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The Most Important Part

by Adam Zack — October 2, 2019

Sous-chef[ soo-shef; French soo-shef ] the second in command in a kitchen; the person ranking next after the head chef.

We all have sous-chefs in our stores.

The executive chef gets all the credit. They are the big names – Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Chang. They are the creative face of the brand, the ones ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the restaurant. But it’s the sous-chef who deserves the credit for the prosperity of the restaurant – or deli. They put in the long hours, place the food orders and direct, inspect and insure that what is going on the plate and into your mouth is delicious and consistent every time. It’s like the executive chef is the car – be it an old Nissan pickup or a new Ferrari – and the sous chef is the driver.We don’t give our sous-chefs enough credit. We need to thank, honor and reward them more, for they are the ones doing the work. In your stores, you as the owner are the executive chef. You are ultimately responsible (and on the hook) for successes and failures. When you have outstanding profits, you reap the rewards. When business is tough and profits are down, you absorb them personally. We all have so...
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King Richard

by Adam Zack — September 24, 2019

Adam Zack

Dick.

So what’s your nickname? I’ve know Reds over the years that obviously get their name from being a ginger. We’ve talked about Lazy Susan. My dad gave himself the nickname Ace because he was good at most things (but tennis wasn’t one of them). There’s been endless supplies of Shortys, Shiftys, Leftys, Stinkys and Smokys. They got their nicknames from a physical trait or behavior. There’s the obvious ones – Fred is Fredrick, Sam is Samuel, Matt is Matthew. Junior was anyone named after his father. It’s like saying the whole name became just too much work. And there are some that are a real stretch. How did Henry become Hank, John become Jack or Richard become Dick? And seriously, how did Dick become either a part of the male anatomy or a really mean and unpleasant person? No wonder there are no little kids nicknamed Dick anymore and the ones named Richard strictly stick to Rich or Rick. No one wants their kid to be a Dick.Foods you sell and love can differentiate themselves from their generic name by cementing a nickname that no competitor can copy. Seaside Market in Cardiff, CA has sold a million pounds of their marinated tri tip called Cardiff Crack, a nickname made up by a customer because they thought it was so add...
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Monetize This

by Adam Zack — September 18, 2019

Ultimately, the cost of not investing is higher.

Some people get paid ridiculous amounts of money. Actors, Musicians and Sports stars who sign big contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars with mind boggling deals amaze me. Mike Trout signs a contract for $400 million. Manny Machado for $300 million. Bryce Harper $330 million. Their teams, the Angels and Padres are having terrible seasons, well below .500. The Phillies might make the wild-card playoff. Maybe. So it’s natural to think these owners shelling out the big bucks are insane. Who would pay that much for one player? But they’re not. These owners are very successful businessmen who, I believe, look to monetize their investment. But how? They haven’t turned into winners, at least not yet. These high-profile deals result in a lot of residual profits we don’t see. Merchandise sales, team publicity, legitimacy in the marketplace all figure in to the return on investment. Grocers who remodel stores, add new locations, reinvent their websites and hire top talent are making those investments to monetize them over the long run. It’s easy to say that investing in a cutting-edge website or replacing aging meat cases is just too expensive. Yes, it is expensive. But the cost of not investing ultimately is higher. L...
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It’s the little things that matter…and also irritate.

by Adam Zack — September 4, 2019

It’s a huge pain in the ass.

It’s been said many times, including in this blog ad nauseum, that it’s that little things that add up to the larger success. The small kindnesses and details really are more important than one big, sweeping gesture. But it’s also the little things – done repeatedly and with no clear path of correction – that add up to bug the crap out of you and eventually change shopping habits. Example: I was in a store in Seattle recently (Whole Foods) and their bakery and pastry case looked great. They had well decorated, delicious looking cakes. Then I got to the cake with fresh strawberries and while they were red and beautiful, they had the stem on them. Now this has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. To eat that strawberry, which is usually glazed too and has icing on the bottom side, you have to pick it up by the green top and either eat it whole, or cut the top off and put it back on the cake. It’s a huge pain in the ass. Why, oh why, I wonder every time I see strawberries on a cake, can’t the decorator cut the stem completely off and put the strawberry on the cake cut side down. It’s a beautiful presentation and still glazable. And I’ve seen it in lots of bakeries. It’s like the world’s first cake decorator kept the stems on...
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I couldn’t care less

by Adam Zack — August 28, 2019

Adam Zack

Perfect

I’m a keen observer of speech habits and grammar. I’ve been called a picky ass-wipe more than once. Phrases like “you know…”, “perfect!”, “I know!”, “right?” and “ya know?” are, well, slightly overused. I try and not to use these words and phrases, but it’s hard, right? So I got totally busted when I said “I don’t care.” It’s one of those phrases in my mind translated to “Whatever you prefer darling, I just want you to be happy.” My wife was talking about wedding plans. She’s a stickler for details and planning, and my modus operandi is more like “It will all work out, don’t worry.” So we were talking the other day and she said something (I’m not sure what, I don’t think I am as observant as I think I am) and my response was “I don’t care.” She said something along the lines of when I said that about wedding plans and questions she had, she just about punched me in the head. It’s the biggest event of our life, and I don’t care? I knew she was going to do whatever she wanted anyway, so in my mind I was being agreeable. It’s a running joke of ours – why are you even asking me? You’re going to do what you want anyway. But just like “perfect” is very rarely perfect and ...
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Make no mistake about it.

by Adam Zack — August 21, 2019

Expectations are high for the do-ers in your company.

I make a lot of mistakes. Every single day. Every day there are things I would have done differently, or not at all. Things I would have said differently, or things unsaid that I should have. The people not making mistakes are the ones not doing anything at all. Just letting it ride and leaving no wake as they putt through life, trying their best not to rock the boat of the universe. A great teacher once told me that his acceptable level of failure is 30%. You make a lot of decisions, try a lot of things, do vast amounts of work and if 70% are successful, you’re doing pretty damn good. It’s the people who have a track record of really being great employees, or just great humans in general, who, when they make a notable mistake, really pay the toll. Expectations are high for the do-ers in your company. They make things happen. They are leaders. They are the example. And sometimes they make a big mistake. It could result in a big financial loss. Or it could affect customer confidence in your store. Sometimes orders are not sent before a big holiday, costing you money in lost sales. Mistakes happen, and nearly always unintentional and are learned from.Those people of yours who make mistakes are usually hardest on...
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Let them eat cake.

by Adam Zack — August 14, 2019

Adam Zack

Instead of offering cake, he chose death.

When told of that fact that French citizens were dying of hunger in 1789 because of a great famine, Marie Antionette, wife of King Louis XVI, reportedly said “Let them eat cake!” Now that would be fine if she was actually giving them cake, but it was a comment that was so out of touch (there wasn’t even any bread to be had, much less cake) that it led to her being despised and eventually losing her head to the guillotine. Comedian Eddie Izzard did a very funny riff on the subject in one of his stand-up specials, where the tyrant King of England offered subjects the choice of “cake or death!?” which of course everyone chose cake – until there was no more cake and “my choice is … ‘or death?’”. Which leads me to the point of this story, where a grocer near my home in Oceanside, CA is trying to sell his neighborhood grocery store that has been in business since 1959. His business has eroded so much over the recent years that even though he owns the property, he is losing a lot of money every month. In the local San Diego Reader weekly publication, he is quoted:
I can’t e...
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What’s your guarantee?

by Adam Zack — August 7, 2019

Some grocers look at returns with suspicion.

I guarantee that you guarantee all the food you sell. If a customer is not happy with the quality, taste or freshness of what you sold them, you give them a prompt refund. With a smile and an apology. After all, you really want to know if berries are getting moldy or lettuce is slimy. You need to know if the tuna salad was a little sour, the chicken has a bad smell or the fish tastes fishy. We’d pay to find these things out before our customers got them home, only to have to return to the store to get it replaced. Having to do that is pretty much more irritating than the actual bad product. New Seasons Market in Oregon has one of the best written returns policy I’ve seen:New Seasons Market Product Returns PolicyIf it’s not exactly what you want or if you don’t like it for any reason, bring it back for a no-hassle return. We’ll replace it or refund your money with a smile. We promise.It’s posted at the entrance and I guarantee you don’t have to have your receipt. It’s one of the cornerstones of great service. We unconditionally guarantee everything we sell or your money back. Having said that, there are still some grocers who look at returns with suspicion. They make t...
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Be My Guest

by Adam Zack — July 31, 2019

Adam Zack

It’s hard to feed people.

My brother Moose reads this blog and used to opine regularly that he wanted to write a guest blog on the subject of grocery store bagging, and how the quantity, quality and training of baggers has decreased over the last decade. He had some ideas that sounded relevant. He’s a pretty smart guy and a decent writer, so I welcomed the idea. Over the following year and a half I asked him a few times how the guest blog was coming. Or if it was coming. Finally he gave up and said something along the lines of translating his idea into meaningful prose was harder than he expected, and with his more than full time job didn’t have the time (or patience – it’s a Zack family flaw for sure) to complete the job.So that got me thinking that the food business of feeding people will never be as easy as people think. There are thousands and thousands, who after going to a restaurant (or a market), got the idea that if they owned a restaurant, they’d do things differently. And they invest lots of money in opening their restaurant or market with all their brilliant ideas and soon after, the shine is off the penny and man, it’s a lot more work than I thought! And ooh, all the staffing headaches! And the chef qu...
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Do you know better?

by Adam Zack — July 24, 2019

Deliciousness!

Yesterday I was sitting on the beach reading and eating a sandwich. I’ve said before that the perfect sandwich is a beautifully balanced work of culinary art. Your favorite flavors and tastes evenly divided then combined into a layered meal. No one ingredient is more important than the other and each bite is as good as the last. It’s teamwork in the form of food, and as you finish, you’re thinking to yourself (or saying out loud if you’re with a companion) “Damn, that was a delicious sandwich!” Each component contributes equally, and if one of them is not up to the quality level as the others, the whole experience can still be good, but never great.So yesterday we had some wheat bread that wasn’t our usual bread. It was a loaf of that squishy type of bread – the kind that if you grip it too tight will leave indents where your fingers squeezed. It was certainly a good sandwich – and I was very hungry – but it wasn’t a great sandwich. Even though all the other contributors in the sandwich show were great – oven roasted turkey, crisp butter lettuce, ripe tomato, fresh sliced provolone, the ho-hum bread brought great to only good. This was the kind of bread I grew up eating as a youngster – Wonder Bread in wheat form – and I was th...
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