Saturday, January 22, 2005

Firing April

In 1975, I started my first of two bakeries, in Tualatin, Oregon. Named "Richard's Bakery", we set our shop inside a grocery store, but we did have to build from the ground up, at the rear of the store, where the grocery store owner was breaking ground for additional warehousing. We were part of the remodel.

I was 27 years old. I had gone to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon for two years, traveled a lot with my band, and served a baker's apprenticeship in Seattle. I sold my house in Seattle, and with $5000 of the proceeds as a nest egg, arranged a bank loan, bought some used equipment, built the bakery, somehow got all the equipment properly installed, 24 pan revolving oven, mixers, workbenches, you name it. It took one hell of a lot of work, cooperation and support from my family, and a modicum of blind ambition. Well, a bunch of blind ambition. I was 27, what can I say?

In a grocery store environment, in those days, the fare was not as exotic, in Oregon, as it is now. These days, in Portland, for example, we have delightful upscale bakeries, like Criollo Bakery, which is in our commercial building. There are so many exceptionally talented bakers and pastry chefs here now, and going to a bakery like Criollo can be a mind blower. Fancy European desserts, sour breads made from one-hundred year-old starters, panini to die for, scones, cookies, and other sweets, all displayed with the flair of a designer.

Suffice it to say, that when I opened the doors to Richard's, we were basically a glorified doughnut shop. Fancier things came later, particularly after I moved, ten years later, into Portland.

I must admit, it was a huge learning curve for me. Having not finished college, I guess one could say, I continued my education on the job, in the belly of the entrepreneurial beast.

Bakers don't sleep much. Well, people who own their own businesses, especially when they first begin, don't sleep much. And of course, bakers rise each day at night, that is, in the middle of the night, to go to work. I still have little trouble getting up early. Anyway, for the twenty years I owned a bakery, I wouldn't change a thing. I learned so much, became a man, but indeed, the schedule was gruelling. Among my keepsakes is a little note from one of my daughters, left on my dresser, which I found one morning after getting up for work that says, "Daddy, you always miss the fun".

The rest of the story takes a lighter turn.

Though I admit to, in some part, not having any idea what I was getting into, regarding the details of owning a business, I got pretty good at it, after awhile, making all that stuff, managing employees, running the operation smoothly so that, everyday, at 7am, you could find some really groovy fresh items for sale in my store. For the most part, I had excellent help, but sometimes, I would get a slacker. And that sucks. Because for all it takes to run a store like that, and you hire someone who promises to put in a good day's work for a good day's pay, and then doesn't, damn.

So, in approximately 1978, a few years into it, I hired April. April's name has been changed, cuz, well, I don't really remember her name. But I can still see her face. The problem was, April was a bit of a cheater, and uh, a liar, and just generally not good for my business. I had put my faith in her, allowing her to be the "closer", that is, the last person to leave the store, close it up, at 7pm. But since my bakery was actually inside a grocery store, there were other personnel, store clerks, assistant mangers, etc, who would know if something was not quite right at Richard's Bakery.

So one day I get a call, from one of these assistant managers, of the Thriftway Store my bakery was in, who tells me, "Ric, I just thought you'd like to know, that girl who closes, she is closing at 6:30. I don't know what she is doing, but your store is closing at 6:30, for like a few weeks, aren't you supposed to be open 'til 7?" I am stunned. I say to myself, hmmmmm, I don't get it. April is on the schedule from 12pm to 7pm, I am paying her for that amount of time. How could this be?


So I talk to her. I ask her what the deal is, she denies everything. She says she is keeping busy, sometimes she has to go in the production area to work, but she is not closing the store.

A few days later I get a call from the assistant manager again. "Uh Ric, thought you'd like to know, that girl is still closing the store at 6:30". Whut?!?

So I decide I have to check this out for myself, and this is the kind of thing that turns business owners into conservatives. I've worked, oh, maybe eleven hours today, I am exausted, and I must drive over to the store, hide out, figure out what is going on.

The "crow's nest", or grocery store office, provides a clear view of my sales area. So at 6pm, I drive over, sneak in the grocery store, and go up to the crow's nest. I watch and wait. I watch as April goes through the final steps of closing the store. Sure enough, 6:30 rolls around, she is gone. I go into the production area, first checking the cash register, which is empty, to find April on the phone. The store is obviously closed. I say over her conversing, "I need to talk to you".

April is young. I tell her that what she is doing is wrong, that in order to keep her job, she cannot close a store, which is open 'til 7pm, a half hour early, ask her what's wrong, is she ok, can we work this out. I tell her she is busted, if I find out she is still doing it in the future, I will have to let her go. She promises to do right.

Next day, I drive over again, after yet another long day, to check on April. And I am sorry to see her close the store at 6:30. I go into the production area, where she is on the phone. I wait for her to hang up. 'Well April, last night I told you that, if you closed the store early again, I would have to let you go". April immediately, to my surprise, leaps into my arms and shouts, "can I have a hug?" So there I am, in this big white bakery, after having fired April, who has boldly lied to me, not kept her promises, basically stolen from me, and I am holding her in my arms, patting her back. Inside I am saying, "there, there, you're canned".

I think of this story as a metaphor for the wacky things store owners endure. The litany is endless. To any entrepreneurs and store owners out there, my prayers are with you.

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