Learning to Say No

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It has to be the hardest 2-letter word in the English language. At least that’s my opinion.

It’s something a therapist taught me to say over 15 years ago when I was going through my divorce. He had me read “Saying No Without Feeling Guilty,” a book I now recommend frequently, especially to women. We are horribly guilty of over-extending ourselves, making arrangements we can’t (or won’t) keep, and just saying “yes” out of guilt. There’s a lot of power in the word NO.

Rob and I moved to Maine to start a new chapter and open a whole-food, low-fat, plant-powered (WFLFPP). Our goal is to work together doing what we love to do while helping the local community thrive. We want to make people healthier, happier, and give the good people of Maine a place they can enjoy healthy food in a fun environment. If you ever went to one of our Food Flix Cinema events at Cyrus: Chai Tea & Coffee, you have a good idea of what we’re looking to create. If you know us personally, you can guess the vibe we’re looking to create.

Within 4 months of being up here, an opportunity appeared and a small café space was suddenly vacant. I immediately emailed an inquiry for the space but heard nothing. I sent a follow-up and still heard nothing. My third attempt garnered a response from the woman who was retiring; she advised me she would pass along my information to the people who were replacing her. After a month had passed, I surrendered to never hearing back.

Two months after surrendering, I received an email asking if we were still interested. If so, we needed to fill out a formal proposal and submit it by the middle of July.

We pored our life and vision into the proposal, knowing there were a lot of compromises we’d be making in a space that small. We spoke with suppliers, close friends, and the SBDC. We put together a menu, acquired insurance and equipment costs, created a rough draft of our business plan, researched licensing and food regulations in Maine, and had estimates for the equipment and food we’d be able to serve.

The Pro’s

The space was an amazing steal. The annual rent was less than 1 month’s rent for a small storefront on Long Island. The size of the space, the limited menu we could provide, and the equipment we could use made the insurance another steal. Our menu had to be rather small because of the lack of cooking equipment they could legally allow there, due to the lack of ventilation. We would essentially be a tiny deli that served coffee, smoothies, wraps, limited snack foods, cold drinks, and some local baked goods. We had a gameplan for cooking the necessary menu items, but it wasn’t an ideal situation.

The hours the landlord held were decent enough for our concept though an employee couldn’t let us in until 8 a.m. and our vision is to open by 6:30-7. It was a prime location with guaranteed high-volume daily foot traffic. The SBDC (the Small Business Association) agreed the space was a great deal for a start-up, though possibly limiting; they were also curious about the last vendor in that space and why they left.

Though Rob and I can successfully run a business that’s up and running, starting a new one from scratch is terrifying – the size of this location was a perfect way to get that experience under our belt while gaining a following in the plant-based/healthy eating world. We wouldn’t need employees, which kept costs and legalities to a minimum. It’s the ideal legal and financial situation for a brand-new storefront owner.

The Con’s

The space was TINY. Picture the counter area of any gas station and the area where the employee stands with cigarettes and lottery tickets behind them – that was the size of the cafe. We’re talking enough space for a large deli case on the outside of our counter, a tiny POS system, a couple of airpots for coffee, sinks big enough to wash a single blender, and enough counter space for a blender, hot plate OR air-fryer. We would have to bring in shelving and cabinets for additional storage/ counter space.

Most of you know me…I can cook in a small space (like the organic farm demos), but my food vision doesn’t like to be too limited. 3 wraps and basic snacks just aren’t enough variety. Rob was a head barista/black apron supervisor in a past life, so airpots aren’t his ideal expression of the coffee we’ll be serving. We had no space to decorate in our funky, special style; we certainly couldn’t play vinyl or show obscure/cult classic video clips. The space was not free-standing, so we were at the mercy of the landlord’s hours.

The space came with an automatically higher population of children and homeless people that we knew we’d have to cater to. For a start-up business in the plant-based world, this isn’t an ideal setting. Regardless, we had ways to help get coffee and some food to the homeless and created a kid’s menu.

Oh yeah, there were 6 planets in retrograde during this proposal process.

Whether you’re into astrology or not, you may have noticed things feel reeeaaaaalllllyyyyy slow over the last few months and nothing’s getting done. If projects do manage to find completion, the project is done with a lot of confusion and extra legwork.

I know from a good friend who’s an astrologist that retrogrades are a time to stop and review what’s in motion. So, we did. We sat patiently for the email or call stating we had made it to the interview process (round 1 of 3 parts of the process). No call after a month of waiting, so we again surrendered. We had used those retrogrades to really dig deep and think about our vision and future.

The call and emails came last week; we were selected to begin the interview process. They had a few questions prior to the interview, which they had sent us in the email. A couple of them admittedly stuck in our side a bit…one was whether we would be open to serving meat, should our plant-based menu not be lucrative.

I’m not a food nazi. I’m not a reformed omnivore who tries to push my beliefs on others. My coworkers didn’t even know I was plant-based until 2 days ago and I’ve worked there for months. I’m not silent about my beliefs, but I’m also not overly vocal about them. Letting people be curious about me seems to work better as a method of persuasion.

The fact that their question about serving meat struck me rather hard alerted me that my ego may be inflamed. I meditated on it all day to determine if we should throw in the towel already (it really was just a question, after all), or if we should proceed with a potential known issue. Rob and I spoke about it very briefly on the ride home from work, thought about it separately some more, and discussed it later that evening.

We declined the interview and the entire opportunity; some unforeseen events in the last month simply made it unrealistic for us at this time. We kept the doors open, should they need a vendor in the future. You just never know…if we were an established business that needed this as a satellite location, it would be an excellent business venture!

The truth is, unforeseen events did happen. We didn’t decline the interview process simply because of the “meat question,” despite it being an immediate red flag to us. We have no intention of serving cow’s milk, cheese, nor meat. We were immediately aware that the lack of cow’s milk for kids and coffee would be an issue on opening day. We were aware we’d be under the radar from the staff at the location and were uneasy at the thought of this posing a problem. But there were bigger reasons for declining the opportunity…

In the last month, I’ve hosted 2 cooking classes. I have a book I’m finishing (I picked up the first printed copy just this week!), which accompanies a live version of the online Transformation 101 Course I offer. The live version of this course launches in 2 weeks here, with 3 separate sessions running from September to November. The live courses will lead to further winter projects, once all sessions have been completed.

Rob is extremely busy at work and has a few music and video projects he wants to tackle this fall. We started a cookbook for our Food Flix events that has sat on a back burner for nearly 5 months. We’re both still trying to build a network that’s now growing organically (remember, we’ve only been here 8 months and only started connecting with people during the last 4 months). Our livelihood and future vision depend on people knowing us, believing in us, and trusting our expertise.

I have a couple of job opportunities during the fall/winter, which I didn’t have a month ago…none of this would be executed well if we opened a new place, no matter what the size of the café would be. We both hold high levels of integrity in our projects, so half-assing fall/winter projects AND our first café just wasn’t an option.

As hard as it was for us to say no, some conveniences aren’t worth the compromise. Take pauses when they’re offered and use them as a time of reflection. Don’t sell your dreams short. Some deals are just too good to be true.

What are your thoughts?

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