The three C’s

This year has been a great one for all of us at the Star. Our young cook, Hannah Eiserman, was accepted into the Culinary Institute of Canada. The Food Network recognized us as one of the top ten places to eat at on a cross-Canada road trip. We have had several very favourable magazine articles and great online reviews.

Last Thursday at the Tourism Saskatchewan Awards of Excellence Gala, our cake was well and truly iced, as we won Business of the Year under 20 full-time employees. After thinking about this over the weekend, all I can say is that it is all about people.

Of course, this recognition reflects very well on our team. We have a truly awesome group of people working for us. Their positive attitudes and huge hearts expand my life daily. I can’t say enough good things about them.

But beyond that, I have come up with the three C’s of success.

Customers. Without customer support, none of us would be in business. Whether your customers are the students in your school, the workers you keep safe on a job site, or the people who enjoy your food, customers come first. Customers pay our staff and our bills, and we should all celebrate them every day.

Community. We all belong to many different communities, and are stronger because of it. In the Star’s case, we know the people in Maple Creek make us strong, both through their patronage and support in the restaurant, and through their support of the rest of the community. If we don’t have a strong, flourishing community, we don’t have the ability to flourish ourselves. At the same time, any recognition one of businesses or organization receives reflects on the community as a whole.

Collaboration.  Because our success depends on the success of the community, we have to collaborate with all the other businesses and organizations in the community. This means that while we might be in competition with some local businesses, we need to consider that as friendly competition, not dog-eat-dog, going-in-for-the-kill competitiveness. We have to work together at the committee table and at events. We have to speak well of our competition and celebrate their successes. We have to respect each other’s workforce and forego actively recruiting employees from other businesses.

If we work together, celebrate our successes and keep our standards high, we will all thrive. So while the Star has been recognized lately, the whole community should take that as a feather in our collective cap. Cheers to all of us!

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.