Friday, October 11, 2013

#MissionMainSt $250,000 Grant! Urban Decanter Is Eligible!

Yes, I DID! A friend of mine suggested I sign up to win this grant through Chase, and now here I am, going after it! The first step in this process was to complete a few essay questions. The second step was to collect 250 votes, which I completed in about four days! Now it is time for the waiting game. My fingers and toes are crossed that the judges for this grant feel that I am a qualified recipient.

Am I worthy? YES! I am a proud small business owner who puts in roughly 80+ hours a week. Urban Decanter is my love and passion. I am extremely dedicated and determined to have a successful business that I can enjoy along with my wonderful guests and community. My friends, family and community have shown me amazing support through the first few steps of this process that it makes me smile and also led me to shed a tear a time or two.

What would I do with $250,000 dollars? To me that is like winning the jackpot! I could do SO much with this amount of money. Here are some of my thoughts:

Pay off business debts. Yes, I have a bit of business debt. I have a loan I need to pay off. Currently, servicing this loan ties up a good portion of my cash flow. With my loan paid off, my business would have additional cash that could be invested in more things such as inventory, equipment, supplies and *gasp* a new employee!

Buy new computers: My computers have issues, huge issues. They are slow, they crash, and I frequently want to toss them over the bar. Computers are vital to my business in many ways because I need them to run my point of sale, bookkeeping, signage, e-mail, inventory tracking, and more. If one of my two computers crashed all of a sudden, I would have some BIG problems. Replacing my computers at Urban Decanter is a high, but expensive priority.

Invest in new furniture: My current furniture is not working for Urban Decanter. Some of it is too heavy, other pieces are bulky, and some are just falling apart and desperately need to be replaced.  The furniture situation does make me nervous and the time is coming where I need to invest in new furniture. Investing in new furniture would allow me to liven up the space and attract new customers.

Some other furniture I dream about are new wine racks. My shop has so much wall space that some beautiful tall wine racks would help immensely. Investing in such wine racks would allow me to expand my selection and grow my business at Urban Decanter, while continuing to create a comfortable, intimate space for people to eat, drink, and gather.

Start a savings account: Opening a savings account has been on my to-do list for quite awhile now. I want to have some funds set aside for emergencies, whether it be for a new piece of equipment if something breaks, or if I need to cover costs because I get ill or injured. I need to have that safety net and winning this grant would help me create one.

Remodel my kitchen/bar area: Most of my customers know what I am talking about here.... Our kitchen area is TINY! There is not enough counter space let alone enough space for refrigerated goods. If I were to win the $250,000 grant I would certainly remodel the bar area to give me more counter space, storage, refrigeration, and definitely bigger sinks! 

Increase the amount of retail beer and wine: Urban Decanter has limited space in its shop which means we have to get creative with the space we have. I would love to increase the amount of wines that are in the shop by creatively using more wall space, and also increase the beer selection by adding a new beer cooler. I would also like to have a new cooler for retail meats and cheeses. Along with a larger beer and wine selection, I would LOVE to bring in more locally made food products. In Oregon, we have PLENTY!

My ultimate dream: There is a vacant space in my building located two doors down from my current location. The vacant space is equipped to build in a restaurant and is about twice the size of my current space. IF I won this grant, I would certainly explore the option of relocating Urban Decanter to this new location. It would be my ultimate dream.

Thank you to my friends, family, community, guests and everyone else who has shown me support in my business and dreams. 

Rebecca Kramer

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chanterelle, Bacon and Onion Puff Pastry

It is mushroom season in Oregon which means I have access to an amazing amount of local, wild mushrooms. Last week a local masseuse, who is also an avid mushroom hunter, stopped in to offer me a bag of Chanterelle mushrooms. I sealed the deal by trading beer for the delicious gems he offered me. With puff pastry in the freezer, I got ready to attempt some baking. This recipe is simple, delicious and was a hit with my guests at Urban Decanter.

Chanterelle, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Puff Pastry
2 onions sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup butter
4-6 strips of bacon
4 cups of Chanterelle Mushrooms
Gruyere cheese
1 package puff pastry dough

Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onions over medium heat. Add the white wine and simmer for 45 minutes or until the liquid is gone and the onions turn golden brown. It is possible that you will need to add more butter or wine if the pan gets too dry. It is important to stir the onions every few minutes. 

While the onions are caramelizing, bake the bacon in the oven OR cook it in a pan. Let the strips cool and cut into bits, set aside. Rinse the mushrooms and chop up into coarse pieces and set aside. Prep the puff pastry dough according to directions on the box. Cut the pastry dough into 3x3 squares. 

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet, set the puff pastry squares on the lined pan and bake for 3-4 minutes at 350 degrees. This cooks the puff pastry a little bit before adding the toppings. I found that this helped ensure that the dough was cooked thoroughly. Bring the dough out and set aside.

Once the onions are caramelized, add the Chanterelle mushrooms and bacon. Heat until the mushrooms are cooked down. Slice up Gruyere cheese and place on the puff pastry. Its a good idea to keep the cheese about 1/4 of an inch from the side. Pile the Chanterelle mushroom mix on the Gruyere, then bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.

Let cool, grab a glass of Pinot Noir and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Finnish Chanterelle Mushroom Soup

Last week a grandfather and his grandson stopped in with a basket of locally picked Chanterelle Mushrooms. They had never been into Urban Decanter and asked if I was interested in them. Excitement filled me and I exclaimed "YES!" The grandson jumped for joy because the money for the mushrooms went towards his college fund. I wrote a check for $24 and exchanged it for 6 pounds of mushrooms!

Now.... What to do with them? I flipped through my cookbooks for inspiration. Looking through my Finnish cookbook, I came across a mushroom soup and had a plan for the next day. I was going to make a soup inspired by a Finnish recipe!

Finnish Chanterelle Mushroom Soup:

Serves 8 People

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white wine
4 leeks, white and light green parts chopped up
1.5 shallots, or more. I use extra because I love them
18 ounces of Chanterelle Mushrooms coarsely chopped
2 tbsp corn starch
9 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp fresh parsley
Cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper

Melt butter in pan and add leeks and shallots. Stir in the white wine. Saute until they get soft. Add mushrooms, half the stock and corn starch. Stir until it begins to boil. Reduce the mixture to a simmer and add the remaining stock. Stir in the heavy cream and heat the soup back up, continuing to stir. Sprinkle in the parsley. Season to taste with the cayenne, salt and pepper. I like to go heavy on pepper and cayenne. I love spice in my soup! 

Garnish with fresh parsley. I served this soup with a garlic crostini. The soup is very brothy which makes it a perfect match for bread. Soaking up the soup with bread will hit the spot!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Shop Local Tuesday

Supporting local businesses has always been something that is important to me. As I watched my parents business grow through the years, I observed the relationships they had built and the loyalty many customers had to the brand. My heart has always been in small business and always will be. I am almost to the year and a half mark since I bought my business, Urban Decanter, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves a little bit more and rock my business.

One of the things I am making a priority with Urban Decanter is networking. Networking is such a valuable tool for a small business. It is how many small businesses thrive and grow. It is how new relationships can be built and a way to find new customers. I have been networking since I took ownership of my business with local wineries, friends, family and customer base. Once I hit the one year mark of ownership I felt like I was ready to add to my networking circle by getting more involved with groups, events and reach out to new people wherever I can. I currently have a small business networking group that meets at Urban Decanter once a month, which is a wonderful group, but I wanted to reach out to all the local small businesses and find a way for us to network.

Talking with a few other Forest Grove Business owners, Kristen at A Framer's Touch and local artist Helvi Smith, I suggested that maybe we can host a shop local event once a week to encourage guests to shop at local businesses. At first I looked at it from a stance of wanting to extend a discount to small business owners and their employees and then we evolved the idea into including everyone. 

This is where Shop Local Tuesday was created.

Shop Local Tuesday is a group of participating businesses in the Forest Grove, Oregon area who are going to offer shopping incentives to their customers for shopping every Tuesday. This will be a way for businesses to offer a little something extra for spending money locally. It will also be a way for businesses to network with each other, and hopefully see some new customers.

Honestly, I love this idea but I am secretly freaking out a little bit. Things that run through my head are: What if this fails? What if someone shoots the idea down? What if it does not take off at all? What if it gets huge and businesses all over want to join?

Well- What do we have to lose? No one ever got anywhere by not giving it a try.

So here I am, along with fellow local businesses, giving it a shot. So far everyone things the idea is a great idea and are happy to participate. So far I have about 7 businesses that are going to start on Tuesday, August 6th. 

If you are interested in following along with our Shop Local Tuesday event, check out our Facebook page here.

Have any ideas? Please suggest away!    

What types of networking do you participate in? What has worked for you? What has not worked for you?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You Don't Know Till You Try!

Many people have asked me over the past year why I decided on purchasing a business. Another popular question is "How did I do it?" Business ownership has been a dream of mine for many years. I come from a family that owns a small business, so it is in my blood and is something that I am a very strong believer in. Another source of my inspiration is a professor I had in college, Ellen West. Ellen drilled it into my brain to follow my passions and use creativity. I thank both my parents and Ellen for being such an inspiration to me. Going back to the question of "How did I do it?" Well, you just HAVE to do it, dive in, and try to make whatever you are going after a success. You don't know till you try.

A throwback photo of my mom and dad! 
Before graduating from Portland State University in 2011, I had already decided that I was going to go into small business and bypass the corporate route. My passions lie in fermented beverages, food, and photography. I also love to host events, be creative in the kitchen, entertain, and ensure that everyone is having a great time. A small business in hospitality held immense appeal and I was going to make it happen.

Towards the end of 2011 I was preparing a business plan for a brew pub. I had a potential location for it, an idea of the beer brand I wanted to feature at the pub, was planning out a menu, but in the end that plan fell through. Thankfully, that plan fell through in time for my next business opportunity at Urban Decanter. It was around January of 2012 when I had heard about Urban Decanter being for sale. I had been a customer there, so I already knew what the business had to offer. Honestly, Urban Decanter was right up my alley.

This photo is from the day that we agreed on a sale price.
 Who doesn't want a  big, pink, fake check?
To purchase the business I hired an attorney that I knew through Twitter, and who was also once my bosses boss. I also reached out to a CPA I have been working with for a few years. With the support of my parents, sister, fiancee, attorney, and CPA, I closed the purchase in April of 2012. It took me about three months to complete the purchase of my very FIRST business. I was determined to turn the business around and make it better than ever!

The purchase of Urban Decanter closed on Sunday, April 22nd. We did inventory and I wrote the final check to the old owners. Upon writing the check, I felt as though I was somewhere between a dream and hitting a cement wall of reality. It felt like such an accomplishment to be the new owner of the business, but at the same time I felt like the business was a young child that I had to immediately try to understand and care for. I was mentally trying to prepare myself for the challenges that lie ahead. I was also preparing myself to become part of a new community. Upon the close of the sale, there was a lot of changes heading my way and I was ready to tackle them.

Overall the business buying process was pretty easy. I wanted the business bad enough that I did what I could to make it a smooth process. The founders of the shop were also motivated to sell it and were also careful about who they sold it to. They wanted to find someone who would take over and keep a similar structure and not completely change the business. There were many things in place that I did love, making it that much easier to commit to Urban Decanter. It already had a wonderful atmosphere, plenty of wine racks, and working equipment. I was also happy with most of the menu and was able to keep the staff through the transfer. Buying the business ended up being a simple turn-key operation!

Pumpkin ice cream!
When I first took over Urban Decanter I got right to work and began to implement the changes that I wanted to make. My first task was to bring in product that I wanted to represent on my shelves. I am a believer in being able to stand behind the product I sell. In a retail environment this cannot be 100% true 100% of the time, but I try to minimize carrying product I'm not crazy about. I also made some minor changes to the menu. I had to do things such as add side salads to every panini which in turn meant that I had to increase some prices. Thankfully this went over really smoothly with my guests. There were also a few menu items that I added. Experimenting with the menu and new recipes has been a BLAST! As you can imagine, cooking for people can be intimidating. I have NO professional kitchen training, and have never had so much control over a menu. There have been times where I was waiting for someone to critique my soup or sandwich special harshly, but thankfully I have heard nothing but compliments. A few guests have even told me the food is now "better than ever". Yeah, I know, I can't believe it either! As time goes on I know my confidence for cooking for my guests will increase.

As I got up to speed, I was learning the ins and outs of daily operations. Everything from Quickbooks software to maintenance on my refrigerators. I stepped into a whole new world of friends, customers, mentors, suppliers, wine, food, beer and a million other aspects. There were a truck load of new stresses that I had to learn to manage. My stress level in the first six months was too high and it did peak and I snapped at one point. When I snapped I knew I had to do something about it and I did.  I made changes such as better time management and not worrying about the business so much. I also took time to write down my daily tasks so I knew what had to be done on specific days.

Buying the business created a whirlwind of new experiences, stresses, tasks, responsibilities, and roles that I had to take charge of, and FAST! I was worried that Urban Decanter would suffer if I could not pull myself together. Once I had time management and got comfortable with my new roles, things began to go very smoothly. I am no longer stressed out and am currently working on trying to spend more evenings away from the shop while my staff run it.

I frequently get asked how the last year ended for me. My answer is "Awesome!" I feel like my first year was a success and that the business is growing. I have managed to keep the existing customers while finding new ones. I am building trust in my guests and am able to successfully guide them to wine/beer that best suits their palates. The year ended with my sales goal being shattered and a feeling of success. The end of 2012 brought new goals for 2013 and plans to step up my game. In 2013 I am going to host new events, change the menu, and continually grow my business. I also hope to pay myself!

As I sit here and reflect on how things have gone, I feel like they are going well. I have really grown into my role as a business owner and I love my business. I can truly say that I love what I am doing. As time goes on I have the ultimate goal to make the business sustainable so that I can go and start another venture. I look forward to watching the business evolve as it grows.

If you are looking to venture into starting your own business, I have a few pieces of advice to pass onto you that I picked up along the way.
1) Just do it. You don't get anywhere by just thinking about it. Take the steps to make your thoughts and dreams a reality.
2) Follow your passions. You will be much happier. Do what you love and love what you do.

Working in the vineyard at 3 years old! 

Check out Urban Decanter on Facebook!