Last week we were named as one of The Oregonian’s Top Workplaces. It’s our second year on this list and it’s one of our biggest honors because it’s based on feedback from our own team.
My cousin Tyler and I founded the company four years ago with the hopes of a great place to work – where people take good care of each other, our customers and everyone with whom we get to do business. Recently we got to hear one of our favorite people speak about this topic, Danny Meyer. He wrote a book that we are pretty crazy about around here called Setting The Table and of course he owns some legendary restaurants in NYC. Over the years, several folks on our team have attended a three-day workshop his company puts on about enlightened hospitality that has had quite an effect on who we are as a company.
When we heard him speak again last week, he said that one of the hardest questions he’s struggled with is how to maintain his company’s culture as they grow – but that recently someone challenged him to think of that question differently. A better way to think of that might be how to grow the company to match the culture. A strong culture is always alive and growing. As proof, just check any well fed sourdough culture as it lives, breaths, evolves and will die (or worse yet go bitter) if you don’t take care of it. It’s up to the company to feed the culture with opportunities, new traditions and tools, new members to realize their potential – so that the culture is healthy and building on its own.
I was really moved by that idea. From the day we first rolled our ice cream cart onto the patio in front of Aviary and Barista Coffee on Alberta Street, I’ve been humbled by the people who have made this idea into much more than we could’ve dreamed. My boyfriend Mike, who after knowing me for a only a few months, put his home up for collateral to get the last $40,000 we needed in funding to get started. Tyler, who dropped everything he was doing, moved to Portland into my basement (which is not a fancy basement!) and started testing ice cream recipes on an ice cream maker he got at the Goodwill in our kitchen. And of course our 140 employees who so share our vision and are so committed to taking good care of each other and creating the workplace that has been honored.
During our weekly manager meetings, Monique, one of our shop managers was telling us about a kid who came in wearing a superhero costume. She let him know that we have a special ice cream that happens to be made just for superheroes. (I did not know that, but apparently it’s true!). It’s cinnamon…which is spicy and provides extra energy. The little boy’s face lit up as he explained to her that he IS A SUPER HERO! And she got him a scoop. His mom pulled Monique aside a few moments later to say thank you. Monique was a little taken aback…but then the mother explained that he’d been dealing with some bullying at school, had been crying all the way home and wanted to take off his costume. They stopped in for ice cream to try to take a break from all of this. The little boy’s interaction with Monique was the first time his mother had seen him smile all afternoon.
More than anything else we do, that’s the kind of story that makes me think we are on track with our business and feeding our culture to keep it healthy. That’s how I gauge our success. Yea, we gave that little guy some cinnamon ice cream that day, but we actually give him something else…we gave him a little kindness, an opportunity to feel good about himself that day. And in a world where people are more and more isolated, that matters! I think one of the reasons we received this nomination is that Monique and everyone on our team knows why we are here. We are certainly here to serve one-of-a-kind ice cream…like Smoked Cherry and Bone Marrow, Pear with Blue Cheese, or Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper. But we are also here to provide some kindness.
Although we could never really thank our team enough, we try to make our days together fun, interesting and provide a sense of security and well-being. Investing in over 40 hours of training per person last year is a starting point to give back with new skills around management, events, hospitality and more. Our benefits package is about twice the size of companies like ours, which I’ve received skepticism about since I very first wrote our business plan – because the common thinking is that it’s not sustainable. But I believe investing in our team is the foundation for everything we do. We’ve added at least one new benefit every year since we started, including health benefits for all (even part time employees), disability insurance, three-months paid parental leave, employee assistance programs and more. We so appreciate being recognized with this award for the heartfelt contribution we hope we are making. And we hope as we move forward we continue as a source of kindness, full face attention, caring, connection and community.
Founder of Salt & Straw