Alicia Diamond

Actionable advice for passionate business builders

Actionable advice, tips, and musings from a 2x Chief of Staff & passionate business builder

Lessons from Sister Pie (recipes not included!)

Artful concerns can come in all shapes and sizes.

I’m guilty of worshipping - in the David Foster Wallace sense of the word - the wrong things about a business: bigger is always better, the cover of Fortune or bust, leaders only mattered if they were quasi celebrities, sexy industries trump boring, and “lifestyle business” was a necessarily derogatory term.

Boy, was I wrong. Through personal experience, a lot of reading, and even more self-reflection, I’ve realized that my personal definition of an artful concern was woefully limited. My basic definition of a “business worth studying” was preventing me from seeing all of the wonderful work done at boring businesses all around me.

Since my personal aha-moment, I’ve been consciously seeking out seemingly boring, but truly beautiful, businesses hiding in plain site. Case in point: Sister Pie Shop in Detroit.

The Wall Street Journal featured Sister, and its founder Lisa Ludwinski, just before the Thanksgiving holiday. What struck me about Sister is the thoughtful attention Lisa and her staff pay to the business, not just the pastry. A bakery is the ideal business model for a founder to focus near exclusively on working in the business. Who doesn’t want to be working with pastry all day?!

At Sister Pie, I’m working with my staff to find our own definition of family and business.

The staff is split simply into an AM team, a PM team and two kitchen managers, with no hierarchy dividing front-of-house, back-of-house and dishwashing. Anji, our office manager and keeper of all information, works tirelessly to ensure the system runs efficiently. Working this way, as a team, allows us to make more food and broaden each employee’s set of skills. Everyone has a voice, and we tweak the system obsessively.

Bakery as a business model in its modern form has existed for hundreds of year. Lisa made it more difficult on herself by creating, and maintaining, a flat hierarchy. What if more leaders chose to flatten their organizations? At the expense of getting their hands dirty, would they elevate their staff and beefen up their bench? Could they get to know their teams as people first, and then use that newfound knowledge to create a better environment in which those people could thrive?

In describing their chaotic runup to Thanksgiving, Lisa shares:

Customers line up along the side of the building before the sun rises. We take bets on when the earliest will arrive and run cups of coffee outside to customers in gratitude.

Corporate America spends some absurdly large sum of money every single year trying to engage knowledge workers and remind them about the importance of the customer. Lisa and team provide three simple lessons:

  • Care enough about your customers to notice when they show up.

  • When they do, greet them enthusiastically and authentically.

  • Approach your customers from a place of gratitude.

When was the last time your customer-facing team took bets to see when the first customer would arrive? Was it in the spirit of “ugh, here we go again with another complaint” or from a place of genuine gratitude? When was the last time you greeted a customer with a proverbial cup of coffee? Doing so would be require you to acknowledge the state they’re in when they arrive. It’s much easier when it’s a person lined up outside, but I believe we can bring these same principles into all types of companies.

Alicia Diamond