're heading to dinner. They're going to church. They're getting Italian or a Coney Deal at one of our fine neighbors. They're living and I want to too. I want to be where the people are (Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun, wandering free, wish I could be), and not to put you on Disney overload or confuse stories, I want to be human again.

But in the midst of those low times, I think of all the amazing folks we've met since February. I won't name names and risk leaving important people out, but The Frosted Bowl has incredible clients. Would I really want to give them and this place up and go back to an office job? I worked with fabulous people back in my corporate life, but those days and that dream team can never be again. And in a sense it'd be like we were letting our new friends down. Since we opened multiple people have made comments that they'd love to be doing what we do, and I do think we'd be a little crazy to stop less than six months in. We've come a long way, and we've received warm receptions by so many members of the community. Too many pieces have just fallen in place for us to quit now. We simply need to finish building a new dream team, and we need to figure out the schedule. On a personal level, I need to be nicer to the old circadian rhythm, make it to the church house, and get reacquainted with very missed friends. I also need to stop whining. I know that things will work out. They always do.

On to lighter things and the much anticipated end of this rambling post... We just finished our second busiest week ever. Twenty-two orders left the shop, and we we were too busy to get pictures of some of them! We're growing! This coming week has another wedding and some fun 3-D cakes, so we're looking forward to it. If we can work it in, the week may also hold another much, much shorter blog update.

Until then.