Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Coffee And Baked Greats, Anyone?

A friend of mine is a partner in a firm that helps companies to develop their brands. He helps business owners embed their stories in the mind of the marketplace, because great stories matter. Most businesses have stories but rarely are they told properly, if at all.

Two If By Sea, a new café in Dartmouth, has a great story which they tell on their web site. Click on the 'Je Ne Sais Quoi' tab for a bite of enlightenment. You don't have to read their story, but you must try their coffee and croissants. You must. You must. You must. If you go to Two If By Sea and aren't impressed, then I'll run the full length of Ochterloney Street wearing nothing but flip flops and a smile.

No, I won't be running through Dartmouth naked, because you will love Two If By Sea. Not much in life is certain, but this is. I can only think of a handful of businesses to which I would give such an unconditional endorsement. I can think of scores of businesses that have let me down personally, as well as let down the community in which they aspired to do business. Perhaps an example is necessary.

My same friend, he who helps companies develop their brands, once told me the story of trying to eat in one of my village's two dining establishments. He and his wife went to the restaurant for a Saturday morning breakfast, simply looking to have someone else cater to their gastronomic desires. The place was very busy and the service was unacceptably slow, perhaps because there wasn't a sufficient supply of staff. Sometimes this happens for various reasons, and we have to be generous and accept it. Sometimes not. The two restaurant owners were there, but rather than helping out their beleaguered employees, the well-to-do owners sat on the veranda of the restaurant, smoking and chatting with their buddies.

What message was sent to my friend, the branding expert?

The message was that the owners didn't really care about their customers; plain and simple. Their story was about themselves, and didn't include any commitment on their part to creating a satisfying experience for the customer.

That true tale was based on just one person's experience, but stories are told and retold until they become part of pop culture. When the public at large is voicing stories about your business, you'd better hope that they read like a romance. As a business owner you do have some control over the stories, but only when you pay attention to detail. Once the stories are out there, they are truly out there, and there's not much you can do. I've told this story of the uncaring owners more than a few times. Someone else, upon hearing this story, related their own story about this same restaurant. Here it is:

The restaurant in question once had dreams of putting a network of docks into the lake, located immediately behind their property. Docks would accommodate water weary boaters who might like to get out of their stinkpots and take a break on the high side. A dock would allow them to patronize the restaurant. Sadly, the dock system was ill conceived and never fully embraced by the community (it's a long story). At the end of the season, a local contractor was hired to remove the docks from the lake, which he did. He, a hard working and honest man, was never paid by the restaurant owners. Meanwhile they continued to toddle around the village in their Mercedes, as though all was well with the world.

How do you think this went over in a village of 640 people? This business alienated the customers, and alienated the community. Do you think they're still in business? Of course not. Deep pockets and shallow morals don't buy customer loyalty.

It's unlikely that I would ever suggest, to the owners of Two If By Sea, that they contact my friend or his company for some branding advice; only because there's no need. So far as I can see, they're doing everything properly. They have a great story that they're telling, one that endears them to me, the customer. They've put their business in a perfect location. They're friendly and affable, and they make their customers feel loved and appreciated. Their line of baked greats is embarrassingly decadent. Mr.Starbuck, if you're reading this, you'd better get in your jet and head east to experience something truly remarkable, then go back to Seattle and fix your franchise's lacklustre baking program.

The gang at Two If By Sea are not trying to be everything for everyone, like Tim's or Starbucks. Instead they've decided to concentrate on doing a few things right. More than just 'right', they're doing things spectacularly well. They've only been in business for a few short weeks. Already they're having queues of people lining up, spilling out onto the sidewalk, for their Saturday morning croissants and coffee. They have an almond croissant that brings tears to my tongue...it's a thing of culinary beauty. Absolute perfection. Their customers are telling their story for them, much as I'm doing now. As a business owner there's seldom more that you could ask for, beyond having legions of raving fans telling your story. I'm one, and I've helped to create others.

Why do I do it? Because I want good people to succeed. I also want to be able to have an almond croissant every time I visit Dartmouth.

I stopped by Two If By Sea on Saturday afternoon and was delightfully devastated. They were sold out of everything except coffee and chocolate chip cookies. Good for them. It made me happy, though my croissant craving went unaddressed. I needed to develop a strategy for future pilgrimages. I noted that they were closed on Sundays and reopened at seven eh em every Monday morning.

Needless to say I arrived at Two If By Sea on Monday morning at seven eh em because I wasn't prepared to start my week without their pastries. I purchased two almond croissants, two plain croissants (rest assured, they're anything but plain), one pain chocolat, one perfectly undercooked and over-sized chocolate chip cookie, and one salmon/dill/cream cheese croissant. I shared everything with friends/family, though I could have just as easily driven off into the sunrise on my own, never to be seen again.

Well, of course I'd be seen again, most likely at 66 Ochterloney Street, Dartmouth.


  1. I love Two If By Sea. They're exactly what downtown Dartmouth needed.

  2. Ian! Could you possibly be suggesting that such an ambient cafe featuring home cooked delights(ala hundred mile diet), and manned by a couple of real eager beavers might have half a chance in Cambridge-Narrows?

  3. Two If By Sea (TIBS) would never survive in Cambridge-Narrows, for two reasons:

    1) we don't have the population to support such a venture,

    2) our ditches are littered with Tim Horton's coffee cups. People who toss their garbage out the window are not the type of people who would appreciate or frequent TIBS.

    I'm living in the backwoods, baby.