Getting by with a little help from our friends
2017 Part II
In early June we finally received the Molino, now our production costs for the corn tortillas would reduce dramatically (Erik and I ground most of the corn ourselves as it took several hours to do the weeks batch of masa to save on labor costs). Though it was already quite late in the season, we were ready to go and just hoped we’d be able to get a little ahead before the rush began to hit in July.
After the first summer, when we purchased an advertisement in the Destination Gotland magazine, Erik and I made the conscious decision to not spend much on advertising, primarily due to the exorbitant cost in Sweden, but also because in the Swedish culture, more business is gained by “recommendation” than any other method. There are about 1% of the population willing to go out on the limb to try something new. Everyone else just waits until those people recommend the places they should go. However, when large publications advertise you, this is like having God himself recommend you. A couple of great recommendations we ended up getting, would change our entire summer. One such example is how we are mentioned in a book by Swedish crime thriller novelist, Anna Jansson. In it she describes the Cantina as the missing protagonists “favorite restaurant...the Mexican restaurant in Gothem, the one in the barn”. We also got highlighted in one of the top women’s magazines in Sweden, Amelia, in their summer edition and both Bad Wolf BBQ and Cantina got mentioned in a travel book, Mitt Gotland.
We began to see the fruits of this with a dramatic increase in visitors to the Cantina earlier in July, around 20% more, and Bad Wolf saw a significant increase during the political week in Visby; so much so that we had to send extra staff from the Cantina to help support. This was the turning point for the restaurants. Finally, we were starting to see the kind of participation we needed to make this a viable business. Which brings us to another important business philosophy that Erik and I have had, which is that we treat everyone who comes into the restaurant as important. It certainly helps that we don’t really have any kind of interest or following of Swedish pop culture, so when famous people come into our restaurants, we just don’t know. We usually find out later from random surveys of how our guests heard about us or via employees that do follow Swedish pop culture. In either case, the boost that these social media influencers gave us in 2017 was the push we needed to get our name out there and finally start seeing an increase in the summer traffic.
With the summer over and remembering our experience from the previous fall we were not very hopeful for business. However, we were pleasantly surprised going into September that we had continued some modest improvement in traffic and with Einar turning one years old in early October, he was able to start kindergarten/daycare with the additional support of night care, which saved us a lot of money we spent on hiring someone to watch him.
However, also in early October we had a series of tragic events. Kalle, our other Black Labrador started showing symptoms of mouth cancer. The veterinarian ran several tests and it showed that it had already began to spread through the lymph system. Radiation and Chemotherapy were possible, but very expensive and with his advanced age would maybe buy him only a small amount of time. We made him as comfortable as we could, but early in the morning of October 24th he passed away. We buried him next to Gustav in the back yard. That left just Charlie, my miniature poodle who at 13 seemed to still be spry but beginning to experience old age, and who was not impressed with a baby wanting to grab his fur.
We got another good period at the end of October with events like the Gotland Grand National, one of Europe’s largest Enduro races; and just the kind of demographic that likes meat and beer. As well as our annual Thanksgiving dinner, which saw again great participation. But then we also got some not-so-great news. Just after our Thanksgiving event our chef would be moving on. This was both a blessing and a curse; since with our menu and our current level of business Erik and I could run the restaurant alone, but it also meant that we had no back up if we got sick or Einar got sick. If you’re a parent, you know that when kids first start school and begin interacting with other kids, they become little biohazards. Einar was no different and in the first year of daycare he didn’t complete a full week without getting sick.
This period was probably one of the most difficult for our family as there were days where we had no option but to be open and have Einar sleeping in our travel crib at the restaurant because there was no way we could close. We did change our format though, closing after the lunch period and then re-opening for dinner. It helped us get through this very dark and exhausting period, where we could have time to do all the other business requirements and gave us an opportunity to finally catch up a little financially. Not having to spend additional money on labor we were able to take a smaller loan to get us to the next season, but at the cost of us having no real quality of life. Fortunately, Einar will never remember this difficult period, but it did make it difficult to see if this way of life was sustainable long term and if we would ever be able to have any quality of life.
We chose to close again just before Christmas, and this became even more critical after the crazy summer and fall months. We took the time to re-coup on rest, strategize for the upcoming year and finally spend some time as a family. As always, the break seems to go so fast and by January we are already planning our re-opening and new year. We were hopeful in believing that 2018 could be good, but realistically with us both working and having no backup and having to find a new chef before summer, it was going to be yet another challenge. To be continued…