This blog post was submitted by Cj, one of our fabulous bakers, and when you read it you'll immediately understand why I wept while smiling as I read it. Thank you CJ, for this amazing testimonial, and I'm so glad you're part of the family!
My name is CJ and I am an Underground Baker.
I am one of a team of people who work behind the scenes making many of the treats that fill the case at Muddy's. Whether it's a Pucker Up cupcake, a piece of Nancy's Boy pie, or some of our KILLER Pimiento Cheese, chances are I had a hand in bringing that product to you.
When I'm not working at the Underground (our offsite helper kitchen) I spend my time writing, arranging, and playing music, and spending time with my 5 year old son. The three most important things in my life, in no particular order, are food, music, and family, and I believe that all three of these things come from the same place: the heart. During the time I spend with my son we are always doing something creative. He often carries around a harmonica with him, and he loves blowing on it and singing. As a musician it fills my heart with pride every time I see him do this. Likewise, every time I'm in the kitchen cooking something for dinner, he's there sitting on a stool watching me work. I try to give him small tasks to do, like dressing green beans, tearing up lettuce for a salad, seeding a pomegranate, etc, and I've found that not only is it a great learning experience for him, it also gives him a sense of pride. He's more likely to actually eat the food if he has a hand in making it. But deeper than that, cooking with my son is a bonding experience for the two of us. I grew up in the kitchen tugging on my mom's apron strings, doing these same small tasks, and I will forever be her Sous-chef. I firmly believe that, much like making music, making food with people creates and strengthens bonds.
The workers at Muddy's are a tightly knit group. Since most of us at the Underground are full-time bakers, we spend a LOT of time around each other. We do quite a bit of extra curricular stuff too. At least once a month we all meet up at a restaurant or somebody's house and we bring our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, children, pets and we eat and drink and have a good time together. Our monthly staff meetings are not only a time to talk about business, but a time to get together and see the people we don't work with everyday. Once a quarter we have a craft social, where we make things for the store, or just cute projects. Last quarter we all made hand-puppets. All of Muddy's employees, as long as we are on the clock, are fed. We keep our pantry stocked with tasty and healthy lunch things, and as a result we all cook for each other and eat together everyday. We write each other 'Mad Props' when someone goes the extra mile, does something nice for another person, or is just generally awesome, we write it down and post it on a bulletin board by the door. At the end of the month each employee gets a stack of his or her 'Mad Props'. There are probably other things we do together that I'm forgetting right now, but all of these things bring us closer as a workforce and create a positive working environment.
I'm making Muddy's sound like a perfect, utopian workplace. It's not. Like any other workplace, we gripe and we moan. We fuss and we fight. We get into heated arguments. Cupcake trays get dropped. Things break. Batches get ruined. It happens-- We are people. We all have burns and scars from working at a fast pace around hot ovens. But we wear our scars proudly, even show them off like a badge of honor. And we resolve our tensions directly, not through a human resources department. It's not long after an argument happens that there are hugs and apologies. We keep ourselves in check and take care of our own. We are lucky that Kat Gordon, our 'President of Awesome' has done everything she can to create a working environment where workers genuinely want to be at work, and we do everything we can to uphold this healthy, creative environment.
So what are the real-time benefits of working in a healthy, creative environment like the Underground? It's a well documented fact that happy people are productive and focused people. Take Google for example, one of the most productive and focused companies on the planet, and they are that way because Google goes to great lengths to keep their employees happy, on and off the clock. Happiness is infectious. At our Sanderlin location there is a sign with our mission statement proudly displayed, and it reads: 'To make Memphis a happier place by creating outstanding experiences and delicious food, being kind to everyone we meet, and doing the right thing.' In correlation, Mahatma Gandhi famously said, 'Be the change you wish to see in the world.'
We cannot make Memphis a happier place if we are not ourselves a happy place. But more directly, this happiness leaches into our product in a real way. Baking is one part chemistry, one part artistry, and a lot of heart. Although we take pride in the quality of our ingredients, ingredients alone don't make good food. It requires a human touch. A guitar is only a block of hollow wood until somebody picks it up. Only then does it become a musical instrument. The thing that makes our product good and keeps our customers coming back is not our amazing chocolate, or the cage-free free-range eggs, or the organic whole milk that we use. It's the knowledge, care, and love of assembling those ingredients that makes our product shine.
I've never worked anywhere quite like Muddy's. All of my adult life I've worked in corporate or government jobs, where the only real time I spent with my coworkers was the occasional smoke break or a beer after work. There is more than meets the eye working behind the scenes at Muddy's. We are more than a great place to work. We are more than just a cupcake shop. We are more than just a family run business. Muddy's Bake Shop IS a family. And that's one of the many reasons I love my job. It makes me feel like I'm a kid again playing in my parents' kitchen, tugging on my mom's apron strings.