Crema is turning five years old this week! I know I know, it’s hard to believe that this bustling little cafe here at 27 Brattle is leaving her toddler years and becoming a big girl. So in honor of Crema’s birthday I (Liz) took a few minutes to sit down with co-owners Liza Shirazi and Marley Brush to talk about Crema and all that she has become over the years.
[I also want to mention that all shirts worn in this post will be for sale in the cafe starting Monday, April 29th! Get pumped!]
I’d like to start off by saying while we were having this little chat out in front of the cafe, there is a group of men hanging out and laughing; this same group of men – the Car Talk crew – have been hanging out (and laughing) at Crema since the doors opened in 2008, how appropriate!
Liz: Wow guys! Crema is turning FIVE…SO COOL! You must be a couple of proud mamas! That’s definitely a fist pumping accomplishment. I have a few questions about all things Crema so lets get this thing goin! First off, what is the biggest difference between Crema now vs. Crema in her first year?
Marley/Liza: Definitely the organization of the whole thing. The staff and customers know more what to expect and that has been a huge shift. The staff is more involved and they are more invested, it feels like the staff is more of a family. We have also learned to trust our employees more. It used to feel like we were pulling a boulder up a hill, but now that we have put people in appropriate positions, we are able to depend on them in ways we previously could not. We have learned to empower others to take initiative and help us run Crema so that not every problem needs to fall on us. It feels great to be in a place where the cafe can run smoothly whether we are there or not. It really does feel like a family here now-a-days.
Liz: Yeah, I definitely feel that! There is so much love going on in this place! How is Crema different than you imagined it would be?
Marley/Liza: We imagined it would be a small neighborhood cafe, and we had NO concept of the volume we would experience – that made the first two years very difficult. We were constantly adjusting operations to accommodate the volume. We expected to be able to have our hands in every part of the cafe, everyday. We learned the hard way and had to hire, train and adjust constantly on the fly. After months of exhaustion and burning ourselves out, we realized we’d better start delegating more. To give some perspective, we started with two bakers…we now have seven.
Liz: So you guys pretty much had no life. I respect that; looks like all the hard work is definitely paying off! What is your favorite part of Crema?
Marley: I love, truly love, everything about Crema. Having such an amazing staff, and not only them doing such a great job, but them taking initiative and truly caring takes mental exhaustion and stress off of us and that makes me love it that much more. It doesn’t feel like an uphill battle anymore, Crema has become this awesome, fun thing. I love the food, the people, the space. Just being here in this space ALWAYS feels good to me.
Liz: What is your most memorable customer interaction?
Liza: I’ve had customers come up to me and tell me how much this place means to them and that this is their second home, that is always so gratifying and means so much to me. There was also a customer that asked me how we hire our staff. He said he asked because he was in the business and knows how hard it is to get consistent, happy staff – and that we have the best staff he’s encountered! That was a very special moment – it made me feel so proud of all of us here at Crema. And then the other day there was this girl that looked like a student and she was running around the cafe as if she was in her own home, I can identify with her because when I was a student I had ‘my cafe’ and it’s heartwarming to see people utilizing Crema as ‘their cafe.’
Marley: Having people who used to come in but have moved away and then come back when they are in town – it’s awesome to be the place people come back to when they are here. Also, this being the Year of Love, we have these great ‘Choose Love’ t-shirts that we found from a motivational speaker, Houston Kraft, out in Seattle. The other day a customer came in and asked me how I know Houston. I explained to him that we have a ‘choose love’ (read on to hear more about the year of love) initiative going on here at the cafe and had found Houston’s shirts via the Instagram hashtag #chooselove. Turns out this customer is from Seattle and is friends with Houston! It’s interactions like these, finding unlikely connections, that are so memorable to me.
Liz: Connection is totally where it’s at! What is your proudest Crema moment?
Liza/Marley: It’s been incredible to have started something and worked so hard to get to a place where the cafe can run with or without us there. When we used to go away even for just one day, it was crazy when we got back. Now we can both leave and come back and nothing is different. We are so proud of the people we have now and the investment people have in the cafe, we cherish the love people have for the cafe.
Liz: What risks did you take in the beginning that are paying off now that we are in year 5?
Liza: We had no clue how big of a risk this was. It’s like when you have your first baby – so I hear – you have no clue how much it will change your life and how much work it is. It was a blessing that we went into this with blinders on.
Marley: I think our friendship was the biggest risk, we didn’t want our friendship to suffer. We had no clue how personally challenging running the business would be and there have been moments that have tried the friendship. I’m so proud that we have stuck together and are even better friends now than we were before. I’m so proud that we have this bond.
Liz: What are your thoughts on turning 5?
Marley: Well, I’m 29…a lot of people my age have a 5 year old child, I have a Crema, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Liza: I never thought about the extended future, we stayed in the present and didn’t really think about 5 years, it was just like let’s get through today. Thinking about the future now is so exciting, before we couldn’t think past the day or week.
Liz: What advice would you give anyone looking to start a business?
Marley: If you have zero hesitation and are ready to devote your life to it, do it. It will pay off.
Liz: What is your favorite food/drink of all time at Crema past and present?
Marley: Hmmmm….The turkey jicama is definitely at the top of my list at the moment. Almond earl grey’s bring me back to college, even just the smell of them. Meghan [our head pastry chef] made me black velvet cake for my birthday and that’s my current fave from the bakery. It’s hard to pick because I love it all so much. To this day I still wake up thinking about our egg sandwiches. OH! and our English muffins are pretty stellar (Liza chimed in to agree on that). If I have a sad morning and I need to pump it up I go for spinach and feta croissant.
Liza: The first time I had the Persian love cake I knew it was an instant Crema classic. I ended up having the Persian love cake for my wedding cake! That is definitely one of my Crema faves. As far as beverages, a soy red Crema is my comfort drink of choice.
Liz: What does the Year of Love mean to you?
Marley – Soooo the Year of Love to me means choosing love in every moment, even in the most difficult situations. It is always choosing a loving response and reacting positively and from the heart. The Year of Love was a very personal intention that I set and to have people at Crema be so receptive to it has been awesome and has made it even more powerful in my own life. It’s just such a good thing, I mean who doesn’t want more love? Everyone messes up, don’t worry too much about it, be loving with yourself and others – that’s what the Year of Love is all about.
Liza: You can always choose how you communicate and the energy you put out, and if you elect to choose love you cultivate a more nurturing and productive environment. The Year of Love is about being your best self and bringing the best out of the people around you.
Liz: You guys are awesome. And on that note, I think this interview is over, it has been lovely!