Three and a half years ago, we received a spontaneous email. It wasn't uncommon to get emails inquiring about positions within the company. It wasn't uncommon to get those emails even when we weren't publicly soliciting for positions. It is completely uncommon, however, to receive such an email at the absolute perfect moment, from someone absolutely perfect for a spot that was only just being conceived within our roughly mapped out future plans.
As we read the very well written and inquisitive email, it seemed like someone who was looking for a change and showed some interest in what we do. We were at a point where we could not survive moving forward within the current set up of the company, which at that point was us fielding all administrative tasks as well as the food side of things. We toyed with the idea of hiring on a key staff member to help alleviate the crushing amount of work that was bearing down on us, but really only had the time to discuss in passing.
Dandelion was growing rapidly and after a year of literally breaking our backs and feeling like we were hitting our breaking points, Amy Makowieki decided to email us and see if we were hiring. What?! We were in the height of our busy season, cooking full time during the day and then working from home until the wee hours of the morning. Amy’s email was a chance to make a change, a change we desperately needed.
At first, I really struggled with the idea of handing over a side of the business that I not only enjoyed, but also felt like personalized us. I had been the main person of contact for all our clients but I was struggling to keep up with new inquiries while trying to maintain a level of professionalism and care to our existing clients.
My fears quickly dissipated as Amy flawlessly stepped into the role as our new operations manager. Without a shadow of a doubt, Amy has been instrumental in Dandelion’s growth and success. If you have worked with us, then you most certainly have had the pleasure of working with Amy.
One of the most gratifying and humbling experiences of starting my journey that is Dandelion is watching people jump on board and truly invest themselves in it, and do their job so much better than I ever could have done myself. Amy personifies this notion endlessly. She never ceases to impress us with her dedication to helping push Dandelion forward.
How did you come to work for Dandelion?
In the summer of 2013 I decided it was time to leave my current job (traveling the country as a band tour manager). As cool as that was, I was ready to have a home base and wanted to find a job that combined my love for event management with a more stable home environment. I found Dandelion’s website and from reading about you felt that my values and skills would be a good match for the company, so I reached out! This happened to be right around that time that you were ready to bring in some full time help, so the timing was very fortuitous.
What has been the hardest obstacle that you have had to overcome working at Dandelion?
Coming from touring, where you are working literally 24/7, it was a struggle for me to define for myself what my ideal work/life balance was. I was used to working at all hours of the day and night and of being available to anyone at anytime. I knew I wanted to get away from this and really set aside time for myself to build my hobbies and personal interests outside of work, but it was hard to break the habit! Plus, with event work, you are still working more non-traditional hours so for me, it just took a little time for me to feel comfortable being “off” and to not feel like I needed to check my phone or work email constantly.
Aside from that, I had no experience in the food or service industry prior to working with Dandelion, so there was a little bit of a learning curve there (though I think I picked it up pretty quickly!).
What would you say is the most important tool for maintaining balance? How do you do it with such a busy and full life?
One thing that I think really helps is having honest conversations about expectations (with yourself, your colleagues, and your clients). Defining was is an “urgent” matter vs. what can wait until the next time I’m in the office was a big turning point for me.
Of course, I want to be available as much as possible, but I also finally realized that in order to do my best work I also needed time to decompress and step away from work each night. There are only so many hours in a day that you can work before you burn yourself out, and once I realized that I found it much easier to simply turn off my phone and email when I’m done working for the day.
One thing I recently started trying is to limit the number of times I check email each day, and to actually turn off my email if I’m settling in to work on a project that needs my full attention. This frees up big chunks of time in during the day to stop multitasking and get quality work done on without constantly interrupting the workflow to answer off topic emails. Then, you can put your full attention on answering emails when the time is right!
Doing things like this to increase productivity and efficiency during the day makes it much easier to turn off my “work brain” when I leave, because I feel like I’ve accomplished as much as I can for the day.
Oh also, I take a walk in the middle of the day almost every day. I spend a lot of time on the computer during the week and a 20-30 minute walk outside totally reinvigorates you for the second half of the day!
You wear head phones at work to drown out the kitchen noise. What are you listening to?
I use Spotify most of the time. You can search “focus” and up pop all of these playlists that are acoustic guitar songs or spa-like sound effects. I get very zen in my headphones. Songs with lyrics tend to distract me!
What’s your favorite dish that Dandelion makes?
I love all of our appetizers (I’m more of an appetizer person generally). The first thing I tried of Dandelion’s was the braised beef bacon popover and that’s still one of my favorites! We don’t make that as much anymore, which I’m very sad about. I also love the lobster rangoon we’ve been doing lately, and there’s a wild rice/butternut squash/chevre dish that I make for any potluck that I go to -- it’s always a huge hit. Oh, and all of the treats that Nina makes! We get to try lots of test batches of things during the work day. It’s a fun job perk. :)
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m currently renovating a house in Gray with my boyfriend Nate, so that’s taken up a big chunk of time lately. We bought that this past spring, so it’s been a busy year! I enjoy getting outside, whether it’s kayaking or hiking, or more recently, ice skating (I am a new ice skater and pretty bad at it). We have a dog that loves outdoor adventures too (he’s very athletic). I also enjoy a good sci-fi novel or tv show and am currently making my way through X-Files on Netflix…
You’ve hired some pretty amazing employees over the years. What do you look for during your interviews?
I think we are lucky to work with a really great group of people, and the biggest thing I think about during an interview is how I think that applicant might fit in with the rest of our awesome staff. We have a group of servers who have been working with us for 4 or 5 seasons and they totally rock. It makes the event day so much better when you have a team of hard workers you can trust! I also look to see what type of experience they have and if it translates well into event work, which can be very different than restaurant work. Serving experience is nice but definitely not the most important factor.
What has been your hardest lesson? In life? At work?
Oh gosh. I think it’s actually the same lesson in both life and work, and it’s that it’s okay to ask for help!
Last season was our busiest yet and at one point mid-summer I felt like between managing all of our current events, working to book new clients, and fulfilling my HR & admin responsibilities there just wasn’t enough time in the day to get it all done (even while working 60+ hour work weeks!). Asking for help in that situation made everything much more manageable as we took steps to bring in more full-time staff. Seems like an obvious answer, but sometimes when you’re in the middle of a tough spot it’s hard to remember that people are there to help you.
I think that’s especially important in a growing company like this one -- at some point the work is inevitably going to be too much for one person to handle, so recognizing that and taking steps to address it before it gets to be too much is key.
And, as you can imagine, I think you can easily apply that lesson to life. Asking for help when you need it is okay!
Have you discovered any new passions working for a catering company?
Well, cooking is the obvious answer! I enjoyed cooking for myself prior to working here, but in the last few years I feel like I’ve really upped my home cooking game (Nate is especially happy about this). I’ve picked up new techniques and am trying new dishes and flavor combinations that I’m sure I wouldn’t if not for the things I get to taste and see here.
What do you think is the most important thing someone should consider before booking a caterer?
I think it’s really important to make sure that the caterer’s style fits your vision. That can be sort of a hard thing to nail down, but finding someone whose menus and services aligns with your goals for your wedding makes everything down the road easier. Plus, make sure you like the actual person you’re working with, because you’ll likely be working with them for 6 months or a year.
In general when planning a wedding I think it’s important to have a sense of your priorities for the day. Do you want to have a killer dance party? Then put your effort and budget toward a top-notch band! Do you want amazing food that guests will rave about? Put your effort and budget toward catering (us, hopefully!). Do you want to get married at City Hall and spend your whole wedding budget on the honeymoon of a lifetime? Do that!
If you could create a trend, what would it be?
I have a hard time committing to picking one dish so I love the idea of a tapas style reception with appetizers and small bites flowing all night long. Then again, I know some people who hate this and feel like they never actually get full.