Get out of the cart.
As a business owner, the only thing that feels worse than getting a terrible review… is getting no reviews. No reaction. No sales. No interest. Silence. Feeling completely invisible.
On October 4, 2015, that’s what happened to me.
Brandon and I wanted to open a restaurant together. We had humble goals. We figured we’d start small. Not a full-fledged restaurant. Not right away. First, we’d open a food cart. An 8-foot long wooden box, parked on the concrete outside a sandwich shop.
We worked hard to get ready for opening day. Brandon calculated food costs and crunched the numbers. He spent hours and hours refining each recipe. I drew a logo, printed a sign, and painstakingly wrote our menu on a chalkboard.
And then, one crisp autumn morning, we hauled our gear and supplies to the cart.
We opened the window.
Just like that, we were open for business.
A few minutes went by. Nobody came up to the cart.
An hour passed. Nobody strolled up. Another hour. No customers. Zero.
People kept strolling by the cart — chatting with friends, holding shopping bags, scrolling on their phones — but nobody looked up at us. Nobody came over to purchase our food. They didn’t even glance in our direction. It was like we were wearing an invisibility cloak. Like we didn’t even exist.
As each hour passed, dread pooled in my stomach. Our business was a complete failure. And we’d barely even begun.
After standing awkwardly inside the cart for, oh, three hours — with ever-growing anxiety — I had a realization. I said to Brandon,
“We have to get out of the cart.”
I explained, “We can’t just stand here inside the cart. Nobody’s noticing us. It’s not working. I’m going to walk up and down the street and hand out free samples.”
For the rest of the day, that’s what I did. I passed out hundreds of samples — bite-sized chunks of whiskey-infused brownies, peanut butter cookies, lemon cakes topped with sugared rose petals, broiled bacon chunks dusted with brown sugar.
I introduced myself to everyone who passed by. I handed out menus. I smiled at babies and shook hands with neighbors like a politician running for office. I pointed towards our cart. I made sure everyone knew, “Hey, we’re new, and we’re open for business.”
I will be honest. It was not fun. I’m highly introverted. Prancing up and down the sidewalk — chit-chatting with complete strangers — is basically my idea of hell. At least a dozen times, I thought to myself, “This sucks. I don’t want to do this. I would rather clean toilets. I would rather smell someone’s armpit. I would rather be doing literally anything but this.” But I knew in my hut (heart + gut) that it needed to be done. We had no other option. I had to get out of the cart — or we wouldn’t have any customers.
And it worked.
By the end of the day, we had a trickle of people lining up to purchase our food. Not an avalanche of sales. Just a little snowball. But it was something. It was a start.
In the years that followed — with a ton of hard work, grit, and buttermilk biscuit crumbs — our little cart expanded into a restaurant space. Then a larger space. Today, Brandon employs a team of eight part-time employees, serving hundreds of customers each day they’re open. HunnyMilk has been featured in local papers and some national publications, too. It’s a thriving, profitable restaurant. A dream come true.
I often think back to that very first day. Back when nobody knew we existed.
What if I had stayed inside the cart?
What if I had been too timid to step outside?
What if I had allowed the fears inside my head to drown out my courage? (Because I almost did.)
Our story would be very different.
The cart is comfortable. The cart is safe. The cart smells like brownies and peanut butter and it’s warm and cozy. The cart is a place where nobody can reject you — where you’re sheltered from prickly, uncomfortable emotions.
But in order to launch something, to build something, to create something — a business, a podcast, a book, a revolution, a community — we have to be wiling to step outside the cart.
It’s not always comfy. It’s not always fun. But it’s necessary. It’s a mandatory requirement. And the pay-off is worth it. Miracles happen when we crack open the door, take a deep breath, and march out of the security-box.
Who knows what might happen for you, for your career, for your art…
… if you get out of the cart?