Two years in business, by the numbers!

This Monday 8/12, we’ll be entering our 3rd year in business and I am super excited. When I look back on what we’ve built, I feel exuberant pride over our accomplishments and joyous excitement for the adventures ahead. All with your support. (I always tell myself: It’s all with their support. It’s all with your support! Can’t ever forget that. Endlessly grateful for your support. Thank you for giving me the freedom to dream wild.)

QUICK PLUG: Come to our 2nd birthday festivities this weekend! Free nitro on Friday, ice cream on Saturday, what more can you ask for?

I wanted to recap our accomplishments to date as a fun way to see the impact of our work, but also because numbers are cool and you like numbers too! 

  • We’ve sold >320,000 bagels since opening. If you stacked them end to end, that’s almost enough to reach the stratosphere (50 km). We’ll probably reach it next month! We’ll never sell enough to reach the moon (we’d need 17,617 months of sales to do that) but I am happy to tackle the layers of the atmosphere. Plenty of headroom to grow!

  • We’ve sourced over $160,000 worth of ingredients from local producers and suppliers. I sat down to crunch the numbers since we opened and was blown away. 37% of our COGS goes to local farmers, roasters, fermenters, fishmongers, millers and more. With more, new partnerships like Pat’s Pastured and Wright’s Dairy Farm, we expect to drive that number closer to 50%. That’s impact we can all get behind!

  • We’ve quadrupled the size of our team. At peak, there’s been 25 of us working to make Rebelle happen. And in an industry with a notoriously high turnover rate, I am pleased to have team members who have been with us for over a year, and even a few who have been here since very early days. Eternally grateful to my team!

  • We’ve met over 30,000 unique customers. This isn’t unique transactions – this number includes all of you who support us multiple times a week, the one-and-dones, and everybody in between! For context, the last US census counted ~28K residents on the East Side of Providence. (And I still meet people who live here and have never heard about us!) I’ve always told people that the service industry really exposes you to the full spectrum of personalities out there, and with that many customers served, who could argue otherwise?

  • Our most loyal customer has visited 262 times since we opened. That’s about every other day we’re open, on average. Jared, you’re out of control. We love you! (Griffin, you are just a touch behind Jared. Step it up, bud!) 

We have so, so much room to grow and I am nothing but excited for what lies ahead for this team. I love having an adventurous audience in you and knowing that we can test wild stuff, and maybe we hit a few speed bumps along the way but you put up with us as we work through the kinks to grow. With your support, we pull off things other business owners wouldn’t dare try for fear of rocking the boat. Cheers to keeping things interesting, friends!

What’s next for us? I have a special side project that I’m not ready to reveal yet but I promise you’re gonna love it and we’ll share details as soon as we’re ready. We’ve also just created a generous 401(k) program for full-time and part-time staff alike (for Rebelle AND the new thing!), and the first 3% are fully funded by the company so our team can build their retirement funds without cramping their current cash flow. I’m not at the shop a whole lot anymore so that the team has room to struggle, blossom and get themselves in and out of trouble all on their own. But you always know where to find me! ;-)

How we get inspired by traveling

Michele and I are on a scouting trip to London and Paris right now! (So yeaaaaa if there are lox shortages this weekend, please know we did our best to stock the case! Sorry!)

This is our second scouting trip together; we went to New York for a quick 48 hours in September of last year. The process works a bit like this: We do some research on Instagram (places that photograph well are a solid start), we cobble together a list of places, and we run from place to place eating, photographing and picking everything apart. Thinking critically is probably one of my favorite activities and I am very good at it, sometimes to a fault. We also wander around and get lost. It’s a lot like my regular style of travel because I’m not much of a tourist. Then, at the end of each day we debrief: What caught our eye? What sounded/looked tasty? What was disappointing? What could be done better? Is there a seed of an idea somewhere?  

On my last two scouting trips to NYC with Michele and Darcy, here are some of the thoughts we parted with:

  • Serialized tokens/keychains for pastry memberships at Mah-Ze-Dahr: This was the seed of the idea for the Breakfast Club memberships we extend to our most loyal customers by invite only. Theirs was $300 for a year, we did a different take on it.

  • Matcha is super hot right now: I don’t know if it’s because I love matcha, but I kept noticing it on menus in drinks and pastries. Loved the lavender matcha latte at Cha Cha Matcha and the matcha custard pie at Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

  • We could sell mini salads in the deli case: We saw little cauliflower and lentil salads at Breads Bakery and loved how small but filling they were. Perfect light meal on the go. We ended up sourcing containers of that size and doing salads for the case! Now we’ve settled into petite Israeli salads as the weather heats up.

  • There’s room to do more with the house soda: We noticed interesting flavor combos for “spritzers”. Is the name “house soda” just not right for our product? Are the flavors too mainstream? Can we jazz it up with a custom tap handle?

  • Design-forward custom branded packaging/paper goods: Everyone has custom-printed napkins and cups, even small one-store businesses. Paper goods companies now allow small print runs at relatively OK prices. In this grab & go culture, absorbing the marginal cost of a custom-printed cup can be rationalized as marketing expense. How long do we nurse our morning cup of coffee? How many places do we take it and how many people see it? We ended up designing custom cups and they’ve been in circulation for about 1-2 months. I am incredibly happy with the outcome. Tight branding game.

  • All-day café/bakery/etc: We saw a few spaces that aim to be the “second/third space” – somewhere you can hang all day or grab a quick to-go breakfast/slam a sandwich and espresso at the counter, hold a work meeting or study, perhaps grab a light early dinner on your way back from work and a $6 glass of house red. In a city with tiny expensive apartments, these spaces are a necessity. I see Boston moving in this direction with Tatte’s explosive growth. I wonder if there is a flavor of this that fits into Providence.

  • Highlighting online order with designated area: So many places had an area right by the entrance for online order pickups! You can order food on your phone and pick it up without even making eye contact with store staff. I don’t love that impersonal vibe, but I do like how it serves as advertising for online orders and it gives the team a clear area to hold orders for pickup. Our compromise was a small shelf by the register area where we bag up the orders and leave them ready for customers.

  • No wifi on the weekends is a thing! I like it.

I don’t know yet what we’ll find during our European tour – I welcome your suggestions on places to see! We’re scouting with a specific purpose in mind, but we don’t let that close off our minds to unusual sources of inspiration.

 

 

Where does all the time go?

Now that I am enrolled in school for my MBA at the same time as I try to run the business, I have to be super organized about my daily (and weekly) schedule to get as much done as I possibly can.

I challenged myself to journal for a day this week and figure out where my time goes. I do a lot of driving around, which wastes time but is sometimes necessary. I do my homework in between other things. I have very little “me” time and scheduling it in helps me preserve it (personal training and wine class). I like to wake up early to give myself time to start my morning slowly and I rarely go to bed past 10 pm.

Sadly most of my days lately are jam-packed like the one below, even weekends. I am really looking forward to the semester being over, so I can chill out and relax the pace a bit in the summer. (Who am I kidding, I’ll just be working more at the shop instead!)

Monday 4/29/2019:

5:30am — Wake up and lounge in bed a bit. Check in order: text messages, emails, Instagram, read the news.

6 am — Breakfast downstairs (reheated leftovers) and get ready for the gym.

6:30-7:30 am — Personal training with Jake at Full Range Cross Fit (3x per week). We usually do a lot of weights but today was cardio-heavy. I am not a cross-fit person but I like working with Jake and he’s a cross-fitter, so we go there.

7:30 am — Drive back home to shower and look like a real human (change into normal clothes, do my hair). I dress very differently depending on what my day looks like: if I plan on being at the shop, it’s practical jeans, shirt and clogs. For school, I like to show a bit more style.

8 am — Stop by the shop to drop off some oat milk and say hello to the team.

8:15 am — Drive to Seven Stars on Hope st. Mobile hotspot from my phone and submit some overdue homework before a meeting.

8:30 am — Weekly meeting with Elton (FOH lead). We talk about scheduling, hiring, and feedback from last week. The shop has been crazy the last two months. I like to check in with the team and ask a lot of questions. Because I am out so much for school, I really depend on them to flag issues to me and keep my finger on the pulse.

9:15 am — Back to the shop for a quick standing meeting with Elton, my husband Darcy and a few other team members: tasks for the day for the team, errands and admin for my husband to help with, answer questions and make decisions with the team. Finish another piece of homework quickly and submit online.

10 am — Drive to Cambridge for school. Mondays I only take one 1.5 hour class in the afternoon. I like to come in a bit early, have lunch and settle into schoolwork before class. I use the driving time to think about summer plans and a few items I need to put pen to paper on.

11 am — Arrive in Cambridge. Fuel up the car and drive to Central Square for lunch. I picked Clover because I wanted something quick (tried the fried plantain sandwich) and wifi to bang out some admin tasks. I send a few marketing emails, look over our sales report from the week before and catch up on email.

1-2:30 pm – Head to class: Business Analysis Using Financial Statements, or BAUFS. I like the accounting and finance classes because numbers are my comfort zone. This professor in particular has a really engaging teaching style.

2:30 - 4 pm – Drive back to Providence. On days when I drive to school, I have to be super strategic with when I drive home to avoid traffic.

4 pm – Third coffee of the day back at Seven Stars on Hope st. Plug back into my mobile hotspot and start on this week’s homework for my Operations class. I have to run through a simulation called the Markdown Game, where you have to sell through an inventory of products at sale prices and the point is to maximize revenue. I spent about an hour just running through several scenarios and coming up with the strategy; I’ll have to block off time later to run through the actual scenarios on which my grade will be based.

6 pm – Wine class at Fortnight in Downtown. Darcy and I do this every Monday. I am there mostly for the drinking, Darcy is there more for the learning. I just don’t have any learning left in me after 30 hours a week of business school. The wines are interesting and now I sound marginally more educated as a wine drinker.

7:30 pm – Quick dinner at Bucktown. We eat oysters and fried chicken. High/low is my happy spot!

8:00 pm – Record podcast with JP and Steve from ycdidi at Steve’s apartment. It’s my first time ever being on a podcast and I am self-conscious about my raspy, high-pitched voice. The conversation was fun, they had a lot of questions about me and not so much the business, which was refreshing and engaging. I enjoy turning myself off from “Rebelle mode.” I maybe spoke too freely and candidly — I can’t wait to see how it gets edited into an episode!

10:00 pm – Back home and straight to bed. Catch up on emails, evening news and Instagram from bed.

10:45 pm – Lights out. Good night!

What happens when promos go wrong?

A few weeks ago, we sent an email coupon for bring your friend and “buy one, get one free” bagel with cream cheese, and I’m having mixed feelings about this promo to be super real. And in the spirit of celebrating and learning from failures, I am sharing this with you and opening myself up to getting roasted on the Internet! (I must be a masochist.) 

If you’re on our email list or have bought something at our shop, you probably have received some of our email coupons. Email coupons generally do really, really well for us – you get to try something new or the surprise of a free treat you love, and I get to see your lovely faces. From a marketing perspective, we get above-average open rates and respectable conversions on our email coupons, and anecdotally we know that coupons generate excitement among customers. I could wax poetic for hours about email coupons!

The fun part about DIY Marketing comes when you learn that a marketing opportunity that you thought would be fun and engaging doesn’t perform to expectations.

With the Spring menu change, we sent a coupon for a free bagel with cream cheese for a friend if you bought one for yourself. The motivation for this promotion is that you Rebelle fans get to share something you love with someone you like! So, in the spirit of sharing, we asked that you bring a friend into the store to redeem the offer for the free bagel. Experiencing Rebelle isn’t about being brought a foil-wrapped bagel in a bag by someone – really, what I am asking here is that you bring a friend to experience the whole shebang. See our shop, interact with our team, listen to our music, salivate over the pastries, hang out with a friend. All of this adds up to the Rebelle experience.

 Looking at how this promo went, I can see my promotion did not have the desired effect. You live, you learn, you do it differently. I think I either confused customers with this promotion, or a few people tried to game the promo and I noticed.

 I did a post-mortem on my promotion:

 What are some of the issues we saw?

Someone tried to redeem the same unique coupon several times during the same week. Some people said they had their friends in the car outside, or that they’re bringing it to a friend at work, or something else. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, but it was hard to parse out if this stemmed from genuine confusion about our coupons or just people trying to get smart with the freebie. I received a handful of unfriendly emails too.

How did it impact us?

Turns out this interaction really just puts my staff in an uncomfortable jam. I’ve seen my team members politely show a customer where on the coupon it asks to bring a friend to redeem the offer, and the responses range from “Oh, I hadn’t noticed that!” to customers angrily demanding their free bagel. But what if I hear about the incident and disagree with how they handled it? So now having two people to please, the customer and me, and ambiguity about how to please both (or who takes priority!) is just too heavy to deal with in the moment.

But outside of that, how did it perform?

The rub here is that this promo was really, really good. We got an above average open rate and the email brought in twice as many people as we had expected. Financially, I have every incentive to do this again.

What are we doing differently?

I’m going to brainstorm new promotions to help launch our new menu. This one just isn’t doing it. It’s complicated for the staff and the intent behind it is getting lost. There’s a “there” there, though, and I want to figure out how to execute the spirit of this idea better.

Tell me: Do you have any fun ideas for promoting our new seasonal menu?

Coming Soon: Kosher Bagels!

We’ve been quietly implementing processes and guidelines in our kitchen to make our bagels kosher-friendly, and we’re almost ready to launch officially!

If you’ve been following us for a while, you may know that we’ve worked with Rabbi Barry Dolinger from Congregation Beth Sholom (Providence) twice before to do kosher production runs. In the past, going kosher for a single day required a week’s worth of coordinating, thorough training with the staff and several visits from the Rabbi (which we don’t mind because Barry is a super cool guy). We didn’t mind the prep, even though it was very exhausting because we take good care in respecting the rules and avoiding cross-contamination in a kitchen that sees a lot of bacon.

We stopped doing kosher days because it just wasn’t fun for me. Some customers would try to hoard the bagels by buying 2-3 dozen at a time and argue with us when we placed limits, and others would argue with us that they’re not “really kosher.” I don’t want to get caught in the middle of a tricky debate around a topic that I am really unqualified to discuss, nor do I want to be the object of the Internet’s fury about rationing bagels… so, disappointed with the monster I had created, I pulled the plug on kosher days.

Despite all this, I have remained friendly with Rabbi Barry and supportive of his congregation, and I recently asked myself if this can of worms is worth re-opening. We want to pay our respects to the Jewish community whose foods we adore. If we can make small tweaks and increase access to our neighbors who keep kosher while minimizing disruption to our operations, we should try. I feel compelled to try this again, incorporating the lessons we have learned, and perhaps it will be a win-win this time around!

 We will never be able to make our full menu and operations kosher without making really drastic changes that are not in the plans for us. So we are not considering making kosher bagel sandwiches, for example, because we’re not going to stop serving bacon and sausage. But I thought the actual baking process could be isolated, and with proper care, we could offer kosher bagels every single day.

Rabbi Barry did a consultation with Michele, our production lead, a few weeks ago. We made some small investments so we can have a separate set of kosher tools. We’re also going through an insane deep-cleaning of the kitchen to give us a fresh start. The team is practicing the art-science of keeping kosher and non-kosher tools separate during use, cleaning things in the right way and avoiding cross-contamination.

 We don’t have a firm date yet for the kosher bagels roll-out but I am pushing hard for it to happen by mid-April, and the team is preparing for that timeline too. So soon enough, you’ll be able to buy kosher bagels to take and prepare at home! If all goes well, we have a few menu items that we’d like to offer as kosher products, like cream cheese and lox. Stay tuned!

If you’d like to find out when we start kosher bagel production, sign up to receive our emails!

Modern Hospitality

I’ve been reflecting lately on what brand of hospitality we want to project here at Rebelle. Because owning a bakery was a career change for me and I had no prior experience in the field, I’ve learned hospitality on the fly through the daily hustle of running this place. Every customer interaction, positive or negative, makes me think about how we want to approach hospitality.

So here’s kind of how I do it. Maybe my style doesn’t match your style, and that’s OK. I’ve decided it is both easier and more consistent to adopt a hospitality style that is authentic to our personality and brand as a company (which in turn is a reflection of my own style). Even if it’s not a match for 100% of the people who walk through our doors, it’s served us well to date.

  • Our goal: We want to get you on the best possible start to your day. We talk a lot about how, for a lot of customers, we’re the first people they interact with on any given day. That gives us so much power to make their day awesome if we do things right! Moving quickly to prepare your food, remembering your name and usual order, a little banter or small talk, good music on the speakers, seeing the same faces daily: I think these are the small levers we can pull to get you started on a good day, as much as we can influence your mood. So we try.

  • Sometimes we screw up, and we always try to make it right. Our team is experienced enough at this point that we don’t make too many mistakes. But sometimes it happens, from little things like we forgot a topping to big stuff like “sorry, we don’t have the bagels you pre-ordered and paid for” (EMBARRASSING). How we make it right depends on the gravity of the issue and I’ve given the team a high level of autonomy to decide on a solution. Everyone on the team has power to remake food, issue refunds and comp items (free stuff) without a manager present. The idea is that we all form an intuition for what’s the solution that matches the gravity of the problem. (Free cookies help a lot!)

  • Not everyone is our customer, and that’s OK. Retail norms dictate that the customer is always right. That’s not really the way we run here. Some customers are not nice, or they’re clueless, or their expectations are grossly misaligned with what we offer. We get a lot of feedback from customers and we hear it all, and then we decide what’s worth incorporating. I know there are a lot of people who come in to try us and don’t really dig it, and we make it a point to thank them for trying us even if it’s not a good match. And rude people get the boot, no exceptions. We’re here to serve you, but we’re not servants. I stand up for my team!

  • Want to speak to the owner? Sure! I made a decision early on to put myself as the owner front and center in everything Rebelle. Not because I’m hungry for fame, but because I think we all like knowing who we are buying from. I like that if customers have a complaint, or praise to share, or a question, they can email me directly. I can always keep a finger on the pulse and know how people feel about what we do by corresponding with them directly.

  • Everyone gets treated like friends; our regulars get treated like family. We aim for super friendly service for everyone, and we form an even stronger bond with our regulars (talking about those who come 2+ times a week). We know their names, their order, their family and their work. We crack jokes, exchange silly emails, and bounce off interesting ideas. We’ve hosted a kid’s birthday party, we’ve given business advice to new startups, and sharpened knives for our regulars. We fall in love with all the babies and miss our regulars when they move away. This is hands-down my favorite part of running Rebelle: this universe of beautiful, amazing people that revolves around my shop. I feel more love than I know what to do with!

 What do you notice about hospitality in the businesses you frequent? What do you like and dislike? Share your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

How we funded Rebelle: a li'l preview of Bitchin': Money Moves!

We’re doing another btichin’ panel on Monday, March 25 here at Rebelle. We’ll be talking about money. Nobody likes to talk about money. We’re trying to do more of it.

 I’ll be moderating our next talk, which means you can expect really provocative questions! Since the rest of the ladies will be sharing their stories, I wanted to share mine with you through this medium, to preview the kind of conversation I want to drive at the panel. Hope you’ll be joining us! Tickets are available here.

Me in our pop-up days, right before we opened the shop (Summer 2017). Photo by Francesca Gallo.

Me in our pop-up days, right before we opened the shop (Summer 2017). Photo by Francesca Gallo.

According to my early records, it cost me $3,376 to start Rebelle, spent from the time I started testing recipes (my first expense was a baking stone from Amazon) to our first pop-up on January 22, 2017. I know this because I tracked it all religiously on a Google sheet.

I had $3,376 because of my prior job, where I made a salary that is still to me a lot of money, over $100,000 per year. (Ugh it feels really gauche to put this so openly. Let’s get over this icky feeling when talking about money.) I have never had a lifestyle to match that salary. We eat out regularly but don’t have expensive taste. We drive “normal” cars and didn’t buy new ones when the old ones were paid off. I travel on a budget. I only started buying clothes at full price recently.

When I had my corporate job, I was saving about 40% of my take-home pay every month. After 2 years, I had about $70,000 in a savings account, plus various other smaller amounts scattered among brokerage accounts. (I thought I could pick stocks. That’s funny. Don’t try picking stocks.) I wasn’t saving with a goal in mind; I just didn’t see a reason to spend the money and I knew one day I could use it for something, I just needed to find the right “something”. Maybe I’d decide I really needed to travel and see the world, and I had this pool of money. Maybe one day I’d hate my job. Maybe I’d need an escape hatch out of my life. Money is a powerful tool to have.

I used this money when it came time to build our storefront. In April 2017, I signed my lease for the Doyle Ave space and drew up a budget for a buildout. Darcy (then my boyfriend, now my husband) and I sat at the kitchen table before we signed the lease, tallying up how much money each of us had in various accounts. We wondered if you could build a store for that much money. We put accounts in “buckets”: money we feel very comfortable gambling on this; money we’d rather not lose but we’ll survive if we do; money we can’t afford to lose under any circumstances.

We came up with $135,000 as our budget for building and opening this store. That had to include everything, down to paper napkins. Looking at our books today, we pretty much nailed it down to the cent. But there were a lot of compromises made to stick to that budget.

We pieced together that amount through selling off stocks to liquidate some brokerage accounts, Darcy loaning the business some money (I was hell-bent on owning 100% of the company and not taking investors), me opening and maxing out a business credit card, help from our landlords and $27,000 raised through Kickstarter.

(Some Internet trolls like to throw our Kickstarter campaign back in my face and say I didn’t grind it and sweat it out to start this business, that I asked for handouts and I don’t have any merit as a businesswoman. People on the Internet are jerks and also really stupid. This angers me a lot. People see you succeed and just want to tear you down at any cost. Building a restaurant costs a lot more than $27,000. Ask me how much I paid for my hood alone, I could have bought a brand-new car.)

 I had to make a lot of compromises to build and open my store because I had a relatively small budget. (Nice places spend about twice my budget for a similar size space.) We have vinyl floors because I had no money to rip up the floors and rebuild them. I don’t like our floors but I am stuck with them and we make it work. (And I anxiously await the day I won’t wince at a quote to rip them up and replace them with tile.) We couldn’t afford to hire a design & build firm, so my contractor and I designed it together as well as we could within my budget, I got a bit of help from Maddie Ballon on interior design, we made creative use of IKEA products, and I did a fair bit myself (painting, finishing counters and decorating). We still do a lot of DIY. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it and wonder if we should spend more money on things made by professionals. But I also really like to look around the room and admire what we have literally built with our own hands. There is a little piece of me in everything here.

Now we’ve been generating a nice profit and we run the business like a tight ship. I look at our financials obsessively. There’s very few things you can ask me about the performance of my business that I don’t know the answer to. I have the best accountant/business advisor (Dean Weinberg is ya boy) and he’s helped me make smart decisions along the way. By some combination of brute force and compelling persuasion, the whole team has adopted our approach of reducing waste in all forms: we don’t waste food or time or money. I pay myself less than half of what I used to make in my old job; my lifestyle hasn’t changed dramatically, and I would rather re-invest the profits into the business and keep this baby growing. Once again, I’m hoarding cash and waiting for the next opportunity.

 

 

B-I-N-G-O!

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I came up with this idea to make “bingo” cards at the shop when drafting our 2019 goals. I went back and forth between thinking it’s a genius idea and thinking it’s soooooo lame! But I am trying to be adventurous in our marketing efforts. Sometimes the things I don’t think are going to work end up being a smashing success. So I spent my commute home from school one evening designing these and sending them to print. Fingers crossed!

This is how it works: Anytime you come in this month and get a qualifying item, you get a punch. (And you’re not limited to one punch per visit — in theory, you could buy all the items and complete 2 online orders in one day and get ALL THE PUNCHES.) Get all the punches, and you can enter your card into a drawing for 1 of 4 $50 Rebelle gift cards. This is such a numbers game for you, I hope you realize your odds of winning are way higher than you think. According to our data, most people are creatures of habit (though we didn’t really need data to tell you that) and they won’t try something new for the sake of playing a game. BUT YOU WILL! And you will be rewarded handsomely for it.

We have a limited number of cards, so only up to 1000 people will be in the pool fighting for a gift card. Obviously not everyone is completing the challenge — I think on the super high optimistic end of things, maybe 5-10% of people will get all the punches. If you’re one of them, that gives you a 1 in 25 chance of winning a gift card. AT WORST. That’s pretty good odds.

So: Come show these bingo cards some love! If you have one, let me know how many punches you have so far — I’d love to get into the competitive spirit :-)

Answers to 2 of the most common questions we get

I think pretty much every day we hear one of these comments/questions:

  • Where do you get the flowers?

  • What’s the music playing right now?

And I am here with the briefest of blog posts (this is 100% filler to be real with you) to give you some answers!

The flowers come from The Floral Reserve.

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You know about Flowers by Semia, right? She’s only the hottest floral designer (?) in RI, and she also happens to own The Floral Reserve, a beautiful space for wholesale flowers. I met Semia through Instagram, as I have met countless other friends, and we arranged for me to buy flowers at wholesale prices to brighten up our shop. Buying and arranging our flowers is hands-down my favorite Rebelle errand, and I do it every Wednesday morning before I head out to school. Semia always works within my budget, and she and her team are an absolute pleasure. The Floral Reserve is open on Fridays and Saturdays to the general public. The blooms are pricier than what you’d get at the supermarket, but they’re more precious and well worth it.

The music: curated Spotify playlists by me!

I put a good chunk of thought into our music because we have to listen to it all day long. (Also, even though I knew nothing about opening a business, I always noticed how music becomes a part of the environment and brand.) Before we opened, I made the shop its own Spotify account and built a few playlists to rotate depending on the mood/vibe of the day. The music is pretty much what I like to listen to personally, and I try to listen to it as much as I can and weed out the songs that are getting tired. I would describe our soundtrack as the intersection between Millennial Dad Rock (e.g. early works of Interpol, Modest Mouse and The Strokes), Scandinavian Pop Earworms (Robyn, MØ, Lykke Li) and whatever Indie rock we all listened to in college 10 years ago.

FYI: Our playlists are public on Spotify so you can follow them! I’m adding more playlists as I identify different needs —weekend mornings are my next time slot to tackle…

We bought 2 clicker-counters from Amazon and went to town: DATA!

We bought these things last week on Amazon — I’m still not sure on whether they’re called “counters” or “tickers” or “clickers” — and we spent the whole day counting on a Saturday from open to close. Then we went home, poured us some beers, and graphed the data. We learned some awesome stuff.

Our methodology was surprisingly low-tech. Darcy had a clicker to count the number of people coming into the shop, and I had one to count the number of sandwiches coming out of the sandwich line. We recorded the data at 15-minute intervals. I annoyed Claire and she was convinced I was missing clicks. I bagged and called out all the orders while I clicked, so I also had a few interesting observations of my own.

Now I’m going to do a very awkward written presentation on some graphs I think are cool. Am I the only nerd in the room? Quite possibly.

So first up is the data Darcy collected: The number of customers entering the shop at 15-minute intervals. The yellow line is the all-time total of customers for the day, since we opened at 7:30 am to closing at 2 PM. In blue, we have the speed at which customers came in, measured in people per minute.

customer count.png

Two things we noticed here:

1) People come in little waves or bursts. It’s not steadily 100% jammed busy all day. We know this already, it’s just interesting to see it in the data. For you my dear customers: Come before 9 AM if you want a chill breakfast. It’s bananas all day after that, until 12:30.

2) We’ve served 50% of our customers by 10:30 AM. That’s wild. The business of breakfast is all about being able to capitalize on this 3-4 hour window when people feel like eating bagels the most. Talk about pressure!

sandwich velocity.png

This is the data I collected: what I am calling Sandwich Velocity, or number of sandwiches coming out every 15 minutes. You can see it’s wavy like the customer count but not a perfect reflection. Not everyone gets sandwiches, so this makes sense. The first 1.5 hours of the day are very slow on the sandwich line and the team uses it to do their prep for the day — slice cucumbers, stock cream cheese, etc. The goal is that they don’t have to stop and reload their unit halfway through service, because that REALLY slows things down. You can see there’s a big dip on the blue line around 11:30 AM — Claire ran out of bacon and had to get some while Tracy held it down alone. Our sandwich output got slower and tickets kept coming in. We’re brainstorming ways to make restocking more seamless because, let’s be real, we’re going to keep getting busier and we can only stock so much food in the front.

Here’s what we did next: We mapped the customer velocity and sandwich velocity on the same time table.

phase lag.png

Again, the waves are not perfect matches, but you can see the peaks and troughs are offset by roughly 15 minutes. I’m thinking this 15 minutes is, on average, the amount of time lapsed between a customer walking in and receiving their prepared food, inclusive of waiting in line, getting cashed out, etc. This feels like lightning speed for weekend breakfast. We probably could gather more data to study this more closely. But it’s still a super valuable insight.

I think this data really helped me see the extent to which we’re busy and the team hustles hard on the weekends. I’ve known it qualitatively because I’m here every weekend, but I had never put numbers to it until now. No wonder we’re poppin’ hard on the weekends where else can you roll in with a group of 6 for breakfast on a weekend without a reservation and have your food within 15 minutes? Even if we’re off our game and it took 30 minutes from walking in to getting the food, it beats the next best alternative, which is a 30-minute wait at a brunch joint plus a 1 hour meal at twice the price per person. We’re brainstorming ways to lean into this, so don’t be surprised if you see us testing new weekend-only items.

Do you have any ideas or insights about our weekend service? Let me know!

Soup update: Soup’s taking off!

Remember how I wrote about my big soup letdown in December? We took some action and lit a fire under this thing. Soups are now showing momentum!

 I took the lead on soup making since the semester ended for me (mid-December). I have been focusing on making 1-2 soups per week making creative use of our fridge/pantry/things on sale. All the soups are 100% improvised. The kitchen team has helpfully hoarded scraps for me, including a Cambro* full of veggie scraps to make veg stock. This has been such a fantastic exercise in reducing food waste and being resourceful! As an engineer, I do my best work with constrained problems. Give me a pile of carrot butts, a can of chickpeas and a smidge of tomato paste and I will make you a soup. And it will knock your socks off.

 *Cambro: kitchen-speak for giant Tupperware

So far, we’ve made soups to fit all kinds of dietary restrictions. We’ve worked through a few versions of vegetarian Cheddar Broccoli (and continue to refine it!), an awesome vegan Carrot & Butternut Squash soup, and a vegan Bean & Mushroom soup that I just HAD to recreate at home because it was killer. We also have a lot of meaty scraps so I just ball out with the chicken stock and butter on those soups, like the Chorizo, Potato & Chickpea soup.

Since I last wrote about this (end of year), soups have been moving twice as fast as they were before! I’m not sure exactly which one of my ideas to push the soup did the trick – probably some combo of all things.

soup sales.png

I had hypothesized that we needed more visibility on the menu with the soup. We installed this brown paper roll thing on the wall for me to write our specials on, instead of having a collection of signs on the counter. I noticed that customers are reading the soup on our menu! Also, when we post bagel updates on our Instagram story, you can see the brown paper menu behind it and read about our soup special. Awesome. 

We also sent some emails about soup. They definitely drove awareness (people opened the email) but the soup coupon wasn’t a huge hit. Honestly, not an issue for me – I got people to try the soup without giving up any margin with a discount! I’m happy as a clam.

What’s next for soups?

  • I have to get the kitchen to replicate my improvisational approach to soup-making. They do a great job of improvising with the salads, and soup is the next level. I still have Monday mornings off from school this semester, though, so I am actually super OK with keeping one foot in the kitchen by running point on soup. Have I mentioned how much I love making soup?!

  • We’re going to test a soup & sandwich lunch special. Out of the transactions with soups, 59% also had a sandwich. DUH. I’m thinking of testing an always-on “buy a sando, get a soup for $3” lunch-time promotion. You won’t need a coupon or anything! With a blended average price below $6 per sandwich, this is actually going to be a killer deal for you compared with, say, a Panera lunch. (I just looked at their prices, and the average ½ sando + soup combo will run you $10.53.) This will hit in the next few weeks, once we lock down our approach to soup-making without Milena in the kitchen all the time.

  • We’re starting to wonder what else we can do with our soup kettle. Maybe oatmeal? Oatmeal is usually super boring but I gotta tell you, Puerto Rican-style oatmeal is the best comfort breakfast. Made with milk instead of water, runnier than porridge, and almost too-sweet. I feel like that’s going to hit the spot with this cold weather. 

Tell me: Have you tried our soups? What do you think of my ideas to take soup to the next level?

An illustrated history of our evolution to date (Or: Milena looks at old photos on Yelp and cringes)

I have never been big on documenting my life through photos, yet I am now experiencing what I imagine parents go through when they realize they don’t have many photos of their babies and now they’re grown up. Lucky for me, there’s Yelp! I pulled a few photos from there to use as a jumping off point for talking about our evolution. I alternate between glowing pride (we’ve come so far!) and cringeeee (yikes, our place was so barebones!). Follow along on this emotional rollercoaster ride with me!

photo by Yelper Ken Z from September 2017. Our menu was incredibly limited!

photo by Yelper Ken Z from September 2017. Our menu was incredibly limited!

I don’t think anyone understood this, and to be fair I did a very bad job of setting the right expectations, but all I wanted to do when we opened was literally the exact same thing I did at pop-ups, and build on it slowly. I had never run a restaurant, opening one is pretty daunting as it is, and trying to offer a full menu with my limited experience would be the quickest, surest way to fail. I think time has proven me right on my approach, but for the first 6 months I don’t think many people understood what we were building up to and everyone was frustrated with… everything, really. But the people who did get it? I ADORE my regulars who’ve been coming from our early days. Thanks for putting up with me.

Originally, I wanted to change the cream cheese flavors every week just as we did with the pop-ups. This was a terrible idea. People were coming in and loving the Bacon Chipotle cream cheese, and then they’d tell friends to come in and try it, and the friends would come and we wouldn’t have it. I wanted NOVELTY NOVELTY NOVELTY because that’s how I roll, but there’s a reason why restaurants don’t completely change their menu every week. Also none of us have enough ideas to flip the menu weekly. Also food waste. Don’t do this.

We also only had 3 sandwiches on the menu: The Breakfast Sammie, the Lox Sandwich, and a 3rd improvised option called Fancy Turkey. People were rolling up like, “really, just 3 sandwiches?” but being a professional Sandwich Genius is actually an incredibly skilled job and we were still learning. We couldn’t handle more. God bless that day in September 2017 when I met Claire — I still remember how fun it was to work with her, how much of a machine/beast she was (is!) and how excited she was to accept my job offer! Claire (and later Tracy, and now Jesus and Marc) was the primary reason we were able to expand our sandwich menu. I firmly believe working the sandwich line is the hardest job in the house and I treat them like star athletes.

(Also, anyone remember when the lox sandwich was always finished with a sprinkle of fresh dill? We nixed that real quick. Seven components on a sandwich is too much and I hate prepping dill. We now stick try to 5 components max.)

Our old pastry case (until March 2018) was plexiglass screwed into the plywood countertops. We sharpied signs onto cardstock. We used our beat-up baking trays for display. I continue to cringe at this. (Photo by Yelper Kathy Z. from September 2017.)

Our old pastry case (until March 2018) was plexiglass screwed into the plywood countertops. We sharpied signs onto cardstock. We used our beat-up baking trays for display. I continue to cringe at this. (Photo by Yelper Kathy Z. from September 2017.)

We also had a tiny countertop convection oven, a souped-up version of the one Borealis had for our pop-ups. I legit thought this would work for us. It was a DISASTER. But mostly for positive reasons: We do way more volume than I ever anticipated. That thing was never going to stay hot enough for us. In March 2018, we upgraded to an actual 1/2 size convection oven after I saw the one at Flour in Back Bay, Boston and the sweet Puerto Rican guys working the sandwich line assured me I could crank it all the way and it would withstand the abuse. They were right (for the most part). This new oven was a breakthrough for our speed of service and our sandwich sales skyrocketed. Yay!

We also had a VERY limited assortment of pastries, 3 kinds on most days. And our pastry case was a humble 3-sided box I made out of plexiglass from Lowe’s. (Friends, remember: I was BROKE!) Our pastries looked like they were locked up in prison and the merchandising was not attractive. We upgraded to our current glass pastry case in March 2018 (and I want a new, prettier custom-made one now!) and we switched over to beautiful trays in Fall/Winter 2018 (first some graphic plywood ones from Stock, currently marble & brass ones from West Elm I found on supa-dupa sale). Better merchandising drives sales, eureka! We now have about 8-12 different pastries daily, rotated based on our bakers’ whim. I am like… 95% pleased with where we are with pastries at Rebelle and everything we do from here is just gravy/continuous improvement. Good job, team!

More cringe illustrated below: Our roll-up security shades (idk what to call it), our CAGED door (walk in for a bagel and get locked up!), our first outdoor furniture set (spray paint fail), our empty deli case (how sad), our bare walls.

Obviously, we don’t look like this anymore. I was so swamped with trying to start a business, learning how to be a boss and how to deal with customers and setting boundaries and trying not to go insane. I didn’t have any time or energy (or money) to spruce up the joint until 6 months in. We’re now more comfortable financially and Michele holds down the kitchen so I can focus on improving the customer experience in every way.

So yes, these photos are full of cringe. But like, I did what I had to do to get it up and running, and can you believe all we’ve done in just 18 months?! People come in now and I hear them compliment the design and it gives me the butterflies. People dig their food and ooh-aah at the pastries and my heart skips a beat. I love sitting among my customers and eavesdropping as they enjoy their experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world! I can’t wait to see what we’re going to look like in another 18 months…

A few words about our prices

One of the first comments we heard when we opened was, “$4 for a bagel with cream cheese?!” Yes, we are aware that our prices are higher than other bagel shops. (I hesitate to say “competition” – our comparison set doesn’t actually include any bagel shops. But that’s a conversation for another day.)  I’m here today to make a case for our prices.

When I first dreamed up the idea for Rebelle, my husband Darcy and I visited many bagel shops in PVD and beyond to understand the bagel market. A bagel with cream cheese was about $2.50-3 but, in all honesty, that didn’t buy us a bagel we took pleasure in eating. The flavors in the cream cheese were barely there and the bagels themselves tasted bland and mass-produced. I knew we could give you a better quality experience.

Quality is the product of a trade-off between what people are willing to pay for a product/experience, the cost of producing it, and the business imperative to turn a profit. (Come on guys, we all know why we’re here.) If people are only willing to pay $2.50 for a bagel with cream cheese, the product is designed with that constraint in mind. As far as I know, nobody has cracked the nut on how to do high quality/low price/killer profits/everyone is happy. I think whoever does will be a very, very wealthy person creating a lot of value for our society. Knowing what I know about making and selling bagels, I’d guess that a $2.50 bagel with cream cheese involves some combination of minimum wage/free labor, machines instead of hands, cheap bleached flour, and cream cheese with more stabilizers and emulsifiers than natural dairy fat. For now, I remain confused as to how other businesses make those low prices work. My guess is something or someone suffers in the process.

So how did we land on our prices? We figured out our ingredient costs, factored in labor, and built a healthy cushion for overhead, profit, and the occasional slow day (we have those). We also studied prices at other businesses, analyzed our operations to figure out where economies of scale start and end with respect to labor, and decided to take lower margins on some items and make it up in other items. (Our lox sandwich is the BEST deal on our menu, dollar for dollar, when you factor in all the labor and expensive ingredients.)

By far, the most challenging customer feedback is on price. Some people politely tell us they’d come in more often if prices were lower. Others tell us we’re “outrageously expensive”, “ridiculous”, a “bagel monopoly” (that one is my favorite and I’m taking it as a compliment!) and that it’s unfair they can’t afford to come here every day. I’d be lying if I said I have a great response for this kind of feedback. I have decided we have to be OK with hearing this feedback and not really having a satisfying response for our customers, because our business can’t sustain lower prices and exist in its current form. (I am also going to be candid and say the people who expect us to lower our prices so they can afford the DAILY luxury of having other people make their food are wildly out of touch with reality. Feel free to disagree with me. I’m OK dying on this sword.)

scary graph

I’m an Excel freak, so of course I built a model to illustrate the impact of lowering prices (see graph). The orange line is representative of our current labor & food costs, and you can see by the way it curves upward that the greater the price cut we want to implement, the greater the volume we have to sell to offset that. To reduce prices by 10%, we’d need to increase our total revenue by 50% JUST to match our current profits. That means we have to make and sell 50% more bagels to end up right where we are today. The gap gets more extreme as the price cut increases to 20%, and if we lowered prices by 30%, our business would be completely unprofitable no matter how many bagels we sell. You can’t volume your way out of zero margin. Thinking beyond the financials, operationally we can’t handle much more volume than we do today. We have a limited production capacity and on weekends we move through customers as quickly as we humanly can. A price drop would effectively lose us money. 

Some businesses deal with this pressure to lower prices by cutting food costs (lower quality or eliminate waste) or labor (reduce wages or work with a smaller team). Even if we reduced our food costs by 10% and also reduced our labor costs by 10% we’d still need a 20% volume increase to sustain a 10% price cut (gray line in graph). I shudder at the thought of paying minimum wage and buying cheap cream cheese full of stabilizers. At that point, what’s the point?

Ultimately, you as consumers have the final say on our prices when you choose to visit us. We love that! I am grateful every day that you vote “yes” with your dollar and support what we do. The prices you pay afford us the opportunity to pay our team living wages, to support local coffee roasters and kombucha brewers and kraut & kimchi makers and even flour millers (!), and to offer you sweet little details like a free daily copy of local and national newspapers and actual plates to eat off of. I think that’s worth paying a little bit more.

(And let me leave you with some food for thought: Jamie Coelho, by far my favorite local food writer and friend of Rebelle, did a fantastic write-up for RI Monthly on the true cost of dining out. I hope you will find it enlightening, as I did!)

 

 

 

Vegan is growing beyond our wildest dreams (Or: Milena is once again forced to get over her skepticism when faced with data)

In the beginning, getting me to make vegan cream cheese was like pulling teeth. I remember one of our regulars, Amy, coming up to me back in the pop-up days at Stock and begging for vegan cream cheese and I would think, “why in the world would anyone want fake cream cheese?” The thought of “foods masquerading as other foods” is strange to me. Tofurky is weird. Turkey bacon is weird. Margarine is weird. Tofu cream cheese is weird. I certainly never tasted one I enjoyed.

With customer requests, I am usually like, “OK fine let’s make it, and if it sucks and doesn’t move we can tell people why we don’t sell it anymore.” (That’s why we don’t make whole wheat bagels: We tried making them TWICE, gave them over a month to stick each time, and we would end up tossing them day after day. Not much of a market for whole wheat bagels, as it turns out.) We came up with a great recipe for vegan “cream cheese” that’s delicious and reminiscent of its dairy counterpart in its tanginess without trying to be exactly like it. (That tanginess? Lactic acid, derived from beets!)

Looking back at 2018, one thing was clear: You guys can’t get enough of our vegan options! I just ran the numbers and the Vegan Dream, our signature vegan sandwich, has grown 2.6x faster than our total sales. According to Google Trends, veganism has grown in popularity in the last 5 years, but certainly not at the pace we’re seeing our vegan sales growth. Needless to say, I’ve gotten over my skepticism and embraced vegan options. (Plus truth be told, I am actually not a huge fan of cream cheese and our cashew spread goes down easier for me.)

vegan dream growth.png

See the graph above: The green line is the Vegan Dream and blue is our total sales. Obviously I deleted the axes/numbers because our sales data is proprietary information. But just focus on the incline of the lines relative to each other: the green line has steeper growth vs. the blue.

Maybe this success with vegan options is a product of our approach, which is to celebrate the veggies and make them interesting and layer the flavors, instead of molding them into lesser-than versions of meat products or giving you lettuce & tomato on a bagel and calling that a “sandwich”. (More like SAD-WICH! I crack myself up…)

I think another factor in our success with vegan options is just the awesome vegan community around us. So many of you have found us through Instagram and continue to spread the word about us! I recently received a postcard from Happy Cow celebrating our listing on their online directory of vegan-friendly spots in Providence. One of you must have created our listing on there — thanks for spreading the word!

So this year we want to do more vegan options. It’s working for us. Certainly we are not turning into a vegan bakery! Wildflour does a great job with that, and I don’t think it makes sense for us to go in that direction. But our kitchen staff is becoming more conscious about making recipes vegan-by-default whenever possible. If we can make simple adjustments to recipes to veganize them (e.g. swap butter for oil in a soup) and it has little impact on flavor/texture/structure, we should do it. We now have 1 vegan pastry (a very convincing banana cake if you ask me!), 2 vegan cream cheese options, 2 alt milk options and 1 vegan sandwich, plus our salads and soups are vegan a good chunk of the time.

Tell me: What other vegan products do you wish we had? Do you have a great idea for a vegan sandwich?

How Rebelle reduces food waste

I will confess: I had never been very mindful about food waste before I started Rebelle. I would buy food and let it go bad in the fridge all the time. But once you start buying ingredients in bulk for a restaurant, two things happen: you realize food waste is literally money going into the trash, and you start noticing the scale at which food waste accumulates. I never once thought about tossing the ends of tomatoes when I slice them (I HATE tomato butts). But it took us 2 weeks after we opened the shop to realize that once you slice 25 lbs. of tomato at a time, you can end up with 2-3 lbs of tomato butts that would be thrown in the trash without a second thought. When I developed that awareness, food waste was literally all I could see and I became strangely obsessed with reducing it. (I’m obsessive about a lot of things…)

I want to share with you some of the ways we deal with random bits and scraps of things in our kitchen to spare them from the landfill. Our team does an amazing job getting creative and resourceful to avoid throwing out food. Maybe you’ll be inspired to adopt some of these practices!

We save the scraps. Many of us prep and throw things in the trash as we go: onion skins, tomato butts, carrot peels. Have you peeled carrots directly over the trashcan and thought yourself a genius for saving time on cleanup? What if you save those carrot peels, grate them and turn them into carrot cake? Or carrot soup? That’s exactly what we do. We also make tomato jam out of tomato butts and relish out of cucumber butts and salmon salad out of salmon scrape and cheesy handpies out of cheddar scraps. But if we hadn’t saved the scraps, we wouldn’t know they’re enough to actually turn into something! (Don’t save onion skins though. Never found a good use for those…)

We repurpose items into something new. Here’s a secret: We take 2-day old brownies and crumble them into our Peanut Butter & Brownie cookies. We used to take day-old babka and turn it into babka bread pudding. We turn unsold bagels into bagel chips. We do this a lot, and so do a lot of restaurants, and so can you!

We preserve. Wanna know how we came up with our pop-tarts? We had a bunch of berries that didn’t make it into fruit salads and they were about to turn bad. Too sad to see them go into the trash, we picked off the soft bits, washed the rest, and turned it into jam. This jam went into our pie dough and the rest is history. Now we actually make jam just for pop-tarts, because they’re so popular!

 Just to give you a reason to save scraps at home: Here’s the recipe for our famous tomato jam, which receives so many compliments, I should shut down the bagel shop and devote myself to jam instead. We use it on our BLT sandwich, and it also does a good job of dressing up a humble egg & cheese sandwich.

 Note: All our recipes are scaled by weight for consistency and repetition. You should consider buying a cheapo kitchen scale for your kitchen – ours are $10 from Amazon!

Rebelle’s famous tomato jam

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients:

1733 g tomato scraps, pureed in food processor (seeds fine, no stems/leaves)

533 g granulated sugar

67 g apple cider vinegar

13 g kosher salt

Directions:

Cook all ingredients over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it passes the jam test. (Highly scientific jam test: put a plate in the freezer until super cold, then spoon some jam on the plate. Stick it in the fridge for 2-3 minutes and then tilt the plate slightly. If the jam runs or drips, it needs to cook down more.)

We have to do something about selling out of bagels early.

If there was one misconception about our shop that I wish did not exist, it’d be this: We don’t sell out all the time. We don’t!

I have a complicated relationship with selling out of bagels. In an ideal world, we sell out of bagels maybe 30 mins before closing, TOPS. (The last 2 hours of service are typically slow for us.) Selling out near closing time gives us a bit more time to clean up at a chill pace, and the opportunity cost of lost sales is very low. If we sell out 2 or 3 hours before closing time, that’s good money we lose. Every time a customer comes up and we are sold out, I’m keeping track of every single sale we could have made. Darn it.

We forecast our production a week in advance and feed it into our ingredient ordering process. To forecast, we look at what happened the weeks prior, which is captured in painstaking detail on our Daily Recap report. (Every morning, the bakers record the production by item, and in the afternoon we record what’s left.) We also look at our sales data from the year prior, especially if we’re looking at holiday periods. Sometimes we tweak the plan halfway through the week to accommodate crappy/nice weather, unexpected construction, etc.

We don’t want to waste food. We never sell day-old bagels, so whatever doesn’t get sold that day is not held for the next day. There’s only so many bagels we can chip (we chip A LOT), donate, gift to friends or take home to eat for breakfast. I don’t like seeing food hit the trashcan. More than wasting food, it’s also wasting time that the team could have spent making other things! As an engineer, inefficiencies drive me totally bananas and this one in particular is a biggie for me. It’s the perfect trifecta of wasting time, money and ingredients.

I just scrolled through our Instagram and counted our Sold Out posts. Fourteen in total for November and December. Out of 48 days that we were open, that gives us a 29% sell-out rate. That’s a far cry from “always” but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised. That blew me away a bit. No wonder people think we always sell out, we post about it every 3-4 days! I am sure a lot of people, especially those who aren’t on Instagram, don’t bother coming because they think we’re sold out. That makes me sad. We want to feed you bagels!

We have to do something about both selling out AND the perception that we always sell out. I have a few ideas that we’re going to start testing immediately:

  • We’ll post more frequent updates on our Instagram story: We’re going to set alarms on our iPad registers to take photos of whatever bagels are left, twice per day (maybe at 10 and noon?). We’ll timestamp the stories so you can always go on our profile and take a reasonable guess at where we are for the day. I think this is also going to act as a check for us: Are we frequently selling out before noon? Then we should adjust our production plan!

  • We’re going to improve our production planning process: A few months ago, I learned more about regression models in business school and played around with our data long enough to realize the day of the week and weather conditions are closely tied to our sales. I need to go back to that model, feed it more data and train it. We should try baking to whatever plan the model gives us and see how it holds up. I think my fear of being wasteful can be mitigated if our production plan is better than guessing based on last week (just being real with y’all, what we do is on the level of educated guessing).

I always appreciate candid (and kind!) feedback from our customers. Please tell me: What else do you think we can do to prevent early sell-outs and to communicate better with you? What have been your frustrations with our sell-out days? Curious to hear your thoughts, you can always email me here :-)

Design upgrades and a lotta DIY

Opening my own bakery turned me into a hyper-aware consumer, and now everywhere I go eat, shop, whatever, I totally pick apart in my head. What do I like and don’t like and why? What works and what doesn’t? Through this mental exercise, I realized I am really enjoying pretty spaces right now. I am getting lost in the little thoughtful details everywhere that add up to the personality of a place.

We’ve done a lot of design changes to our front of house in the last 2 months. I started by wondering if I could rearrange the furniture for a better layout so we can fit more people more comfortably. Then I got a little carried away with all the inspiration I’ve been collecting.

(I think all crazy redecoration projects start with rearranging the furniture around the room. Turns out, we had a total of 6 seats that were not being used at all prior to rearranging the furniture, and now they are! I felt like a genius after that.)

During Thanksgiving, we built new wood benches that rest against the windows and make the whole place feel like a cozy nook. I hadn’t thought about it before but sitting along the perimeter, facing the room, just opens it up so much! We love them so much, we plan on building a few more. A bonus: the outlets are also now accessible to twice as many tables as before. I spent 3 days on this bench plugged in, studying for my finals and enjoying the chill vibes at the shop. I encourage you to bring your book/work and take a long breakfast on a weekday morning!

BD827C12-5B02-40CF-9333-CBE142EA2E87.jpeg

During Christmas break, we worked on several other design projects:

  • We changed the menu boards. I had 2 issues with the old menu boards: I couldn’t take them down to update them, and they were in cursive. Turns out cursive is hard to read quickly and from an operational standpoint, we really need people to read the menu and quickly figure out what they want to order. The new boards now hang from a rod (!) and are written in sharp block letters. It’s taken us a few days to finish this one because the old ones were glued to the wall, so patching things up and giving the wall a fresh coat of paint takes way longer than we can work in one go.

  • We changed the countertops. The old plywood counters had sentimental value to me, since I spent 2 weeks sanding, staining and sealing them before we opened and daydreaming about what operating this place would be like. But they were degrading quickly (especially the one near all the coffee) and our accountant encouraged us to invest in meaningful upgrades. We now have beautiful, shiny stone counters, with trash cutouts for your convenience (!). We’re still waiting on one final piece of countertop so we look kinda mismatched at the moment. Oops.

  • We installed a plant wall. I am obsessed with the houseplant explosion at The Nitro Bar. I went a bit wild buying these wall-mounted planters and stuffing them with ivies. I can’t wait for them to grow in! We’re going to add more houseplants around the room.

One of our 2019 goals is to continue prettifying the space, so you can expect to see more changes in the coming months. (Especially in January, since I don’t have school and can focus on DIY projects!) I’m curious to hear how you like to use our space and what upgrades can make it a more enjoyable experience!

Will we be the first in Providence to pay employees a cut of profits?

I have this document on my computer that I wrote before we opened our store. It has goals about paying living wages, offering benefits, and making this a place where people can start and grow their careers. I want Rebelle to breed high-caliber food & hospitality professionals. I want to subvert the notion that food service jobs are low-skill, low-pay and just pit stops on your way to something “better” like an office job. (I had one of those office jobs and it wasn’t for me.)

Anyway, I have a lot of ideas in that document but it’s not crystal clear how we get there. I can’t raise our prices 10% every year to pay for raises and benefits, so giving our employees more while keeping our prices relatively stable requires creative financial acrobatics and being militant about operational efficiencies. Tough balancing game.

But I think we’re figuring it out just fine. It’s time to give back to the crew that makes the magic happens! We’re going to start giving our team a cut of the business’s profits. This is called profit-sharing, and it’s all the rage right now, and as far as I know we’ll be the first restaurant in Providence to offer this benefit. I’m not trying to gloat — but I think this is a BIG DEAL. I hope this will be successful for us and that other business owners will follow along.

Here’s how it will work: Every 3 months, we will put 5% of the profits into a “pool” that all employees will share, disbursed according to hours worked. It will function just like our tip pool, but funded by the business. As a retention incentive, team members have to be with us for 6 months before participating in the pool. If I did my math right, this benefit will amount to about 1 week’s paycheck as a bonus every 3 months. For Q1 2019, our profit sharing program will be a test (and has been communicated to the team as such). My deepest hope is that it will improve our retention rate, create long-term engagement within the team and make them feel better compensated for their work.

Don’t be nervous: We’re not paying for this or our upcoming 6% wage increase with price increases. In the short term, we’re absorbing the cost. And in the long term, I am hopeful our growth will continue into 2019, and that we’ll be able to keep and expand this program with your support. I ask you to consider this as you decide where to eat your breakfast, where to grab your morning coffee, or where to order holiday treats.

Every dollar you spend is like casting a vote in support of business practices. I hope you will vote more often with us!

(And if you’re a talented food & hospitality professional: let’s talk. We have some openings on our team and we’d love to meet you!)

The Great Soup Test of 2018: Not looking so hot

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I took this photo on November 7th, the day when we made our first batch of soup at Rebelle. We’ve been slowly pushing over the last few months to become more than just a bagel shop, and pushing for lunch is part of that. I recently had soup for lunch at Tatte in Kendall and it was a nice, healthy, warming meal, and the $5 price tag was just right. I wanted soup at Rebelle. You wanted soup at Rebelle! This was fated to succeed.

We had some chorizo bits and pieces from our Spanish Tortilla sandwich special that were begging to be put to use, so we made Chorizo, White Bean & Kale soup and put it in a $80 soup kettle from Restaurant Depot. Because the soups would be a vehicle for bits and pieces of things that would otherwise be deemed “scraps”, this was a very low-risk experiment. At $5 a piece, we needed to sell 16 soups to earn back our “investment” on the kettle. Easy!

Not so easy. We’ve sold a grand total of 15 cups of soup since launch. We don’t put the soup kettle on during weekends, because at noon on a Sunday people are still thinking breakfast. So the soups are only a weekday thing, but it’s still painfully slow movement on a new item at an average of 1 unit sold per day.

I’m not ready to give up on soup yet. Our soup is delicious, and winter is the time for soup. We must be doing something wrong! I have several hypotheses for what’s going on that I will try to validate over the coming weeks:

  • No visibility: We’re keeping the soup kettle in the back for practical reasons (not much counter space in the front). But I think we have to try putting it in the front!

  • Poor signage: We have the soup on a sign on our counter. There are 3 other signs on there. It’s too many signs to read. Probably nobody is reading it. (We are fixing the sign issue!)

  • We didn’t give it enough time: We try to give new items at least a month before calling them dogs and retiring them. Given that the soup is only a weekday item, we should probably give it longer.

  • We didn’t market it well: We haven’t given soup the spotlight to shine on our emails. We’ve launched other items successfully by sending coupons to drive trial. We should try that again!

For this week, the soup is on hiatus as I do some soul-searching. We’re going to make a cream of mushroom soup next week. Will you please come try it? We hope to see you!

Testing Monday & Tuesday service this week (and feeling super 😬)

We’ve been training new bakers Sky, Anna and Lauren for long enough that I’m afraid they’ll leave us if we don’t open 7 days a week soon. So here we are! We’re testing service this Monday 12/10 and Tuesday 12/11 from 6:30 am to 3 pm. We’re a bit nervous but very amped to see if this helps us meet your needs, grow our business and not lose our minds!

If you’ve signed up for our email list, you’ll get a free treat valid this Monday & Tuesday only. If you’re not signed up, you should sign up at the bottom of our website to get freebies ;-)