“I just never in a million years thought that I would have a restaurant.”
Shira McDermott and I met on a rainy Thursday morning at her new bakery, Flourist, which she co-founded with her business partner, Janna Bishop.
They’ve been open three months.
You’re supposed to keep fresh flour in a refrigerator. Did you know that? I didn’t know that before I met Shira and Janna.
Grocery-store flour that stands on a shelf in its paper bag isn’t actually fresh flour, by the way.
Flour, when it’s freshly milled, is a perishable product. I know I run the risk of sounding like I’m doing a PSA here, but this is a cool thing they’ve pulled off, because you can get this rare fresh-milled flour from Flourist and probably nowhere else in Vancouver.
They had to import their wood-and-stone mill from Austria, and getting the approvals from the city so they’d be allowed to do that was a process of literally years.
I asked her how they clean the mill—I started wondering about this as I was driving over, and I think I was picturing a nightmarish, gluey mess of water, soap, and fresh flour—but she said they just sweep it out constantly.
Which points to the delightful possibility that there’s such a thing as a mill broom.
“I knew it would be hard,” Shira says, of the restaurant-opening process. “I didn’t know how hard. I had no clue. I have gained an immense amount of respect for everyone I’ve ever encountered who runs a successful restaurant. But it turns out I’m not too bad at it. Along with Janna. We can do it.”
Shira says she didn’t anticipate how life-swallowing it would be, though, and says the closest thing she can compare it to is having a baby.
I ask her to tell me more about that.
“Well, you basically know that you’re going to do it for a period of time,” she says. “That period of time culminates in, at the end, getting it over the finish line, when funds are dry and everyone is tired. And then it happens. You have your baby. There’s no turning back. And now, it’s really go time. So you were thinking: ‘If I just get the business open, everything will be okay,’ but you forgot that now, you have to figure out how to keep it alive.’”
Shira describes to me the Flourist opening week as a complete adrenaline rush. They had planned on doing a soft open on the Wednesday before a long weekend, to give staff and themselves a few days to acclimatize before the weekend rush they figured was coming.
But they were shut down by city inspectors for a small and unforeseen bureaucratic infringement. Shira refers to that opening as the “just-kidding” opening and says they opened again, for good, two days later at 11:30 a.m. on the 30th, Friday. By Saturday at 2 p.m., though, they had to close their doors once more, this time because they’d run out of food: “We got absolutely clobbered.” But by Sunday and Monday, they were able to get open and stay open.
A long labor, then.
“Everyone did amazing,” Shira says of the nascent staff who banded together in the first few days of the bakery’s existence.
She credits the strength of her relationship with Janna as a primary reason they’ve been able to enjoy so much success. She says the two partners are similarly molded in terms of their capacity for work and for hustle, but she also says the fact that they’re both happily married plays a role, too.
“People would not necessarily see those things as related,” Shira says. “But Janna and I both know what it takes to have a happy marriage, and those stressors cannot be ignored. You have to be so comfortable with one another. When you’re talking about financial stuff, there’s absolutely nothing that’s off the table: You’re talking to banks, borrowing large sums of money, putting together business plans, having your ideas taken apart, talking to investors. Anyone who’s been through it knows it’s hard. I don’t know how people get through it without that very base level of comfort and trust and commitment. That core… core-ness. It is the foundation for everything. It’d be really hard to do anything without that.”
Her metaphors for the business, about what makes it tick, what keeps it going, and what drives it forward, are all deeply personal, which makes sense. She compares the opening to having a baby, her long years of success and change to being in a committed partnership. You can feel it as something almost tangible when you walk in the door. That sense of heart, the fact that it’s all personal, comes through in the finished product.
It’s also inherent to the story they tell about the company’s founding, since as a dry-grain business set up to sell to grocery stores and restaurant partners, which was the business’ primary focus before opening the bakery, they include photos of all their grain farmers on the packaging, one of whom is Janna’s dad, Bob.
“We had, in our case, five years of runway time to build a community and build a customer base,” Shira says. “So we had many years of customer discovery, of knowing who our customers are and what they want. And that allowed us to craft our experience in a way that would be impactful.”
Since we’ve been discussing families and young humans so much, I ask Shira if she has anything she’d like to go back and tell her younger self.
“For sure. Don’t waste time worrying about things that don’t matter.”
Janna, who’s been sitting nearby, having breakfast and working on a payroll issue on her computer, chimes in: “That’s rich, coming from you!”
“Haha! It’s still something I do now,” Shira admits.
(It is such a sweet moment of recognition between them.)
“I don’t think a younger person is capable, though,” Shira says, turning serious again. “When you think about yourself at 20, vs. 30, vs. now at 42, things you worry about don’t really change. But you can say, that doesn’t really factor into your life as much.”
Shira says there is one worry she has, that she’s always had, that she suspects will never go away. But, she says, this particular anxiety has actually been more of a positive in her life than otherwise, because she’s been able to use it as a driving force.
“My biggest fear my entire life has been that I would waste time, not make the most of my life, not use my privilege in some way to do some good in the world or make change.”
No danger there.
Shira McDermott is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Flourist. She also writes a vegetarian recipe blog called In Pursuit of More.