The challenges and surprises of starting something new

This is my first post about Forage Kitchen that has nothing to do with our opening or one of our events. I’d like to try to write more about what happens behind the scenes, both in our space and in my life generally: what’s great, what’s stressing me out, the random things I’m getting into (like computer-aided design, which I was just working on this morning), what we’re trying to do at the Kitchen, and what it means to me. I want to be as honest as possible.


Things are plugging along at Forage Kitchen. We’ve been open for a few months, though honestly it feels more like a year; the café’s been open for about five weeks. It’s been totally different from what I expected, and a true challenge in a crazy number of ways. I had this assumption (backed somewhat by our Kickstarter success, but also by an ever-growing list of supporters on our website) that the Kitchen would be full the day it opened. I was convinced that once it opened, it would run itself. When I write these words down now, it seems ridiculous to me, but it’s what I actually thought.


As you can tell from my tone, it didn’t turn out that way. Not that people weren’t interested, of course: we’ve had a ton of great press, and about 400 people showed up to our open house. Many of them are excited to work on projects inside the space, with eleven companies having signed up so far. After such a long time cultivating this idea, it’s incredibly satisfying to see how much enthusiasm Forage Kitchen has generated. In short, things are going well — just not as well as I expected. 


Keeping the momentum for Forage Kitchen over the years took a crazy amount of energy. . This project, which dragged on for four years with no apparent end in sight, with angry backers demanding specifics on opening dates and locations (which I couldn’t provide); with investors and bankers demanding proof (in the form of business models) that my idea was practical, I needed to really believe in my vision, never waver from the core ideas underlying that vision. But when those ideas are finally tested and are found slightly off-mark, it can feel like a crisis.


Thankfully, it’s not a crisis (though I’d be lying if I said we didn’t come close). I was able to regain my footing when I realized I could face all of the challenges of opening a new business. But the experience shook me, for sure. 


Here’s the strange silver lining: I’m more excited and engaged now than when I thought this was going to be easy. Years and years of talking about the idea to everyone I met, pushing endlessly through broken partnerships and failed lease negotiations, and maintaining enough energy to stick to it, had really drained my excitement about the project. We needed to launch, and we needed to launch quickly.


When we did, I was re-invigorated. There are so many things I have to do everyday that I’ve never done before: endless challenges and abundant learning  opportunities — everything from figuring out how to run a business with an actual location and employees that show up everyday (instead of just a ragtag band of volunteers who show up, create something, and then disband until the next time, as I was accustomed to), to co-ownership (my partner Matt is truly a lifesaver, sharing the burden of decision-making and counterbalancing my weaknesses), to running a café that is open everyday, to the politics of opening in a new city, to working with a PR agency, to learning how to use a laser-cutter to make stencils for our Founders’ Wall. The list goes on and on.


The great thing is, I feel that it’s forcing me to grow — as an individual and as a business owner. I had become comfortable in my past life preparing underground dinners and organizing foraging classes, but it was no longer exciting to me. This new thing is a true challenge. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture of it, but I’m grateful for all the twists and turns, and I’m excited to see what’s to come.

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