How can you tell which one is which, your customers ask, looking at the rows of shining canelés, rows of vanilla with their yellow crowns, rows of deep chocolate with their semi-sweet dark coronas, rows of green tea with their dusting of imported matcha like dehydrated dragon’s breath, rows of shining hazelnut colored, cocoa-scented Nutella, rows of darkly caramelized pecans wobbling on their uneven base of knife-chopped toasted nuts.
You just know, after a while, you say with a grin and sooner or later they come back enough times they know their favorites by looking, too and everyone has a good laugh.
After two years in business there are all kinds of things you just know, in addition to the flavor of the canelé at a glance; there are so many things to know when you make the making of something your actual business.
Some of your customers know this – you know them by their sudden, warm smiles and sincere exclamations of congratulations when you tell them you’ve just celebrated your second year in business.
Most customers will not know anything about your business except the taste of your product, and that’s ok, because their choruses of mmmmms and ohmygods will more than make up for their blessed ignorance of the agony and the ecstasy of being an entrepreneur.
You know after two years of farmer’s markets what customers are likely to like; it’s not something you knew right away, but rather something you’ve learned from interaction after interaction, week in and week out, in rain, sunshine and the damnable wind.
You know that the older your customer, the more the customer has been through, the more they are likely to, in one taste, recognize the effort, quality and value of what they just sampled and shoot you a sharp, considering, approving look that warms you right to the core, though no words are ever said, other than a brief “Good!” with maybe an even briefer nod.
You know that men over the age of 70 almost always prefer the Classic Vanilla; the flirty types, like the type that wears a homburg, will go for Caramelized Pecan.
You do not know why men stopped wearing hats but you wish they hadn’t. Those pictures from the 50s of men in hats in the street headed to Yankee Stadium are cool.
You know that almost all Asian women between the ages of 25 and 39 will probably like the pineapple because apparently it is similar in texture to a traditional Chinese dessert, and that very elderly Chinese men and women will stick with vanilla and maybe tea.
You know that the pretty Germanic-sounding woman with the dancer’s posture and the robust young son will never not get chocolate pecan, it’s been two years now.
You know that most people will want to buy the little ones, unable to resist the cutness, which you don’t mind because the little ones are 50% more profitable than the big ones though you know the big ones taste better.
You know that delivering by 5a Monday morning means catching the Wall Street crowd which means bigger orders from your wholesale customers which means less than 5 hours of sleep tonight and that’s only if you can get home from the bakery and packed up by midnight. Which has never happened.
You know until you replace your driver, Monday deliveries will be an oddly contemplative part of the day, the streets not yet snarled with delivery trucks and Uber drivers. You know that while you drive, NPR droning int he backgrounded, you will be obsessed with thoughts on how to find wholesale customers large enough to scale to your considerable production capacity.
You know that you will end the morning pleasantly jacked on caffeine, accepting all proffers of a beverage, it is good business to let your customers do favors for you, and besides you love them all, the pour overs and almond milk chais and iced mocha lattes and cortados, even if you hands are trembling uncontrollably by the time you are finished with the sixth delivery.
You know you will get nervous when actual French customers from actual France taste a sample, even though you know, with the same certainty you know your bank balance at all times, that they will praise it and invariably ask you if you are French before ordering vanilla (and only vanilla, never any other flavor so help them God, or butter).
You know it’s hot and getting hotter and you are staring down the oven-heated throat of a red-hot summer that is just weeks away.
You know that you have $4900 in outstanding invoices due to come in over the next 2 days. It’s nice to look forward to the mail.
You know summer is a time of big sales especially at the farmers market and you plan your pre-packaging strategies to boost sales by as much as 30%. People, you know, like and often even prefer to be told what to buy. Especially if it’s delicious.
You know your electricity bill will be 60% lower this year than last year because you went to the Department of Energy website and learned to negotiate rates, because when every penny counts you learn to find savings in every facet of the business. You feel a satisfaction in knowing this though no one you know will ever appreciate your penny-pinching ways.
You know when sampling that it is hit or miss with some kids, in the way that you know that the custard texture is not a common occurrence in a young American diet, in the same way you know that nearly all European and Chinese kids will love the texture and prefer chocolate, hands down
You know there will always be a dozen or so parents who buy their waddling toddler a single mini-canelé because the baby always holds the pastry triumphantly aloft, delighted at the perfect size for baby hands and generating many photographs and coos of isn’t-that-cute including from yours truly who sometimes manages to get our cancan girl stickers right on their chubby little arms, at the child’s own insistence and to the grinning proud delight of the parents.
You know there is no marketing like baby marketing and cheerfully hand out stickers to hundreds of kids, who toddle the market with your brand name adorably affixed to their noses, hats and sunglasses.
You know that after being up at 5 and working the market til 2p, a long evening of baking and cleaning at the bakery still lies ahead. You know that your much-anticipated evening with your husband and your dog will include a perfect dinner of bartered farmer’s market food (crab cakes and artichoke hummus with snap peas in exchange for 8 vanilla canelés and 16 mini chocolate pecan cancans) and only 3 of the following: a nap, a walk, a run, an hour of writing, an hour of accounting, conjugal relations, yoga, meditation, closet cleaning, or desk cleaning.
You know your lower back will start to ache by tomorrow afternoon but you’ll need to suck it up and get some sales calls in. No crying in baseball – you know that too, because you actually played it (well, fast pitch softball) and you can’t remember a single instance of any player crying, ever, even injured teammates never cried.
And while you agree business is not the place for tears, you also know that crying every once in awhile because you care is not something to suppress, and being in touch with your emotions means you’re less likely to be ruled by them, and so you embrace crying when it happens though you know it shouldn’t, or at least not very much.
You know the cardinal rule of being an entrepreneur is you can’t take No personally; you also know you don’t always have to take No seriously. Even and maybe especially when the No comes from a famous vc guy whose name is on the building and who the husband calls a friend, though he doesn’t seem much interested in being a friend, failing to interrupt his monologue about his acquisitions and club memberships even once to ask the husband a single question about his family or his life.
You know you should say something when the vc invariably mentions his wife and what a busy woman she is in that “aren’t you little ladies a hard working bunch!” way some vcs have, something that is polite and admiring and that certainly doesn’t mention that the vc’s wife doesn’t actually have a job, much less a business or a payroll or taxes or FDA inspections or a grease trap to clean every 3 months…but you keep quiet, because he isn’t really listening anyway, and because you know from experience the mention of the wife is merely the gambit of men who – even if they are surrounded by women – do not actually work with women and have no intention of starting now.
You had low expectations but still you thought the vc would at least have some decent advice and could perhaps make an introduction or two but who instead delivers his no in his living room in a manner so droningly oblique that it actually isn’t til after the meeting is over you realize the lack of a no was, in fact, the no.
Just as you know you shouldn’t take it personally when the vc makes odd, fragmented statements that are so irrelevant to the details of the business you just outlined that you wonder for a split second if he has, in fact, been sleeping with his eyes open while you outlined your two year plan.
You know as you escape the stuffy manse into the bright spring air, that this no is one you will let go of as easily as a balloon, sending it sailing off into a bluebird sky. You know this no is just another brick on the road to yes to your grand vision (something you see as clearly as the beauty of the day) and the thought makes you want to start running and get there, already!
But mostly you know that knowing all of this does not guarantee success, and that the most important thing to know is that which you don’t. Which is why you better have fun….for after all,
what is the point if
when it is all said and done
you didn’t at the very least
have a lot of fun?