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If you own a business or work in an environment where customer satisfaction is paramount, you may be no stranger to the concept of starting with "yes." I thought I had a harness on the power of yes. And then I experienced its power on a whole new level which challenged me to raise my own bar. While at our recent convention, I had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of some exemplary "yes-thinking" in action. I was so impressed by the lengths that others went to in order to deliver "yes" for me, that it inspired me to reflect on what I've learned about the business power of yes in my own life.

The Path to "Yes" Begins with Owning the Problem

I got my start in the chef world during high school while working full time at a French bistro in my hometown of Wilmette, IL (a suburb on Chicago's North Shore). I worked there for close to four years; in the afternoons and evenings after school, and on weekends. It was a fun, intense, and amazing introduction to “the business.”

As a senior, I knew I needed more exposure before transitioning to the Culinary Institute of America for college. So I left the bistro and went to work at Trio, a four star establishment in neighboring Evanston (I have blogged about both of these tooth-cutting restaurant experiences here before). I was seventeen and had been cooking on the line for several years but quickly figured out that this was a whole ‘nother ball game, so to speak.

Bread Business Chef graduation

I went from a backwards baseball cap to a 12-inch high white chef’s toque at Trio. The raucous, loud, clean-it-when-we-get-to-it attitude and high-volume atmosphere I had experienced at the bistro was in stark contrast to the quiet, classical music on the stereo at Trio, with its glimmering copper and stainless steel food laboratory where — I kid you not — the dishwashers cleaned the hand sinks with a toothbrush several times a day. It was here in my first days on staff that I learned the power of starting with yes.

The Conversation That Educated Me About "Yes"

It was a busy Friday afternoon in the heart of summer and I was working on the cold appetizer station. While prepping for the evening's salads it soon became evident that there was not enough of the specialty greens to get us through the night. I walked up to the chef and said something to the effect of, “Chef, it seems we are out of greens for tonight.” His reply was, “Can we get by somehow? Produce was already delivered for today.” I replied, “Well, I hardly have a leaf in the house, chef.” His face clouded with anger and he said loudly, “Listen. I am the chef of this *&%$A^! restaurant and we are slammed and I don’t want to hear no. I want to hear yes.”

I was shocked and humbled but determined to find a solution. Between running out to the store and buying some greens myself and heading out to the restaurant’s meager sidewalk garden and snipping what I could gather with a pair of kitchen shears, I made it work.

A "Making it Work" Approach to Problem-Solving

Fast forward a year or so to a busy weekend night while I'm working the sauté station on internship at the Elderberry House, a five star culinary destination in California. We were almost out of something-or-other that was more popular than expected. We had a bunch of tickets already on order and the chef asked me if we had enough to cover. Remembering my previous experience at Trio, I quickly shouted, “We’ll make it work, chef,” and returned my attention to the blazing stove in front of me. He stopped in his tracks, came around the line to where I was standing, got right in my face and said, “Scott, you’re going to go far in this business with answers like that.”

Since then, I have never forgotten the power of beginning with the attitude of yes in my career. It changes absolutely everything. It is amazing what can be accomplished when we begin the conversation with yes. Our CEO, Mike Ferretti, has been focused on the power of yes this year in regards to our customers, our franchisees, marketing, and our product line. It is so important to try to figure out how to “make it work,” rather than trying to prove why something cannot or should not be done. In my case, when it comes to R&D, I try and think in terms of “what else can we sell in a bakery?” rather than “what does a bakery sell?”

Let me give you one more example: we recently had our annual Great Harvest convention  at the Marco Island Marriott in Florida, and we were trying to figure out the best way to internally market our new line of sandwiches while there. I was asked to consider serving them to our franchisees at the convention. My first gut reaction to the suggestion was that it would be logistically impossible to recreate the new Great Harvest sandwiches for 200 people while 2,700 miles away, without ingredients or equipment, and with limited time on a strange property.....not to mention having to make them to order in front of everyone so they could see how it's done!

YES sandwiches triumph at Great Harvest Convention

But you know what? I started with the power of yes — and said, “Absolutely, we will make it work,” because it truly was the absolute best way to create buzz around the new sandwiches. There is simply no replacement for getting food into people’s mouths, and in the franchise world, internal marketing is sometimes just as important as external marketing.

roast_beef_sandwich.preview

Find Out How Far You Can Go Without Saying No

You know what else? Amazing things happen when groups of people who believe in starting with yes come together and harness its power as a collective. I think the best chefs, in particular, have this instilled in them from early on in their careers. I have personally seen this in action while working at establishments all over the country, and we've witnessed it at Great Harvest while taking on similar projects at prior conventions on a smaller scale. But never, ever, have I experienced such an accommodating, do anything, never-say-no, begin with the power of yes staff as the one that Chef Juan Martinez has assembled at the Marco Island Marriot.

I was blown away by their helpfulness and their unbridled commitment to excellence. They were truly invested in helping me achieve success with our event because that meant their success as well. I asked for many things and needed the help of many staff members over the course of the week. I never heard the word NO once. Every request was met with an enthusiastic embrace of the power of yes.

sandwiches_by_chef_WEB

I even remarked to one of his sous chefs who was a huge help during the week how much of an amazing experience it was to work with all of them. His reply to me was that there was no other option. They are trained exhaustingly to NEVER say no to a client. There is always a way. Upon googling the chef of the property, I stumbled on this quote from him “Through Passion For Food And People, I Always Strive For The Best With No Mediocrity…” Sounds like a heck of a personal mission statement to me, and it seems to be working. I think I am going to start using that one myself. Thanks Juan! 

Whether it is coming up with a new recipe, trying to please a customer, or making our bakeries the most fun and inspiring small businesses in the country, a lot can be accomplished simply by starting with the power of yes.

Do you have a story to share about harnessing the power of yes? If so, we'd love to read about it in the comments section.

If the sandwich pic made your tummy rumble, why not stop into your local Great Harvest and try applying the power of yes to our menu?

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I'm Scott Molyneaux and I joined Great Harvest in September 2011 as the Corporate Chef. I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York and have worked in various segments of the food industry, including restaurants, large and small scale catering operations, private dining, retail, and lodges over the last 20+ years. At Great Harvest my efforts are focused on research and development of new products, wheat testing and purchasing, and teaching new franchisees how to be phenomenal bakers. I love living in Montana which gives me ample opportunity to pursue my interests of snowboarding, hiking with my dog, camping, riding my ATV in the mountains, playing my guitar, and of course cooking.