Sunday, April 20, 2014

Get Your Brand Right to Make A Lasting Impression on Your Audience

Interview with Lynn Altman, founder, Brand Now

With Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon of Food Startup Help

Jeff:  Hi Lynn.  Can you tell us about how you began in Branding?

Lynn:  My Branding career started early—and somewhat accidentally. I had originally thought I wanted to get into advertising and be a copywriter, but in my job search I stumbled upon the world of Branding and pretty quickly knew I had found my place. And it’s really no surprise: successful advertising and Branding both revolve around finding creative ways to sell a product or service. What drew me to Branding over advertising is my personal preference for strategy and problem solving over execution and accolades.

Kathryn:  As a Branding specialist, what do you do?

Lynn:   I think it’s important first and foremost to mention that I am not a designer. Most people when they think of “Branding” go right to “what is my logo going to look like?” I come in a few steps before that in order to inform design direction. As a Branding specialist (and not a ‘guru’—that would imply that all of the brilliance is in my head and that Branding is not a collaborative, iterative process), my job is to be able to look at a product or service and have the ability to see many different possibilities for how to present it in the marketplace.

Kathryn:  Is Branding just for large corporations or also for the little guys?

Lynn:  Big companies have learned how important this step is. They spend millions of dollars fine-tuning their brands, their messaging and their packaging in order to stay likeable and current. And I think it’s just as crucial—if not more—for small businesses and start ups to make sure they have a strong brand since many do not have large advertising or PR budgets to help tell their stories. Also, and I’ll talk more into this later, your brand is your first and lasting impression on your audience and it’s important to get it right.

Jeff:  How would you advise a startup company about finding the right Branding specialist for them?

Lynn:  The question becomes, “Who do I work with and how do I find them?” Like anything else, there are a million different consultants with an equal number of Branding approaches and philosophies. There are good ones and bad ones, but my key criteria would be that they tailor their process to the business owner’s need and not the other way around. The consultants who do not are automatically making the assumption that their one process fits all, and that’s simply not the case. To me, that’s all ego and this kind of non-collaborative thinking will rear its head throughout one’s entire Branding process.

Kathryn:  Is the Branding process expensive?

Lynn:  The second major question for choosing a Branding specialist is cost. As valuable as this step is for small businesses and startups, it should never be more than you can afford. It goes back to finding the right match for you—and that includes budget. Processes with higher price tags usually involve more upfront strategy, competitive analysis, charting and reports. These things can be helpful, but many entrepreneurs already have some strong senses of where they want to take their product and really need help in getting to that next step of how that actually comes to life. For someone who doesn’t need the numbers and the hard facts and is willing to trust in someone else’s intuition and experience, the lower priced consultants will probably be a better fit.

Jeff:  Are their other options to hiring a Branding specialist?

Lynn:  Some decide to go it on their own, or hire a student, relative or super-cheap designer they’ve found on the Internet, and the results usually show. Packages, logos and websites look amateurish and home grown, and if you’re looking to make a good first impression, this is going to really hurt you. You could have the best product on Earth inside the package, but if the outside looks unappealing, no one will try it. The 17th century French Philosopher, La Rochefoucauld probably said it best: “In order to be successful, you must first appear so.”

Kathryn:  How would you advise someone to prioritize a limited budget?

Lynn:  Then the conundrum: with a limited budget combined with the importance of a polished brand, where do you spend your money? I’ll draw a parallel to my closet. I have investment pieces that are the staples of my wardrobe and then some less expensive things that help me give those key elements the variety I want. I say choose the initial Branding and logo design as your investment pieces because they are the foundation of your communication. Web design, business cards and marketing materials can be created by less experienced freelancers by applying the design directions established in the brand guidelines. The key is to make sure that they stick to the rules and don’t feel the need to add in their own flair to your brand.

Jeff:  Any general words of advice for our readers?

Lynn:  Thinking about Branding can become overwhelming, especially when it there are so many different opinions about the best way to approach it. The one thing I would tell people is to trust their instincts. That goes for the consultant they choose, the name they select, the design they like best—because if they don’t truly love what they are putting out there, chances are it will show.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Accommodating Customer Requests

Interview with Zeynep and Ayca User

With Kathryn Gordon, Food Startup Help
Red Bank, NJ

Kathryn:  Hello again Ayca and Zeynep!  How’s everything at Antoinette Boulangerie, now that you’ve been open 2 months?

Editor’s Note:  Zeynep and Ayca are sister owners of Antoinette Boulangerie; Chef Kathryn met Zeynep when she attended ICE

Ayca:  We absolutely love it.  It’s going really well.

Kathryn:  And Zeynep, everything’s going great with the baking?  All the products look beautiful.  Seriously, this place is just so pretty.

Zeynep:  Everything is great.  Last time you were here we worked on the French macarons – now they’re fabulous.

Kathryn:  Zeynep, do you still have 2 people baking with you?    

Zeynep:  Yes, two full time assistants so far.  I am here every day of the week.  I have my main assistant who you met, Gina and a night baker.  We prepare everything for him to bake off.

Ayca:  In the front, I have 4 assistants to cover all the shifts (Antoinette Boulangerie is open 7 days a week).

Kathryn:  Have you noticed patterns yet in your daily sales?  You have such a central, downtown Red Bank location (32 Monmouth Street -- parking in the municipal lot behind the bakery).

Ayca:  We opened in a snow storm, and then after that – the weather got worse!  And this winter, as you know, there has been many serious storms.  But we had customers even in the snow.  In fact, many of our customers are regulars already – we see them at least once every day.  They tell us that they tell all their friends about us. 

Zeynep:  We have breakfast sales for commuters, lunch, after school, and dinner pastries.  We’re beginning some wholesale baking for a wedding event space, and I do special order cakes.

Kathryn:  What’s your best selling item so far?

Zeynep:  The 21-layer crepe cake.

Kathryn:  When I was here the first month you opened, customers who came in for their morning croissant were asking you to bake additional, specific pastries like Kings Cake.  Is that still happening?  

Ayca:  Yes – we have requests, or suggestions?  All the time!  We're both here and open to talking to our customers, of course.

Zeynep:  And I try to accommodate them.  At the moment, I am running specials of new items on the weekend.  But clearly, the menu is continuously evolving.   But it lets me teach myself new items and expand our menu and I enjoy it.

Kathryn:  How did you two decide to open this operation?  Is this something you always wanted to do?

Ayca:  We had a family meeting at one point regarding what we wanted to do in 2013.  I knew I wanted to leave my job in banking.

Zeynep:  I knew I liked baking.  It all just came together.  I completed the pastry program at ICE in 2011, and interned at La Bergamote in Manhattan. 

Kathryn:  How did you select Red Bank as the location to open?  And did you visit Paris all the time when you were kids or something, to get this vision together?

Ayca:  We wanted to do something high end, and this is a destination town for high end shopping (Tiffany’s, Duxiana, Coco Pari, amongst others).   And we visited a lot of patisseries and boulangeries in Paris, but in recent years!

Zeynep:  Our vision was for a very high end, beautiful bakery.

Kathryn:  Well, you’ve accomplished that!  And the product is delicious as well as gorgeous in appearance (Note:   I’ve so far tasted a baguette and herb butter, a chocolate puff twist, peanut butter sandwich, and an apricot macaron).

Kathryn:  How long did the build out take?

Ayca:  We got the lease last June and opened January 3rd.  It was a skateboard shop before, so everything in the bakery is new.

Kathryn:  How did you both get into food?  Was your family food oriented?

Ayca:  Our family is from Turkey.  Our father loves cooking; he taught our mother how to cook, and let us help in the kitchen.  But he never really baked.

Zeynep:  I was a nutritionist before I had my twin girls (aged 5 now).  I loved baking, and wanted to learn more about baking science.

Kathryn:  Does your nutritional training come into play much in your baking?

Zeynep:  To accommodate customer requests, I now offer 15 gluten free items.  I’m planning to create some gluten free breads next.

Kathryn:  You’re already growing fast -- yet you've got a good amount of space in the bakery.  Is there anything you wish you had done differently in the design for the bakery?

Zeynep:  Yes, more refrigeration and freezer space.  We’re looking into retrofitting in a walk-in.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chocolate Equipment and Molding Tips from the Experts

Interview with:

Thomas Elsignhorst, President
Beth Kimmerle, Marketing Director
Brian Donaghy, Executive Pastry Chef

Tomric Systems, Inc.

By Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon of Food Startup Help

Jeff and Kathryn, along with Pastry Chef Jenny McCoy, recently visited Tomric Systems in Buffalo NY, to tour their production plant, work with their Selmi Chocolate equipment from Italy and learn more about chocolate mold making.

Looking for a cooling tunnel for your chocolate business?  Tomric has a 12 meter one for sale that they recently used at a trade show.  Contact Sean Tucci, Technical Sales and Service Manager at

Selmi Injector Depositor Attachment in Action

Jeff:  Hello Tom, can you tell us more about Tomric? You mentioned that this is your family business.

Tom:  It’s been family owned and run for 51 years.  It was started by my great uncle who was a metal smith in Germany, and my dad began plastic mold thermoforming here in the 1960’s.  We have 2 plants in Buffalo.

Beth:  The Company sells multiple lines and strives to be a single source supplier to the confectionery industry.  For instance, ChocoMaker products are geared for the home cook, and includes Make ‘n Mold kits, chocolate fountains, and compound chocolate sold in outlets such as Bed, Bath & Beyond and Walmart.  Chocolate World is our line of custom and readymade molds for the food industry, primarily for artisan chocolatiers. We are also the exclusive distributor in North America for Selmi Chocolate Machines from Italy. 

Beth’s marketing team’s design board for their ChocoMaker line.

Kathryn:  If I were a chocolatier and I wanted to get a custom mold, how does that process work?

Beth:  An artisan chocolate company submits a design, and our art department creates a mold.  They use traditional clay sculpting and plaster for detail prototype designs, but are starting to use computerized design models as well.  Lead time depends on the intricacy of the design, typically ranging from 5 days to 6 weeks.   

Tomric sponsors the World Chocolate Masters and Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie US teams

Jeff:  Brian, can you tell us about the Selmi equipment line from Italy?  You’ve got a variety of machines here. Can you talk about the line?

Brian:  We pride ourselves on carrying such an incredible line of chocolate equipment from Selmi and provide the best customer service for the machines, and help with installation through training.  The machines are very easy to work with and clean after use. 

Brian molding with the injector depositor attachment

Jeff:  How does the mold depositor attachment work on the Selmi tempering machine?

Brian:  It works with 75-80% of existing polycarbonate chocolate molds.  You can easily calibrate the depositing head to minimize excess chocolate clean up. 

Jeff:  Brian, if you put the depositor attachment onto the tempering machine, how many molds can you do an hour?

Brian:  I’ve had practice, obviously, but conservatively it is 60 molds an hour (and I’m at 90).  A chocolatier’s challenge quickly becomes the number of chocolate molds they own. 

Kathryn:  What’s this cool looking machine?  I know what a lot of them are, but don’t recognize this one!

Brian:  The micron ball refiner grinds cocoa nibs into finely conched chocolate, letting chocolatiers do bean-to-bar.  Or, you can make your own giandujias or nut butters.   

Selmi micron ball refiner – make your own nut pastes, butters, marzipans, giandujia and couverture!

Kathryn:  Brian, once and for all –as Executive Pastry Chef here, how do you recommend cleaning chocolate molds?

Brian:  Don’t, if you can avoid it.  If you have to, use only warm water and a neutral pH soap.  I like to polish my molds with a washable microfiber chamois.  Even finger nails inside a mold can scratch it.  Molds with a bit of chocolate on them can simply be stored in a Tupperware tote.

Jeff:  Do you place your molds up, or down, once you’ve lined your mold and the excess chocolate has been poured out of the mold?  I’ve seen both approaches.

Brian:  I keep the mold up – it allows the chocolate at the edge where the cap will be to create a “bevel.”  This allows a surface area for the cap to attach securely, with less trapped air underneath (and therefore, a better shelf life of the bon bon center).

Kathryn:  And Brian, do you think there is such a thing as a bad mold?  Like when a chocolatier has issues with release marks on the chocolate?

Chef Jenny McCoy with an extremely large egg mold

Brian:  Yes, occasionally, for example sometimes the angles aren’t correct, but primarily the issue is the chocolatier is depositing the tempered chocolate into too cold a mould.  They should warm the mould to 85F before depositing the chocolate, to minimize the release marks (and maximize the shine).  

Kathryn: Thank you everyone for hosting us here in Buffalo and for allowing us to tour your factory and for giving us all the great demos of all the Selmi equipment.

Slightly used cooling tunnel for sale!  Perfect for your artisan chocolate business!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Support Your Employees Because They Support You

Interview with Agatha Kulaga
Co Owner Ovenly (with Erin Patinkin)

With Kathryn Gordon, Food Startup Help

Editor’s Note:  Food Startup Help worked with Ovenly in 2013 over a multi month period to strategize regarding expansion plans and optimize operational efficiency.

Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, photo credit The Kitchn

Kathryn:  Hi Agatha!  I haven’t seen you in months -- how’s everything going?  And how's it going with the Ovenly cookbook project?

Agatha:  Great!  Very well actually.   The book is due out in October.  There will be an ebook issued before that, as a teaser.  Erin and I are very happy the way its come out, although this week we’re still deciding on the cover with the publisher (Harlequin).

Kathryn:  Can you remind me how you and Erin met and started the bakery?  Did you know you wanted your own retail (brick and mortar) type of bakery?

Agatha:  No!  We actually met at a food focused book club that was started by my childhood friend.  We both were career changers with some background in the restaurant business, and we both individually knew we wanted to do something in food but were looking for the right opportunity.  We started talking after the book club, mulled it over for about a year, and 3 1/2 years ago incorporated.  

Kathryn: Was your original concept the way Ovenly is now, with a retail bakery and a large wholesale operation? 

Agatha:  Not at all.  At first we produced bar snacks for some friends here in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) with a bar, and then that evolved with orders for pastries, and more bar snack orders for Brooklyn Brewery.  It all took off from there. 

Kathryn:  For anyone who hasn’t visited Ovenly yet, how would you describe your business?

Agatha:  Ovenly represents “craft,” timeless and classic creativity.  This is a very trendy area, and we don’t want to be just part of trend.  We are an artisanal, homey bakery offering our customers consistent product, and we want to appeal to a variety of people.    We have wonderful customers.

Kathryn:  How many square feet is your facility here (31 Greenpoint Avenue)?

Agatha:  It’s about 2,100 square feet with 350 for the retail, 900 on this floor for bakery production, and our basement prep and storage areas.  We also rent office space nearby.

Kathryn: I remember visiting you for the first time and a film company had rented out your retail space to film that day, and they were making a movie with Ann Hathaway sitting right here.

Agatha:  They are always filming in Greenpoint!  Several times we’ve been featured in films and TV, and we appeared as Ovenly on the Cooking Channel.

Kathryn:  How many employees do you have? 

Agatha:  23. 16 are full time and 7 part time.  It’s a mix of the front of the house, office staff and bakers but it is primarily baking staff.  They bake in 3 shifts a day, with deliveries going out from midnight onwards.

Kathryn:  When you started talking to Food Startup Help, you were undergoing substantial growing pains. 

Agatha:  I would say that going through growth phases is always challenging.  Right now we are planning the opening of our second retail location (which will be in Manhattan).  We have a constantly expanding wholesale operation driving our sales (including Whole Foods for our scones), and we have started doing more wedding cakes.

We’ve accomplished a big operational improvement. We have now managed to cross train our baking staff, rather than have them each focus on specialized tasks. 

Kathryn:  And from the time Jeff (Yoskowitz) and I first visited the bakery, you’ve rearranged completely?

Agatha:  After talking to you, the first thing we had to do was buy more muffin and loaf pans, scales, etc. to allow our bakers to stage their daily production most efficiently.  We bought more 80Q Hobart bowls and attachments for example, to be able to more effectively manage the production.  We reorganized the entire kitchen in terms of lighting, tables, metro racks, etc.  The space opened up and is now much better utilized. We’re now considering adding another bank of ovens.  General storage space continues to be a challenge, with limited walk in freezer and fridge space to manage all of the speed racks required for this production level. 

Kathryn:  How do you and Erin divide up your projects as business partners?

Agatha:  At first, Erin and I pretty much did everything together every day, including baking and running the entire operation.  Now it’s too big and too complicated, so we subdivide and delegate or we would just be doubling our efforts and get exhausted.  We have nightly recap sessions, and we regularly schedule brainstorming sessions to set our next direction and priorities.

Kathryn:  What have been your biggest surprises, running a bakery with Erin? 

Agatha:  We’ve learned how valuable employees are.  You cannot underestimate good employees -- they support your business as it is always evolving.  You need to support your employees because they support you.  Running a business is much more than you baking “your cookie” recipe.  There’s workman’s comp, and employee HR, and financing and budgeting and everything else you need to know to be successful. 

Kathryn:  Speaking of employees, how has President Obama’s health care reform affected you? 

Agatha:  When we first started, none of us had health insurance.  For a few years, we offered it only to salaried employees.  In the past few years, we were able to offer insurance to all our employees.  Now we can offer a better plan, although it is more expensive, and only some employees who are still covered under their parent’s plan are not covered by us. 

The Wall Street Journal is running an installment piece covering small businesses under health care reform and have interviewed us on health insurance under Obama care - the first installment including Ovenly should appear in the next few weeks.

Kathryn:  Thanks for your time Agatha, and we’ll catch up with you later after you open your second retail location!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Never Knew I'd Be Having So Much Fun

Interview with Liz Fife
Creator of Batter & Cream

with Kathryn Gordon of Food Startup Help

Kathryn:  Hi Liz!  How’s everything going for Batter & Cream – it’s been a few months since you’d hired Food Startup Help to get you launched with the whoopie pies!    What’s new?

Food Startup Help worked with Liz for completing a business plan, product R&D and production efficiency optimization.  

Lineup of Batter & Cream Whoopie Pies

Liz:  Things are going great!  I was in Brooklyn Flea outdoor market thru till the holidays.  I will definitely do that again this spring – and may actually take a booth in the new indoor Smorgasborg market, depending on availability for February-March.  It was great being able to meet my customers directly.

        Liz at Brooklyn Flea in the fall

Kathryn:  How were sales?

Liz:  We sold out every weekend!

Kathryn:  And are you still doing your production at Hana (an incubator kitchen in Sunset Park, Brooklyn)?

Liz:  Yes, I am with 1-2 baking assistants depending on my sales volume.  I am however a bit frustrated with sharing the ovens – sometimes I have to fight bigger companies for oven space, so I am looking at “my next production options” for this year as well.

Kathryn:  I can see from your social media that you’ve been doing some events. Tell me about the one with the Brooklyn Nets?

Liz:  Deron Williams has a charity to raise funds for autism.  I had reached out to an events planner I knew and was very pleased to be able to provide whoopee pies for the fundraising event.

Liz and Deron Williams at the autism fundraiser event; Batter & Cream was the dessert sponsor 

Kathryn:  Remind me when you started working on Batter & Cream, and why you decided to focus on whoopee pies? 

Liz:  The company official launch date was September 25, 2013 – but I think I began working with Food Startup Help around April, batting around potential product ideas, and then worked throughout the summer getting the recipes down.

Why whoopie pies?  I wanted to open my own business.  I had made a bunch of desserts for a party, and it just kind of occurred to me nobody was doing whoopie pies in the tri state area.  I knew people were sick of eating cupcakes, and looking for the “next thing,” here I am with delicious whoopie pies!  Which are much easier to eat than messy cupcakes!

Kathryn:  And you have a variety of flavors and sizes?

Liz:  We feature the flavor-of-the-month, and have seasonal specialties that rotate in and out throughout the year.  I offer flavors that are sophisticated – not too sweet – and appeal to adults equally as children.  The whoopie pies are also available in 2 sizes, so people can pick up one to eat right away, or order a selection in a special package for a party.

Selection of whoopie pies from the website in custom, clear packaging

Kathryn:  What’s next for Batter & Cream?

Liz:  I feel like we’re in a phase where we have to “go for it,” to drive up our sales volumes.   I can reach some customers through direct sales at farm markets and sell on the website – but I really need volume.  In the beginning, I think new businesses rely a lot on “friends and family” sales.  Now we’re ready to grow, not just hold our heads above water.  So this week I’ve narrowed it down to 2 PR companies, and will be hiring one to help me get more market exposure.

Kathryn:  Can I ask you how much a PR firm costs?  Knowing that would help our blog readers who have thought about doing that for their food companies, but aren’t sure if they have the budget for it.

Liz:  $3,500 to $5,000 a month. 

Kathryn:  I think that will really pay off for you.  I’m happy you will be able to do that for the business.

 A delicious, unique  flavor with goat cheese, fresh figs and honey

Liz:  At this point I am constantly talking about the business, and figuring out how to expand.  I have also been looking at pop up stores, to try a location with good foot traffic for a few months.  I know I will get a good profit margin also offering beverages – and can offer other ancillary products like “fillings in a jar,” if I have a retail location.  I expect to be open in a pop up within the next few months; an excellent location is waiting to tell me when the next dessert slot is available.

Kathryn:  Then you’ll need more employees!

Liz:  That’s right!  One of my bakers is interested in helping with weekend sales, and I recently hired a friend as my right hand person to help me with the business end, paperwork, etc.

Kathryn:  What has been the biggest obstacle to starting the business?  Was it some of the production obstacles you and I encountered when we first transitioned from R&D at your apartment to a commercially licensed kitchen? 

Liz:  No, I knew that would work itself out.  I’d say that the website was the issue – it took 3 times as long as it was supposed to, and still doesn’t do everything exactly as I want.  I recently parted ways and have hired a new website company.  It really was a horrible process because every time I lined up my production and marketing to begin selling – the website wasn’t ready yet and I lost customers and sales.

An early event for People's Style Watch Magazine

Kathryn:  And what’s the overall conclusion so far, as you leave a “friends and family phase” and are poised for growth?

Liz:  This has been an amazing experience overall – I constantly find myself doing things I never thought I’d be dealing with.   There are so many different parts to opening your own business – it can be overwhelming at times, but it is so much fun!

Liz Fife