Scrolling through files on my computer at work, I can pretty much trace the progression of the business through spreadsheets, price labels and photographs (candid and professional) of events, company parties, and breaks in the action behind the counter. Families have grown, ex-staffers have gone to rehab, become police officers, found god, and earned master’s degrees, prices have more than quintupled, and previously experimental recipes have been honed into lexicon. When I say “progression,” I mean pile: an amorphous mass of guesswork, troubleshooting and triage that has taken shape and could be temporarily (like for the purposes of this essay) deemed linear.
I work for Northern Waters Smokehaus, a small business gone large. The retail side of the enterprise started out 15 years ago with the idea that we were going to offer a small, specialized service (smoked fish and imported cheese) to a specialized audience (those with the monetary means coupled with the proper palettes). We had five employees counting the owner himself, who took care of pretty much everything besides front-line sales (though he did that as well from time to time, and was utterly expert at it — I think a dozen bored housewives fell in love with him that first year we were open, charmed irresistibly by his earnest and passionate obsession for good food).