One’s Best Work

“I just want us to be able to do our best work.”

This became kind of a mantra for me, and for my partners at the Linkery and at El Take It Easy, at the beginning of 2013. We knew, emotionally, we were losing our enthusiasm when it came to operating the restaurants. And we were trying to articulate what it was that we wanted, and what it was that we had lost.

The shape of our enterprise had morphed many times in response to both our changing interests and changes in our market. What had started as a 50-seat restaurant, open for dinner 5 nights a week, had evolved — not always with clear foresight — into two restaurants comprising 230 seats.  We operated from morning till late nite, seven days a week. Our initial staff of 8 had grown to 50. Our culinary vision, once narrow and clear, had expanded to encompass everything from french fries and tacos to sashimi and brunch.

Running through all of our operations was a pervading clarity that this was not, could not be, our best work.

As a manager, I had long seen it as my job to create a context for the team members, in which they could do their best work. I know most people start a job, and start their day, excited about bringing their whole selves to their work and making a difference. The magic of a successful organization in every industry is to avoid de-motivating its people through managerial meddling or, most commonly, creating a structure that makes it harder than necessary to do good work.  The truly spectacular organizations go a step further, and are continuously reshaping their context to allow their people to get even better.

But what of us, the company principals? In our quest to grow the financial stability of the enterprise, we had expanded to a point where our interests and passions could no longer connect with our market. We were serving food that, while honest and well-crafted, didn’t reflect our whole spirit. And that made it really hard for our key people to feel good about the 80 hour weeks and middling pay, the extra price we were paying for the opportunity to do this.

In the end, it became obvious that I had to blow it all up and start again.  This time, we’d build into the very bones of the new enterprise the idea that it would be a place where we could all do our best work, as long as we were coming to work. That is the process I’m in now, as we build out the physical and conceptual details of Salsipuedes, and it’s something I’ll be writing more about over the next few weeks and months.

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