A long time ago I was given the book “Starting A Restaurant For Dummies” (I’m sure there was no pun intended). One of the opening lines in the book is this: “This isn’t a venture for the faint of heart. If you want to own a restaurant to have a place to hang out with your friends and get free drinks, we say pay the bar bill and avoid the hassles.”
But honestly, that’s exactly why I had the idea to build The Sweet Meadow in the first place! I wanted to create a space I felt was lacking in regional Victoria – a health-conscious, vegan café where people would want to spend their time, not just their money. I love how cafes become a central hub for communities and I don't believe we should have to travel to the city to experience conscious, sustainable alternatives. I wanted to make a change in my life and create a space where I could grow and start something afresh, where I could be creative and where I hoped to inspire others to be creative too.
A year ago today, on Thursday, 20th October 2016, we opened The Sweet Meadow at 7.30am. I had left the café at about 2.30am that morning, prepping burger patties with my mum (I accidentally added non-gluten free breadcrumbs into the mix, so mum ended up driving home and making them from scratch herself).
I was back onsite at around 6am after barely sleeping, because I was so paranoid that nobody would come. I had rostered on five other staff members that day, with most of them working eight hours or more (!). As it turned out, we had over 150 people visit us on our first day, most of whom continue to visit us regularly.
Interestingly enough, the best selling menu items on our first day are still some of the favourites twelve months on - Creamy Avocado, Roasted Veg & Chickpea Burger, Vanilla Waffles, Acai Smoothie Bowl, OJ Simpson, Chocolate Mylkshake, and our Caramel Slice.
Both our menu and our team have grown since then, but making the move from having an “employee” mindset to a “business owner” mindset has been the steepest learning curve for me personally. I have learnt so many lessons this past year, lessons that I think are crucial to creating a sustainable, successful business.
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
Dita Von Teese
It’s a bruise to the ego realising that not everyone is going to like you (or your food, or your milk selections, or the names of your juices), but I’m learning to let go of perfectionism. Running my own business has taught me a lot about that. It’s messy and humbling, and I am learning to show my mess.
“You have to break, take breaks, or both.”
I always used to say that you only have to take time off if you have a boring job. Then I became a small business owner. Yung Pueblo said “While in the midst of serious internal growth, respect your need to rest.” It took my car blowing up on a Sunday morning in High Street to wake me the fuck up to that lesson. It really was just a reflection of what was going on internally (inflammation). Now I make it a point to take time out every week – my brain needs some rest. I love turning everything off, staying away from social media and being with nature. It helps bring me to that other part of my brain, where creativity lives and innovative ideas are formed.
“Chase the vision, not the money.”
While I have an extremely strong support network, never losing sight of why I started this business is ultimately the reason why I overcome the obstacles that get thrown my way daily. The authenticity of my “why” is what resonates with the people visiting. Lots of people travel hours to visit our café specifically, so I want them to have the same experience they have read or been told about. I’m sure my team roll their eyes whenever I change the music selection because I don’t think it’s “The Sweet Meadow’s vibe”, but it's the music, scent, furniture, entrance, toilets, even the cutlery, that all work to set our guest’s expectations and set us apart from other eateries. I will always stay true to The Sweet Meadow’s vision, and choose menu items, products, decorations and team members who align with that vision.
"Traveller, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk."
A Chinese philosopher once said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The truth is, if you are clear enough with your intention, you will always get to your destination – it’s how you enjoy the ride that counts. You can choose to be distracted, absent, stressed, overwhelmed. I spent most of my first year at The Sweet Meadow feeling this way.
Instead, I’m heading into The Sweet Meadow’s second year with a focus on making mindful decisions and living in the moment. Making space for the good people, good things and good times. It’s the same life, the same journey, the same road…the difference is how you choose to travel it.
What a ride it’s been so far.
I chose this. Thank you.