So what happens when your 5,000 sq ft. commercial kitchen looks like this and the city denies your permit for construction unless you come up with an additional $30,000? Besides freak out…I’ll tell ya, you call Wonder Woman.
Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. We didn’t ACTUALLY start construction until we got approval but I wanted you to see how big of MESS and the size and scope of this disaster that the Tempe Chamber helped us through.
A quick background on our situation is in order. In June 2011 Special Moments Catering took occupancy of a building/kitchen previously run by a competing catering firm. Said firm went out of business and left countless amounts of equipment and a full culinary kitchen behind in the ashes of their demise. The building owner reached out to local catering businesses in the area offering a unique leasing opportunity that would include use of the equipment as part of the long-term leasing agreement. While this was a rather complicated offer, we saw the opportunity to grow into the space and moved in assuming the equipment as-is and the responsibility to maintain it. A few inspections here, a few repairs there and bam….we were up and running in our great new location.
Well, fast forward five years to July of 2015 and find our catering company growing steadily and loving our new digs. Turns out that a well equipped kitchen and a few large walk ins can really help a catering company produce excellent/affordable food…huh…who knew? Eagerly we renewed our lease, this time adding a buy-out payment for all equipment and signing on for another five years. Hurray progress!…or so we thought. All seemed well and our season continued on without a hitch.
The Holiday season was upon us in no time and as we put a close to our best year yet we reveled in excitement for what was to come next. And then it happened….we call it the great flood of 2015. Routine dish washing started to yield massive flooding along our kitchen floors and all efforts to maintain a clean space were redirected to cleaning up countless gallons of water. Had it finally happened? Had the old grease trap separated its last load of grease and water before sending grease free water to …well wherever the heck it goes? A quick visit from our plumber would conclude our fears were true. Our grease trap had gurgled its last gallon of commercial dish water. It was time to finally send it on its way and upgrade to a new unit. Ugh….this was going to be expensive. Had the Grinch stolen our Christmas? Indeed he had, but such is life as a business owner. So, sadly we signed the contract and the large plumbing project began.
Two days later we receive a rather panicked call from the owner of our plumbing company. “The permit we applied for was rejected, and worse yet the city is requiring an interceptor to be installed in order to approve the use of your grease trap.” Knowing little to nothing about plumbing we asked, well…how much would that cost? Expending a rather nominal number our hearts sank immediately with his response…$20-$30,000 in addition to your current bill. WHAT!!! (INSERT A FEW OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS HERE). Needless to say we were shocked, devastated, angry, and confused. This was simply a replacement for a unit that had already been installed…how can this be? It had appeared the Grinch had stolen more than just Christmas. If this was the case, he had stolen our ability to operate as by no means did we intend on investing $30,000 plus into a building we didn’t own. But wait…we just signed a five year lease….what choice did we have?! The Who’s in Whoville were quite distraught and decided a town hall meeting of the elders was in order.
The meeting room was quite grim as nobody really had much to say…except the elder Who, Al Taylor (ie CEO/Owner). “I am going to call Mary Ann Miller (Wonder Woman)of the Chamber and get her involved” was all he had to say as he got up to make his phone call. I have to admit, my sister and I both thought the stress of the situation might have finally pushed him over the edge. That his marbles may have indeed been scattered beyond repair and this call was pointless. I mean what in the world would the President of the Chamber of Commerce have to say about our permitting issue, especially 2 days before Christmas.
Wonder Woman took the call and started a very quick text message assault to various department heads within the City of Tempe. People that we had no access to or even knew existed began to phone my father to discuss our situation and options. Within a few hours we had people that were on vacation reaching out to us to try and offer help. The response was astounding, especially just after the news we received a few days prior.
Christmas Eve morning I was greeted at our office by a Department head I was told was on vacation. He explained that he had spoken to my father the night before and that he usually didn’t come out to do inspections but wanted to see if he could help get the project back on track. He had been Christmas shopping down the street and figured he’d stop in. The look on my face must have been a little confused as he quickly handed me his card to confirm his identity. “Um, wow…ok…yeah I’d love you to take a look” was really all I could come up with above my shock. Put yourself in my shoes, a Department head that is on vacation stops into your office on Christmas Eve to offer help on a project that you didn’t even know he knew about…this NEVER happens.
To my surprise he took a quick look or two at our dish area, made a few recommendations as to how it could be done legally and cost effectively and announced he’d call the department and have them approve the permit immediately. Five days of overwhelming stress ended in 5-10 minutes by this wonderful man that took his personal time to come over and offer a solution. We were called later that day by the City requesting someone come down and pick up the permit.
So how did these solutions and quick return phone calls happen? How is it that on Christmas Eve the City approves a permit that had been denied by multiple departments? Wonder Woman and The Tempe Chamber of Commerce, that’s how. She and her staff stood up for us during some of the most inconvenient times. Mary Ann Miller knew who to call and that the information we were given was simply not accurate. It was astounding to see the response the City had once we got to the correct people. People that would have taken us on our own weeks to get in touch with became quite accessible.
Remember this story the next time you need to renew your membership dues. Who knows, in the future you too might find yourself in need of a super hero.
Special Thanks to the Tempe Chamber of Commerce Team and especially Mary Ann Miller.