The Art of the Dual Business: How to Have It All Under One Roof
Imagine waking up in the morning, heading out the door to not one job, but two. Two jobs, each of which works independently of the other. Two jobs, each of which has its own clientele, budget, and defining characteristics. Now, imagine those two jobs are under the same roof. Does it make the work any easier?
“It’s been very interesting, because none of us has done anything like this before!” says McKenzie Hart, who opened Peloton with her fiancé, Dustin Riggs, and two business partners—Aaron Grant and Paul Dano—a little more than a year ago.
Peloton is a bike shop and cafe located in Seattle’s Central District—a dual business. It was an obvious business for Hart, who is a former Matt Dillon chef (London Plane, Sitka & Spruce) and Riggs, a long-time bike mechanic.
“I’ve cooked my entire life. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done. When [Dustin and I] got together and first thought of the idea, we thought it’d be cool,” says Hart.
And that cool factor is exactly what gets people into trouble, says Jessie Poole, who opened E. Smith Mercantile with her mom, Kate, and sister, Sara, more than five years ago. The bespoke retailer in Pioneer Square has an uber popular back bar—a tiny 14-seater that is ready to burst at the seams.
“People don’t realize they are literally running two businesses at the same time,” observes Poole. “As hard as it is to open one business, you are literally opening two. It’s hard to be an expert at both.”
Poole comes from a retail background, while her sister, Sara, has the restaurant industry knowledge. “I did not anticipate how difficult it was to manage people,” says Poole. “So that has been our hardest hurdle. I knew we were going to have to hire people, but not ever having worked in a restaurant I didn’t realize how many people you need to do that effectively.”
Like a lot of small business owners, the Poole ladies winged it at the beginning. “You think you hire people and they do their job and you pay them at the end of the day and that’s it. Turns out, it’s not that easy! It took us two years of hiring dozens of people and having it turn over to realize we needed to get our shit together!”
For Peloton’s Hart, the challenge has been trying to run a cafe with three partners who have no restaurant experience.
“So, I’ve had to teach them that side and that’s definitely been a learning curve. For me, I ride bikes but this world’s a little foreign to me still, so I think it’s just a learning experience.”
On top of that, creating a menu that appeals to both businesses is no cake walk.
“That was incredibly difficult, terrifying. Honestly, I went to Matt [Dillon] and he was like, ‘Just cook what you want to eat and they’ll like it.’ And so that’s what I’ve been doing. I knew that I also needed to be a little different. We couldn’t just cook pastrami sandwiches and grilled cheese. I needed to make this place something where…it’s not just for the person getting their bike worked on to stuff their face with. I want people who have nothing to do with bikes to come in and enjoy.”
What could Hart and her partners have done different before opening Peloton? She sums it up in one word: expectations.
“Both parties — restaurant side and bike side — should’ve broken down every single part of the daily operation. [The guys] don’t know that if you’re standing around, you go wipe tables down or push chairs in or sweep up because they don’t do that at bike shops. That was hard for them for me to be like, ‘You guys need to be doing this,’ so I think having them knowing these expectations of what the cafe’s going to need from them. Being on the same page from the very beginning….I think we could have been better about that.”
For Poole, things in the shop began to turn around when her family and staff took a course in how to communicate and how to build a company culture that was sustainable. “That was really a turning point,” she says.
“After that, we started seeing way less turnover and learned how to interview and find the type of person we wanted to hire. We’re at a point now where the team is so strong I would take someone who would fit in with the team over someone that was qualified for the job.”
Now, the Pooles make it a point to hire people who are passionate about their work and who can do more than one job. They cross-train every employee and have implemented a stage program where potential employees have to do a shift at E. Smith before they’re confirmed hired.
Managing the off-season
Both ladies agree that the dual concept has been a lifesaver during the off-season.
That’s the “reason this model works for us,” says Hart. “Obviously right now it’s winter. It’s dead. We don’t have any bikes coming in, but the food is still bringing people in.”
Poole echoes those sentiments: The two businesses “can support each other. When it’s slow in the bar, the business can do more on the retail side and vice versa.”
The key to E. Smith’s success has been crossover. Says Poole, “Where we find the crossover is in the quality and the level of customer service so that the experience is the same whether you’re buying something or drinking something.”
“We have found other ways to crossover: We make the bitters that we use in the bar [which] you can also buy in the mercantile and take home. We’re essentially teaching people how to replicate the experience they had in our shop.”
Hart and Poole, each woman at a different stage in her business(es), are still working out kinks specific to their goals. But their advice for anyone thinking about opening two concepts is the same: do your homework!
“If you’re doing it with partners, make sure that everyone’s on the exact same page and knows exactly what is expected of each other,” says Hart. “If you’re doing it solo, it’s kind of a given, but just making sure you know every little detail of everyday life on both sides and what it needs to work.”
“Get advice from other small businesses in your field,” adds Poole. “Ask for help. Collaboration is the new competition. Eventually, they’re going to want your help, too.”