Mac 'N Noodles Then vs. Now
Then and now. Before and after. These words provide an interesting contrast for the mind to ponder. They draw a distinction from a time prior to a time present. Often, when placed together, the contrast is meant to evoke a progression towards perfection. Finite objects exist in imperfect forms; there always exists a way to improve. That is what makes reflecting on the past so intriguing. You learn to love the process of improving. Then, every day becomes a practice towards perfection. Henry Ford mastered this when he revolutionized assembly lines. Our forefathers did this when they revolutionized our country in 1776. Put simply, progression towards perfection is the American way.
In my spare time, I began reading a book called Setting the Table: The Power of Hospitality in Restaurants, Business, and Life by Danny Meyer. What’s remarkable about Danny is that he opened his first restaurant, Union Square Café, at 27, and then grew it into one of the most popular restaurants in New York City. For Danny, the foundational principle was the customer’s satisfaction. Each day in the restaurant was a classroom lecture: the lesson was always the customer’s experience. That’s why when Danny looks back at then vs. now, or the before and after, he can see a clear progression towards that perfection. It’s no wonder his restaurants were named to the top 25 by Food & Wine Magazine in 1992, he was named the best restaurateur in America in 1999 and again by Readers Digest in 2005, and to the TIME 100 Most Influential People in 2015. Despite these awards, I’m certain he still finds and implements new changes to form a more perfect experience.
I must admit, when I first started my truck the food was subpar. I was 26, inexperienced and possessed no formal culinary training. I thought I knew everything and I was not open to others’ ideas. Looking back, that was problem number one. My lesson in humility has opened the doors of opportunity. Now, I can truly say that I know how little I know. Ironically, it is this knowledge that has led to my greatest growths as an entrepreneur. I now seek out help when I reach an impasse. Additionally, I’m not afraid to change directions or drop an idea if it’s bad. Want to know what the biggest difference maker is in terms of our financial success? You just read it.
This year has taught me a lot. I have become a student in the food truck classroom. As I look back, I am still shocked at how much has changed. You see, cooking is a science and science requires the scientific method: theory, hypothesis, experimentation, analysis and conclusion. In practice, and from experienced others, I have learned how to correctly boil noodles. It is unbelievable the difference that is made by waiting for the water to reach a “roaring” boil before adding noodles. Further, ever wonder why your sauce might come out “grainy” or with an odd “floury” texture? Odds are that you did not adequately mix your flour/butter in your roux. (Someone should tell Chipotle, but I suppose I’m open to consulting if they want to give me a call?) Aside from these techniques, I’ve learned what brine is, how to slow roast pork and how to make a killer homemade salsa. A small change can make a world of difference! It’s a practice in perfection.
As I further reflect on the past year, the other major transformation for Mac ‘N Noodles is our food presentation. The presentation of the product is powerful and cannot be underestimated. There’s a saying that goes, “[y]ou eat with your eyes before your stomach.” When I think back, I probably subconsciously learned this at a young age, well before I actually conceptualized it. A famous children’s book goes something like this:
I am Sam.
Sam I am.
I do not like
Do you like
Green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
I do not like
Green eggs and ham.
Recognize it? Me too. That’s Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. On one hand, it’s just a silly children’s story. On the other hand, there’s a lesson on presentation. Do green eggs taste different than yellow eggs? Certainly not, but they look gross, so therefore no one would buy them. (Yes, yes. I know that he eventually likes Green Eggs and Ham, but only after he overcomes the poor presentation.) The truth in the matter is this: the more visually appealing a product is the more likely a customer will be excited to try it. You are more likely to enjoy a food that you are excited to eat. That’s why I place special emphasis on color, texture and presentation. It is what makes great Mac legendary.
Some people say that pictures are worth a thousand words. So, instead of typing a thousand more, I’ll leave a couple pictures from then and now.