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Business As Art

Business As Art

Hello and good day!

Imagine a huge dirt lot as big as 20 football fields.

Everything on it has been leveled to the ground and it is empty.

It is a hot day. The sky is blue, and the sun is shining hard.

Wind blows in off the bay, which is ten blocks due west, and sweeps a swirling cloud of brown dirt into the air.

Out in the middle of the big, flat, dusty field, there is just one building, an old Victorian-style hotel originally built in 1886.

Roughly 45 years ago, my dad was standing on the edge of that dirt field looking out.

The city of San Diego wanted to build a new mall on the lot.

It was to be the first stage of redevelopment in downtown, which had devolved into a skid row during the preceding decades.

But the city could proceed no further.

The historical society wouldn't allow anybody to demolish the old hotel.

They said it was an irreplicable part of San Diego's history.

My dad stood there looking at the field and the old hotel.

He looked and looked and thought.

He felt the breeze blowing and the heat of the sun and he saw the dirt swishing in the air.

He wasn't doing anything else other than just standing there, looking, and thinking.

Then he started nodding to himself.

He nodded slowly and contemplatively in the beginnning, when the idea first occurred to him.

As the idea crystalized, he nodded more rapidly.

He turned and sprinted down the sidewalk, wearing a business suit and dress shoes, to his car, an old silver Ford Escort that was parked next to a parking meter.

He jumped into the car and floored it toward his office.

In his office, he snatched up the phone on his desk and dialed frantically.

His contact at the historical society answered.

"Hello?" answered the director, a very serious woman.

"I've got it!" shouted my dad.

"What have you got?"

"We'll take down the Horton Grand Hotel and rebuild it somewhere else."

There was silence.

"That might just work," said the woman.

Negotiations ensued with my father at the forefront.

He brought the two sides together, the city and the historical society, and they struck a deal.

My dad formed, and took lead, of a consortium tasked with rebuilding the hotel, brick by brick, at another location, where an old brothel had once stood.

The historical society apparently didn't oppose demolishing the brothel.

In 1986, my dad opened the new Horton Grand Hotel, exactly 100 years after the original Horton Grand had been built.

The Horton Grand is still in San Diego by the way.

If you are ever in downtown, you can check it out.

Our family owned and operated the hotel for the first part of my childhood, until I was 11.

Now here is the point I want to make.

I've joked about this with my dad quite a lot over the years.

If dad wanted to enter the hotel business, this was just about the riskiest and most complicated way possible to do it.

More broadly, a lot of people make money in real estate without the hassle and headaches that come with dismantling and reconstructing a hundred-year-old structure.

Also, because of the way the deal was done with the city, there was a loophole for one of the investors to steal the hotel from us.

We could have flipped houses for 15 years instead and we would have done much better financially as a family.

But that would miss something fundamental about my dad.

He is an artist and business is his canvas.

His hotel is still there and probably always will be.

It is still protected by the historical society.

Here is what got me thinking about this.

I was running the numbers yesterday on our business.

I also spent some time reading product reviews.

In the middle of reading a review about our Sea Salt Caramel Turtles, I started nodding my head slowly and contemplatively.

I had a little idea of my own.

We could make a boatload by scrapping everything and dedicating all of our time and energy to the turtles.

Customers really love them.

We could divert all of our cacao into making our 47% dark milk chocolate.

Organic pecans are easy to source.

We have our own closely held recipe for caramel made with honey instead of corn syrup. All of the ingredients that go into the caramel are easy to come by.

If we were to put all of our energy behind that single product, we could develop very efficient production lines.

The cost savings of mechanization would allow us to sell through distributors into grocery stores and achieve much wider distribution.

We could scale the business, sell it, and exit within a year or two.

We could all retire with tens of millions of dollars in the bank.

I can see it all in front of me.

It is obvious. And it wouldn't even be that hard.

But we're not going to do it.

Maybe we should.

I don't know how it happened that my dad and I feel that our businesses need to be art in addition to providing economic means.

I couldn't handle discontinuing the rest of our products or closing down our shops.

We couldn't keep the shops open just selling turtles.

Actually, maybe we could, but it wouldn't be as fun.

I'd never be able to shake the feeling that we were removing things from the world that deserve to exist.

I consider many of our products to be quite beautiful in their way, even if we don't sell a high volume of them.

Also, we have a very talented and creative chocolatier named Javier Valencia who has created every single one of our confections, including the turtles.

I know he would get bored making the same thing over and over again.

And I love the notion that our business is a canvas on which he can create.

Lastly, my brother didn't live in the jungle in Peru for ten years, and we don't buy a special and rare variety of cacao, and we don't engage in meticulous post-harvest processing, because we desire to be a highly mechanized, industrial, one product company.

We want to be a company that exists for the enjoyment of our customers, whatever their chocolate desires may be.

Creating delights for customers is ongoing artistry.

I guess I am a chip off the old block.

We'll continue to eschew the path towards easy riches, just like we have for generations, in the name of creating something unique, lovely, and enduring.

I love our turtles by the way. This isn't a knock against them.

I think that they are the best caramel turtles available anywhere.

But I love all of our other products as well.


Art is just as worthy a pursuit as making money in my opinion.

If you can earn a good living and make the world a better place with your art, that is the best of all worlds.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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