The Stinking Rose: A Lesson in Focus and Clarity

Leadership is about making choices.

Some of you are engaged in the art of starting new enterprises. As you begin, you face important decisions.

  • What business are we really in?
  • Who is our audience?
  • What else is out there?

I recently flew into San Francisco to visit with social and spiritual entrepreneurs, Gordon and Leanne Wohlers. Gordon and Leanne are engaged in a very challenging field and I wanted to treat them to something special. So we headed over to a restaurant Leanne had heard about in North Beach called The Stinking Rose. It was there that we learned something about the power of focus.

The Stinking Rose is a restaurant that loves garlic. Loves.

We began our evening with an appetizer called a “bagna calda” which is a dip of garlic cloves, olive oil, and a hint of anchovy all soaking in a hut tub.

We ordered three dishes. The first dish was a Zuppa di Pesco which is a soup comprised of mussels, crab, fresh fish, calamari, and shrimp in a spicy tomato and brodetto in a garlic sauce.

The second dish was a Chicken asparagus pasta which included fettuccini, roasted tomatoes, garlic, and pine nuts.

The third dish was a garlic prime rib –served medium rare– infused with garlic and basted in garlic served with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a creamy spinach.

Are you smelling a theme? Everything on the menu had garlic. The text at the bottom of the menu read:

“We season our garlic with a little bit of food.”

Talk about focus.

Have you ever wondered how narrow or broad your range of products or services should be? If you’re starting a cafe do you feel like you have to cater to multiple audiences? If you’re starting a new church do you feel like you have to offer all the programs and services of those larger churches? If you’re a photographer, do you feel that you have to take any job that involves photography, even if it’s not your speciality? Whatever business or movement you are starting, the Stinking Rose is instructive.

Imagine those early meetings when the idea of a garlic restaurant was first discussed. I can hear the objections…

  • What about those people who don’t like garlic?
  • Does every dish on our menu need garlic?
  • Won’t people mind if they leave smelling like garlic?
  • Would it kill us to have one dish without garlic?

But focus brings clarity. Once the focused vision to launch a restaurant that specialized in garlic was birthed, it shaped everything.

Q: Who is the audience?
A: Everyone who obsesses over garlic.

Q: What should we have on the menu?
A: Garlic with food on it!

Q: What about the people who don’t love garlic?
A: There are many, many other restaurant choices for them. But how many restaurants exist specifically for people who love garlic?

Q: Does everything need garlic?
A: Of course we can create dishes without garlic, but why? We are The Stinking Rose.

Whatever your enterprise, consider the exercise of focusing …and focusing until the thing you seek to do becomes really clear.

Focus helps you know who you are and what you are all about. It helps you make decisions because of the clarity it brings.

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One thought on “The Stinking Rose: A Lesson in Focus and Clarity

  1. RV

    Leadership and focus; actions that are not often found together in today’s culture. This brief story, intended for start-ups, provides excellent clarity for established organizations looking for new life and purpose.

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