Mill 180 Park is a pilot. We are trying to figure how to create an admission-free indoor park that is a financially-sustainable community gathering place. We have always thought that the three keys to success are, first, bringing a sense of nature indoors through imaginative hydroponics; second, hosting events to bring people together; and third, using technology that enables Park employees to work efficiently despite the wide range of activities they are asked to perform. In other words, GPS: Greenery, Programming, and Software.
Now that we have two years under our belt, we have been assessing our experience to date. Some things have gone well, others not so much. The bottom line is that a great deal of what we do involves preparing cook-to-order food. Unlike many people who enjoy cooking, however, we never dreamed of opening a restaurant. Moreover, given that most restaurants fail, operating one is not the best path to financial sustainability. (On the other hand, the Park provides an ideal setting for parties, meetings, fundraisers, and other private events. Hosting those is consistent with our mission, and catering them is manageable, since we know in advance what to expect.)
We want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time on GPS. So, starting immediately, we are going to be concentrating on farming, on organizing and running activities that take advantage of the Park’s unique ambience, and on learning how best to use our new software. Some of the benefits of this refocusing are already apparent. The kitchen’s inventory management is pretty well automated, and the Park’s plants are looking better than ever.
We also have fine-tuned our food menu so that it contains items that are not only fun to eat but also fun to prepare. In addition to continuing to serve our most popular items, we will be offering items that usually incorporate Park-grown plants and that will be available only at limited times or as specials. For instance, you can now get freshly-baked waffles with vanilla ice cream and Park-made berry and basil sauce on Saturdays and Sundays until 2 pm. We have a cookie of the month. Right now, it is a Carmelita, and we all think that it is delicious. We are experimenting with lettuce and other vegetable-based crackers. On the other hand, while we will be serving food whenever the Park is open, we will no longer be offering cook-to-order items on weekday afternoons.
Finally, we will be aligning the Park’s opening hours with the times that people seem to want to visit. That means that we will be closing at 6 pm on Saturdays unless we are hosting a special event. Speaking of special events, we will be working hard to build up our Thursday Night Adult Game Nights, Friday After School Kids Happy Hours, Speaker Series, Family Yoga Get-Togethers, and art shows and musical performances. In other words, more GPS.

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