bigger on the inside

Is it true that more and more small businesses are disappearing? When I was growing up we had a local butcher shop, a fish market, a co-op grocery store, the “milk depot”. There were independent bookstores, clothing shops, hof braus, corner coffee shops. Places where you knew the owners, saw their kids working on the weekends…Now it seems that the brands that are growing and taking over the prime real estate are the ones that have the biggest budgets, the Costcos, the Dick’s, the Lazy Dogs, the Starbucks. And every marketing expert has been preaching the power of the story, so the big brands are working to tell us a story about why they are not giants that are gobbling up the little guys. But I wonder.

I love small business. I love to go to a place that is not quite “perfect”, where they may be slightly short staffed and going crazy, where the signs are hand made, where the people are genuine and don’t follow a script. I seek them out and support them and see in them the cure to mass corporate overload as they are living their American dream. I get asked often if I am going to take my restaurants big. I get all kinds of free advice and kudos and you shoulds. And maybe they are right, we have something good, so the automatic thought for many is to grow it, but why? For me, as the driver of the Denica’s brand, it is my fiduciary responsibility to my team, my family, my integrity, to ensure that our growth is organic. That means growing from the inside. For the reasons that are right for us. Not to make more money, not for ego, not for glory or fame. Instead a decision to grow our brand has to benefit more than just me, or my immediate circle. It has to provide a place for the people that are working with me to grow into positions of leadership, a place for them to make more money, a place for the people in the communities we serve to come and have a loving, friendly place to eat.

So are we growing? Yes we are growing. We are growing our people, watering and nurturing the seeds of greatness that exist in all of us. We are providing a place where they can begin to dream and to see that we can make this world a better place, one interaction at a time. The love in our organization is HUGE, though our company is small. We are bigger on the inside.

“The universe is big, its vast and complicated, and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles. And that’s the theory. Nine hundred years, never seen one yet, but this would do me.”
― Steven Moffat


Everybody feels it. It is the biggest thing, that holds us back from taking action. Fear of leaving something that is secure and stepping into the unknown. Fear of trying something new that we may not be good at. Fear of what people will say if we fall on our face. Fear of not having enough money. Fear of losing love people have for us. Fear of speaking up and asking for what you want. What is that feeling? Where does it come from?

I can pull it up in an instant just by thinking of some of the moments in my life where I felt it. The sick feeling in your gut, the heavy weight of some negative energy that just cloaks your body, the hyperawareness that suddenly occurs to every perceived threat to your current world. We have a global connected consciousness that has a deeply rutted path of fear, of scarcity, of separation. But we also have an even stronger space that is tremendously powerful, strong and able. Able to create a beautiful life in spite of or because of the challenges that we have faced along the path. I am not going to say it is easy to disconnect yourself from the stickiness of fear, it is freaking hard shit. It can take a cataclysmic event like losing someone or getting cancer that shoves you into another reality where you have to question who you are. It can take going bankrupt, losing your business, the end of your marriage, losing your home. But it can also happen another way – you can choose to let go without needing the hard lesson. You can begin to open your thoughts to the idea that fear is not acting in your favor. Begin to open your mind to the idea that fear is not a message to stop, but instead a message that you are headed in the right direction. Fear is telling you to step forward, step up, hold someones hand if you need it, but move.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

trade up

There are many lessons to remember when you are leading people. Some lessons become ingrained, such as the fulfillment that is achieved when you look outside yourself and help others. Others need constant reminders, like it is a process, and to look at the big picture. Every person has their strengths and their weaknesses, and although it can be tempting to focus on ever facet of yourself at once, for me what has proven to be most effective is to surround myself with people who are strong where I am still growing. If you look at anything too closely, you will lose the perspective that standing back brings. For me, the big picture is definitely a weak point, but I have learned to imagine myself physically above, in the air even, and looking down and around at the world I am living in. I can take myself back through my memory to 5 years ago from today, and scan forward to now and see the progress I have made, not only personally, but in our business. It can be challenging when facing the day to day issues than invariably come up to test us, but if you can see the progress, and look at how life has unfolded for you, then can you really start to believe in the power of process.

I am still learning, every day and every moment. I think that I have found the perfect solution for a problem, only to trade one issue for another. The key is to trade up. The problems we had at the beginning of our business, not enough customers, got traded for the problem of not enough employees to serve them, to the problem of not enough seating, to the problem of not enough parking… The person you were sure was going to be able to handle the project falters, the timeline you had set gets blown, your plan has to change. Life is full of puzzles and opportunities for us to choose how we look at what is going on in our lives. Remember to reflect and to give yourself the occasional, or frequent, pat on the back for how you have grown. Each trade up is another way for us to use the tools in our toolbelt and learn again. Be a quick learner, and keep moving on up.

“A Pessimist Sees The Difficulty In Every Opportunity; An Optimist Sees The Opportunity In Every Difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

answers inside

Even with the best intentions, there are bound to be distractions that take you (me) away from doing the important stuff. The stuff that matters. The lure of the internet and all of it’s infinity of answers to every possible need or problem I can come up with is definitely a level one distraction. The amount of information that is accessible to us at the click of a button would have blown our minds 15 years ago. I think it is an amazing gift we have been given to be so connected – albeit virtually – with what is going on all around the world, however I also think that it has made us lazy. We have become dependent on finding the answers we seek outside of ourselves, through Google, or Bing or whatever your search engine of choice is.

I was trying to remember the name of a movie, that movie* with Kevin Spacey where he telling a tall tale yet was the mastermind behind the heist, and the overwhelming instinct was to “google it”, instead of using my brain and searching my memories for the title that was filed somewhere in the filing cabinet in the corner of my mind. As we habitually Google the cause of our headaches, the best way to terminate someone, how to get your kid to help with chores, are we losing the ability to find the answers we seek inside us?

The work that has to be done is to build the muscle of self knowledge. How? By listening to the gut, and trusting your instincts. I can certainly find as many answers as there are opinions on the great world wide web, but ultimately the best answer for me is always going to be the one that sounds true. So go ahead and Google if you think you need it, but wake up to the fact that for every “best solution” there is and equally valid opposite solution out there. You have the answer already, you are just looking for verification. Start practicing being confident in your gut, and looking less for the quick answer. This is just one more road to becoming more self aware, which for me is the journey of my life. Getting to know me.

*The Usual Suspects

“Inner guidance is heard like soft music in the night by those who have learned to listen.”
― Vernon Howard

start small

“The direction of your focus is the direction your life will move. Let yourself move toward what is good, valuable, strong and true.” – Ralph Marston

Thinking big forces you to stretch. It engages the part of your mind that is mostly busy at night writing the crazy dreams that we wake up wondering where they came from. The secret is to think big but start small. Everything that exists, no matter how big, started with an idea, a dream, started small. Don’t let your big ideas scare you into being paralyzed. Dream as big as your imagination will allow. Write your dream down on paper, keep it in your line of sight, talk about it, think about it. Take the small steps that are the foundation of anything big, and look for the opportunities that are there for you to build that dream into a reality. We become what we think about, and if your dream is kept at the forefront of your awareness, you will begin to notice around you avenues, or doorways, that will lead you one step closer.

I have a dream that my restaurants are not about food, though food is the medium through which we deliver our message. Our message is love. Our message is kindness. Our message is to make our world a better place. It didn’t start this way, it has been an evolution for me as a founder, and as I continue to grow and follow my path. It started as a dream, but also from dire need. I needed a way to support my family, and this was what I was good at, what I knew, what I enjoyed.

It evolved quickly, even concurrently, into being about the food. I know what I like, and that means it has to taste really good to me. It has to have the real stuff, no fake formulated food. That continues to be a priority for us and I am non-negotiable on that, ask my husband who continues to pout that I took away his beloved “American Cheese”. Not long after we opened I began to fall in love with the connections I was making. For the first time in my life I was comfortable with, thriving actually, when meeting new people. The former wallflower had found her place. The safety of being behind the counter gave me confidence to make friends and talk to people from all walks of life as they came into our business.

This was the zone for many years. I was busy, I had purpose, I was in the mix, my hand in the pot, making it happen from the front lines. Then the question began to get through my thoughts…what else do you want to do? What more? The bigger dream was knocking at the door. This brought the growth of our business from one, to three, now four locations. Now our platform has grown, has multiplied in fact, as we take our message to a broader scale. But it started small. It started with a dream, and the dream continues to grow as the people that are a part of it help to create and propel us. Their dreams feed my dream, and so we grow.

action is power

Knowledge is not power, action is power. You can read and study all you want but if you don’t actually do anything with what you know you are nothing but a spectator. Take your health, for example. There is no shortage of books and programs and step by step methods that will tell you how to be fit and lean, but sitting on the couch eating Chips Ahoy while reading them will never get you the result you are seeking. It may be knowledge that sparks the understanding that something needs to change, but action is the only thing that will actually change lives. We have an overwhelming amount of information being broadcasted into us during our day. Our instant access to what is going on anywhere in the world has brought us near awareness and knowledge overload. If we actually took everything in and felt it, we would curl into a ball and not want to leave the safety of our beds, so we filter.

Entrepreneur and speaker Jim Rohn said, “One of the best places to start to turn your life around is by doing whatever appears on your mental, ‘I should’ list.” It takes practice to begin to actually hear those subtle messages from our higher self that are working to get through the noise in our heads. I am not talking about the regret and self bashing “I should have done that differently”, but instead the “I should stop and talk to the guy asking for change”, or “I should call my friend and see how she’s doing”. Any should message that is telling you to help someone else. There is a tremendous power in taking action on your shoulds. It turns you from being a passive bystander into an active participant, an active author, of life. It means stepping up, just a bit, and taking responsibility for your world.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing like rebuilding a school for the storm ravaged areas in Puerto Rico, or hosting a family displaced by the fires in your home. It can be small, like asking someone how their day is, and actually taking the time to care. The secret is that when you begin, you can’t go back. The rewards of helping others are immense and reflect back to us by making us…Feel Good. Taking action not only helps someone else, but it helps you. It helps you realize what you value, it helps you learn to listen to your internal guidance system, it helps you feel a purpose, it helps you grow. You can’t turn a butterfly back into a caterpillar, and when you intentionally work to help others, you begin the journey to learning to fly.


“With the greatest leader above them, people barely know one exists. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy. When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts him. The great leader speaks little. He never speaks carelessly. he works without self interest and leaves no trace. When all is finished, the people say ‘We did it ourselves’.”- 17th verse, Tao de Ching

I spent the better part of a year reading and studying the Tao de Ching. This ancient Chinese book of wisdom is full of the thought provoking verses that were a big catalyst in my personal growth as a human being and as a leader of my organizations and family. My notebook from this study is a hand written journal, where I would write out the verses one by one, spending as much time as I needed on each one, from one day to several, learning what they meant to me. The book is full of thoughts and insights and sketches, and as I read through it now, a year later, I am reminded again of my favorite verse. The 17th verse contains the principles that I strive to live by as I grow as a leader.

To be this kind of leader means setting aside your ego and becoming humble and grateful. It means being a servant leader, knowing that your most important job is to support those who are following you. It means giving credit to them, and taking the blame yourself. It involves empowering and nurturing the people who you lead, while always practicing self control. It is realizing that you have a tremendous impact, and that the little things make the biggest difference. Interfere less- interfere not at all. Be cautious with your words, you cannot know how deeply they can land in the heart of the listener. Give to give, not to get. Listen more, say less. Which brings to mind a favorite poem by the great Sufi poet Hafiz- “Everyone is God speaking, why not be polite and listen to him.”


One of the most powerful gifts you can give someone is that of sincere appreciation. I don’t think I am alone in my wondering if what I do makes a difference, no matter how small the impact may be. There are so many things that we take for granted, or even that we expect as the minimum standard. When we go out to eat at a restaurant, we expect the people that serve us to be friendly, kind and attentive. We expect that the garbage will get picked up every week when we put the cans out. We expect our deliveries to arrive on time from Amazon. We expect our spouse or partner kiss us hello and goodbye. We expect there to be hot water when we turn on the shower. What do you think would happen if you got up early and met the trash collector to tell them thank you for helping to keep our community clean? Or if you called the manager over to tell them how much you appreciated the smile or kindness of your server? Or stopped your lover as they gave you the habitual kiss goodbye, looked them directly in the eyes, and told them how grateful you are to have them in your life?

We have so much to be grateful for, the mere fact that if you are reading this, you have access to electricity, internet, and so much more, is in itself something to pause and appreciate. I think that if one person makes a conscious effort to show appreciation to at least 2 other people, the ripple effect can be huge. So many people spend so much energy focusing on I, what I feel, what I want, what I think… that we forget how blessed we all are to be born in this time of incredible abundance and opportunity. I really believe that if we turn our focus to kindness, adjust the dial just a smidge, and start to show appreciation, the momentum we create will help to heal this world.

change the world

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” – Amelia Earhart

How much control do you have on the world we live in? Do you believe you have the power to make a positive change? Do you think that the things that are happening in your city, in your state, in your country, in the world, are your responsibility? Are you a spectator or are you a doer? When someone is rude to you, or unfairly accuses you of doing something, do you feel hurt, or angry? Do other people’s actions and moods affect yours? If you are like most of us, they do. I see it all the time with angry drivers, or people I work with that bring their personal problems to work, or in the media on the world stage with all of the back and forth tit for tat. It has been an ongoing process for me to learn to stay cool, to stay me, when faced with outside influencers. It can be hard to do so especially with the people that have the most influence on us, our parents, our kids, our spouse.

It’s easy to see how easily we can be affected by upset, so how about we take that and flip it around. How good does it feel when we get touched with love? What if you set an intention to make all of your interactions laced with love, with kindness. Do you think that will have a ripple effect? I believe it does. I believe that the only way we are going to make this world we all live in a better place is to begin right here, with the daily connections and collisions we have ourselves. Begin the conversation, don’t be shy. Talk to your kids, to your coworkers, to your boss, to your neighbor, to the guy asking for change outside the cafe. Look up, look out, practice giving love even silently at first, then as you get brave, out loud. It may feel strange at first, to tell a stranger you love them, or someone you work with, but it gets easier the more you do it. Start small. Get great.


When I read things I have written in the past, sometimes the recent past such as in last week or three days ago, or from a year ago, I am often surprised. It feels like I am constantly learning and unlearning, and some of the lessons I have learned I seem to forget. It’s almost with wonder that I read an old journal, feeling a little like I am intruding in someone’s private thoughts, a little uncomfortable and maybe embarrassed. We have such huge brains, and although it is a myth that we only use 10% (research has shown that over a 24 hour period we use all parts of our brains), I imagine that we have sections where we live at different times. When we are in a place of sadness, for example, the things we do, the words we use, the stories we tell, our body language, are all recognizable as our behaviors when we are living in the sad room. When the sadness lifts and we move into another room, the room of curiosity, for example, we have a different set of thoughts, words, and actions. As we move from room to room, the doors to the other rooms are closed, locked even. I think that is why when I read about “aha’s” I have had, or lessons I have learned, they can seem so far away.

I read my own writing, and it sounds like I have it all worked out. But I don’t, its a process, daily, monthly, sometimes hourly to not get triggered. Somehow we find ourselves in the same situations, maybe a different cast of characters or a different movie set, but the trials are the same. My biggest challenges still is to keep my energy and emotions high when around people operating at a lower energy. That sounds all woo-woo, but basically what I mean is staying at peace when someone is upset. Or angry, or sad, or stressed. This is most difficult for me with the people closest to me, my kids, my family, the people I work with. Emotions are living, energy rich things, I think of them as balls of light, or magnets, or static electricity. I am blessed to have some very passionate people in my life, and when that passion veers to the side of upset, it is hard as heck to keep from getting pulled into the vortex of emotion that wants to attract more of the same. When my kids are sad or upset, even now as they are mostly adults, my strength gets tested to stay where I am and not swoop in to try to bring them up. Likewise, when all are content and excited it is easy to be the same.

It helps me to remember that negativity as well as positivity are parts of the whole, and it is a crazy perfectionist idea to think you will never have anything triggering you. The moment you think you have “figured it out”, guess what, it is just another doorway into the next room. And remembering that our thoughts control our emotions, and there is some Velcro involved in there somewhere. If you are thinking dis-empowering thoughts, or getting sucked into someone else’s dramas, our Velcro mechanism will give us more of the same. We will continue to attract scenarios and opportunities in our life to learn what we need to learn. It is all part of our job here during this short time we have on earth to learn as much as we can about ourselves so that we can truly enjoy the amazing miracle that made us human. Just a 1% adjustment to our DNA and we are chimpanzees.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. Marcus Aurelius