Saturday, September 25, 2010

Store Review: The Key West Toy Factory, Key West, FL

What do you get when you cross the Rainforest Cafe with a sunken pirate ship, carrying a cargo hold full of eco-friendly and educational toys?  In our town, it's the Key West Toy Factory!

Right in the heart of Old Town is the newest family-friendly stop for tourists and locals.  Last weekend, after our awesome vegan lunch at Green Republic, my friend Yvonnie and I made our way down to Clinton Square Market; the home of the Key West Toy Factory. We didn't have the kids with us, but that didn't matter; there's something in this store for everybody!





Pictures can't describe the sights in this store.  This video comes close ;)  The time and effort put into the design of this store is phenomenal, right from the moment that you walk under a rope bridge and through the "jungle" to get inside the store.  There are water features and life-like creatures of all types; not to mention the giant sunken pirate ship.  Oh yes!  This happens to be a toy store.  The owner envisioned a place where kids and parents could come and hang out for a while.  There are play tables, a reading nook with comfy pillows, to settle in and read a story together, and the best part of all: the Imagineering Workshop.  Open to all customers, and even available to book for free (yes, free) for your next birthday party or gathering, this part of the store, with its benches and stools and art supplies, is the place to get creative, with coloring sheets and art projects for kids to do.  Don't worry about making a mess; the designers deliberately splattered leftover paint all over the place, so what's another splatter? ;)

Green Organic Girl and I went back together the following day.  I paid for two hours at the parking meter, and let me tell you, those two hours flew by fast!  We were sprinting back to the car!  We had such a great time, playing with stuffed animals, banging on drums and a steel pan, reading books, coloring pictures, and exploring all the educational toys the store had to offer.  We loved the atmosphere of this store, that encourages you to stay and play.  I was very pleased to see many eco-friendly options, like wooden toys from popular brands like our personal favorite: Melissa & Doug.  Despite the obviously huge investment that went into the design and opening of this store, the prices are all very reasonable; much more reasonable, I would say, than the other smaller traditional toy store we have across town. 

So what did we take home that day?  Green Organic Girl changed her mind a dozen times (like any kid), but finally settled on a "Doodle Sketch" by Etch-A-Sketch.  Hours of paperless, tree-free, drawing and stamping fun!  Sounds good to me ;)

Oh but that wasn't all!  That day we were there, the store staff were giving away free balloons, and with every purchase, a wooden token, good for a free kiddie cone of homemade ice cream, downstairs at the Sweets of Paradise shop, owned by our friends Walt and Lindsey.  Walt has figured out the magical formula, as to just how many chocolate chips a giant cookie can hold.  We were treated to one, fresh and warm out of the oven!  Oh boy!  A fun day at a new store, a new toy, a balloon, ice cream, and a giant cookie!  We can't wait until our next trip down to the Key West Toy Factory :)




Image courtesy of KeyWestHotLine.com.
YouTube Video courtesy of KeyWestToyFactory.com.
No promotional consideration was paid for this post.  This is a review of a personal shopping trip.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Restaurant Review: Green Republic Vegan Restaurant of Key West, FL

Many thanks to my friend Tracey for sharing a great new place for those of us wanting something other than the usual greasy fare.  

My friend Yvonnie of KeyWestBaby.com and I were in dire need of some "me" time.  Between work and our families, we barely had time to breathe, or a chance to say more than three words to each other on the phone, before being pulled away by some family member.  Nevertheless, we had set aside this past Saturday afternoon as an outing for just the two of us; no children, no husbands, and we could actually have an uninterrupted conversation (what a concept!) ;)  As Yvonnie is also into going green and organic, she was also eager to try Green Republic; a new vegan addition to Key West!  

We arrived at the restaurant, which is in the heart of downtown, and is just bright, clean, and inviting.  The menu items with all of their clever names were all neatly displayed on chalk boards along the walls.  There is a wide assortment of delicious options, and it was hard to make up our minds.  There are sandwiches, wraps, burgers (vegan, of course), soups, salads, and even rice bowls!  The prices are all very reasonable.  Yvonnie had a craving for brie, and had the portobello and brie wrap.  I decided to give the burgers a try, and went with the Bacon Cheddar.  Of course, I advised the gentleman at the counter of my dairy allergy.  "No problem," he said, and offered me vegan cheddar instead.  That was so nice to have that option.  I also chose one of their many fresh-made (i.e. NOT from a mix) smoothies, and enjoyed the mango/pineapple/banana/orange, known as the Maui Mango.  

We settled in on one of the platforms, with its comfy cushions, and enjoyed the calm atmosphere of the restaurant, and the quieter side street, while our orders were filled.  My smoothie came first, and it was delicious!  All of the Green Republic smoothies are dairy-free, and start with soy milk.  The smoothie was so refreshing, and just the perfect hint of sweetness.  No sugary concoctions added to these drinks.  Our food didn't take long, and our taste buds were in for a treat!  Everything on the menu is homemade, right down to my vegan burger, which we were told is made from lentils.  One bite into my burger, and it clearly did not come off an assembly line.  No mass-produced, flash-frozen food here!  We both polished off our entire plates, and we were comfortably full, satisfied, but didn't have that icky feeling from eating too much grease. 

Now, my friend Tracey had raved about Green Republic's fabulous  homemade, organic, vegan cupcakes, complete with vegan icing!  So, we weren't about to leave without sampling at least one.  There were several flavors to choose from, including Tracey's favorite of Carrot Cake, but we decided to split one chocolate cupcake.  We were not disappointed!  My first taste of vegan chocolate cake was the birthday cake we ordered for my daughter at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World.  That one was phenomenal, and in comparison, this cupcake did not disappoint!  It even had a fancy swirl of vegan chocolate icing on the top.  It was light, airy, and just the perfect touch.  

We can't wait to go back to Green Republic again!  It's just the perfect place to kick back, relax, and have something delicious and good for you, too!

Do check out Green Republic's website, and they'll even give you a dollar off your pickup/delivery order if you place your order online!  We were told to sign up for member-exclusive specials, too.

Hope to see you at Green Republic!  More locations are opening up across the U.S. :)




Image courtesy of GreenRepublic.com. No promotional consideration was paid for this post.
This review is based on personal purchases.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We Are No Longer Members of Annie's Organic Buying Club of South Florida

Way back in March of 2009, our family made the healthy-eating decision of joining an organic produce buying club; sort of like a CSA, where our money was pooled together each week with other consumers like us, and our combined buying power allowed us great prices on a variety of farm-fresh organic produce. 

While we still firmly believe in the power of buying clubs and CSAs, and we have truly enjoyed the bountiful harvest, it has come to our attention that perhaps the particular club we joined has potentially grown too big, too fast, and whatever small problems it may have had are still there, still unaddressed, and now magnified and exasperated by the exponential growth of the membership base.

As I had previously blogged about how much we were enjoying the club, I feel it is my duty to my readers to provide an update, now that our family’s position has changed.  I write this as a mom blogger, an organic consumer, and also as the holder of a business degree.

All businesses have their problems.  The ones who survive are the ones who acknowledge those problems, and work with their people to evolve and find ways to learn from, and deal with those issues, and to do so in a timely manner, before those issues become too big and too complex to handle.  Those successful businesses know their customers, and they take the time to listen to them.  Not just the good feedback; but the bad feedback too. They also understand that their staff are customers, too.  Complaints and concerns are acknowledged.  The causes for those concerns are explored, and solutions are found.  Messengers are not shot down, and those who don’t like the way things are done are not told to sit down and shut up, or worse, made to feel like outsiders.  Communication is key, and how much easier could it be, for a club such as this, where each and every member is already of your target market, and everyone is working toward the same goal?  Yet, it has become apparent that the ways of this particular club deviate from what I have just outlined above.    It’s easy to see what will soon become of this club, if its management continues to go on the defensive, turn a blind eye, and refuse to streamline processes.  Sadly, things went as far as turning away offers for help in reorganizing and restructuring from its own members who wanted to see the club succeed.  Those members became part of the outcasts.  It just goes to show that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped in the first place. 

Below is a copy of my e-mail to Annie herself, detailing my concerns, and our request to withdraw from the club.  Annie did take the time to respond to me, however, I did not get the assurance that the root problems were going to be acknowledged and addressed.  Don’t get me wrong.  Annie is a wonderful person, who took a huge chance, and has a monstrosity of a job, keeping the flow of fresh produce coming.  However, as I told Annie, the ends don’t always justify the means.   Annie did graciously invite us back to the club at a future date; however the nail still has yet to be hit on the head.  Below is my e-mail:

Annie,

You know I've been with the group since almost the very beginning. We've e-mailed a lot, and (your husband) and I chatted in person a few times about the challenges with the club.  I even approached you and volunteered my services to help streamline some of your processes, re-do your spreadsheets, and I even pulled strings and tried to find you some other software that might take the place of the spreadsheets to make life easier for managing the club.

Every business has its problems.  It's up to the owner and management to acknowledge those problems and find ways deal with them.  I'm not going to be coy and pretend I don't know what's been going on between you and some of your coordinators, because they are my close friends, this is a small, tight-knit community, and we all talk.  Annie, I know you care about the club, and I hope you understand that the members and coordinators do as well.  If someone is bringing up a concern, it would be to your benefit to take a less defensive stance, and keep an open mind.  Nobody is trying to insult you or the way you do business.  If they didn't care, they wouldn't be upset, and they certainly wouldn't be fighting for change. 

Unfortunately for many, it would seem that change would have come too late.  No customer in any industry wants to hear "What? Why do you have a problem with what we're doing?", or "You are the only one who has complained about this."  Annie, most people with complaints do not take the time out to report those through the proper channels.  In business, it's called the Rule of Eleven.  One happy customer will tell one friend.  One unhappy customer will tell eleven, and those eleven will tell eleven more, and so on.  In (our town), our gossip line is lovingly nicknamed "The Coconut Telegraph", and many have succumbed to it.  Going forward, I hope you will bear in mind that if you do hear of a problem, it's most likely indicative of multiple people having similar issues. 


Annie, our family has greatly enjoyed being part of the club over this past year and a half.  However, just like with any product or service, I have to consider the bigger picture.   I always try to listen to both sides of a story.  When one friend has poured her heart and soul into helping the club, only to be met by delays of information, conflicting data, multiple last-minute revisions, constant surprises week after week, angry customers over issues that are beyond her control, and her concerns are largely ignored, that is disheartening.  When I hear of another friend telling me almost the exact same thing, Annie, that just blows my mind.  With the way these coordinators are being treated, the time commitment they are expected to put in, the stress, the aggravation, and the continued turnaround, do you know what phrase immediately popped into my mind?  "Sweat shop".  Annie, I have no qualms telling you that what you're doing week after week to these many volunteer coordinators of yours is borderline abuse.

Deep down inside, Annie, I know you are not a spiteful person, and you truly did want to bring healthy eating to our communities.  However, sometimes the ends don't justify the means.

Annie, at this time, our family will be discontinuing our club membership.  Healthy eating is one thing, but it's not worth the price of watching my friends suffer.

All the best to you, (your husband), and your family.

Faye

We are all blessed to live where we do, and to have the ability to use our consumer dollars to make a difference.  Our friends and family are looking forward to exploring other organic options, and we look forward to doing business with companies that take a holistic approach to ensure that not only are the products sound, but so are the business practices that get them there. 

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