© 2014 Kevin Longa The unknown portuguese pastry - embrace uncertainty - kevin longa -

#FoodEntrepreneur Friday: Embrace Uncertainty

The food: The unknown Portuguese Pastry

Where to find it: Alcobaca, Portugal


Welcome to another edition of #FoodEntrepreneur Friday, where I serve up an order of international food with a side of insight for entrepreneurs.


About halfway through my travels across Portugal, I thought I had seen everything this country’s culinary tradition had to offer. I was wrong. Sure, local Portuguese say they have 365 different ways of preparing salted cod fish. I might as well had drank sea water in lieu of some of the cod I had tried. Maybe I experienced bad luck with Portugal’s specialty, but the fish was a bit too aggressive for my pansy, American tastebuds. Given this experience, I approached each new Portuguese dish with curious skepticism. This sentiment came to a peak when we stopped in Nowheresville, Portugal: Alcobaca. Besides a few shops, a farmers’ market and its world-famous Monastary, the town was a hush of silence. A ghost town usually means one thing to me: subpar food. But when I ambled into the pastry shop I met a bouquet of pastries that proved me wrong. They reminded me of the entrepreneurial adage: embrace uncertainty.

To this day I don’t know what the above pictured pastries are called, but they sure are tasty. At first glance, they look like cones of pure egg yolk glazed with sugar. I don’t know about you, but I might love my eggs prepared in many ways, but not served like ice cream. The gregarious pastry shopkeep spotted me eyeing the unnamed pastry, and with a sly smile she chirped, “How many do you want to try?”

My brain yelled, “Don’t do it! You’ve already eaten your eggs for breakfast this morning.” But I subconsciously lifted my index figure and gestured to try one.

She handed me a cone wrapped in parchment paper. I bit into the crisp shell and out oozed a decadent rush of sweetness. Just like the perfect pastries of Denmark, this dessert harmonized into a delicate blend of crisp and moist with just the right amount of sweet. Uncertainty brings about the best surprises.

Last week I met with Frantz Felix, a native Haitian and food entrepreneur who learned about the sweet success that came from embracing uncertainty. Before opening the food truck Caribbean Spices, Frantz worked as a full-time pet store manager. On occasion he’d cater food for his family and friends’ events. They’d exclaim: “Your food is divine!” “Delicious! You have to cater all of my events.” “You should definitely open up your own restaurant.”

Despite the copious amounts of compliments,  Frantz knew the harsh realities of the food industry. It’s tough: low margins, long hours. So he stuck with his safe pet store managing job. He felt adverse to the uncertainties of opening a food business.

It took an on-the-whim “experiment” for Frantz to embrace uncertainty, change his perspective and change his life. On a hazy, muggy summer day, Frantz decided to participate as a guest food caterer at the Bodega Festival in Sonoma. As per usual, people loved Frantz’s Caribbean/Haitian cuisine. This was supposed to be a one-time, ‘fun’ gig for Frantz. The next day he was supposed to go back to serving dog food to his pet store canines.

But right before Frantz closed up shop at the Bodega Festival, a wizardly man approached Frantz and changed his life forever. To this day Frantz refers to him as “the messenger.” The man hobbled up to Frantz’s food booth and ordered his food. With one taste “the messenger” became possessed. His eyes alighted with joy, and he exclaimed to Frantz, “You must open up a restaurant.”

Frantz heard this schtick before, so he smiled politely and said a polite “thank you but no thank you.”

‘The messenger’ caught on quickly to Frantz’s aversion to the uncertainty of food entrepreneurship. So he offered an alternative: “No, you’re right. Restaurants are way too expensive. You, my friend, should open a food truck.”

This actually caught Frantz’s attention. Food trucks offered a lean way of beginning a food business. Despite this small flicker of a changed perspective, Frantz still feigned disinterest to ‘the messenger’s’ urgings. So ‘the messenger’ walked a few steps away from the food booth until he turned briskly back to Frantz. He pointed his crooked finger and muttered “Food truck.” Then continued to walk more. Then turned and, again, said, “Food truck.” He did this ad nauseam every few steps until he drifted into the distance and drilled the phrase ‘food truck’ into Frantz’s subconscious.

This event with ‘the messenger’ sparked Frantz into the process of contemplating the unknown: starting a food business. Within a few months he purchased a food truck with a small business loan. He heeded ‘the messenger’s’ appeal and embraced uncertainty.

And do you know what came of it? Well, let’s just say that his friends and family were correct. Frantz now has one of the most successful food truck businesses in San Francisco.

Frantz, owner of Carribean Spices food truck in SF - Kevin Longa -

See, if you embrace uncertainty (something that most people do not choose to do), then you do something that will vastly differentiate you. Most people are risk adverse. During the caveman days of survival or starvation, risk aversion was a human asset. An unknown animal rustling in the bush could spell either dinner or danger. In this primal example, the cons (death) far outweighed the benefits (a meal). However, we live in an age where our dinners don’t have the high likelihood of tearing us to bits. Yet, even to this day of food trucks and TV dinners, most of us live with risk adversity and avoid uncertainty.

Since most people avoid uncertainty, those who choose to embrace it risk (and reap) the highly differentiating benefits it provides.

This differentiation alone will give you the chance for success beyond the tried and true paths to success. When embracing uncertainty, you strike your own path while everybody else is stuck in the traffic jam called the ‘traditional’ route. In fact, if you have skills like Frantz’s cooking to back up your unconventional, uncertain path, then it’ll add acceleration to your journey down this uncertain route.

And once you reach your destination on an uncertain (and adventurous) path, then the end result tastes so much sweeter.

Embrace uncertainty.