Sharing Success – Tom Cortopassi
A couple of months ago, Maureen and I went to visit our son Joey in Colorado, where he attends college, to help him celebrate his 21st birthday.
One of the things we enjoy about visiting the town of Boulder is that there are plenty of truly good independent restaurants there. And on Saturdays, the town hosts a busy farmers’ market.
During our latest visit, we spent Saturday morning checking out the farmers’ market. In addition to stand after stand of freshly picked produce grown by local truck farmers, one particularly unique booth caught my attention.
In a corner of the market, a professional knife sharpener had set up shop and was busy honing a large kitchen knife on a grinding wheel.
Also watching him was a friendly young man named Dan, who, as it turns out, is a chef at a local restaurant. Dan said that he had just dropped off his own chef’s knives for sharpening while he picked up some fresh produce for home.
Curious, I asked Dan if there was a secret to sharpening knives.
Dan told me that having sharp knives is so important to his everyday work that he only buys top quality knives and uses a steel to hone them after every single use. (A sharp knife is a safe knife.) Then, at least once a year, he brings them to a professional sharpener to grind out any imperfections.
After spending some time thinking about what Dan had said, I realized that his mindset about his knives and his process for keeping them sharp is similar to the approach that some business owners take to remain sharp and relevant to their customers, not just once in a while, but all of the time.
Every business is different. But based on my own experience, here are just a few of the ways owners can constantly hone their competitive edge.
• Regularly reassess employee routines. Having employees follow specific routines/checklists/processes while accomplishing daily tasks can help ensure that “things get done right.” But over time, routines attract additional steps, often for good reason. For example, an inspection step gets developed in response to temporary inconsistency with fresh produce but remains in place long after the issue is resolved. Periodically reviewing and simplifying employee routines helps cut inefficiency and/or further improves results.
• Find ways to refresh your team’s skills. Employees are often a big part of your competitive advantage. New employees obviously get trained, but how often do long- term employees get retrained? Over time, small but important details of a task may be forgotten or ignored by employees. No matter how busy you and your employees are, it is important to schedule time for continual training of your staff.
• Continually seek ways to further upgrade ingredient flavor and consistency. Once you have a pretty good product, it can feel comforting to resist further improvement. But winning teams never stop improving. Don’t be afraid to seek more flavorful ingredient options over time.
• Keep quality #1. Sharpening your competitive flavor edge requires maximizing quality at all times. Beware of sales pitches that try to convince you that cost trumps quality. Since independent restaurants cannot afford to compete with the chains on the basis of price, food quality is, and will always be, the key to your success.
Like knives, competitive advantages cannot hone themselves. So if superior food is your competitive edge, sharpen it every day!
Tom Cortopassi, President and Co-Owner