jesus of nazareth? that world-historical figure? eat your heart out.
i have a bit of writers' block this morning. and i think i just discovered why: because i've set out to write about such a monumental, important topic. the most important of all, really. and my friday rants might hem or haw at the start to suggest i'm a little bit stuffed up in the fingers but no. ... not so. the truth is that each rant starts off as small. just a miser's point. insignificant. and then as i start typing i realize how much more there is. always more. so much more. and i just start banging the keys and it comes out in one fell swoop with virtually no time between thoughts and keystrokes.
but this time i know what i want to write about. and it's a topic too big to capture in a single rant. or in forty consecutive rants: polly.
have you met her? she's my wife. yeah. and my partner in the business. sure. but that's not really what she is. i couldn't go another modest letter without writing about her. about her vision. and about its impact on everything we do at middle brow. polly's got a beautiful, special way. and that way has defined her for, i do reckon, her whole damn life.
... we walk to work. we live just 2 blocks down. it's pretty critical to be so close when you've got a newborn business. you gotta be there all the time. making sure the dishes are run the way you know they need to be run. and beers are dumped or touched up when you know they need to be so. and pizzas are sent to the back when you know they need to be "sent to the back" (and the staff cheers! free pizza!). it's the little things that matter. remember that.
anyhow, we tend not to walk to work together. one of us gets up for the early shift and watches jess and @pilarvon and @michaelsbread on the camera or writes emails or modestly. and the other goes in. but this past sunday. that crazy april snow day. we slept in an extra hour, did some work at home, and then walked in together. and the whole way i just talked *at* polly. i was hyperfocused on fixing a problem that we have at the brewpub. and i was talking through unrealistic solution after unrealistic solution, as i tend to do. and polly was nodding along. occasionally humming in agreement. just to humor me. but really knowing the answer all along. and we had arrived at bungalow, and turned left around the corner of the building, and i said "oh! marjie shoveled the entrance! nice work!" to no one.
i had lost polly.
i turned around, and she was still on the armitage sidewalk. assessing the snow coverage all the way to mozart street. and back over in front of the dodd camera storefront. and down the driveway. and we caught back up to each other. and before i could go on finishing whatever unrealistic, ludicrous thought i was having, she said: i'm gonna grab the shovel. and i finally saw it.
this is a small story. yeah. sure. and of course it ends with me running to grab the shovel before she could. because i felt insecure about not noticing the other shoveling that needed to be done to make life easier for customers. but there's like two dozen of these stories every damn day. and here's the point: i thought my eyes were open. to a problem. and to all manner of solutions. but i couldn't see what was right in front of me. polly, though. she sees the whole thing. the big business problem; the most likely solution; and the small snow right in front of us. she sees the forest. and the trees. down to the last fucking pine needle. and the sandy soil through which the roots grow and grow. and every last bird who might take quick refuge on whatever branch. oh and she sees two forests over, too.
we've crossed paths with thousands of people since we opened. we've been busy, thank goddess. and every last one of them, down to one or two precocious 8 year olds, have remarked on how beautiful and lovely the space is. how warm. how comforting. last night, we got the compliment of a lifetime when rene (the owner of beauty bar in ukranian village) said it felt like an *alternative space*. with a DIY feeling. ... something accidental, not meant for any one particular purpose. but a whole host of purposes. ... he was speaking our language. i was blushing.
and we take pride in our beer. always have. (thanks bryan!!) and the word-of-mouth buzz for our bread and pizza has eclipsed anything i could have hoped for. (thanks jess and mickey!!) but i can't tell you how important the intangible *feelings* are to the survival of a business like ours. and when tangible products are in the mix, it's easy to forget that. the importance of the intangible feeling likely surpasses that of the tangible products one sells. natch: ideas are a dime a dozen. and holy shit do we have a pile of "ideas" in our battery; ideas are getting old and exhausting at this point. ... but execution is a dollar. no: it's a hundred million thousand dollars. ... i often refer to it as *delight*: we have to delight the customer at every turn. and not one of us who's in the building day-in and day-out knows how to do that like polly does. from the moment someone walks in with a blank stare on their face. until the moment they walk out. the stare converted to a serene smile. ... the way she affirms their entrance. "you're in the right place; come with me!" the way she spots the potential for a wobbly table and avoids it. the way she notices their toddler and tells them that we'll get a kids pizza started for them right away. the way she does the same with beers for the parents. how she knows next to grab the crayons, and in passing tells me that "table 203 needs to be adjusted". ... and all the while, the family's clueless as to how well she's taking care of them. she's predicting their pains before they know they have them. ... instead, they're enchanted by all the *other* things polly's touched in the space. the arrangement of the hutch near the door, with to-go beers and breads and blankets on it. the beautiful water carafe with the water glass resting on top. the plants placed just-so near the french doors. the green table. the yellow table. the white table. the throw pillows on the bench. the candle holders on the old piano. the artwork in the dining room. the bowl of pomelos in the center of the farm table. (what the fuck is a pomelo? doesn't matter. jess had some out and polly turned them into a centerpiece with an old wooden bowl she tracked down off some midwestern byway. and they transformed an entire room.) she takes customers out of their reality. gives them a brief break from it. makes it hard for them ever to leave. because she let's them be themselves in a new reality. an easier, pleasant'r reality. and all because she has a vision that's unmatched. often un-even-known. (it's like a grapefruit.)
"pete, could you comp this cookie? i can't find polly." ... "uhh. sure. but why aren't we charging for it?" ... "polly overheard that the woman just got her first job out of college and wanted to say congratulations with a cookie."
"here's my new pizza! do you like it?! can we add it to the menu?!" ... "i love it!" . "holy f this tastes so good it's making my ears dumber. i seriously can't hear" . "yep! it's delicious. nice work!" ... (polly): "hmm. i love the chili oil so much. and the fat of the cheese *and* the egg. but i think the customer might appreciate a contrasting texture in this one? what do you guys think?"
and the examples abound. she's taught me so much. about being a good host. a good server. a good conversationalist. a good bartender and manager. a good judge of a new menu item. how to name a beer. how to label a beer. which customers deserve that special touch of attention. how to know when it's time to switch out a decorative branch or flower. or to balance a room by switching some chairs out with a bench. about being ourselves. about focusing on what's in front of me. about calling my mom. about organizing invoices. about growing sustainably. about the right kind and amount of generosity. about conserving water. but also drinking it. about washing and reusing ziplock baggies. (ok. that was maybe her anarchist brother. thanks willy!) how to sell more beer without overwhelming one's palate. everything i do is merely putting action to polly's principles. everything i know about beer and hospitality, she's taught me. all without knowing it. just by acting on her big-ass vision, over and over and over again. right in front of me. and, no matter how hard i try, i just can't keep up. nobody can. or, at least, nobody can who i've come across quite yet. (and i'm telling you! we have an absolutely extraordinary staff!) she's got more vision and empathy in her tiny earlobe than the next best *industry* folk has in their entire past, present and future combined. (that word. blech.)
most of these may seem like little things. to the untrained eye, at least. to the eye that doesn't yet see the new economy. that doesn't understand what a "product" and "business" really is. but fine: i can bludgeon you too. since the day she quit lula cafe. on oct 31 or thereabouts. she's been next to me for virtually every waking minute. working from sometime in the 6s until i literally push her out the door around 1030. that's nearly 6 months. 17 hours a day. with 4 days off. (christmas eve, christmas day, march 19th, and this past tuesday.) (oh. and she went wedding dress shopping with her best friend on some saturday. but that's it.) and she hasn't complained a single second, apart from a comment or two about being a little tired. and she shouldn't! we're lucky! we can't believe how lucky we've been to be given the chance to spend our lives this way. but sadly that kind of stat is about all our capitalist brains can understand when it comes to assessing worth.
polly is, in a sense, the epitome of a female community-historical figure. (to downright hell with that classic bro, hegel. get over your immortality, man.) the male psycho-sociopath might get attention. for trying to change the world. but he's really failing. or doing more damage than anything. meanwhile the person pulling the strings. setting the stage. making possible what good change there is to make. executing. fucking seeing everything. that's the female. the true community-historical figure. changing everything about your life without you even knowing it. affecting hospitality trends in a whole city. changing the way neighbors treat neighbors. being *nice* because she is. but also because it's community-changing to be so. and, in that, it's world-changing to be so. see my recent rant about each of us as a single raindrop.
ok. i'll stop. no more glowing about my spouse. i hope you got the point: bungalow wouldn't exist without polly. we'd just be middle brow still. stumbling from one beer to the next. trying to "make our schedule more efficient". and to *change* the way you see the little things in your day-to-day (see next week's screed about the true evils of yelp.) while she'd be accepting you for who you are, and *making* your day-to-day doubly better. adding a yet-to-be-known poe-wet-tree to it. and you'd be all sing-song the rest of the day. whistling like a weirdo. not knowing why. ... or maybe we'd have this space. sure. but it wouldn't make any of you *feel* anything. we'd get the big things right. but the little things would be off. wouldn't translate. and it wouldn't set the positive stage for the delicious beer you were about to drink. or the delicious bread and pizza you were about to eat. ... polly turns people happy from the moment they walk in the door. and every experience they have thereafter is better for it.
... well shit. those last two sentences sum up my personal life since 2014 pretty well. i'm gonna go wake her up with a superman-jump on the bed now. and she's gonna ask me if i came in bed "to sleep for another one half hour. cuz that's what i'm doing".
but we hope to see you at bungalow later tonight. on this windy, creepy good friday. or, better yet, on beautiful easter sunday! 70 and sunny! and dry! and we're open! to serve you pizza and beer after your boring easter brunch! with wide-open french doors!