Saturday 6 July 2013

Cuca miracle

This is the longest I have been silent since I started this blog but my excuse could not be more solid. These last few weeks have been extreme and made full use of all my time and neurons. However, they have been absolutely unforgettable. It is funny how aware Kevin and I are of these magical days. We live every minute fully conscious that this dream is slowly becoming true right in front of our astonished eyes.

There were countless steps that took us here and along this way we kind of forgot that we won many of the little fights that we picked on to accomplish each detail. One by one we painstakingly tackled so many tasks that after a while you stop seeing the forest and lose count of the trees. Now the trees are through the art of magic being delivered to our front door and we spend our days unwrapping, polishing, labeling, searching in our dream the spot where we had imagined them and finally placing them there. A bit more to the right, yes, there!

So I couldn't stop myself and here I am trying to share with you this mundane wonder. I am not talking about the grand opening, or our first guest. I mean an extremely intimate moment in which you plainly see how thousands of hours of your time and sweat start to make sense and images that were somewhere in your mind are now real and in front of you. Cuca is made of so many conversations, sleepless nights, arguments, loving contributions, late night decisions and even accidental discoveries that it is truly magic to see how all these unconnected events embrace each other to make up something that for us is nothing short of a miracle.

That is what we experienced a couple of evenings ago when after the whole day busy at the restaurant site fixing this and that we realized it was already dark outside and all our staff had left. Taking a break from the chaos, we went out to see for the first time an almost finished Cuca, beautifully lighted and glowing like a new-born star. Only then we saw the forest, not the trees, and the feeling of having made it to this point and seeing with our own eyes this piece of our hearts now out there, real and reachable, is something that we will never forget and will forever take with us.

The moral we learned: try hard enough, it is possible.

Monday 10 June 2013

Nomad Training

Since 80% of our time now is occupied with our new staff, I guess there is no better topic choice for this post than our staff training.

As in all businesses, the first weeks for new employees are spent learning about their new company and training how to perform the tasks required.  The great challenge in our case is to conduct this training without having a restaurant ready where we could meet all our staff at once and go through all the topics they need to know and master before we open. But as they say, a challenge always gives you an opportunity to be creative and that is what we are doing.

Training at home
The first two weeks with no other space the training had to be held at home so we decided to focus on a small group: our management team. We introduced them to Cuca, the concept, the philosophy, our values, etc. Next step was to start reviewing and developing the systems necessary for everyday operations. Our intention was for the key team to be involved in this step as they need to understand and agree with the structure of the restaurant to be able to genuinely embrace it and explain it to their teams as something they themselves believe in.

Exam at the beach
For the third week we managed to get a small meeting room so we divided all our staff in two groups (kitchen and service) and got our managers to train these two groups on the topics we had previously trained them on. Kitchen trained on Monday and Wednesday and Service on Tuesday and Thursday. They had a day off in between to be able to study what they had learned during the lesson days. Friday was a big day: exams for everyone to make sure they were assimilating the content given. Is it very obvious I have been a teacher before? :) You can’t believe how handy my experience comes in…

Since we did not have a space to put 45 people, we held the exam at the beach (oh Bali…. ) and once the examination was out of the way, we spent some time getting to know each other and teaching our staff techniques to work as a team through funny  games.  A well-deserved break after a week full of theoretical lessons.

The egg toss, one of the games we played to practice team-building
This week we face yet another challenge. Our contractor says we are still one week away from getting in the restaurant so how do we keep our staff motivated to continue learning without being able to practice? Remember that the type of persons working in hospitality are very active people, used to a quite physical job. To keep them sitting down in a room for very long while listening non-stop to someone’s speech will eventually stop being effective so we came out with a new plan for this week: we have rented a function room and set stations all around it. We will divide the class in groups that will rotate from station to station to meet a different leader who will explain one single topic for 30 minutes. When the gong goes off, the group rotates to a new station. In this way participants will be exposed to a new experience every 30 minutes: the space will change, the students will have to physically move, the teacher is different, the topic a new one. The idea is to keep the family awake!

Well, we have plenty of ideas for this week but we really hope we can finally have a restaurant for the next one as we are all eager to move in to our new home!

Monday 3 June 2013

Jakarta Sprint

I had meant to write about our 4 intensive days in Jakarta a couple of weeks ago but our return to Bali is being so hectic that until now I haven’t had the chance to fill you in with the details of our trip.

Some time ago we realized we should go to Jakarta to promote Cuca as many of the tourists coming to Bali are Jakartians taking a break from the big city. We could only leave Bali before we open as once we start operations we will have to be present at the restaurant for a while before our staff can handle service independently. The right opportunity presented itself when a friend of ours told us about a cute bazaar she organizes from time to time where vendors can showcase their very special products. We immediately thought of Cuca Salts and confirmed our attendance. Since the bazaar was going to last 2 days, we decided to combine it with a couple of sessions to meet with contacts we had in Jakarta or friends of friends that were waiting to hear more about Cuca. We had lots to prepare and not having any equipment or staff available gave us no choice but to squeeze our brains and come up with a very simple but very unique program. 

Cuca Salts at the bazaar.
Photo courtesy of our friend and great
blogger Hans
I must say the events went much better than we could have expected. At the bazaar Cuca Salts were an overwhelming success and we were truly touched by people’s reaction to them. They listened to us for a minute, held the container in their hands, look at our colorful salt, smell it and immediately bought it. I was really emotional to witness this response as we had spent many painstaking hours developing every aspect of the product: picked up the ingredients, source the salt, design the package and even attach the stickers…

"Discovering Taste" Session
Photo courtesy of our friend and great
blogger Hans
The second part of our trip consisted of a couple of sessions to introduce Cuca. One of them was for expats living in Jakarta (a great friend of mine helped us with the invites as she loves food and so do her contacts) and the other one was for food bloggers and journalists. I must say we had a wonderful time with both groups and got enthusiastic reactions from the participants. The event started with an introduction to the concept of Cuca, followed by a very special master class called “Discovering Taste” (where we teach how to cook without recipes… More details to come in my next post) and we finished with a cocktail (Cuca’s Sun-gria) and our very unique Pop-corn Betutu. Betutu is a traditional Balinese dish consisting of chicken and spices. It’s hot, rich and extremely tasty. Our pop-corn version was a hit!

Everyone was extremely interested and supportive and we feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet great, passionate people who believe that Cuca will be a success. We left Jakarta energized and encouraged more than ever to fight for this dream. Friends, new and old, we are going to do everything we can to proof you right!

Cuca's Pop-corn Betutu. A hit!