In college I had a Malamute that looked more wolf than dog. Luka went everywhere with me, even to classes, and my teachers loved him. He was my shadow. I would bring him to parties because I knew I wouldn't really like the party and we could run home together. I ran almost every day, and he was a fantastic companion as Malamutes are endurance dogs. His energy was perfect for running, I would forget everything and just be in the moment.
One June evening we went to an end of the year party. Luka bolted through the house and I followed him into a back bedroom. This girl I knew from a few shared art classes ran into the room just as I caught up with him. Her skinny black Lab mix had done the same thing and was enjoying Luka’s company. It was the first time we actually talked outside of art school. Later she would tell me I was that obnoxious guy she didn't like.
So our dogs met and we met. Her name was Wendy and she was going on a cross country trip the next day. She said, "Well, maybe when I get back, we'll see each other.” I said sure, that would be great. I didn't think anything more of it. Months later when she got back into Hartford, she drove to the art school to drop some things off. It was a Sunday afternoon, and there was no one there except me. Isn't that strange?
We started seeing each other more and more. When we graduated, I went into the food business. She decided to go live a Henry David Thoreau - Walden pond experience at a rustic cabin deep in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts, a single woman living alone in the middle of nowhere with her dog. She would come down to Hartford on weekends, and I coerced her into working at the store — and we ended up getting married!
Hartford Connecticut was a happening place in the late 70s. Our store was called “Cheese and Stuff” and was a nexus for alternative-minded people to shop, meet and socialize! The local Sikh group catered our wedding (all of which were good friends and customers at the store). Within a year we had a sweet baby girl.
As discussed in the previous newsletter, we sold “Cheese and Stuff” to Swami Satchitananda’s organization and I remember how much fun it was when he came to the store with a large entourage to celebrate. We had a huge section of bulk pasta, Swamiji was fascinated and stopped to look at it. With his own unique wisdom, he said, “There are green ones, red ones, yellow ones; all different sizes and shapes… but it’s all pasta.” Cosmic harmony found in the pasta section!
I stayed on with the store for several months to transition the day-to-day functions to the new owners. My partner and I had each grown a family and decided we could start doing some construction out in the country. My dad was a contractor and carpenter and I had learned some building skills. By the time I was able to leave the store completely we had a small construction business ready to go.
Construction played a big role in my experience for several reasons. First, you have to understand the basic skills, building codes, regulations and how to work the land. Next you have to develop a different set of interpersonal skills to serve the customer. Then you have to identify all the steps along the way and be able to chart a path that will provide assurance of quality, outcome and proper accounting in a very different way from running the store.
The economy at the time was considered in a recession, especially in the building trade. But I don’t think we ever really noticed. We enjoyed our work and purchased beautiful woodland acreage in rural Connecticut and built a neighborhood of homes that thrilled our customers. We continued to invest in land and build homes and began to do commercial work. Soon we had enough work scheduled for the next year!
“The reoccurring experience I had of being in the ‘zone of service’ is very rewarding. Being able to give all of yourself into what you're doing was very powerful. Especially if it's something you love and you're good at. No matter what the obstacles, your intuition and your internal guidance will steer your ship through and find a way, no matter what's going on externally.”
However, my inner compass was pointing in a different direction. I enjoyed building. I enjoyed New England…but for some time I knew I wanted to move to California. I was intrigued by the land that produced so much of the food we had sold in the store. I met people who visited or lived there who were like-minded, meditating and doing yoga. Despite our success where we were, I had to listen to that inner voice.
My partner took a vacation in southern California—called the first day and said, “I’m sold, we’re moving!” The die was cast. We finished the work we had and sold off all the land to get ready for a move.
We knew that the same group that bought our store had a small frozen vegetarian burger business, and wanted to sell it. It made sense to go out to California with a business to build up from, so we purchased the veggie burger business. We rented 2 U-Hauls and loaded all the manufacturing equipment and all of our personal stuff as well.
We had steamers, cookers, patty makers and wrappers. We also had two motorcycles on the trucks — these trucks were just packed to the gills and heavy! So much so, that we blew a rod through the engine at the top of the El Cajon Pass in San Diego, California. Luckily, we made it all the way to California, before the poor old truck just gave out! When the tow rig got out there to tow the truck, the driver said that this little 18-foot U-Haul weighed more than a tractor trailer, and he was amazed we could even make it as far as we did. We felt pretty blessed. It was a great trip because I had never travelled beyond the east coast. I got to see the country and meet many different people and cultures.
We finally got all of our stuff set up into a space, and started manufacturing the burgers. Our burger distributor did frozen foods but also wanted to have all-natural cookies. My very first challenge to create recipes and flavors! We added the necessary equipment and then cookies to our product list. Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and I don't remember the rest, but we had 6 or 8 varieties.
Now that we were doing desserts, my two favorites as a boy came to mind; cheesecake and éclairs! The best cheesecake I ever had was from the Claremont Diner in New Jersey. I decided I was going to emulate that cheesecake and make it all-natural and 100% honey sweetened. We added the eclairs, chocolate cake, carrot cake and ice cream cakes! We sold all honey sweetened, 100% natural deserts up and down the west coast.
We even opened an ice cream shop and bakery in the front of the facility! (The picture is of my little helper Laura, cleaning the tables!)
Next week – From Deserts to Fresh Herbs!