It was almost 9pm, and we were frantically sweeping the floor and wiping the counters in a windowless commercial kitchen in San Rafael. The last batch of fried chicken, which should have been delivered two hours prior, was still cooking on the stove. Up until that night, Arthur and I were the only people who had tasted our brand new menu, and the most servings we had practiced cooking was eight.
Tension was high, and Arthur and I were barely on speaking terms as we loaded the food into the car and drove to the site of our first catering gig: a movie set at a marina in Sausalito. We drove in circles looking for the location, and eventually someone had to come find us and direct us to the set. We were surprised to find a dark, dirt lot with a single street light. There were no tables in sight, something we had neglected to discuss beforehand.
We were three hours late by the time we got there, and yet all of the actors and production crew were excited to see us arrive. The only person who knew our scheduled delivery time was the director, a friend of Arthur’s who had bartered a fried chicken dinner for his film crew in exchange for producing our Kickstarter video. He was either too busy or too kind to mention our epic snafu.
The original idea was to feed everyone before they started filming, but we arrived just as they were wrapping up, so we became the post-filming treat. We opened up the back of the minivan and had another car park beside us under the one streetlight, and then we proceeded to have an old fashioned tailgate party. Our worries about the food and the scheduling disaster were proven to be misplaced as we received glowing compliments about every dish.
I vividly remember the emotions that night as Arthur and I struggled to cook and deliver that dinner for 25 people. That memory now stands in stark contrast to the ease at which we, with the help of an employee and two friends, cooked and delivered a very similar menu (only with refined recipes and better execution) for 90 people a couple of weeks ago. In recognition of this first year of significant — and sometimes painful — growth, I’m passing the keyboard to Arthur to share his own reflections on the lessons learned and challenges faced.
Drums & Crumbs Co-Founder & Co-Owner Arthur Chang Reflects On The Highs & Lows Of Our First Year In Business
Arthur Chang, Co-Founder & Co-Owner of Drums & Crumbs LLC
3 Things I have Learned So Far:
1. Running a small business has taught me more patience than I have ever thought I possessed.
Most of my really close friends and my old work colleagues know that I am a pretty impatient person when it comes to things in day to day life. That is why I thrived in my old job where information was expected and received quickly on both sides of the table. It is also why I thrived in NYC: it is a much faster pace than most anywhere in the world.
After having started this business, I have learned that the parties on the other side of the various business interactions I have had with work at their own pace. I’ve realized that I have to learn to accept this and know that thing will get accomplished — just maybe not in my own internal time frame.
This newfound patience has surprised me because I really didn’t think I was capable of that. I am starting to learn that the ultimate priority is that the business succeeds over my own personality quirks. I have learned to not respond negatively to waiting longer than I want and stay aware of the larger picture. I am not perfect in this but I think I have adapted pretty well.
2. The support of friends and family has been so overwhelmingly great that has really surprised me.
I know most people in your life want you to succeed, but the fact that so many have responded with verbal, written, emotional, and even monetary support via our Kickstarter campaign has really astonished me. Half of the reason I am still on this path is the fact that I know so many people want us to thrive and do well. In my lowest moments, I think of them, and it renews my ambition to move on.
3. One of the greatest joys I have ever had is watching complete strangers eat our food and then tell me how much they enjoy it and how happy they are that we are doing this.
That feeling they give me never gets old and is again one of the main reasons I keep pushing on.
Most Memorable Experiences
1. Taste of Sonoma
This was the first event when we offered our food to a great mass of people in such a unique and great atmosphere. The response from the people there affirmed that I had made the right choice in terms of the concept.
2. Meeting with the Opportunity Fund to discuss our loan process, and completing the loan application process itself.
I never really thought of myself as a true business person until I sat in a meeting room with the loan officer and our financial adviser and had to lay out our case and provide data and answer specific financial questions about our business concept.
Further, going through the loan application and having to provide financial reports made me realize this “project” (e.g. the business) was a real thing. It was a humbling experience realizing how much money is involved in just starting one small business organically.
1. Getting the food truck built
It’s a little ironic that our main goal is perpetually my biggest challenge right now. I have always heard stories about how long it takes to build a restaurant or house, and as it turns out, that basically applies to any construction project. When it comes down to it, when you have to rely on a contractor to get your project completed, there are going to be delays, and you have to adjust to their individual quirks and way of doing thing. Since they are often small businesses too, there is no clear, standardized way of doing things. All one can do is maintain constant communication and move things as quickly along as possible while keeping a congenial relationship with that contractor.
2.The kitchen learning curve
The next biggest challenge for me is the learning curve in the kitchen. I have always enjoyed cooking for fun and to entertain on a simple level, but I have never styled myself as a chef. Even though our menu isn’t complicated, I have realized that I have had to learn a lot more to be able to produce food for consumer consumption. This has given me a new respect for all chefs and cooks alike.
I am glad I have a good partner who cares about standards and has made me better in the kitchen. I also know that I want to eventually hire culinary professionals who have more talent and ability than I have to get our product to the next level. I know my strengths lie elsewhere.
With all the ups and downs of our first year of business, I am especially grateful for everything and everyone.
I know we are off to a good start, and I am looking forward to bringing our food truck and our food to as many people as possible in this next year!