Business Name: The Green Owl Cafe, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant
Type of Business: Food & Beverage
Business Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States
Reason for starting
I opened the Green Owl Cafe in 2009. Opening a vegetarian restaurant had been a dream of mine for many years prior. Madison, where I had lived for most of my life, did not have any vegetarian restaurants. As a vegetarian myself, I thought vegetarians and vegans deserved to have a place where they could order anything on the menu.
How do you define success?
I think “success” is more than just achieving commercial viability. I am proud that I provide a great working environment for my employees, that I am able to support local farmers and food producers and that The Green Owl Cafe gives Madison diners an experience that they cannot find anywhere else in the area. Making a profit is still an important component (or the business is not sustainable), but there are many more components to the pride I feel over my accomplishments.
The Green Owl Cafe has garnered many awards and great reviews. I think our proudest moment was winning “Favorite New Restaurant” from a readers poll in our local paper. Learning that customers appreciated what we have to offer enough to vote for us in that revered category, meant a lot. Going to that award ceremony was a highlight of my life.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Starting a new business can always present challenges and obstacles that perhaps you hadn’t anticipated. My stumbling block was managing employees. I had co-managed employees before but it’s different when there’s so much at stake personally as the business owner. Suddenly I had a crew of 20 people and personalities and I found it very overwhelming to deal with managing them all. I have learned over time things such as looking for and heeding red flags, good ways to communicate with employees, delegation, etc. It’s still a process but there’s been improvement over time.
Who is your most important role model?
Dawn Thiessen owns another restaurant in town where I was employed. I later rented kitchen space from her for a wholesale soup business I started. Her love of excellent food was never tamped down by the stress of running a restaurant. She also made sure to (well she had to) make time for her family. One way she did that was by making her kids a part of the restaurant–having them help out with dishes, prep, etc. It was a great way to spend time with them, get a little extra help and show them through example, the importance of a strong work ethic.