Embrace the Cultures Around You

I find myself channeling my father more and more with each passing year, especially when it comes to little things such as computer phone systems telling him to press one for English.

Published in Convenience Store Products

Mike Lawshe, President and CEO, Paragon Solutions


I find myself channeling my father more and more with each passing year, especially when it comes to little things such as computer phone systems telling us to press one for English.

His colorful retort (edited) usually would have been, “If those wonderful people wanted my wonderful business, the least they could do is have a wonderful person on the other end of the wonderful phone.”

I loved my father, and now I find myself saying colorful things to an unresponsive computer that will ultimately get me a person in India to talk to. He was not very tolerant of computers, machines and things he didn’t understand. He was, however, very tolerant, accepting and embracing of people regardless of race, color or creed. I still remember going into the “old neighborhoods” in Chicago to enjoy some of the local fare with my father. It might have been an Italian, Polish or German neighborhood, but my father seemed to know someone everywhere we went. Now when I go back to those neighborhoods, I will see an IHOP, Chili’s or a Starbucks where once I enjoyed Mama’s lasagna.The blending of cultures is both sad and inevitable as people coexist. It is sad because we are missing rich traditions and delectable foods that call back to the old country.

One of the many things I learned from my father is to embrace other cultures. His era was the blending of Italian, Polish, German, African American and Irish in Chicago. Today it’s Hispanic American, Latin American, Asian American, Native American, African American, etc. I like the fact that each of these have the word “American” in them.

Czech It Out

We need to reach out to other traditions in our everyday lives and embrace the differences. Sometimes this can be as simple as expanding our restaurant choices and our palates.

This past year, we were hired by Slovacek Sausage Co. in Snook, Texas, to help the company build a market unlike any other. As you can tell by the name, Slovacek is Czech, and the location is in West, Texas. It’s the Czech capital of Texas.

(West has recently been in the news for reasons other than sausage rolls and kolaches. The explosion in West was tragic. The location I am referring to is very close to that site.)

The challenge we were faced with was to create a store that brought together all the latest technologies and products while staying true to a decidedly Czech heritage.

This was done through a design process that was very inclusive; the customer was involved closely from start to finish. We used authentic finishes and materials to blend the Texas hill country with the old country. The project is a 17,723-foot remodel with 10 MPDs. We reclaimed and repurposed materials from the original building to give the authentic look and feel. The new store includes a full Czech bakery, an incredible meat market, authentic Czech gifts and memorabilia, and a drive-thru. This project required a great deal of research as we embraced the Czech culture to be able to convey the spirit of the Czech people through our design.

Luckily, I had Lindsay Kutac (yes, a Czech name) as my director of marketing. She helped us learn about the culture, food and traditions of the Czech people. She even came up with a cool nickname for me: Hanjak. It was quite a while before I realized that the translation for Hanjak is “jackass.” She assured me it was an affectionate term. I still wonder.

Authentic Experiences

My point (yes, I do have a point) is that we can embrace the cultures around us and proudly present them in our stores, our menus and in our traditions. By embracing the cultures of your customers, you can realize a greater sense of community and a greater bottom line.

Our projects over the past few years have increasingly involved embracing the local culture, local history and the local people. From markets near Miami, where I developed an addiction to Cordaditos (Cuban espresso), to West Texas, where the kolaches (Czech pastries) are authentic and amazing, this country is filled with cultures, traditions and cuisine that can be shared at your store to create an authentic experience worth coming back for.

Whatever the culture, wherever the location or whoever the people, look around and embrace your surroundings. Like my father, save the derogatory words and emotions for those wonderful computer phone systems. Gracias y dobrou noc. (Thank you and goodnight.)