Q&A by Janice Randall Rohlf
J’aime Sparrow and her husband, Christian, own Sunbird Kitchen in Orleans, a neighborhood cafe open year-round, serving seasonally fresh food and craft beverages with creativity and good vibes.
1. Why did you choose to open a restaurant? We started our business with a food truck, which was a way for my husband and me to collaborate and pool our individual talents and interests, mine in food and service, and his in design and marketing. We both worked in our respective fields for over 10 years in San Francisco. Once we successfully tested our concept with the food truck, the cafe was a logical next step. I was familiar with the rewards and challenges of the business and excited to put all that I had learned into practice. And Christian was able to use the opportunity to flesh out the overall Sunbird brand experience in a more permanent space.
2. What advice would you give someone wanting to follow a similar path? The restaurant business is extremely challenging. In our case, success came with diligence, patience, incredible amounts of hard work and a like-minded, dedicated team/flock. Be ready to rarely have a day off, take a vacation, or make ‘lots of money.’ You really have to love what you are doing--customer service, food preparation, management/teaching, marketing, bookkeeping, etc. You have to be present in your business everyday in order to maintain consistency and vision. You also have to be prepared to wear any and all hats to get your business off the ground. Finally, you have to be very patient. Growing a strong and viable business takes time. For most, it does not happen overnight. Be patient.
3. In your business, what has been your proudest moment? I can’t honestly say that there is a single moment. What I am most proud of is the overall brand experience we continue to create for our flock--our guests, our staff, our community, our families and ourselves. Our business has always been a collaboration. First between Christian and myself, then, as time went on and layers were added, between us and our partners, Karen Densmore and Garrett Smythe, and finally a collaboration with our community--guests and staff. We always wanted ‘Sunbird’ to be about Sunbird, not an individual person. It is a singular experience that cannot be imitated, an experience that relies on the vision, dedication and creativity of more than just one person. That said, our ability to provide a great Sunbird experience relies heavily on our staff. We maintain very high expectations for execution and take a hands-on approach, leading by example every day. Whether you are taking an order, making a coffee, cooking/prepping food, or washing dishes, we make every effort to inspire and guide our staff so that they can effectively deliver a thoughtful and authentic guest experience with lots of layers. Our guests have come to expect to enjoy great food, an inspiring space and kind service from Sunbird. I’m so proud that our whole team believes in consistently providing that.
4. How has the CCCI helped you get your business off the ground (if they have), or how would you have benefited from a similar organization when you were starting out? I was not assisted directly by the CCCI. Getting a fledgling food business off the ground is a difficult task. The support this organization provides would certainly have been welcome had it been available to us 10 years ago, and we're so glad to see it assisting others just getting started.
5. What one thing/service in the food industry do you think the Cape is missing? When we moved home to the Cape nine years ago, after 10 years in San Francisco, we missed a lot that was readily available on the West Coast. The Bay Area is a mecca for the local food movement. Access to local food and growers, robust farmers markets, an interest in serving farm to table as ‘fast’ slow food was just beginning to emerge here on the Cape. Today it’s a whole different story. There are many fantastic local businesses that have embraced and helped bring this movement to the Cape. Local farmers and farmers markets, groceries, restaurants, cafes, food trucks, publications, etc. have all made the Cape an even better place than it already was. There is little I think we are missing these days. More importantly, though, I think we are getting better at bringing the best of who we are and what we all do here as a community, to market. It makes us very proud to be a part of it all, and is motivation to continue to do our part.
6. What keeps you busy outside work? I’m a pretty boring person. Sunbird is always a work in progress and most of my ‘free’ time is spent working to improve and grow our business. Christian and I try to sneak away for hike dates or city sprints whenever we can. Otherwise, I get outside early each morning for a bike ride or run, and I read at night.
7. Describe your perfect day of eating on Cape Cod? That’s a hard question. I am surrounded by food every day of the week for hours on end. It’s hard sometimes to separate work from pleasure. I truly love basic ingredients. The simpler, the better. I’m not one for ‘fancied up’ food. I think in general it should be fresh, delicious and as approachable as possible. We source tons of produce from Chatham Bars Inn farm in the summer. Fresh raw peas, garden greens, radishes, beets ... they need little embellishment and provide me, personally, with the greatest eating pleasure.