A recipe for the ultimate elixir

When you hear the word ‘elixir’, you might think of the common definition meaning something used in medication as a flavoring.  You might think of movies depicting the travelling salesperson selling a magic potion out of the back of a wagon.  Or, if you are a Lucille Ball fan, you might remember ‘Vitameatavegimen’, an episode that was ranked as the #4 of TV Guide’s Top 100 episodes of all time.  But I’d like to suggest an alternative formulation.  One that does not require you to spend any money or risk any unhealthy side effects.  The ingredients?  Gratitude and kindness.

I wrote about the benefits of being proactive and shared my story of getting a heart valve replacement.  During the entire ten-month process, I had the opportunity to meet, get to know, and receive care from a diverse group of people, all parts of the UNC Rex Healthcare system.  Early in the process, I was so impressed with the consistent level of compassion and care I received from every single person, that I felt compelled to write a thank you letter to Ernie Bovio, the President of UNC Rex Healthcare.

I received a personalized letter back from him, prior to my surgery, thanking me for sharing my experience.  I’m guessing letters like mine are the exception, rather than the rule when it comes to routine feedback. 

Prior to my operation, I wanted a unique way to express my gratitude to those who helped and supported me on this journey, including some of our customers at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  I reached out to Jim and Patricia Bell, who owned and operated Under the Oaks Pottery and used to make custom dishes we sold as gifts with our cookies.  I asked them to create small clay hearts to hand out as a token of gratitude.  Patricia added her creative talents by imprinting each one with a unique profile of a small plant.  They were beautiful and since I would not be distributing them until after my surgery, gave me something to think about, a bridge to the other side.

After my operation, Debbie and I were coming out of the doctor’s office at Rex Heart and Vascular Center.  Walking down the sidewalk, I looked up and recognized Ernie Bovio.  ‘Ernie!’ I exclaimed.  ‘I’m Chris Duke, I sent you a letter’.  Looking a bit startled and probably expecting to be accosted by an unhappy customer, he stopped, and I explained.  He had a slight memory of the letter and we chatted for a few minutes.  I thanked him again and let him know what an unbelievably great experience I had at his hospital. 

After that chance encounter, I sent him a thank you card, along with a couple of the hearts.  A few days later I was back at the hospital for some reason, and once again, I ran into Ernie on the sidewalk – imagine that.  I said hello, his face lit up when he recognized me (I do wear a mask everywhere) and he asked if I could step aside for a minute and chat.

In his hands, he had my original letter, my thank you card, and a book I recommended that he read, Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with the Why’.  He explained that he had just left a meeting with his staff where he shared my letter, the book, and gave them the hearts.  It choked me up and I let him know that sharing this story made my year.

The weeks went on and after being cleared to return to normal activities, I started my Cardiac Rehab Therapy, again at Rex.  Shortly after that, I received a custom-made card in the mail.  The cover of the card had a photo of my cardiologist and several of the staff in the Catheterization Center.  They were holding one of the clay hearts in their hand, and there was a picture of it framed.  The letter was from Sandra Page, Director of Invasive Heart and Vascular Services, and she explained how Ernie had shared my story and the hearts with them.  They wanted the staff to see it, so she had one framed, and it now hangs on the wall for all to see, along with a selection of the kind words I shared in my letter. 

Once again, my eyes swelled with tears reading the card.  I arranged a visit to see the heart after one of my rehab sessions and chatted with Sandra.  During my visit, I met Jessica, a Cardiovascular Specialist, who was the Technologist on the team that took care of me that day.  She was smiling and I could tell this small gesture meant a lot to her, knowing that someone took the time to express gratitude.

We bake, pack and ship cookies and brownies at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies almost every weekday (and on Saturdays during the Holiday Season).  Every package we send out has a card and, in many cases, it contains a message of gratitude for something.  Sometimes it is a gift to offer kindness for someone going through a challenging time.  We never take for granted the fact that the people who order gifts from us to be sent to someone are, in effect, giving them more than a box of cookies.  They are sending the elixir of ‘gratitude and kindness’. 

One of the best things about this elixir is that the recipe is totally up to you.  You might mix equal parts of gratitude with kindness, or you may have more of one than the other.  The more you mix and distribute, the easier it is to get just the right combination.

There is no way I will ever be able to express my full gratitude to the host of people who cared for me at UNC Rex Healthcare.  From the transportation staff that wheeled me around the hospital, to the meal delivery personnel, to the nurses, doctors, and assistants, to the skilled surgeon who literally held my life in his hands.  But I will continue to think about and share the elixir of gratitude and kindness whenever I can.  It might be for someone I meet on a sidewalk, like Ernie, and it will certainly be in every gift we send out from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  And unlike our ‘Secret Recipes’ for cookies and brownies, this is one I’m happy to share.

A recipe for the ultimate elixir Read More »

It’s best to be proactive

No matter how you slice it, the past three years have been challenging on so many fronts.  Distrust everywhere, divisiveness in our communities, a pandemic, raging inflation, global unrest, the war in Ukraine.  It is a long and exhaustive list.  And for the most part, much of this is beyond our control.  It would be easy to throw up your hands, but maybe it is an opportunity to be proactive about the things you can control.  I had an opportunity to do this, that started in January.

Long time readers may remember my post from a while back about being grateful over Thanksgiving.  It was the year when I experienced my first ‘cardiac event’.  An adventure that began with a trip to the grocery store, then a ride in the back of an ambulance to the ER and ended up with heart surgery for pericarditis.  Unexpected and unplanned?  You bet. 

After meeting with my primary care physician last year, I asked a question about cardiac disease.  I really did not have any symptoms, but a bit of family history.  She suggested maybe a proactive screening called a Cardiac Calcium CT might be in order.  It would give us the chance to look down the road a bit.  It was inexpensive and easy, so I decided to take the step.

The results were not horrific, but not great either.  She suggested perhaps I might want to consult a cardiologist.  After some research and vetting, I selected one of the top doctors in Raleigh.  After an appointment and initial consultation, he suggested maybe an echo stress test might be in order.  I agreed.  I set up an appointment, did my best to follow directions while on the treadmill, and let the technician do their work.

Once again, the results were not horrific, but after discussing them, he recommended I consult with another structural cardiologist.  After reviewing the results, he recommended some additional tests to get more data.  After all, when it comes to something as critical as the heart, you don’t want to rely on speculation. 

So, I signed up for three more invasive tests including a Chest CT with contrast, a transesophageal echocardiogram, and a heart catheterization.  When all testing was done, I was referred to a cardiac surgeon to cover the results and explain in detail what they show.

I must admit that one of the side effects of being proactive, in life and in business, is that you might just end up going down a path that you did not expect.  You’ll get new information, and you may have to adjust your course.  Having had the experience of being wheeled into the Emergency Room with little to no control over the situation, I was determined not to repeat that scenario if possible.

He explained what he saw in detail.  My aortic valve was severely stenosed with a rogue bit of tissue flapping off one of the leaflets.  If I let it go, eventually my heart would become damaged, fail, and that would be that.  The alternative was to replace the valve and do any other needed repairs before things got worse.  I agreed and we scheduled the surgery about a month in advance.

Open heart surgery is a daunting prospect for anyone.  For a small business owner, there are a whole additional set of complications that go beyond the health of the patient, to the health of the business.  Fortunately, at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies we have developed some detailed and exhaustive processes and procedures.  Being proactive about my health gave us the opportunity to plan ahead, as opposed to waiting and going on another unplanned ride in the back of an ambulance.

We looked through our customer list and advanced orders, making sure that we put their needs at the top of our list.  We have a sophisticated capacity planning model that is typically used during the Holiday Gift Season to help us forecast orders.  We were able to make enough raw materials in advance to cover orders for several months.

After a minor hiccup in scheduling, I went in for the valve replacement on a Tuesday.  I meticulously followed the surgeon’s orders pre-surgery, and the procedure went perfectly.  I was discharged after only (4) days in the hospital.  I’m happy to report that my recovery has been stellar, and that Anna’s Gourmet Goodies has not missed a beat, fulfilling all our customer orders and continuing to provide the same level of care and service that we have done for the past 20+ years.

So, what does my personal health story have to do with our business?  Or your business for that matter?  For years I’ve written about the fact that while Anna’s Gourmet Goodies makes incredible cookies and brownies, we are really in the ‘experience’ business.  We have a core group of customers who choose to have Anna’s Gourmet Goodies proactively help their business by recognizing employees, thanking customers, and promoting their brand by sending gifts that are unexpected and create a lasting memory.  We have the tools and processes to plan instead of scrambling at the last minute to send something in hopes that it will be well received.  We help customers proactively connect with employees, clients, prospects, and others on an emotional level.

And of course, we help individuals recognize birthdays, anniversaries, and send gifts as a thank you and in some cases, to offer comfort after a loss.  In almost every case, we can send just the right gift at the right time.  But recently, we had to refund an order.  The customer waited until the very last minute to place the order.  Nothing short of renting a private jet would have allowed us to deliver on time – so we had to cancel their order.  Clearly, they failed to plan ahead.

Even though things are, in some ways, getting better, much of what we experience in life and in business is simply beyond our control.  I’m not throwing in the towel, but I am grateful and cognizant that one way we can continue to move forward is to focus on what we can control.  To make decisions proactively.  There is a quote you have probably heard.  It’s been attributed to many different people.

“While you cannot change the wind, you can adjust your sails”

When it comes to my health, this last experience has taught me much about the value of adjusting my sails.  About not waiting until the last minute to decide and adjust accordingly.

In your business, if there is anything Anna’s Gourmet Goodies can do to help you implement a strategy for recognizing clients, employees, prospects, etc., we are happy to share what we have learned over the past 20+ years.  And based on both personal and business experience, being proactive sure beats a ride in the back of a truck to the ER any day of the week.

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Answer these two questions and give yourself a gift

I love watching movies that inspire me to think, laugh a little, shed a tear, and give me a chance to see the world and my life from a different perspective.  One of those is ‘The Bucket List’ starring Jack Nicolson and one of my all-time favorite actors, Morgan Freeman.  I’ve watched it several times and while I have not made my own ‘bucket list’, it never fails to give me pause to look back at my life and what might be on that list.

As someone who is well into the second half of a two-act play called life, I’m reminded by this movie that it is not possessions in my life that produce the most vivid memories, it’s the moments.  Meeting the love of my life in a bookstore.  Seeing Anna come into this world and hearing her first cry.  These are certainly two of the moments that are profound, clear and eternal.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Edward (played by Jack) and Carter (played by Morgan) are looking out over the great pyramids.  Carter says that the ancient Egyptians believe that when someone dies and gets to the gates of heaven, they are asked two questions that determined whether they were admitted or not.  You can click here to watch the scene.

The questions:

“Have you found joy in your life?”
“Has your life brought joy to others?”

While I don’t believe that the God I serve will apply this rule and these questions to determine my fate for eternity, I do believe that they are fair questions that he might ask when we sit down at the table someday.

If I frame the questions as they relate to Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, I’d like to think that the answer to both questions, is ‘yes’.  Not that starting and running a small business for 20+ years is all joy.  There are plenty of challenges and heartaches, long hours, and tired, aching muscles.  But at the end of the day, if I look back at what it means to have the opportunity to create something, with my wife as my partner, named after my daughter, that allows me to make a modest living – well that is a joyful thing.

As for the second question, I certainly hope that of the multitude of cookies and brownies we’ve baked and shipped over the years, has in more than one case, delivered a moment of joy to more than one person.  I’ve written a few times about sending cookies to Annalise Pelton a short while before she lost her battle with cancer but won the hearts of everyone who met her.  That picture still makes me cry and believe that in that moment, we delivered a bit of joy.

We hear from customers in the form of reviews that typically share their experience of sending and receiving our products which are overwhelmingly positive.  And occasionally we’ll get a phone call or run into someone who has received our cookies and brownies as a gift.  The lift in their voice or smile on their face is confirmation that in at least that case, we’ve delivered a small measure of joy.  I think I can safely answer ‘yes’ to the second question, at least as it applies to our work at Anna’s.

As for the other items on Carter’s bucket list, I doubt that mine will be the same.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great list, I’m just not sure I’ll ever drive a Shelby Mustang around a track or jump out of an airplane.  But I can cross off one item – laugh with someone until you cry – thanks to my friend and former boss Bill Penwell.  It’s a long story for another time, but I smile and chuckle every time I think about him and our adventures.

Having just finished another robust Holiday Gift season where we baked and shipped thousands of cookies and brownies, I am both joyful that we made it thru another season and based on feedback from a few of our customers, I am confident we delivered a little joy to more than one person.

We celebrate Christmas in our home, but I believe that whatever tradition you embrace during the end of the year, asking yourself these two questions is not a bad way to spend a few minutes contemplating your life.  If you can’t answer yes to both, then maybe it is a chance to start something new next year.  And if you can answer yes to both, then smile and be thankful.  It’s a gift that doesn’t need to be wrapped, will never break, or wear out, and lasts for eternity.

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Our pictures tell a story, but not the whole story

I’ve been interested in photography since my early days in high school.  I took my first class, learning to develop black and white film in a darkroom, something that Anna (and her generation) will probably never experience.  I went on to work as a campus photographer in college, learning from my professor Andy Dorfman who studied under one of the greatest of all time, Ansel Adams.  I spent many long hours in the darkroom, often carrying the smell of photo chemicals on me around campus.

I remember the early days of starting Anna’s Gourmet Goodies and taking photos of our pies.  After showing some of them to a co-worker at SciQuest, who was our company photographer, he offered up direct and critical feedback that influences what we do today.  The photos I took were accurate, but not that appealing.  “You’ve got to take pictures, up close, with the product as the central focus of the photo.  You want to create a sense of drama with every shot”.

I’ve evolved in my product photography over the years but have never forgotten his advice.  Fortunately, we now live in the age of digital photography where I can see results instantly, instead of spending hours waiting for images to appear on paper.  I’ve tried tents, lights, different cameras, locations, etc.  It’s a process and one that I hope to continue to improve over time.  It is magic when that perfect combination of light, color and focus come together to capture a moment that makes an emotional connection between the person viewing the photo and Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.

I needed to update a few of our product photos this year and reached out to the new owners of The Corner of Wake Forest.  It is a historic building originally known as The Powers Store.  It is one of the primary reasons that Debbie and I decided to live in Wake Forest, a quaint town on the National Register of Historic Places.  That’s the story you might not see in the photos.

It was at least five years before Anna’s Gourmet Goodies was even a concept.  We were living in Durham and working in Research Triangle Park, looking for a place to live that would be comfortable, not too far from city areas, and would be a good place to make a ‘home’.

We spent time driving around the small towns surrounding The Triangle area, as it is called.  On one trip to Wake Forest, we decided to stop into an ice cream store called ‘The Corner’, which was in the Powers Store building.  Worn wood floors, mis-matched tables and chairs scattered throughout the building made it ooze with character that only a historic building could create.  And there was a large ice cream case where a friendly face was there to help you sample anything you like and hand-dip the flavor of your choice.  It was like being transported back to a different time.

We ordered up a couple of different flavors and walked back outside to enjoy the ice cream and the town ambiance.  Standing on the sidewalk we noticed a young man, maybe five years old, standing by himself at the top of the stairs.  He had a big smile on his face, eyeing that large double scoop cone and preparing for the first bite.  He drew the cone to his mouth, took the first bite, and the entire stack of ice cream toppled over and landed on the concrete.  His expression immediately changed from joy to tears as he looked out at us and began to sob.

This was a different time and not seeing his parents close by, I walked up, opened the door, and calmly escorted him back to the counter.  I asked the person serving up the ice cream to replace it and I’d be happy to pay.  She smiled lovingly, re-packed the cone, and offered it to the young man, no charge.  I don’t remember exactly what I said to Debbie, but I do remember thinking that Wake Forest was the kind of place I wanted to call home.

When I reached out to Addison Harmen to ask if I could use The Corner of Wake Forest Event Center for product photos, she enthusiastically said, ‘Yes!’.  The Powers Store was opened in 1897 as a drug and general store.  It has been used as a Law Fraternity for Wake Forest College, a local bookstore, and prior to restoration and conversion, The Corner Ice Cream Parlor for thirty years.  Addison’s Mom, Mandy Fisher Sykes, purchased the property in 2021 and operates the venue for weddings, parties, family reunions and other special events.

Addison helped me find a time when the building was not in use.  Debbie put together a selection of the boxes and designs.  I baked up some cookies and packed up my digital studio.

Taking product photos is much like any creative endeavor.  To do it well requires getting in ‘the zone’.  The Corner of Wake Forest is not only historic but has been lovingly restored into a beautiful event space that is warm and inviting.  I spent time scouting out locations and proceeded to setup areas to create images that would hopefully live up to the advice I received years ago from my co-worker.  I strive to create product images that not only evoke emotion, but perhaps will inspire someone looking at our products to imagine how Anna’s Gourmet Goodies might be a part of a story they’d like to create for someone by sending a gift of our cookies and/or brownies.

I wish I could download a photo of the young man on the steps and share it with you, but alas, I cannot.  It is vivid and a permanent part of my memory.  My hope is that now you know a little bit more about what is behind some of our product photos, that you too will remember that there is always more to the story than what we initially see.

And if you happen to find a gift of our hand-made cookies and brownies that might be the perfect addition to one of your stories, we’ll be happy to help make that happen.  While you might not see the reaction on the recipient’s face, it will most certainly be woven into the story.  The Corner of Wake Forest and the young man on the steps are now woven into the story of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies for you, making our product photos look even richer than before.  Especially now that you know the rest of the story.

Our pictures tell a story, but not the whole story Read More »

How we see it

According to a 2014 study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the human brain can process entire images that our eyes see in a little as 13 milliseconds.  For comparison, there are 1,000 milliseconds in a single second of time.  It’s fair to say that during a typical day, our brain and eyes process a lot of images.  These images have a profound effect on our thoughts, emotions and how we feel about the world around us.

It’s also probably fair to say that while two people may see the same images or events, not everyone processes them the same.  My friend Jeffrey Slater wrote a post not long ago about Christian Markovic that captured my attention and started me thinking about how we see things at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.

At the age of 2, Christian was deaf.  At the age of 13, he was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, an inherited nerve defect that causes abnormalities in the nerves that supply your feet, legs, hands, and arms.  If that was not enough, at age 20, he was declared legally blind.  It would be understandable for him to see a world full of nothing but obstacles.

Instead, he chose to focus on opportunities.  He studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was the first deaf graduate, receiving his B.A. in Fine Arts.  Without question, Christian sees the world from a unique and different perspective.

Unable to find traditional work, Christian started his own company, Fuzzy Wuzzy Design where he designs greeting cards, stationary, invitations and apparel.

If you visit our website, AnnasGourmetGoodies.com, you’ll see pictures of cookies and gifts intended to stir your emotions and maybe make your mouth water just a bit.  As I have written in the past, and perhaps you’ve tasted, our cookies and brownies are very good.  However, if you look beyond the pictures, you’ll see that there is more to who we are and what we do.  We have customers who have trusted us for 10, 15 years or more, to deliver not just quality gifts, but an experience that will be remembered for years to come.

Reading Christian’s story reminds me of another experience I had over 30 years ago when I was living with my Aunt Lois back in Frankfort, KY.  She asked one afternoon if I was interested in taking a trip ‘to the country’.  This meant going back to her childhood home of Morehead, KY and visiting some of our relatives.  Like a couple of vagabonds, we packed our toothbrushes along with a change of clothes and hit the road.  No phone calls or reservations needed.  When you visit family in the country, if they’re home, you are welcome.

We first landed at Charlie DeHart’s farm just outside Sandy Hook right about lunch time.  As luck would have it, Leanna still had her homemade chicken and dumplings hot on the stove.  Talk about comfort food.  After lunch, Uncle Charlie, as he was always known to me, and I walked out on the porch leaving the ladies to catch up in the kitchen.  He asked if I’d like a tour of the farm and see the water tower.  “Sure I said.”  “Well come on – I’ll drive”.

We got in his car and set out down a dirt road.  He drove slowly while we talked.  At the end of the first road, he slowed to a crawl until the car bumped the fence post on the other side.  He backed up, turned down the next leg, and kept on talking, pointing out landmarks as we rolled along.  I thought nothing about it as Charlie was an engaging storyteller.

When we reached the end of the road, we got out to look at the huge water tower for the town of Sandy Hook.  He walked up to one of the bottom legs, felt his way around the back, and pulled out a pack of smokes and a bottle of his ‘cough medicine’.  Leanna did not allow either of them in the house.  He lit up and proceeded to tell me the story of the tower.  How he donated the land and helped raise the money to bring water to the people of Sandy Hook.  I could tell it was more than simply a kind gesture, but a measure of the kind of person Charlie DeHart was.

We headed back to the house and the ladies were still in the kitchen.  Aunt Lois and I bid farewell and headed off to our next destination in Morehead.  Before we left, he gave me a copy of a poem he wrote titled, “The Water Tower”.

As we were heading out on the highway, I shared my experience with Aunt Lois.  Startled, she said, “Chris, don’t tell me you let Charlie drive.  Don’t you know he’s blind!”  I did not.  I smiled and could not help but think that it is a rare thing to meet someone who sees the world and what is important, so clearly.

There is no chance that a box of our cookies or brownies will last anywhere near as long as the water tower Charlie helped build for the people of Sandy Hook.  And I suspect that many of Christian’s cards, clothing and other artwork are still around, enjoyed by those who received them.

But I do hope that of the tens of thousands of packages we’ve shipped over the years, there are more than a few people who will smile when they remember a box of cookies and or brownies that they received from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  And while it is not the same as a tower or a piece of artwork, we believe there is a good chance that the memory will be carried with those recipients until they too, have ‘lived their final hour’.  At least, that’s how we see it.


By:  Charlie DeHart

I sit alone out on the lawn
And gaze upon the hill,
Where stands a stately water tower
So white, so tall and still.

For many years I wandered there.
And walked beneath the trees:
Heard the chirping of the birds.
And felt the gentle breeze.

Many years have come and gone
Since I first walked that knoll.
Many friends have come and gone,
Their memories haunt my soul.

In all the years I wandered there,
Not one time did I dream
That I would see this stately tower
That means so much to me

To each of you who worked so hard
To make this dream come true,
I ask the heavenly father
To bless each one of you.

When my earthly labors have ended,
And I have lived my final hour,
Dear God give me a window
Where I can look down upon that stately tower.

How we see it Read More »

A recipe to last for generations

My neighbor Brian once told me that ‘We live in the golden age of podcasts’.  I believe that is true. The quantity and variety of content is staggering.  However, like many things on the Internet, not everything is worth our precious and limited time.  I believe Simon Sinek’s content is one of those rare gems, worthy of enjoying and curating.

I am a fan of his books and his lectures.  I wrote about Simon’s most famous Ted Talk based on ‘The Why’ some years ago and how it relates to Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  Recently, I was listening to one of his podcasts done for Richard Branson’s Virgin Startup organization.  At the end, he had a conversation with Richard and recalled asking him about which of his businesses he would most like to be remembered for.  To his surprise, Richard answered somewhat sharply, “Don’t remember me for my businesses, but for my children.  What type of people did they become?”

agg-logo-sourceWe started Anna’s Gourmet Goodies in 2001 and named the company after our daughter, Anna.  The logo is her silhouette made by Karl Johnson, a master scissor artist we met at the NC State Fair.  His client list includes Jennifer Garner, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah, Hilary Duff, Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes, Drew Barrymore, and many others.  We did not know it at the time, but Anna was in good company.

As our company rounds the corner on 20 years in business and Anna is making her way towards her own path in life, I’ve been thinking about our business and many of the lessons we, as parents, sought to instill in Anna.  Our goal with both is to leave a legacy that lives on beyond our years and the cookies and brownies we make every day.

Do what is right
This might be one of the most difficult things to do in business and parenting.   A business exists to provide goods and services in return for payment that ultimately amounts to more than the cost of those goods and services, a profit.  But many times, doing what is right might be in direct conflict with that goal.  Rarely do you find an absolute answer to every situation, you must follow a guidepost.  At Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, our standard is to treat others the way we’d like to be treated.

We make choices and do our best to guide our children towards goals that extend beyond the next few minutes, days or weeks.  Doing what is right in life, and business, is ultimately about focusing on a long time frame, years or decades into the future.  When Anna was in high school, she picked up some part-time gigs as a tutor.  One of her clients was a young girl who had just moved to the area and struggled with learning in several subjects.  Not only did Anna help with her school work, but became a mentor and a friend.  It was the right thing to do.

Do your best
In Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, one of the agreements is to ‘Always do your best’.  It is a guiding principle at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  When it comes time to undertake almost any task, we strive to follow this rule.  Not perfection, but the best we can do at the time.

As parents, we always tried to help Anna understand and follow this advice as well.  No child is perfect.  The number of people who grow up to win a Nobel Prize, a Gold Medal or a World Championship are a tiny fraction of the population.  But when you do your best, it creates a sense of self satisfaction and fulfillment that cannot simply be measured with a trophy or certificate.

Anna tried a number of sports, including cross-country running in middle school.  She did not always like it, was never first across the finish line, but we supported her, encouraged her and she did her best.

I remember the words of my swimming coach from High School, Jim Erickson, who used to tell us, ‘I don’t care if you are dead last at the end of the race.  As long as you can say that when your hand hits that wall, you’ve given it your best, then you are a winner.’

Take responsibility
This is a tough one to follow.  At a time when businesses and individuals go to extraordinary lengths to avoid taking responsibility, you might ask, ‘Is it really important?’  While I can’t say any single ingredient is the secret to success in business, taking responsibility is high on the list.  We strive for perfection in everything we do at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, but alas, we fall short from time to time.  We’ve shipped packages to the wrong address, left names off packages, and in some cases the packages we ship did not arrive through no fault of our own.  As difficult is that can be sometimes, we take responsibility.  We do this for two primary reasons:  First, to learn from any mistakes and to build trust with our customers.  Secondly, when you work with someone that is willing to step up and take responsibility, customers learn to trust them.  This might be one of the most valuable assets a business can acquire.

Teaching responsibility is an equally difficult task as a parent.  If you’ve had any part in raising a child, you have heard this phrase at some point, ‘That’s not fair!’  This is often true, but sometimes the lesson is so valuable that it is worth the cost.  I remember one time when Anna damaged someone’s car.  Yes, it was an accident and the result of someone else’s bad judgement, but ultimately, we made her take responsibility for the repair.  Yes, I did call in a few favors at the repair shop to ‘ease the pain’ a bit, but it was one of those defining moments that helped shape the person she is and will continue to be in the future, long after I’m gone.

Give back
At Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, we try to take some small portion of both the money and other resources we have and give it away.  Sometimes we let others know and even write about it, like the events at Ronald McDonald House, Caring House, Shepherd’s Table and more.  Not for praise, but for inspiration for others to do the same.  Sometimes, we do little things that no one ever hears about.  Both serve a purpose and are part of the DNA of our business.

We always tried to help Anna develop the same ‘muscle’.  From her experiences at our church serving the Raleigh area, Habitat for Humanity, to YMCA mission trips to food banks and homeless shelters, to volunteer work at the Duke Cancer Center and Rex Hospital.  We wanted Anna to develop the skill of service to others, learning to share some of what she has been given.  Sometimes we hear about this, and others, we don’t.  Occasionally she lets it slip out that she did something or gave someone some money to help them out, not for recognition, but because it is part of her DNA as well.

Make people happy
This is probably one of the most fun aspects of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  You may have noticed we sometimes use the phrase, ‘Our cookies make people happy’.  We send cookies and brownies to people throughout the United States, for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes as a thank you, sometimes as a celebration or a wish for better health.  And occasionally, as a recognition of recent loss of a loved one.  In all those cases, we try to make sure that when a recipient opens the package and takes a bite of the cookie or brownie, we help bring a moment of happiness to their experience.

I have a vivid memory of Anna that is the combination of everything I’ve written so far and epitomizes the idea of what it means to make people happy.  I don’t have a digital picture, but the image is clear and permanent.  We were traveling and stopped at a Panera restaurant for lunch.  In high school, Anna took it upon herself to learn sign language using the power of the Internet.  She went so far as to start the first club at her high school.  We were getting up from the table when I noticed a couple, sitting by themselves.  I watched and it was clear that they were speaking with their hands, the only ones in the restaurant that day.

I encouraged Anna to go over to their table and ‘speak’ to them in their language.  Somewhat reluctantly, she agreed and approached their table.  She introduced herself and spoke to them in their language.  I can’t remember exactly what Anna told me they said, but the look on their faces was remarkable.  Their smiles were a clear indication that in that brief moment, a stranger took notice and made the effort to make them feel recognized and welcome.  It made them happy.  Watching that as a parent does not get any better than that.

Our products are really good
Of course, these and the other non-physical ingredients of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies might not matter much if our products don’t turn out to be very good.  If you’ve tried our cookies and/or brownies, we certainly hope you’ll agree.  We recently competed in the NC Specialty Foods Association Product Awards and our brownies were selected as the ‘Grand Champion’ over all other specialty foods products in the competition.  It’s always nice to see the hard work and dedication we’ve put into the products and the business be recognized.

After taking a gap year, Anna is back at grad school pursuing her master’s degree in Nutrition with a concentration in Dietetics.  Despite a heavy academic load and working two jobs, she still finds time to pursue her latest passion, running.

She trains regularly and has participated in several races.  This past weekend we watched her compete in the City of Oaks Marathon here in Raleigh where she placed fourth in her age group for the half marathon, turning in her best time yet.  A proud moment for any parent.

This race lasted a scant one hour, forty-seven minutes and fifty-two seconds for Anna.  An important achievement, but only a small part of her race towards becoming a person that will leave a lasting impression on the world and make it a better place than she found it.

In his book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek helps us understand that while business might be considered a game, it is not the same as baseball or chess where the players, the rules, and the winners and losers are easily identified.  He makes the case that there are no clear winners in ‘business’, just as there is no way to win the game of life.  The goal in business, and in life, is to stay in the game as long as possible.

We appreciate the accolades on our brownies.  And we hope customers will remember us for how we conduct our business.  But we also wanted to share some of the life lessons we mixed into Anna, combined with plenty of love, tears, heartaches and triumphs that are beginning to come out of the oven, transforming her into the person she has become and will be, long into the future.  It’s all part of a recipe that we hope will last for generations.

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