When I first started testing our menu at the MIT truck back in 2008 I was hoping Clover would become something important. I’m hoping we’re still in our infancy, because what I have in mind goes way beyond what we are today.
But I never ever thought I’d find fans recognizing Clover in the middle of nowhere.
I’m coming back from a month long vacation. I borrowed a Clover delivery van that we don’t use anymore, did a simple DIY-camper van fit-out, and drove with my family up Maine (where we checked in with one of our roasters, and seaweed suppliers), through New Brunswick, past our friends in Prince Edward Island who grow our potatoes, through Nova Scotia (where a street vendor back in 2001 gave me the original inspiration that led to Clover’s french fries), up to Newfoundland. On the northern short of Newfoundland we had pulled over at some fossil-like structures called Thrombolites. We were at a pullout and a young couple waved from their car, they might have even honked. I thought they were asking if the stop was fun.
But they rolled down their window and told me they were huge Clover fans. We grabbed a photo, the one of the left above. I think their names were Emily and Jamie. Thanks guys for recognizing us and saying hi!
After Newfoundland we took another ferry to Labrador, the “Big Land.” Labrador didn’t have roads 10 years ago, literally. Now there is one road. The entire land has 24,000 inhabitants.
And there, in the middle of nowhere, in the big land, we were passing a couple that shouted and waved. We met up at the next pullout and found another Clover fan. They were visiting Point Amour to look at some special fossils there. So here we found ourselves 1,400 miles and 3 ferry trips away from Boston, in the big land, in the middle of nowhere, and I was being asked if I have any sandwiches.
It feels so great not because I was always wishing to be famous or something. I’m not nuts about that. But because I know these folks LOVE what we do. And it feels so special to be a part of something that touches people that deeply. I feel so indebted to those working with me to build Clover. Kyori (sp?), the fan in Labrador, asked when we’d bring back the Japanese Sweetpotato. She wanted to talk about Clover. She showed us some of the fossils they were looking at. She was so excited to see us. And I was excited to see them.
If you were handed a card today at Clover, click here to take the survey. A big thanks from all of us for helping to make us better.
I was hoping this wouldn’t happen, but also knew that it was only a matter of time. The original Clover Food Truck, the CloverMIT truck is closing. Customers will have to go 100 feet down the street to CloverKND for their fix starting this coming Monday.
That picture above is from June 2009. That was the first season we operated the food truck as anything other than a menu testing vehicle. That’s me leaning out. I ran the MIT truck from fall 2008 through spring 2010. If you look closely you can see the burn marks on my arms from the oven. And Leah is there taking orders (white shirt to the left), she was amazing to work with. And Hat is behind me on the truck. I still get to check in with Hat from time to time. Behind me almost out of frame is Jerry, who now runs a Panera downtown. I miss those guys.
This is where the Clover menu was first developed back in October 2008. It’s the place we first met some of our most loyal customers. And it’s the place many of our leaders cut their teeth. Including Ayr (Founder and CEO, MIT truck manger from 10/08 – 6/10), Chris (VP of Food, MIT truck manager 5/10 – 11/10), Vincenzo (Director of Food, MIT truck manager 6/11-10/11), Sara (Director of Training, MIT truck manager 6/13-10/13), Lucia (Director of Communications, MIT Truck Team Leader 10/09 – 11/10), Manlio (Sr. Truck Manager, MIT Truck Manager 5/14-10/15).
I miss those days. I loved everything about running the truck.
But as I reflect I also feel so lucky. Truth is we’re doing every single thing better now. We know so much now that we didn’t then. Ingredients are better, recipes are better, training is better, leadership is better, facilities are better, systems are better, and on and on. And I feel so lucky because that electricity that was in the air back then, the spark you can see in this picture, it’s still there. I feel it right now at CloverLMA where I’m writing this. It’s happening. And it’s still so exhilarating.
MIT has amazing plans for the Kendall Square area, and they are about to break ground. Thankfully we have our restaurant CloverKND at 5 Cambridge Center, about 100 feet from the original truck at 20 Carleton St. We’re working with MIT to find another spot on campus where we can park.
But the MIT truck, which was the place everything started, will serve it’s last sandwich on Friday, 1/5/16.
There are fig trees in my office because my Great Great Grandfather missed the Azore Islands.
My Grandfather on my dad’s side grew up in New Bedford, MA. His Grandfather was from the Azore Islands. And he missed figs like nothing else. Maybe I have a deep love of food in my genes. But don’t we all?
My Grandfather told me a story when I was a kid that stuck with me. I think it was intended to be a “this is how hard it was in my day” sort of story, but I took something different from it. And it was very impressionable to me. His Grandfather made him spend a whole summer digging a giant hole that would fit 2 trees, 8 feet deep. Have you ever dug a hole? In New England? If you have you know how impressive it is to dig a hole that big by hand.
In this hole he planted 2 fig trees, one dark one light. And then on top of the hole he put a little glass green-house ceiling. The depth made sure the trees didn’t freeze in the winter.
I’m not exactly sure why this story stuck with me. But it’s one of those funny things that just doesn’t fade. I remember clearly hearing about it and how impressed I was. I remember wondering what these figs must be that somebody would miss them so much (I didn’t grow up with fresh figs). And it’s one of those stories that has just stayed with me and become a part of me.
There are now 2 fig trees in our new office at CloverFIN (160 Federal St.). One light, one dark.
The speakers are rented, the picnic boxes neatly folded, and we are praying for not-rain. And I have to say this is my favorite poster I’ve ever designed (shoutout to Drew who had the pleasure of photoshopping our truck onto a Delorean.)
Back to the Future screens tonight at 8pm at Clover on the Greenway. If you managed to snag a picnic box, arrive between 7:30 and 7:45 to pick them up.
If not, there are still a few left: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/movie-night-at-cloverdwy-back-to-the-future-tickets-26352979471
The other night I woke up with this ad pitch in my head: “Strong enough for a man, made for a woman.” A child of the 80s I don’t know how many times I had this drilled into my mind. And it was the middle of the night, at age 38, that I first realized it’s a nasty message for women. Right, the implication is that men are strong and women are not.
I’ve always been sensitive to this sort of thing. I hate bullies more than anything. The only run-ins I had as a kid were with bullies. I had no tolerance for it. I still feel the same way. Very strongly. And I think a bunch of racism and sexism looks sort of like subtle bullying. But I’m still discovering things I might have passed by without notice in the past.
This stuff can be so tricky. And now I’m responsible for this complex organization, and I have 2 daughters, and I’m waking up in the middle of the night with a stupid deodorant jingle in my head. “Strong enough for a man…”
And then, in some bizarre coincidence, I came across 2 phrases yesterday when researching order ahead apps with Lucia. The first I admittedly missed, “tap that app.” Lucia pointed it out. And then we laughed about whether it was on purpose. Of course it was. And then I started thinking “strong enough for a man…” Tap that app. It’s sort of aggressive, isn’t it? I can’t imagine Sweetgreen would put up a phrase that played on dominating a man sexually in the same way. Why? Because men would find it offensive, and probably be annoyed about it/ put off.
And then, not 5 minutes later, we came across a slightly more tame one: “Work that Hass.” Slightly more tame, more playful, less aggressive. But really? Would they put up a phrase that would message to men in the same way?
Running a company I’m totally aware these decisions probably weren’t made by senior leaders. But aren’t they responsible anyway? And clearly, neither was intended in any negative way. And intention counts a lot. But “strong enough for a man…” wasn’t intended to be negative either, was it?
How do I build a company that has no room for this kind of thing? Anybody out there who works on this sort of thing and knows more about it than me?
I have a new urgent issue: our new restaurants are too loud. That is a screen shot above, we’re clocking in at about 76 dB. Too loud. But it gets even higher, up to 80 dB. Just an iPhone app, so I don’t know that it’s perfectly accurate, but in any case it’s too loud. Sorry everybody! We didn’t intend for this and we recognize it’s a problem. We’ll try to address it as fast as we can.
I think this is a combination of factors, not least of which is the number of people in the restaurants. Right now I’m in LMA and I can count 68 people in here. And it’s 1:30pm, a bit post lunch rush.
But it’s also due to hard surfaces. The new restaurants have a ton of glass. LMA has glass walls on both sides of the restaurant.
The new restaurants are also a bit larger than what we’ve done in the past. LMA and FIN clock in over 2,000 sq. ft, where KND, HFI, DTX are 1,500 sq ft.
We’re left with restaurants that sound great in the early morning and mid-afternoon, when there aren’t as many customers. But we want the restaurants to be great when packed, not just when empty!
We’re going to step through a series of measures aimed at knocking down the loudness. I’m expecting the first of those measures to be in place by the end of this week. We’ll keep going until we get to a level that is comfortable. I think this is critical not just for our customers but for our employees. It’s not fun to work in an environment that’s clocking in close to 80 dB. So sorry! We’re working to fix.
I had no idea what I was getting into. Sounds simple right: drive 4 displays with one computer. Shouldn’t be too tough, right?
Warning: this post is going to be a bit more instructional than I’ve done in a while. But this was a super annoying problem for me to solve and I think I might be able to help others get to a solution faster (or avoid the issue altogether).
We have a big wall in this new office at CloverFIN. Since we’re zero paper as a company it’s important that when we meet we have a computer hooked up to a display that we can all use. Given the space of the wall there was no way to get a single screen large enough. A projector wouldn’t work given the ambient light (already tripped down that path in the past). So I spec’d 4 Sony displays, which fill the space perfectly and weren’t very expensive.
We run on Macs as a company. So I looked up apple’s specs. The MacPro can run 3 displays. Not quite what I needed…
I reached out to the Apple Business Team. They put me in touch with some 3rd party consultant. They told me 3 displays. I’d need an external video card adapter to drive a 4th. OK…
I found splitters, but they are really expensive and low res. I found a thunderbolt external video card and ended up buying that. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to instal drivers, get the right cables, etc. But it’s all up and running now. Here’s the rig:
- 4 Sony 4k screens (Best Buy)
- 1 Apple Mac Pro (refurb, base specs, Amazon)
- BizonBox2 (Bizon)
- Graphics card, NVIDIA GTX970 (Bison)
- 1 HDMI to HDMI cable (Amazon)
- 1 HDMI to Mini displayport/ thunderbolt cable (Amazon)
- 1 HDMI to Displayport cable (Amazon)
- 1 HDMI to DVI cable (Amazon)
- (no joke, that’s how you pull this off. Crazy, right?)
She was too polite to say it was awful.
People walking down the street are trying to open the door to this room. Then turning dashing across the street when it doesn’t open. I don’t know, maybe they’re trying to join me but then felt embarrassed or confused.
Customers ordering lunch are scratching their heads. Stacia, leading our communications at CloverFIN, is doing her best to explain things.
Customers are knocking on the glass and waving. The other day one just walked through the door that says “Ayr’s Office” and sat down at the conference table and made a phone call.
In the face of all this confusion I’m convinced this is one of the most important things I’ve done at Clover. I think 5 years from now this will be a totally iconic part of Clover. I think we’ll look back and see this as one of the most important decisions we made in this era of Clover’s evolution.
It’s just a room, with glass walls.
It’s made bold by the fact that practically all business is done behind closed doors. That’s how we did things for the past 5 years. We built restaurants with zero back of house, kitchens more transparent than anything in our industry. We built a commissary that invited customers to sit and take lunch surrounded by bread baking and hummus blending. We even opened up our food development process, with a weekly meeting that customers and staff are invited to attend. But we built the business in a windowless room with a door that kept others from looking in.
I saw this as a problem years ago but couldn’t figure out what to do about it until recently. Now we have a conference room that’s right in the middle of our largest restaurant. It’s awesome. Most people don’t get to see what it takes to build a business. For staff, customers, for many people it’s a mystery what I spend my time doing. It’s not clear what a Director of HR actually does each day.
So this my bold idea: do business in the open. Let everybody see. You’ll see ideas that don’t ever work out. You’ll see a sketch for the operational impact of our order ahead roll out. You’ll see a model for a restaurant we’re going to build in 18 months. You’ll see us thinking through our uniform strategy. It’s like a live real life version of what happens here when our blog is at its best.
We did install curtains. We had a board meeting in this room this past Thursday. And I wasn’t sure the board members would feel comfortable being on display. They all got it. Ron said he hoped we wouldn’t draw the shades. We didn’t. And we had our board meeting in the open. Welcome to the new Clover.
This is something like 6 years in the making. We’ve been wanting to open a restaurant in Longwood for a long time. Yesterday we had our “pay what you want” day. This morning we’re open for real. 7am – midnight. We close a bit earlier on Sundays.
Smoothest open to date. Well… except for the fact that we were welding at 6am on opening morning : ( But wouldn’t feel like a proper open without some sort of last minute drama.
Really awesome to see and be a part of this.
Customers here are amazing. So sincere and kind. It feels really great. Thanks Longwood for welcoming us!