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.