Tightly held secrets can be deal killers, or provide opportunities to grow competitively. Pierre Héroux was running a large financial group in a fortune 1000 company.

He left the company to start his own restaurant business in 2003, Simply Crêpes. As one might expect from the restaurant name, the crêpe is the primary focus of the menu and it is a secret formula and has been passed down from generations in his family.

Pierre Making CrepesAs we talk, Pierre excitedly shares his plans to expand the business in the future, knowing that he has to adjust his expectations – what he physically should and could do. A central problem to solve: the coveted recipe. Up to this point, each morning he is the only one who knows how to prepare the batter. This decision is deliberate.

Six months later I find Pierre at a local festival; showcasing his delicious crêpes. He looks more rested and I inquire about the expansion plans. Well, it seems, he’s taken time off and has made some changes. The second location opened in March 2004, another location in the planning stages. But what about the recipe, I wonder. So I asked how he solved his problem.

Pierre and his wife decided to delegate the crêpe making to another trusted family member, his sister-in-law, who is also the Prep Kitchen manager. Investments in commercial mixers to expedite the batter making process became a priority.

Protecting the secret recipe was still important; a method of mixing a prepared set of dry and liquid ingredients was developed. Initially, different vendors provide different parts of the recipe, now the responsibility resides with the Prep Kitchen manager.

Presently, a generic recipe outlines how to mix the sets of dry and liquid ingredients, which is now in the hands of each location’s kitchen. The exact contents of the recipe remain a mystery. Today, Pierre and his team operate three eat-in locations, the most recent in Canandaigua, NY along with several seasonal locations.

It can be difficult to balance the black box or secret we have in our business and finding ways to grow it beyond our personal capacity. It may take hitting a wall as Pierre did with exhaustion or it might manifest itself in other ways.

Placing faith and trust in employees will let the manager focus on pushing the dream forward. Continue to challenge the belief it has to be this way or I must protect this secret in its purest form – chances are there is a solution that allows both competitive advantage and growth to occur.

Pierre’s parting words of reflection: “During the first and second year, I had a very difficult time letting go of “important” details. Today, as I look back, a few were actually IMPORTANT, while others, well how can I say this…I probably made them too important in my mind, AND THEY REALLY WERE NOT!”

The challenge is to know which things are important while in the moment.