One beautiful long weekend this summer, I met a most unusual entrepreneur while having lunch with a group of friends on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.
It was a cozy Mediterranean Café in Sechelt. Our group was sipping wine and talking cheerfully. Within minutes, the Café Chef and owner popped out from the kitchen and came to greet us. I will call the dining place Valencia Garden Café, and the owner – Adela Flores. A few years ago, Ms. Flores imagined herself running a small dining place right on the Inlet shoreline. Now she is a successful manager with a great story to tell. I asked her how she found herself in the restaurant business.
“Food is part of the Mediterranean culture," Ms. Flores said candidly while checking carefully that all on our table was in perfect order. “Our tradition welcomes guests with food and friendship. I grew up in the small-town of Frigiliana on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. It is a charming town dotted with white-painted houses, shops, and neighborhoods. My mother was a great cook, the joy of setting a good table was important to her. That’s how I learned that cooking could be fun and nurturing.”
On my question about Spanish signature recipes Ms. Flores answered, “Gazpacho El Faro, the trademark dish of Andalucía is one my favorite recipes. I test and retest every recipe to get exactly the results I want. I use organic greens, the best herbs and spices, the best meats, and the best selection of wines on the market. The food ingredients to me are like the paints to an artist. I have a “sixth sense” about food; it is how I bring my ideas to life.”
Chatting with my friends, I watched the hearty colorful dishes emerge from the kitchen and smiled at the families and children around us. I fully enjoyed my Sautéed Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins and loved the delightful small snacks. Then there were the salads with fresh seafood, fish, greens, olives, oranges, and almonds. Valencia Garden Café had the most polite and friendly staff, and indeed, the food told the story about the great people working there. It was a wonderful dining experience!
My curiosity piqued and I asked Ms. Flores how she made her staffing decisions. She thought for a moment and replied, “I like folks with initiative. I want my staff to be serious, to have the right mindset when they decide to work for me. I hire students from hospitality-related programs who have some on-the-job restaurant experience.”
Ms. Flores added that having the right attitude is just not enough today. “Different generations show different talents. College kids are more tech-savvy while experienced staff can offer interesting insights into the business. When running a small restaurant, flexibility is the key. I don’t keep people in the same spot for too long. I delegate new tasks to my teams, especially when they perform well.”
Ms. Flores noted that employees should keep their skills up to the standards of the food and beverage industry. To stay abreast of change in her field, Ms. Flores reads specialized literature. She follows food related websites; she takes professional courses, reads magazines, modern cuisine books, and nutrition and fitness journals. She joins online discussion groups and she is a member of various culinary associations. Ms. Flores constantly tries to develop and practice new skills. She advised, “Stay culturally current. Always try to benefit from your work experience and learn everywhere you go. Today, if you are standing still in any profession, you are by default moving backwards.”
I wanted to know how Ms. Flores saw the technology trends in her industry. She smiled, “The technology trends inspire my choices and the way that I do business. For me, the effective use of advanced software is the key to attracting and retaining customers. In a borderless work domain, the entire world is a potential market. Every day, I think about creative ways to find new customers and increase profits. The recently introduced Valencia Garden Café online reservations form was one such choice.”
I asked how restaurant professionals judged their progress. “I’m confident that my skills and knowledge are up-to-date,” she said. “I judge my progress by whether I am still learning, growing, and enjoying what I do. I take pride in my career and I define success by the depth and content of my work. I consider everything to the smallest detail—the food, the service, the music, the atmosphere. To supervise my kitchen staff, I look for the right manager—a hands-on leader who can handle people, numbers, and real-world problems.”
I asked Ms. Flores what she considered the geographical boundaries of her business, did she think of it as local, national, or international?
“I exchange ideas easily and interact well with people across diverse cultures,” said Ms. Flores. “I am familiar with norms, attitudes, beliefs, and customs. I am convinced that employers and employees with an open mind, people skills, and vision will be the ones to thrive in serving the international consumers. My little restaurant in Sechelt could still attract the world.”