The envelope please

The Star has been fortunate to gain some recognition lately, both provincially as a finalist in the Tourism Saskatchewan’s awards in the category Business of the Year (under 20 employees), and nationally as a Canadian Road Trip Top Ten Hotspot by Food Network Canada. This recognition has set me thinking about awards and their ultimate meaning in a business’s life.

While my first inclination at hearing the news was to turn all Sally Field (“You like me, you really like me!”), I immediately thought about what this would mean to the business and to the community.

Those of us in small towns who own restaurants know how hard a slog it can be to pay the bills and keep our teams together. Add global economic downturns, BSE, floods and cross-border shopping to the mix and you have a recipe for desperate days and sleepless nights. Nerves of steel and good support networks are what keep many of us going.

And then recognition comes knocking, and we think we can breathe a sigh of relief. Now we can relax a bit because customers will flock to our doors and money will roll in, right? Yeah, right.

First of all, any success we enjoy is a result of the efforts of the people who work at the business, and not just the owners. In fact, many times the owners are the least responsible for accolades; they hold the vision but the team carries through on it and works hard to translate it into reality. In our case this holds especially true. Every single member of our team works for the good of our customers, and values customers above everything. Every single member has a job to do and every job is crucial to customer satisfaction.

Second, no business exists in a vacuum. Just as it takes a community to raise a child, it takes a community of supporters to give a business meaning and success. Without our customers, we have no reason to be.

And that brings me to the real cruncher. We have to live up to any public praise we receive. Just as our Trip Advisor reviews define expectations, so does any other recognition we get. And right now, the pressure is definitely on. We have to deliver on the promises inherent in others’ judgement of us. We have to excel.

So, during the next few weeks we are going to be looking at how we can improve, how we can deliver consistent excellence. We are going to expand our frozen dinner business, refine our menu and try to do a much needed dining room facelift before summer. We are going to add members to our team (welcome already to Leslie Lamer!) and make sure we can meet all your expectations.

We are going to continue to support the community of Maple Creek and the Cypress Hills Destination Area, because we realize that we are nothing without the people around us, and what is good for us is also good for our community. By the same token, what is good for the community is also good for us, so we will continue to work with Maple Creek businesses to make sure we are all as good as we can possibly be.

Ultimately, accolades and awards open the door to more collaboration, greater effort and a more committed team. If a local business gets recognition, the spotlight always broadens its focus to include other businesses in the community and the community as a whole. We want to excel because of the community, not in spite of the community. When that is true, everyone wins.

Foodie Goodies

It has been said I have the best stocked pantry in Saskatchewan, and there may be some truth in that. Does everyone have three different brands of truffle spray, sumac, and instant grits in their larder? Seriously though, my obsession with condiments and arcane ingredients can go a little far at times.

I think I was born with this fascination for exotic food, but I certainly started developing my collection when we moved to Maple Creek ten years ago. In those days, if I wanted durum semolina or filé powder, I had to go to Calgary or Toronto or somewhere to get it. This meant that if I got the urge to make a gumbo or fresh pasta, I had better have the ingredients on hand. And so my food stash was born.

This stash of great ingredients is a help at the Star, because I can fill in the blanks when Chef Joel and his team are creating dishes outside the menu. I routinely bring in saffron, truffle oil, tahini and the like to help in their creative process, and until now, I was the sole local source for their supplies. But all that has changed; my pantry of goodies is finally safe from pilfering.

Until the summer of 2010 the Daily Grind, our coffee shop, sold specialty and high-end food. The flood changed all that. People were no longer interested in buying great ingredients. They were spending money fixing their basements and replacing lost household items rather than experimenting in the kitchen. The Daily Grind’s supplies slowly dwindled and for several years we only sold small-batch jams, jellies and the like, primarily at Christmas.

Lately we have had more requests for saffron, truffle oil and other high-end ingredients, as well as such staples as olive oil and coconut milk. We sense the time is right and have re-entered the specialty grocery market. We stock a wide range of specialty food, and yes, we have saffron, truffle oil, filé powder and durum semolina. We carry coconut milk, anchovies, salt-packed capers, nori and ponzu (lemon or lime). We have products from England, Italy, and the Middle East. We also have a good selection of cookbooks to help you use all this bounty. I feel right at home!

Next week we will start work on a website for the store, and will offer mail order supplies to those people who, like I once did, find themselves far from their foodie cravings. Eventually we will have Saturday demonstrations and discussions about bringing food diversity to your table. Of course, we will always try to find the things you need if we don’t already have them.

So drop in, have a look, tell us what we’re missing and start cooking up a storm this winter. We certainly will be.

Turkey, anyone?

I awoke to frost on the ground this morning, the first to really encroach into my yard and garden. Then at the Daily Grind we unpacked Christmas shipments and started getting into the festive spirit, dreaming of beautifully decorated homes and sparkling lights.

Wait a minute! Hold your horses! The leaves aren’t yet gone from the trees and we’re thinking about Christmas? Still, it did raise the question of winter and its changes.

At the Star, our winter menu focuses on comfy, hearty fare. In town, people don’t go out as often; everybody hunkers down in their cozy nests. We change our hours, closing on Mondays and closing at 8:30 in the evening from Tuesday to Thursday. We create new hot drinks and revive some old ones. We lower the lights and light the candles.

This year, we are going to try a couple of new things. Because of a power outage on Thanksgiving Sunday, we couldn’t offer our turkey dinner, so we moved it to Tuesday and dubbed it Turkey Tuesday. The response was so good that we are going to institute Turkey Tuesday every week starting next week  ̶   hot turkey sandwich at lunch and turkey dinner in the evening.

Because we are always mindful of our community members who live alone, are aging, or simply don’t want to cook, we have also decided to offer frozen microwaveable dinners. The meals will have the same attention to quality and detail we show at the Star, will be affordable, and will be gluten and lactose free. We will sell them either by the single meal or in a weekly program and will even deliver a weekly supply of meals within Maple Creek. We have ordered the containers and are in the process of testing some recipes. We’ll let you know when we start this exciting new way to enjoy our great food.

So, yes, the season will soon change, but with the cooler weather come some exciting new projects and ideas. After all, I love turkey, don’t you?