Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Happenings at the Squirrel and Lots of 'Em!

Hello friends and fans!

It's been awhile since I sent out an update. Not because there's nothing going on! Well, you know: business, family, life, sleep, paperwork... But so much happens in May, that I am just bursting like the spruce tips and birch buds to tell you all about it.

Speaking of spruce tips, we have a delicious Honey Cream Spruce Tip Ale from Kenai River Brewing Company on tap right now. And speaking of trees leafing out, right out our front door amid the spruce tips and birch buds in this picture, a little least weasel was hanging out a few days ago. Penny, our family dog chased it up the tree and sat for hours waiting for it to come down. If you see Penny and our new puppy, Ida visiting at the Squirrel, please DON'T FEED THEM - don't even give them dog treats! It's very important that our dogs learn not to beg from cars in the parking lot and we don't want them to get fat!

Mother's Day Brunch
Sunday, May 8, 11am-3pm
Join us for another extravagant (yet kid friendly) full service brunch. Guaranteed, a mother in your life deserves it! Call the Squirrel this week to reserve a table. For $26, enjoy coffee, tea or juice, a fancy drink such as a special sparkling wine or wine spritzer, mocha, etc, choose from 5 special brunch entrees and 3 special desserts!
Mom's who get the brunch may also participate in a 10 minute mini yoga and relaxation session with former Squirrel employee extraordinaire, Kelly Thomas. Kids brunch menu available: $12 for children under 12. Advance reservation highly recommended, please call 733-6887!
Art Shows
Stacie Smiley's paintings are bright, thoughtful and unique; her show will be up at the Squirrel until May 12 and I can't recommend enough for everyone to come and have a look. Next, join long time Talkeetna resident, Rose Jenne on Saturday, May 14 from 3-5pm for the opening of her second (annual?) mosaic show. We will be unveiling an amazing table she created for the Squirrel, and her mosaics, whether whimsical or artistic are always a big hit. The show will be on display until June 9.

Toward a Living Wage

Higher wages mean higher prices. It's pretty much that simple. But I hope you will read on to learn more about my thoughts, research and changes at the Squirrel regarding this issue:

Many of you know that the biggest challenge in any small business is finding and keeping good employees. A seasonal tourist town with many summer opportunities makes those challenges more intense and dramatic. As well, minimum wage is on the rise all over the country including in Alaska where traditional waitstaff are also required to make minimum wage (unlike other states that have a special lower wage for waitstaff who make tips). Talkeetna's summer boom creates competition for employees with many local businesses even bringing in workers from Europe on J-1 visas.

Teachers (!), social workers, agricultural workers, and, yes, restaurant workers are considered the most underpaid professions in the U.S. In restaurants, reliance on tipping, for front of house folks produces difficult staff dynamics; discrimination and sexual harassment are widespread; tipping creates consistent inequity between front and back of house employees; and ultimately, tipping is unreliable, depending on varying levels of busy-ness and the random moods and whims of customers. Here's a recent article from the Washington Post: I dare you to read this and still feel good about tipping.

I hope people all over the US are thinking about the true costs of every purchase, from the sources of ingredients and materials, to the environmental cost of significant transportation of goods, to the hard work and love that goes into each thing you buy from a small business, to the incredible challenge small business owners and their employees have to find health insurance, pay for car repairs, or send a child to music lessons. Supporting small local businesses is key (not just during the holidays)!

Meanwhile, all of this is even trickier for a small volume, small town, bakery cafe. Here's the bottom line. I want the Squirrel to put out great food and great service, great atmosphere and great value. And, I want to come to work and have 3 (in winter) or 12 (in summer) happy, hard working, satisfied, motivated, friendly, enthusiastic employees. The number one factor in achieving all of those goals is being able to pay all of my employees a better wage. The living wage for a single adult in the Mat Su Borough is about $11 an hour. Really? Could YOU live on $11 an hour? For a single adult with a child, it's almost $24/hour! It is my sincere hope that this little bakery can work toward a living wage for all employees (including myself by the way).

So, here's the plan. All employees over 18 are now making $11 to $15 an hour depending on their duties, experience, longevity and level of responsibility. This is compared with $9 to $12 two years ago. I hope that timely raises from the boss (instead of tips from customers) will reflect excellent performance, attendance, efficiency AND customer service. In order to do this, many prices will be going up an average of about 20% over the next few weeks. And, you know, $12 an hour still isn't a lot of money, for a skilled barista or an apprentice baker, so we're not removing the tip jar, yet. We'll still leave it up to you. Except, when we roll out the red carpet for special, full service meals, an automatic hospitality charge of 18% will be added enabling fairly distributed reward for so much extra effort from every worker contributing to your enjoyment of a special meal. Here's another great article from the New York Times: As Minimum Wages Rises...

We will continue to offer our FOUR local "in-the-know" discounts: prepay credit, arriving by non-motorized means, bring your own to-go packaging or travel mug, and bread punch cards. Just ask at the counter to find out about these great ways to save at the Squirrel!

I would be happy to discuss these changes and my evolving philosophy and sincerely hope that any customers struggling with the changes will approach me! It's all a grand experiment and surely will continue to evolve, but I am ecstatic that the Squirrel can stand at the front of these changes that are happening all over the US, even in Alaska. We are excited for a bountiful summer with delicious artisan breads, delightful pastries, tasty beverages, creative wood fired pizzas and so much more. It all happens because you come in the door and because employees feel like they get what they deserve for their efforts. Sorry to be so lengthy - I have been thinking about all this for over a year and am happy to finally be sharing.

New Staff!
So, speaking of hard working, enthusiastic employees... Welcome, to a raft of new faces: Kaila and Kimmie (returning!), Bre, Haley, Angela, and Michael in May. Then Raina and Lily in June. And likely one or two more! Sierra, Rachel and myself are relieved and excited for all the extra hands. If you're a regular, feel free to give them all pointers for fun things to do while they're here, have a little extra patience as they learn the ropes, and help them remember your name!

Eight Days a Week
I lo-uh-uh-uh-ove you. Eight days a week, is not enough to show I care. OK. Enough Beatles. We WON'T be open eight days a week, even though that would be a great way to show some serious customer appreciation. But this year, I'm resolved and determined to bring delicious Squirrel food and woodsy, artsy atmosphere to residents and visitors every day from mid May to mid September!

Summer Hours Starting May 15
Sunday: 8am-5pm
Monday: 7:30am-6pm
Tuesday: 7:30am-6pm
Wednesday: 7:30am-6pm
Thursday: 7:30am-9pm
Friday: 7:30am-9pm
Saturday: 7:30am-9pm
Wood Fired Pizza Nights:
Thursday, Friday and Saturday 4-9pm

Here's to a beautiful summer!

Onward and upward,
Anita Continue reading »