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A Beautiful Equation – The Melding of Skill and Love

By October 13, 2014 creativity, Durham, Fall, feeding ourselves, living a joyful life, nurturing, personal growth, pleasure, practice, self care, slowing down, Travel

Wow! Life has been busy and full of adventure. How about for you guys?

I had a wonderful week at the beach with friends mid-September. I took naps. I read fiction. I danced. I fished. I allowed myself to lose track of time. I nurtured myself and friendships with meaningful people in my life. I enjoyed the sun, the sand, and the water.

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That time re-ignited my intention to only put my energy into avenues and projects that feed my soul. I came back from that trip with a new sense of what I am going to be doing next. I will keep you posted on these adventures.

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I returned from vacation with my feet hitting the ground and running. I participated in and planned two different dinners for an annual fundraiser for Durham Central Park called Meals from the Market. I played a more of a hands-on role at a dinner at the historic Kress Building in downtown Durham with hosts Amanda Smith, Marybeth Dugan, and Kenny Dalsheimer. We could not have imagined a more picture-perfect evening!

These guests are enjoying a glass of Friulano, one of my favorite Italian white wines.

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I had the pleasure of working with a close friend and talented chef, Amanda Orser (pictured below on the right). This was mine and Amanda’s first public expression of melding our passions  and skill as a team. We have enjoyed each other’s company in the kitchen for as long as we have known each other.

We plan to facilitate many meals for others in the near future. If you know anyone need of a party, we are your gals. Amanda does the savory cooking, and I enjoy doing the wine pairing and making desserts. I was thrilled to have some of my Pizzeria Toro colleagues, including the lovely Nicky Owens (pictured below on the left), assist in making our service seamless from beginning to end.

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From fundraising to family- I just returned from a long weekend in San Antonio, Texas. I flew out to visit my family. I have a new niece, Rosalie, who just turned six weeks old. I went give her a loving welcome to this world and share some quality time with the rest of my family.

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I enjoyed time in the kitchen with my niece, Selena. We roasted okra that we found at the Pearl Farmer’s Market in downtown San Antonio.

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My mom flew back to North Carolina with me. She will be staying with me for a few weeks. Over this last weekend, we enjoyed a nice balance of cooking, connecting, and relaxing. I am looking forward to spending some time in the kitchen with her. She likes to bake as much as I do. I see some apple pie in our future. It is apple season here in North Carolina. Tonight I made sorghum glazed apples for dinner. They were the epitome of seasonal fare!

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I have another dinner event coming up this week. I am going to make some sorghum and cinnamon ice cream to serve with a pumpkin shortcake. I am excited and nervous to pull off a dessert that I have never made before. What always works in these situations is trusting my instincts and experience. It always turns out great! I was baking long before I could drive a car. I see an opportunity to share a recipe in the future.

With as full as my plate had been over the last month, I am as content with my life as I have ever been. I am putting my energy into projects that I truly enjoy. I am moving into the space of work becoming play. Who wants more of that? All hands raised, please!

Lesson: I am continuing to focus on my goal of only putting my energy into what feeds me – keeping in mind that I want to nurture the expansion of my talents and gifts. I am stretching myself all along the way. Isn’t that what this journey is about? What are you doing to feed yourself these days, even if it’s one little thing (that really is a big thing)?

 

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What Do I Do with a Mushy Cantaloupe?

By July 28, 2014 beverage junkie, creativity, having flexibility, practice, recipes, summer

There are few things more disappointing to me than picking a fruit that has an undesirable texture. Come on, you know what I am talking about. How many tomatoes, peaches, plums, apples, or melons have you sunk your teeth into with disappointment?

In the summer I can eat a cantaloupe a day. There’s nothing quite like that subtle musky, juicy, refreshing melon experience. What is hard to swallow is when I pick a melon with a mushy texture. Who’s with me here?

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As usual, I went to the Durham Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I have been buying three cantaloupes from Brinkley Farms each Saturday. I have to admit, for as long as I have been eating cantaloupes this summer, my run on really good one’s has been mind-blowing!

Today was the first time that I sliced open that wonderfully musky fragranced melon to discover a mushy texture. The flavor, on the other hand, was perfect. What was I going to do?

I grabbed my Vitamix blender and scooped out the flesh of the melon straight into the blender pitcher. Once I had all of the melon scooped out, I put the lid on the blender and turned it on low. In seconds I had a refreshing juice. That was an incredibly easy solution!

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One thing to note is that after it sits, this juice will thicken. I did not strain out any of the pulp. You can thin it by adding some coconut water until you get the consistency that you want.

Another option would be to transform the juice into a shrub. Click here to learn more about shrubs and shrub making. I haven’t tried that yet, but will check it out and get back to you. You could also make a soda with your juice by adding sparkling water to it. Play with the ratios to get the flavor and texture you like. It is better to add a little bit of soda at a time. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away after you mix with your juice.  Let me know how you like it!

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Lesson: When things don’t go quite the way we planned or even assumed that they would, we can feel disappointed or even frustrated. These feelings often show up when we have expectations of a particular outcome. Who doesn’t want  to eat a perfect melon?

I always do my best to come up with alternate options that will work just as well as the outcome that I had hoped for in the kitchen and in life. This cantaloupe juice is a good example of that. What do you do to have flexibility when things don’t turn out as you had hoped?

 

 

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My o ya Experience

By July 21, 2014 attention to detail, creativity, feeding ourselves, getting out of our comfort zone, living a joyful life, nurturing, personal growth, pleasure, practice, self care, so much to learn, Travel

First, I want to extend my apologies to anyone who was looking for my post from Loving Food and Life in their inbox this last Monday. I unexpectedly did not have Internet access that was strong enough to handle posting to my site. I decided to chill out about it. Unexpected things happen. I was on a magnificent island at the time. What else was I to do?

I have at least 20 tales to tell you about the last month of my life. I have been making some leaps. I have been having a blast. I have been on vacation. I have been laughing or crying tears of joy depending on the moment. I have been appreciating these human-ly emotions that I have been feeling.

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This post is about exhibiting one of the finest meals of my life (so far). What lands it on the list of the finest? For one, I decided to take a leap and go explore the city of Boston by myself. This meal was a magical benefit of my decision to take this trip. There was no way that I could return to Boston (my 2nd visit there) without a meal at o ya. To make it even more special, my friend and past colleague from the days of working at the Magnolia Grill, Maggie Warren now lives in Boston and works as a server at o ya. She wanted to wait on me, and I was thrilled to have her share a dining experience with me.

It might be redundant for me to say this, but I dig deep into the beauty of a meal. By the time I left o ya, my eyes were filled with tears of joy. I was full of gratitude to all of the people who participated in running this restaurant. Each one contributed to making my experience grand. I was appreciative of how thoughtful Maggie chose each course for me with a perfect sake pairing to match. I almost felt like I had been transported to another world. Then I became deeply in touch with my own creation of this experience. As the tears uncontrollably fell down my cheeks, I realized how it felt to be responsible for all of this.

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I went to o ya early on a Friday night. When I made my reservation, I asked to be seated close to the “pass” at the chef counter where I could see the food coming out. I went in feeling thrilled to be there again. This was my 2nd time dining at o ya. My anticipation of many exquisite bites was bubbling over.

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I sat at the chef’s counter thrilled to have Maggie as a dining companion, while I would be the only one eating. I told Maggie to feed me whatever she wanted. I told her that I would let her know when I needed to slow down. She brought me a beautiful flute of champagne to get things started.

Here’s what happened next: (I have posted the dish and then the picture)

Kumamoto Oyster watermelon pearls, cucumber mignonette

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Hamachi spicy banana pepper mousse

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Salmon unfiltered wheat soy moromi

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Santa Barbara Sea Urchin and Russian Ossetra Caviar

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Karikari Crispy Sesame Chicken Skin yuzu-honey pickled ginger, schmaltz powder

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Artic Char yuzu cured, sesame brittle, cumin aioli, cilantro

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Fried Kumamoto Oyster yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles

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Wild Bluefin Maguro soy braised garlic, micro greens

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Kyoto Style Wild Morel Mushrooms garlic, soy

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Line Caught Ishidai Usuzukuri spotted knife jaw, ponzu, green onion, spicy daikon

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Scottish Salmon Belly cilantro, ginger, hot sesame oil drizzle

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Hamachi viet mignonette, thai basil, shallot

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Bluefin Toro Tartare ginger kimchee jus

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Chilled Maine Lobster Salad avocado, creamy yuzu dressing, micro greens, cucumber gelee

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Tea Brined Fried Pork Ribs hot sesame oil, honey, scallions

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Grilled Chanterelle and Shiitake Mushroom Sashimi rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, soy

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Kushiyaki of Kobe roasted onion, yuzu kosho, maple soy sauce

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Foie Gras Miso Spoon tempura bits, preserved yuzu

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Chilled Daikon Dumpling miso nut “cheese,” homemade kimchee, wakame, spicy pine nut mayo

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Yuzu Curd almond, blackberry-jasmine, meringue and Aged Sake Gelato miso-hazelnut caramel, vanilla cremeaux, financier

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I am not a restaurant critic. You can find all sorts of amazing reviews of o ya here from critics all over the country.  Please check out o ya for yourself if you’re curious in learning more about them. If you’re in Boston, make a reservation.  It truly is a “don’t miss!” They pay attention to every detail you can imagine. When you are there, you will see beauty at every turn. I definitely had moments when I thought I could’t bear to lose the taste that I had just experienced. In his review of o ya in the New York Times in 2008, Frank Bruni said that he ordered a 2nd piece of one dish right after the first. There was no way he was leaving o ya with the memory of just one.

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Lesson: I have been in the process of stepping into a new way of living. To give you contrast, I spent many years often expecting the worse or not having much expectation because I was afraid of being disappointed. I am learning to trust that life is joyful and full of beautiful experiences. This dinner at o ya was indeed aesthetically beautiful. The presentation of the food was an exhibit of art. The smells and tastes of each plate were inviting and expansive. This dinner was an exhibition of how beautiful life can be. It served as a reminder that I am an artist to the depths of my soul. I have the ability and the power to create anything that I want in this life.

I am going to continue to practice this art of creating. It is bringing so much joy into my life. It’s not that fleeting kind of feeling that comes and goes. It is hanging around. It is flowing through me and into each encounter and experience that I create. It is hard to put into words what this is like. It is my wish that you can feel what I am saying.

What steps are you taking to make room for more joy in your life?

 

 

 

 

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Summer Squash and Eggs

By June 1, 2014 breakfast, creativity, eggs, recipes

My favorite ingredients to go with my eggs can depend on the season. Yellow squash has just started coming in at the farmers market.  I enjoy what some might consider an unlikely pair – yellow squash and eggs.

I am not much of an omelet eater (or preparer). I like my eggs soft and light.  I prefer a scramble – sautéing the vegetables and then adding the eggs for a soft scrambled “scramble.”

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During the summer months, I like to eat tender crookneck yellow squash and Vidalia onions with my eggs. I also really like the addition of Chapel Hill Creamery’s Dairyland Farmers Cheese. Its mild flavor and creamy texture pairs really nicely with the squash.

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Here’s how I make a Summer Squash Scramble for 2:

Ingredients:

 5 farm eggs

¼ cup of sliced Vidalia onions

2 small yellow summer squash, halved and sliced

1/3 cup diced Chapel Hill Creamery Farmer’s Cheese

Butter or olive oil for cooking (I use a little of both)

Equipment needed:

Sharp knife and cutting board

Dry measuring cups

Nonstick sauté pan

Nonstick spatula

Mixing bowl

Directions:

–  Crack your eggs into a bowl

–  Whisk the eggs until the yolk is fully incorporated with the whites

–  Add the cheese to the eggs and stir

–  Set the eggs and cheese aside until after you cook the vegetables

–  Turn one of your large stovetop burners to medium high heat

–  Add a tablespoon of olive oil to your sauté pan

–  Once the pan is hot, add your onions and squash

–  Cook the onions and squash until tender, you may want them to get a subtle amount of color on them (subtly golden brown) – this depends on your taste preferences

–  Once your vegetables are cooked to your preferred doneness, add the egg and cheese mixture

–  Allow the egg and cheese mixture begin to cook along the outer edges of your pan as it surrounds all of the vegetables before you stir

–  Gently stir the eggs and vegetables until they are thoroughly cooked

–  I flip the cooked parts upward and away from the heat, making sure that all the liquid gets turned under to the heat of the pan

– This is a quick and gentle process that will give you softly scrambled eggs

– Experiment with adding fresh herbs like basil, tarragon and/ or chives  after cooking the eggs to liven up the flavor of your scramble. I like to add fresh arugula as well. Play with it!

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*Note: Where to buy Chapel Hill Creamery cheeses:

Carrboro Farmers’ Market: Wednesday and Saturday

Durham Farmers’ Market: Wednesday and Saturday

Western Wake Farmers’ Market: Saturday

Whole Foods Market, Weaver Street Market, Southern Season, Earth Fare, and LoMo Market

Lesson: For many years, I ate squash either in casserole, stir-fries, or fried with onions. One morning I decided to “play” with the produce I had in the fridge. Little did I know that one of my absolute favorite flavor-pairings would come together. Summer squash and eggs are such a pleasing pair that came from experimentation. What kind of pleasures have you discovered from trying something new?

 

 

 

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What Feeds Me

By May 26, 2014 creativity, feeding ourselves, getting out of our comfort zone, nurturing, practice, self care

There are many things that I could share with you that express all of the ways that I am expanding my comfort zone these days. To give you an idea, I have started a new job that challenges, inspires, and stretches me every single day. Every day is an adventure. I am loving it! Upon taking this new job, I made a promise to myself. From this point forward, I am only going to put my energy into things that feed me. What exactly do I mean by this?

I was pondering “what that means” the other night while preparing kale salad for myself and a friend who was joining me for dinner. I prepared one of my favorite salads for us – kale with avocado and lemon dressing with chiles. I also made tuna salad to go with it with lots of capers, spring onions, and very good mustard. One might say that I fed us well. We ate nutritious greens, which some call superfood. We had lean protein, which feeds muscles for people with active lifestyles. We had avocado, which is full of healthy fat. One might say that what we ate was good for us.

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Feeding ourselves runs so much deeper than what we are eating at the dinner table. This weekend, I have fed myself by crossing some meaningful plans off of my to-do list. One of those plans was riding my bike from my house to the American Tobacco Trail here in Durham (by myself). I am new to riding a bike in and around downtown. When I got my bike, it had been over 15 years since I had ridden one. I have been working on building up my endurance for longer rides and varied inclines. That old saying, “it’s like riding a bike,” doesn’t negate the need for practice to be better at your endeavor.

I have a running list of plans for myself of activities that will feed me. For those of you who read last weeks post about my adventures in relaxing, the list includes continuing to prop up my feet once in awhile. I propped my feet up for over an hour this last week, which surpassed my goal. Other plans for feeding myself include completing a new gardening project that I have just begun. I want to create a space in my yard for growing veggies and flowers. I will keep you posted on the progress of that project. That one will be feeding me literally and beyond!

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I love to dance and sing, so stay tuned for some invites for joining me at some local events. I have been wanting to check out the Contra dancing scene here for far too long!

Lesson: It is easy to take for granted that eating well and exercise are the most important ways for us to care for ourselves. The most important way that I take care of myself right now is committing to only putting my energy into what feeds me. I am still discovering and unfolding what that means. I know that when I do something that is feeding me, I feel deeply cared for and nourished on many levels. The beauty of this is that it’s this is achieved by something that I do for myself. I could not achieve the same result otherwise.  

How about you? What feeds you? What meaningful plans have you been crossing off of your list? 

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Adventures in Relaxing

By May 19, 2014 creativity, getting out of our comfort zone, nurturing, self care, slowing down

Greetings from home! I am back in Durham, North Carolina. It has been an incredibly gorgeous day today! My neighbor says that she is “bottling up” days like today and saving them for the hotter months to come. I will be sure to invite you to the party when she opens up the 70 degree bottles of sunshine, blue skies, and cools breezes.

I am refreshed and feel some renewal within, thanks to my weekend getaway. I spent 3 nights in the mountains with the goal of relaxing. I did well! I succeeded with my goal. I made only 2 trips out of the house. One excursion was to check out a couple of local art galleries, the other was to the farmers market in Boone. Both trips fed my creative nature and appreciation for expression.

In the picture below, you will see one of my favorite spots of the weekend. From the kitchen stool, I had a beautiful view of the mountains outside a sliding glass door. I ate there. I drank there. I read there. I pondered life sitting on that red stool enjoying fine coffee, farm eggs, and fresh strawberries that a farmer named Tom hand selected for me.

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This was my post-farmers market breakfast. This was a lovely sourdough pecan sticky bun from Owl Creek Breadworks. If you’re in the Boone area, I highly suggest their bagels and sticky buns. All of their breads appeared to be thoughtfully prepared.

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It was rather chilly in the mountains. I built my first fire in the fireplace. Thanks to youtube.com, I had several teachers in multiple videos that I watched. As you can see, my fire was successful. It created warmth and comfort, too!

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I must admit that this is my favorite position that I took the entire weekend. I don’t allow myself to prop my feet up as much I would like to.

Seems like a worthy new goal -propping up my feet for at least an hour a week.

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So what is the point of me sharing my weekend expereince with you? I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us to take care of ourselves. It can be a challenge for many people to slow down. I don’t know many people that grew up learning the importance of self and what it means to take care of ourselves. I am not talking about eating a balanced diet and getting enough exercise.

I am talking about nurturing ourselves with things that we love and enjoy. I am talking about giving ourselves permission to be at the top of our own priority lists. I am talking about giving ourselves the space to process changes and transitions in our lives. I am talking about creating a space for us to acknowledge and be present to our emotions. I understand that learning how to do this is indeed a process. What can you do to begin to plant the seeds to take care of yourself in a new way?

Lesson: I became fully aware over the weekend that I don’t allow myself to prop my feet up once in a while. My feet carry and take me all over the place. I have worked for over 20 years standing on my feet for 8 or more hours a day. I am claiming a gift for me and for my feet! One hour or more a week there will be “feet propping up.” How about you? What is something that you haven’t allowed yourself to do for you? What are you going to do to change it? 

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Serving Coffee, Creativity, and Community

By May 2, 2014 building relationships, coffee, creativity, customer service, Durham, excellence, inspired by others, local flavor, people skills, working in restaurants

One of my first outings after I moved to Durham was venturing to a place called Motorco. On Sunday’s they had a community market where artists and artisans were selling their wares. That is where I first met Areli. She had a table where she sold spices, chocolates, and coffee. While her wares were intriguing and attractive, the vibrancy of Areli’s smile and the light in her eyes were what made me interested in what she was selling.

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I continued to follow what Areli and her husband, Leon, were up to. They began selling hand ground coffee around town from a bike that they had built for their mobile coffee business called Bike Coffee. Their momentum was building with a mobile food scene happening at the time, with a number of food trucks showing up to feed people around town. Areli and Leon were in the middle of that movement.

A while later, I saw them launch a Kickstarter project for their coffee business. They were planning to build a brick and mortar space to sell their unique wares. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, they spent a lot of time building relationships with the community here in Durham. When it came time for them to launch the fund-raising campaign for their business, people were ready for them to have a larger presence in the community. They raised $32,325 dollars for their coffee shop, Cocoa Cinnamon. That is $12, 325 more than their goal. To see a video about those guys and their Kickstarter video, click HERE.

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Finally, long after my initial intention to have more than a causal conversation with Areli, we sat down in front of her coffee shop for a chat. I wanted to know what it has been like for her and Leon to get this business going. I wondered what it was like for them to work together. I wondered how they had created the magic that I experience when I go to Cocoa Cinnamon.

I feel like I could write a book about what makes Cocoa Cinnamon such an enjoyable place to hang out. I go there a couple times a week for coffee. You might remember just a moment ago when I mentioned what interested me about Areli in the first place. Extrapolate vibrancy, soulful energy, and passion from a human being, and they will create a space where people want to be. From the warm and welcoming staff behind the bar, to the creativity that spills off of the walls in their coffee shop, like attracts like.

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Areli and Leon have been incredibly thoughtful about the creation of their space, carefully choosing who they have hired to be a part of their team, and deliberately selecting what they sell in their shop. I applied to work there when they began looking for staff. While I decided to continue my journey working in the restaurant world, it is still tempting to me to go to work for Areli and Leon. Their application process is different than most. They are digging into people’s interests. Areli says that their hiring process is like casting for a Broadway musical.

The process seems to be working for them from my side of the coffee bar. I enjoy good service. Having worked in the service industry for 20 years, I appreciate businesses that put a lot of effort into how they interact with their customers and the community.

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Areli said that in their first year open that they were able to donate $5,000 to the community of Durham. That is remarkable for a first year of business. They also pay their staff a living wage. Thankfully, more thoughtful employers are into creating a long term staff. Areli said that their goal is to hire people who want to have careers with them. Having a staff that is passionate and invested in what they do for work makes a world of difference in how they perform. Most of the baristas at Cocoa Cinnamon never worked as baristas before. I made sure to tell Areli that I would have never known that before she told me.

A lot of training goes into the staff. Areli seems to be good at giving people responsibilities that fit their personal desires. One of her team members, Susie, has a culinary background. Susie creates the specials. These kinds of moves are important ones for a business owner to make. They keep the staff engaged and provide opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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As a culinary and service professional, I know that it speaks volumes when business owners can relinquish control and allow their staff to take a lead in creating menu items or implementing ideas. That is what facilitates a culture amongst a staff.

This kind of leadership that Areli and Leon are exercising is integral for a young business to thrive. Businesses like theirs are breaking the mold of the old business models. We are living in a new world. Times are changing rapidly. While Areli did not mention how successful she feels after recently celebrating a year as a brick and mortar business, she did mention how they have only just begun. I got the notion that she and Leon have a lot of ideas up their sleeves and much more creativity to unleash.

With their attitudes and passion for what they are doing, these people are not only running a coffee shop. They are creating a model for a new way of doing business, and they are creating a model for building community.

I left my chat with Areli today wanting to know more and more about her plans and ideas. I wanted to say, “Hey, when can I start?” I left wanting to be a part of what they have going on.

Lesson: Doing business in this world today calls for a different quality of service and wares. Cocoa Cinnamon is embodying a way of doing business that is a model for the entrepreneurial folks here in Durham. The way Areli and Leon are doing things inspires me to continue to pay attention to all of the ingredients in my business and in my life! Little details make large impact. What little touches do you notice about a business that make a difference in the community? What makes it so important to you and your community? 

 

 

 

 

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