I sat next to Bob recently at an Entrepreneurial summit recently, where 1000 current and aspiring business owners and had invested a lot of money to learn from some of the US’s brightest entrepreneurs. We spent time listening to the speakers but also interacting with each other. The common issue that kept coming up was “implementation”. We had a lot of knowledge on what we needed to do, but faltered on implementing what we knew. Most of these people were already tremendously successful by anyone’s scale, but they were all there looking to unlock the next level of success and learn from people who had knew the road ahead.

But back to Bob. As we split up into pairs to share our stories and why we were there, it seemed clear to me as an outsider where Mike’s limitations were at. He had a full service construction company that provided a concierge service to people after they had a catastrophe such as a fire or flood in their home. His service acted as a go-between and would assist with the many issues that arise when you are displaced from your residence. One of the challenges he shared with me was that people didn’t know that his service was available, and most people don’t anticipate a disaster so he’s not even on their radar.

I suggested that he develop relationships with insurance agents in order to get referrals to the people who could benefit from his services. His reply was a succinct “No” because he believed that insurance agents did not want to refer their clients to him because he would cost the insurance companies more money. When I heard this it sounded like he was closing a door before even looking in. It was easy for me spout advice such as he can be developing relationships with people in these positions outside of the work setting, like playing golf, chamber of commerce etc. He got a look on his face that told me he was not interested in hearing my input, and politely turned to speak to someone else.

This got me thinking about my own self imposed limitations. I know about the ones that used to stalk me, like I’m not smart enough since I didn’t go to college, or I’m book smart but life stupid, or I can’t do this without my partner. But what other blind spots do I have that are stopping me from growing and reaching my highest potential?

adding value

What is a business but a system for adding value to people? No matter what business you are in, selling goods or services, business to business or direct to the client/customer/patient, you are providing something to the people you serve that fills a need. In our business we are focused on intentionally adding value to the people we work with, the vendors we partner with and the guests we serve. As we have grown it has become more and more important to stay focused on this foundation. The addition of more people and personalities to the team has led us to sometimes stray away from this, but never for long.

How do you know when you have failed to add value? Well in this current instant world we live in the feedback is instant. Anyone can post a review online of your business and let the world know you failed them. Employees can quit without giving notice. You may lose clients. Not every interaction is in our control, but it is the leader’s responsibility to continuously navigate the course and ensure that the people who are following him know the ultimate outcome.

And what is that outcome? To add value!
How does one intentionally add value to someone?
-Make it your intention every day to listen without formulating your reply
-Be present in your interactions
-Value them, and value what they value
-Have them leave the interaction feeling better than when it started
-Take a genuine interest in what is important to them
-Practice “Kaizen” – This is a Japanese word that has no word for word translation to English, but it simply means “change for the better”
-Under-promise and over-deliver
-Exceed their expectations
-Lead by example
-Just do it!

changing our culture

I recently watched “The Founder”, the story of McDonald’s restaurants, and although the movie portrayed Ray Kroc in a not very ethical light, I was curious to learn more about the story. What was the difference between Ray Kroc, who took over and grew the concept that the McDonald’s brothers had founded, and the two brothers? Why was he able to grow the location to the monolith that it has become today? The brothers had achieved great financial success, and had sold some franchises, but lacked the vision or desire to take it big. They had attempted and failed and given up on the process, they were great operators, great managers, but lacked the leadership skills and talents to take their company worldwide.

They were what I call top performers, or skilled producers. Very good at what they do, but lacking in the ability or knowledge to improve their effectiveness by improving their leadership abilities. When we went from one location to 2 then 3 in the space of 2 short months, we were faced with the same problems. James and I were very skilled producers. We had what it took to create a successful restaurant that was profitable and had a loyal fan base and employees. We went blindly forward on that foundation and signed leases for locations 2 and 3, which opened each one month apart. This was a real test on our leadership. I thought that it would be easy to duplicate the success we had at our first location in these 2 new ventures. We recruited, hired and trained the new management team, not really investing the time or even knowing about leadership. We thought it was as simple as hiring experienced managers, paying them well, putting them in there to do their management thing, and it was done. Wrong. It has taken us 5 years of learning and growing to realize that a title does not gain you much in the way of influence or success.

We had seen the coming and goings of many managers in our company when I finally hit a wall. It was so exhausting and expensive to keep rebuilding the management team. Every time we had a change in leadership, there was a trickle down effect on the entire company. The new manager invariably alienated some of the people on the team due to their unique style, and employee turnover was the unfortunate result. I knew that in order to change this cycle I needed to change my thinking. I resolved that I was going to change the direction of our organization. I would no longer hire anyone into a position of leadership out of desperation, and with a very rare exception would I hire from the outside for leadership roles. Thus began our culture shift to one of internal growth. Instead of pushing our growth to the outside, through opening more and more locations, we turned our focus inward to our people. We began the long yet incredibly fruitful process of investing our energy in our team.

The benefits have been compounding. The people we work with that are already invested in the culture know what we are about. They already have the foundation and we are working with them to fortify that base with the skills they will need as they grow into leadership positions with us. We are sharing with them what leadership looks like, it means believing that the power is in the team, never in any one individual. It means taking responsibility for the team if you are a leader, and if something goes wrong or you fail to achieve a goal, its always a leadership issue. It means giving credit to the team when things go well, and taking the blame when they don’t. It means connecting and caring about the people who are following you, and looking for the potential of future leaders. This is the path to the next level of success. You can absolutely have success without leadership, but the only way to maximize your impact, whether in your family, organization, or life, is to bring people along with you on your journey to success.

what i learned at pastry school

I have loved to bake since as far as I can remember. It was my grandma Emily who instilled in me the joy of showing love through baking. She was a terrible cook, but a wonderful baker! She always had cakes made with bumper crops from the garden my grandpa tended in their huge front yard. During the summer months and on weekends throughout the year, my sister, brother and I would love to go to gramma’s house! They were both retired and always busy with projects around the house or in the garden. There was a constant rotation of delicious homey cakes depending on what bumper crop was currently being harvested. Apple cake, zucchini cake, banana cake, strawberry pies…her famous cookies and rocky road every holiday season, all this and apricot brandy made for lots of yumminess every time we went to grammas.

Baking for me was therapy, an activity that I now realize was my earliest teacher for being present. When I am baking I am not thinking of anything but the measurements and temperatures, the smells and tastes, and envisioning the finished product. Even though I was a good baker, I lacked the confidence to make a business of it until I went to some weekend courses at culinary school. What I learned at pastry school was that I was a VERY good baker, with an eye and taste for what makes things yummy. I did learn some recipes and techniques that were added to my epertoire, but the most important thing I learned is that there are learners and there are doers.

There was no magic secret to baking that I didn’t already know. I knew that accuracy was important, that even great bakers cannot make a recipe great, some recipes are just bad. I learned that I already had the talent and skills to make a business if that is what I wanted. I learned that believing in yourself is the first step to achieving your dreams, and that if you open yourself to the idea there are people everywhere who will help you. Understand that persistence, consistency, and learning from your mistakes is key to reaching your loftiest dreams.


Go grab me a bucket of stress will you? That’s what James told me the last time I said I was feeling stressed out. Sounds callous I guess, but its just a fact. Stress is a self created thing. It is the result of the process of thinking about things that make you feel out of control. It is what is distributed to me when I focus on all the stuff I have to do. Or all the stuff I don’t have time for, or all the stuff other people do or say or think. It is a byproduct of over-thinking. Why is it that we get ourselves all worked up into that place? Why is it so hard to look at “stress” as something that we can actually control?

All that is required to get rid of stress immediately is to focus on your emotions and remember that you have a choice. You can choose thoughts that make you feel good. Yes, that is absolutely acceptable and even mandatory. Don’t think about the stuff that gets you into the place where you are reacting to life. Choose thoughts that make you feel good. It’s ok. I promise. The stuff you don’t want to happen is less likely to manifest if you focus else were. The only thing that is in our control, no matter how much we think otherwise, is our emotions.

But I can’t help how I feel, I say. I am valid in feeling this way, this is really a lot of shtt that I am trying to hold together. If I don’t worry about it and think about it, then who will? Who will prevent all the bad stuff from happening if I don’t stress about it? Worrying is like praying for what you DON’T want. Stop focusing on fear. Take charge of your emotions and begin practicing the free choice we all have on what we believe. Bad stuff and good stuff happens no matter what, choose to focus on what you WANT instead of what you FEAR.

Watch what shows up.

cycle of success

Do you ever look at someone who is what you interpret as successful at something you are not and think they are different than you? They must be smarter more educated luckier more motivated stronger younger older than you that is why they are where they are. I know I have and sometimes fall into still doing. The difference is their journey to get to where they are-the insane number of hours/rejections/labor/time to allow them to receive or achieve the level they are at. There is a cycle of success that involves a lot of tests. Tests that fail more than those that succeed. The key to success is to keep adjusting, test, fail, learn, improve, test again.

We have had a lot of failures along our journey, some small, some huge. Before we re-branded our company and changed our focus to unifying our brand as “Denica’s Real Food Kitchen” we were Denica’s Pastry Cafe and our expansion in Dublin birthed “Denica’s Taco Lounge” in the adjoining space. The two separate menus and the fact that we charged our early guests for chips and salsa were definite fails. The separate menus confused our guests, and diluted our brand. We were coming from a place of scarcity, we were really struggling financially in spite of what appeared to be a busy restaurant, which is why we did not even think of giving the free chips and salsa like we do now. We were busy operators, but had no infrastructure to be able to assess if we were actually profitable. Any cash flow went right back into the business, and James and I worked 7 days a week to keep the business running. Ingrained in my memory is the 21 day mark that when we would reach this point (of no days off) we would inevitably begin bickering and the smallest irritation could blow up into a huge argument. What we didn’t know then is that if you are coming from a place of scarcity, it only serves to create more scarcity. Especially when you are struggling to make ends meet, it is so life changing if you can reframe your mind and your heart to giving more. Once you can really shift yourself into the belief that you will always have enough and begin living from that place, everything begins to fall into place.

We have been very blessed all along the way because we really love what we do, and each other. I suppose it is rare to have a relationship that works on multiple levels, but we have always worked so well together both as a couple and as business partners. Our business and personal lives are intertwined and there are no divisions. The shift for me into abundance, especially at the time when we were struggling with finances, was the first step in creating the life of my dreams. The sacrifices we make to continue to be able to work together, and now together with our children, have been so worth it.

There have been many times over the past 18 years that I have been burnt out, and not wanting work on our business. I have burnt myself out to the point where I would have walked away from it all had I not had my husband who thankfully is my strength and support in my times of stress. Thankfully, those days have passed. I am learning to roll with the ups and downs, and to learn and grow during the downs in order to take the ups to the next level.

There are always sacrifices required with anything that we do, there is no shortcut to success other than to continue to act. Success is not a destination, it is a constant learning journey to define what success is for you. For me success is dreaming something and seeing it manifest, it is the joy of seeing my kids learn and grow, it is hearing the people that work with me in my organization teaching me leadership. It is stretching myself and always stepping forward across the invisible barrier that is the edge of my comfort zone, into the unknown where life really begins…


That feeling of dread when a lead cook and prep cook walk out on the same day, a Friday before a busy weekend. One is a keyholder, which presents it’s own challenges as we have to get the locksmith out to re-key and ensure that all openers have access for the next day. I have a firefighter mindset still, obviously, because my first thought was “I’ll go in and cook myself”

Lucky for me my husband James is a natural leader and operates at a higher level of leadership in these areas than I do. His first question is always “Who can I have help me with this?” This is and example of a strong sense of intuition. James instinctively knows that all of us are smarter than one of us. If I were to peek into his mind the questions he is asking are most likely:
Who is the best person to take this on?
What other options are there?
Who can we transfer from another store to fill in for the weekend?

James shows his ability to see more before and reminded me that we have resources at our other locations, and we called out kitchen manager from another location out for support. The mindset of “we don’t have enough people” can be changed to a question- or multiple questions. Who can help me? What am I missing? How can I best support my team?

I work on expanding my mind and using my creativity to find the answer(s) to the problem at hand. I know that leadership is a process, and that every shift even slightly in direction may not have immediate results, but if you take the trajectory of that shift out over time, you will end up in a totally different universe.

empowering others

The first day we opened the people were asking for lunch, so we quickly put together a lunch menu and went with it. In 2005 when we expanded to take the spot next door, doubling our size, we voted at the dinner table on what to serve and landed on Mexican food. In 2006 when I went on a much needed first vacation in 7 years with the kids to visit my family is Spain, James was inspired to fill our often empty morning restaurant by serving breakfast. The evolution of our brand has been such that we have really outgrown our original location, but are still making it work. We have added equipment and reconfigured multiple times, working to find the best way to serve the guests that line up for our food, but there remain limitations.

We have 2 order stations, with the cooks flipping omelettes right behind the cashiers. We train our managers and supervisors to always check in with the lead chef on duty before opening the second order station. This is how we empower our people to make the decisions that affect them and our business on a daily basis. It would be easy for a manager or boss to say, “Well, I am the boss, I know what needs to be done, do it and thats that.” and in my earlier leadership journey that was me, but luckily I quickly learned that this approach is not well received by any except the non thinkers. This may be needed in some situations, like when safety is an issue, but if you are in the business of growing people and attracting self starters (which is the best way to grow your business) this is a method to eliminate from your diet.

It used to drive my daughter crazy when she would hear me say “Hey honey, would it be okay with you if I went shopping with my sister this Thursday night?” She would get upset with me, “Why are you asking his permission?! Be strong! Do what you want!” she would say. I would explain to her that I was not asking permission, but being courteous and giving him the respect he had earned and deserved as my partner in parenting, work, and life. This would fall on deaf ears with her because of where she was in her life and growth. I share this example with my leaders to help them understand the power of humility and empathy when working with your team.

As my daughter is navigating relationships now as an adult, the early lessons that she rejected come back as valuable tools she can use to help understand the different perspectives and world views of the people she is working and growing with. Empowering others is one of the biggest gifts you can give. With your kids, your employees, your spouse, coming to each interaction with sincerity and a true openness to their point of view is the most important leadership skill you can develop.