Sunday, December 30, 2012

Interview with Elizabeth Falkner: Restaurateur, Author and TV Star

Interview with Elizabeth Falkner
Give 100% and Kick Some Ass

Facebook:  Elizabeth Falkner
Interview by Jessie Riley, Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon of

Jessie recently helped Elizabeth with the opening of her new Sicilian-style restaurant Krescendo.  We visited her at the restaurant (364 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn NY) for this interview.

Jeff:  You've had such a long rich history in terms of food.  We’d like to talk today about the lessons you've learned from starting your own restaurants and other projects and what you’d do and what you’d never do again!

Kathryn:  Did you first learn about food at home? 

Elizabeth:  My mom is a dietitian and a really good cook, so I didn't eat processed foods growing up.   Being from Southern California, we had good access to produce and there was a general focus on healthy eating (and appearances).

Both grandparents from my mom’s side made candy!  There was also a family farm in Missouri where my grandfather hunted quail and we learned how to pick vegetables, can foods and fish. I actually included a “food memory” recipe in my new book, Cooking Off The Clock, that reminds me of the earthy smell of picking corn in a field – Corn Soup with porcini mushrooms and cacao nibs.

Jessie:  Originally you transitioned into professional cooking from working in film?

Elizabeth:  I’ve now been cooking for 23 years, but I have a BFA in abstract, experimental film making, and painting.  I was working in film when I started at a small café and I became the chef there a month later because I had a better palette than anyone else! 

Kathryn:  Who were your mentors as you learned the food industry?

Elizabeth:  Traci Des Jardins and Mary Cech. 

Traci Des Jardins took a chance hiring me to do the desserts at Elka after I had just a bit of fine dining experience.  It was an early Pacific Rim restaurant with excellent food.  I told her I could do better with the desserts.  I realize now that my approach to getting that job was unusual!  I had tried the desserts, and they sucked, with nothing more imaginative than green tea crème brulee.  So I designed a menu, and brought in samples incorporating Japanese ingredients and using a bento box.  I got the job, dessert sales soared by 60%, and I later went with Tracy to Rubicon.  

Mary Cech taught me how to do chocolate work, pull sugar and build showpieces.  I also learned what it was like to temper for 3 days straight without sleeping to help Jemal Edwards prep for a competition and then I started to compete myself – I was always going to break the rules!

Photo Credit:  San Francisco Chronicle

Jessie:   In California, you opened and closed two restaurants, Citizen Cake and Orson. How did you find your first investors?

Elizabeth:  Robin Williams and some of the backers for Rubicon were some of the original backers for Citizen Cake and I raised about $30K with family and friends.

Jeff:  How did you decide it was the right time to open Citizen Cake?

Elizabeth:  I saw the writing on the wall:  “Why are there no great pastry shops in San Francisco where people can get a really cool cake?” There wasn’t one anywhere, so I decided I had to open a pastry shop and fill that gap.

The first one, I managed really well for 1 ½ years, but it was in a remote and (then) seedy area where it was hard to get traffic.  I was approached by other landlords to open another Citizen Cake and it was an opportunity to have a bigger audience.  In the original location, the cakes were upscale and I was being bashed for “changing the neighborhood.” 

I decided on a busier, more central location near my customers – but from the get-go it was challenging.  I opened for $1.2 million during the silicon boom.  It was 1999 and I had 30 investors, who all really believed in the project.

The lease was the most difficult issue, at first.  The pastry shop and café got off the ground quickly, but I was hampered because one of the landlords owned a wine bar down the street and didn't want me to open as a restaurant after 6 pm. 

Jeff:  What was the biggest lesson you learned from that leasing process?

Elizabeth:  We didn’t even touch any location with a complicated lease when Nancy Puglisi (owner of Krescendo) and I looked at restaurant locations in Brooklyn! It’s just not worth it.

Kathryn:  What other challenges did you face? 

Elizabeth: I opened a spinoff, Citizen Cupcake.  In 2008 we opened Orson to have a commissary baking location for Citizen Cupcake.  In 2010 I had to move the location of Citizen Cake because the landlords wanted to double the rent.  Everyone was acting like I had so much money, but I couldn't pay double. 

Unfortunately, I had been forced to remodel for $300,000, 2 years prior the end of the first lease because we had a bad floor. There was water movement under the ground of our location and the floor had rotted.   We had to relocate and absorb those remodeling costs.

We found a great new spot in the heart of where our clientele worked.  It was a former restaurant but it was trashed and needed gutting, so the build out took 6 months longer than it was supposed to.  The space was “too big” for what we needed.  The process was very hard on my personal relationships but everyone had worked so hard and we didn't want it to vanish, and I had put a lot of other people’s money into the project. 

By then we had morphed into offering steaks and martinis at night so it wasn't only a pastry shop, but I don’t recommend running a pastry shop and restaurant on top of each other!  For awhile it held together because I had a really great overnight bread baker for many years, my right hand pastry person who came with me from Rubicon (until she had twins), and a GM who knew about wines, and worked with good chef de cuisines who communicated really well about food stuff. 

Then the economy crashed.

It was all “outside white noise,” and I didn't know how loud it was until it was all done.  I was doing modern fine dinning and after the crash everyone only wanted comfort food.  I just needed to stop.

Kathryn:  How did you get involved in food TV?  You've worked with both Food Network and Bravo, even though there is competition between the networks!

Elizabeth:  It just sort of happened here and there.  In 2005 I became Cat Cora’s sous chef, then I did 3 Food Network Challenges.  Next I worked with Bravo as a Top Chef judge and I was one of a few people who talked to them about starting Top Chef Just Desserts.  From there I did well in the Top Chef Masters, and Iron Chef started calling… 

Jessie:  Do you do your own promoting?

Elizabeth:  I have worked with PR people in the past.  Right now I have a TV agent.  You have to have an agent to do television– but it’s a Catch 22 situation.  You need a show to get an agent and vice versa.  But I talked to Tom Colicchio and he helped find an agent for pitching me to Magical Elves (production company).

Kathryn:  Your second cookbook has just been published?

Elizabeth:  Owning the bakery, I had been approached for many years to have a cookbook, and decided to write the first one (Demolition Desserts) because I wanted to document my recipes, since my cooking style kept moving.  So I wrote Demolition Desserts in 2007.  This fall, Cooking off the Clock was published (Random House).

Kathryn:  What motivates you to do the TV shows?

Elizabeth:  What I love about those shows is what I love about teaching.  I love the discovery of new ingredients, and what can be done with them.  I also studied film production, so I love seeing how the scenes are shot, and the story telling that is edited together.

I also like “the game,” and going from being the “underdog” in the first The Next Iron Chef series to being the “scary chef” to watch in the second year!

Jeff:  How did you decide to open this style of restaurant in NYC?

Elizabeth:  For any concept development, my approach is to ask:  what makes sense to pursue?  You have to look at openings, not just jump on a bandwagon.

I had been talking to Nancy Puglisi, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and I was pizza obsessed.  Nancy wanted to come back to Brooklyn and I said:  I’d help you with that. We have a simple menu; people just want pizza, pasta and cocktails.

There once was a lot of Sicilian cuisine in Brooklyn but fewer restaurants are around now, and the cuisine needs some resuscitation.  I look at the recipes and determine what someone else can do with it – relating to food like a Californian, and make the style my own.  So there will be some Elizabeth-style in whatever it is I wind up doing.

Jessie:  Are you an owner of Krescendo?

Elizabeth:  I have some equity, but I don’t want all the responsibility any more.  I have too many other projects in my head I would like to do.  And I don’t want the investor and operational responsibilities all by myself.  When you are the only person responsible for everything – it’s a whole lot of self-pressure.  I don’t want to let anyone down.

Kathryn:  What do you think so far about being in New York City? 

Elizabeth:  I am still getting used to the short growing season in NY versus California.  I’m starting to work with some farmers directly, like Blooming Hill Farm.   

Jeff:  What advice would you give someone entering the food industry?

Elizabeth:  Have stamina and perseverance.  Stick with it and do not give up.   You have to give 100% and kick some ass.  Continue with it for 10 years and you will become an expert. 

This is a very physically demanding job – it’s not strictly the hours, it also mentally demanding.  I love working with a team of people, but it takes a lot out of you.  You have to give other people responsibility, and they have to follow through.  You need some balance in your life for longevity in this business – and time to go to the gym.

Jessie:  I know you have a lot of projects going on; what’s next here for you, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth:  I will be offering pizza, pasta and pastry classes at Krescendo, using our Matador pizza oven!  People can contact us at Krescendo to enroll (718) 330- 0888.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Opening a New Business In a Campus City

Interview with Katalina’s Bakery Owner Kathy Riegelmann
New Haven, CT

By Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

JessieKathy, you have a pretty big space here!  How did you get started with your bakery business and find this particular location?

Kathy:  Several years ago I had a coffee shop in the area, so I knew people and people knew me.  I had been taking baking classes and was interested in getting back into the food business.  Yale University had begun a local economic development program to generate more foot traffic in this neighborhood near the campus.  There were some new schools and dorms nearby, and they were looking for a cupcake type business so Yale helped me to find this space. 

Kathryn:  Can you tell me more about your relationship with Yale?

Kathy:  Yes.  Yale is like a partner in that they paid for the commercial architect.  The construction bids went to Yale, and the university arranged the build out for $150K, and arranged my loan.  Yale takes a percentage over my break-even rent each month.  They have been motivated to support several other local businesses in this way because they want this neighborhood to be vibrant.

Jessie: That’s a great opportunity!  How many days a week are you open?

Kathy:  Currently we are open 6 days a week, but we are planning to expand our hours until later at night for the students and to open on Sundays because the families in the neighborhood have been making it a destination location.  I am also taking out a small loan to remodel the back retail area and have a tea counter, and add in loose teas for purchase by the pound.

Kathryn:  Looking around the front counter, you have a frequent buyer type card system here. Can you tell us about it?

Kathy:  We are working with a new automated rewards card system called “Spot On” (  It allows me to learn about our customer base through a loyalty card system tied to social media reporting. 

Jessie:  With the “neighborhood focus,” you have a nice space with room for more chairs and tables.  Are you planning to fill that in more?

Kathy:  Actually, no.   You can get wireless internet (Yale) access here but I do not want Katalina’s to become a free parlour (like Starbuck’s) for people to sit around in all day.  We’d rather turnover the tables.  That’s why I am trying to expand my menu in terms of what appeals to different customers buying at different times of the day.

Kathryn:  We came here today to offer a hands-on macaron baking class.  I know you already have regular baking classes, and host birthday parties; are you planning to expand the school part of your business?

Kathy:  Yes, we’d like to.  We have a good open production area.  I can even hear what’s happening at the front retail counter when I am in the back, and go back and forth if I need to. 

Jessie:  Are you here baking personally every day?

Kathy:  At the moment, yes.  But I have staff and I am not here all day!  I still teach at a local fitness center and coach my son’s hockey team (I’m a single parent).  Being in touch with the local athletics world gives me access to our customer base, and helps get me out there.  I have also been able to develop some catering contacts that way.

Kathryn:  Are you happy with your branding?  Do you think that has helped you attract more outside business?

Kathy:  Yes, and I think the bakery has become successful because local people recognize the logo. 

Kathryn:  I see that you do both catering and decorated cakes here.

Kathy:  Yes. I have an assistant Briana who is mind blowing in terms of cake decorating.  I am not as proficient; I don’t have enough patience.  We are doing more catering however.  For example, I was recently approached by the New Haven Symphony.  People know I am a food snob and believe in only good ingredients – and I will not compromise. 

Jessie:  That must help drive up your food costs!

Kathy:  My sister helps with the accounting.  I know that we cover our costs and are able to put some money in the bank each month.  I’m not yet paying myself a salary because I am still earning money teaching at the gym.  I don’t have a precise handle on food costs.  But the customers have no problem putting their money down for good product.  Grad students have more funds than undergraduates, though!

Kathryn:  Thank you Kathy, I can’t wait to eat a cupcake!

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Bling is in! Interview with Lisa Mansour of NY Cake and Baking

 Interview with Lisa Mansour
Co-Owner NY Cake & Baking

Interview by Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

Kathryn:  Hi Lisa!  We’ve spoken before about your grandmother who was a chocolatier in Salt Lake City, and your mother who was a pioneer in NYC cake decorating.  Your parents use to run the business.   Now it’s more being run by you and your siblings, right?  How did that all evolve?

Lisa:  I grew up learning about cake from my mother.  In fact, I started this location (on West 22nd Street, NYC) with my mother in 1989.  At that point there was no store of its kind at all and most people didn’t know what “cake decorating” was at that point.  In fact, originally we were further down the street and the landlord said:  "You won’t even last a year!"  We have the same landlord in this larger location almost 25 years later and now he understands more about cake! 

Kathryn:  So do people watching TV!  I imagine the cake craze has helped your business boom?

Lisa: I came back to work in the business full time in the past 3-4 years.  Before then it was run mostly by my mom, dad and brother. Fundamentally, this is a cookie cutter and sprinkle business.  And it’s very seasonal.

Now my sister and her husband also work in the business.  My sister Jenny primarily works up in our warehouse in Westchester and is responsible for the website and all internet orders.  I am now in charge of the NYC store from A-Z.  My mom is in charge of the books.  My dad, well, he bosses everyone around! 

Kathryn:  Things have “shifted” here since I first visited you 2 years ago.  And I don’t just mean where items are located in the store…

Lisa:  Our emphasis is on introducing new cake ideas to refresh the company and to provide better customer service.  You can say that the “girls in the family” definitely have personality!  I’m really excited to get in there as an adviser to people, to help them make whatever cake they want to make. 

Jessie:  You’re launching a new line of tools this month under your own line?

Lisa:  Yes!  I decided to design tools to make it easier for people to make the cake they want to make.  These days, everyone is short on time and they have to juggle so many things in their lives.  Whether they make a cake for their family, or to sell – tools help them execute it the most efficiently.  We had the resources to help pull together a line of tools.  

My brother-in-law is responsible for manufacturing most of our tools. Because of this, I am able to introduce a line of “Couture Molds” in silicon that will work with a variety of cake decorating materials:  modeling chocolate, gum paste, fondant, pulled sugar and tempered chocolate.Basically, whatever the cake decorator wants to do!

                                                       Jessie:  What else is in the works for your line, Lisa?

Lisa:  In January, I expect to introduce a gluten-free cake mix with natural flavorings. There is such demand now for great tasting, gluten free products. I hear it all day in the store as customers come in looking for product.  I am right in the middle of the store so I get to hear all day what my customers want.

I would also like to have a school.  I love teaching now through our NY Cake Academy and I have lots of ideas.  I am teaching a class at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) in 2 weeks, and next year will teach a class at ICE in 2013 under the CAPS program.

Kathryn:  Can you run a school here, in the store?  I remember taking my first Wilton cake decorating piping series with your mother years ago, in a location down the street.

Lisa:  Rents in Manhattan are so high but we’re looking into our options.  We will be starting to do free in-store cake demonstrations after the holidays.  I want to bring in guest chefs, and foster a sense of community in the store like we used to have when the cake business was in its infancy. 

Kathryn:  What’s the best thing about the NY store?

Lisa:  Employee loyalty.  We all work 6 days a week, including me.  I’m lucky that most of our employees have been with us a long time.

Jessie:  What’s the most current cake trend you’re seeing now?

Lisa:  The demand is still for bling!  More and more bling, in fact. 

Jessie:  What doesn’t “move anymore” in the world of cakes?

Lisa:  Cake separators and columns. Right now you can’t give them away.

Jessie:  Before we finish up, what drives you, Lisa?

Lisa:  I want to be a trend setter, and never a “copier”.  I don’t even look at what other people are doing with their cakes or cake classes.  I focus on myself, not other decorators.   Some people consider me a threat – which I think is sad.  I need to do my own thing, and I have my hands full with my own projects.

Jessie: Thanks Lisa!

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Publishing: The Wild West

Interview with Valerie Peterson
“Branding, and the Wild West of Publishing”

By Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Valerie, I first met you at an industry event in 1999 when you worked at Wiley. Can you tell us about your background and expertise?

Valerie:  I was in book publishing a long time on the cookbook side, and did cookbook branding, author brand extensions and cookbook list branding for multiple publishers.  I also worked with licensees and licencors of Betty Crocker, and the Mark Bittman "How to Cook Everything" franchise.

Kathryn:  You have also published your own cookbooks?

Valerie:  Yes, I have 4 cookbooks and currently write the book publishing guide.

Kathryn:  These days, if someone has a food business, and therefore wants to write a cookbook to promote it, how should they go about starting such a project? 

Valerie:  The market is saturated.   Back in the day, if you were a chef when chefs started to be hot, you could guarantee you could get a book deal.  More people are now self-publishing and chef books don't necessarily sell.

Kathryn:  In such a tight market, what allows one person to succeed where others definitely don’t?

Valerie:  You have to know exactly what your goals are.  Your number one goal should be that you have a vision, and you want the book to promote yourself and your business. You have to go into the project thinking that someone else may not want to publish your vision.

The second step, is to decide how strong is your vision for your brand and your business, and if you are willing to go the route yourself by self publishing.

If you have financial resources, self publishing can get a book out there very quickly versus the 2 ½ - 3 years it normally takes to publish with some traditional publishers.

Kathryn:  I don’t know anything about self-publishing. How does one find out what to do, to go that route?

Valerie:  The self-publishing companies provide a lot of guidance to authors, and help you formulate your book editorially, and direct your marketing.  Also, small non-traditional publishing firms have evolved and will work with authors to self-publish but they will not give any financial advances (like traditional publishers would).  The new “hybrid” publishers also prefer to work with an author who has their own “branding” platform for helping to move books, and will agree to “buy back” 2,500 books or so in the first year.   Your book can be an investment in your business.

Chef authors should do some research to find out which publishing route would be the best for them – if you can help sell your own books at your restaurant or bakery to your own customer base, or if you are a popular chef speaker, self publishing through one of these hybrid publishers might be a good option for you.  

Kathryn:  How has the internet changed publishing?

Valerie:  Book publishing options has become the Wild West, in that it is no longer that codified and changes rapidly because the internet helps people to find their own direct market.  People are also reading less and doing other things to distract themselves, so publishing has become less profitable with tighter margins.

The internet can be a conduit to finding your own market if you’re savvy.  Self publishing and promotion via the internet may work directly for a chef author running their own business, whereas for a traditional publisher with a high overhead -- a particular book deal may not be profitable.

Kathryn:  Can you discuss “branding” in the food business?

Valerie:  If someone is doing a food book or a cookbook, it should be an extension of their brand.  For a chef, the book and their brand “are one.”

A book promotes your brand through your book, and your book is an extension of what you want to project to your customers.  Branding is to marketing, as haiku is to the world of literature.  You will generally be more than your brand, but it’s a shortcut to “you,” distilled in the most pure form.  It allows you to cut through the noise in the marketplace, and distills your thoughts and moods into visuals. 

Your brand has to tell people what you stand for in a short attention span time.  Everything else should flow from that:  your website, marketing materials (brochure, business card, poster and store packaging).

Kathryn:  Where have you seen entrepreneurs “go wrong” with branding?

Valerie:  You must “own” your marketing space.  Your website is your home base, because you can control it.  Facebook creates presence and is a good place to be, but you cannot control it because Facebook could change its rules tomorrow.  All your internet marketing/branding efforts should lead back to your website and it should visually promote your brand and very directly reflect the look and feel of your brand. 

Without resources, people sometimes try to make their own videos but they should not be cringe worthy.    If done correctly, video can be excellent.  But being just a “talking head” doesn’t work – people have become very savvy about being conned by info-commercials.   If your video is instructional, and promises people will learn something real through the video, it can be very effective.

Lots of people are also using Twitter badly.  Your brand needs to be in mind that you should offer something of value, like some news or a photo of how to do something.  If you blog on your website, lead back to the blog with a Twitter link. 

Most of all, be generous – lead to other people’s blogs, too, to help generate traffic.  But 90% of the time, be on “your brand.”  For example, if you are a restaurateur and your brand is service:  retweet other articles about service and service awards but mostly tweet about your restaurant and your service.

Kathryn:  And there’s so much out there on the internet – it’s a full time job keeping up with the branding, and tweeting, etc!

Valerie:  Know your customer base, and know where your constituents are.  For example, if you are a cake decorator – Pinterest is big right now.  Pinterest is all visual and has endless possibilities for you to help brand yourself.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The inside track to commercial property for food startups

Interview with Alfredo Fresnedo
Realtor, Century 21

By Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Alfredo!  You’ve been selling and renting commercial and residential properties for almost 30 years.  I was wondering how the economic downturn affected commercial business turnover, at least in your (New Jersey shore) area?

Alfredo:  What we’ve seen generally is that it’s become harder to sell businesses.  If they’re not viable to run, they’re hard to sell.  That means that some businesses have closed and the owners have walked away from their leases.

Kathryn:  If that happens, and a business closes, does the business generally sell their equipment to an auction house, or on eBay/Craig’s list?

Alfredo:  Some businesses strip out the equipment.  Some actually leave it all behind.  It depends on why someone is leaving. If they owe a lot of people a lot of money, they sometimes just want to disappear quickly, and abandon everything.

Kathryn:  From your experience, what do you think is the primary reason someone goes into business, invests so much money, and then can’t make a go of it?

Alfredo:  I really think everyone jumped on the "TV cupcake bandwagon” and cannot put out a really good product.  The fundamentals aren’t sound.  They may or may not have financial resources, but they don’t necessarily know how to bake or how to run a profitable business.

Kathryn:  If someone has to close, does it happen pretty easily that someone else comes along and wants to open up?   I know that there’s a bakery around here that seems to have been on the market for awhile.

Alfredo:  It depends.  People still want to open businesses, so a business will move if the business is priced right for sale.  Some people would be just lucky to get their initial investment money back, but they can have unrealistic expectations that they will double their money back.  That is very difficult in today’s economy, and if the business was doing so well that they could double their initial investment it probably wouldn’t be up for sale.

Kathryn:  What are the worst mistakes you've seen made in the food business over the years?

Alfredo:  There was a lovely restaurant in our town, Raspberry Café.  It had good food, friendly and reliable service, a fun atmosphere and a line of customers around the block on a summer morning! (Note:  this is a beach resort town and that’s prime time).  Then when the owners expanded with another restaurant and sold the café because they didn’t have time to correctly manage both, the new people who took over didn’t handle the cafe well.

Unfortunately, the new owners took out some of the original fixtures that had provided a lot of the café’s charm.  They placed an ice cream / soda fountain counter and a service window format that limited the number of table space inside.  In combination with the physical space change, the new owners had bad staff and mediocre food.  The remodeled format never took off.   If a place doesn’t have a good reputation, it will remain empty.  It sold twice fairly quickly and it’s now transitioned into a clothing store.

Kathryn:  In our town, most businesses for sale are for on a lease basis, right - not to purchase the actual building?  Do you think more businesses would sell if people could buy the building as well as the business enterprise?

Alfredo:  No, I don’t.  The majority of new start up business owners don’t have the financing to also be able to purchase the underlying real estate.  They may be able to come up with the money for the start up for business, but that’s all. 

Over time, however, I have turned several business renters into building owners.  When a building comes up on the market, I approach them first and they often do decide to purchase it if their business is doing well financially after the start up point.

Kathryn:  What’s the most typical way you see people financing new food businesses?

Alfredo:  Lately it’s been home equity loans.  It’s very unusual nowadays to qualify for a business loan.

Kathryn:  What’s the typical term of a commercial lease with renewal options? Do you, as a realtor, have any "words of advice" for someone trying to negotiate better lease deals with the landlord?  

Alfredo:  I see the most leases with 5-year with 3-year renewal, or 3 and 5, or 5 and 5.  It’s a big investment to start up a food business. You need a long lease to be able to justify the financial investment.

Some landlords will work with tenants when the market is down, and even if the lease terms are for the rent to increase, they will hold it constant if times are bad.  Others won’t, and I think that’s a big mistake. Rent increases can weaken a weak business and force it to close down.  Empty businesses don’t help generate foot traffic.

Kathryn:  When you're showing a commercial property, do you try to scope out the background of the applicant "differently" than you would for a residential transaction?  Are you trying to help assess viability of their future business?

Alfredo: I do ask if they are an experienced baker, to help gauge how serious they are.  I will say to people that “this may be a mistake,” if they want to buy something they’re not (apparently) qualified to run because it’s not good for the town tourism industry if businesses fail. 

Kathryn:  What words of advice would you as a realtor give to a new business start up owner?

Alfredo:  The best business formula is to know all aspects of your business.  If you have to, like if staff calls in sick, you should be able to handle all positions.  If it’s a restaurant or cafe, you should be able to be a host or wait tables.  If it’s a bakery or restaurant, you should know how to bake all of your products or produce every dish.  No employee should know more than you do.  When someone has that kind of experience, it helps businesses survive.

Kathryn:  Thank you Alfredo for your great insight!

Want to Learn More About Our Expanded Services? Visit  Us At Food Start Up Help

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Interview With a Bread Expert: Ciril Hitz of

Master Boulanger, Teacher and Entrepreneur
Interview with Ciril Hitz
By Kathryn Gordon of

Kathryn: Why did you decide to start your business?

Ciril:  In the past I had spent a lot of my summer vacation time traveling throughout the USA to teach workshops. At the time, I was primarily focused on decorative breads and there seemed to be a great interest in learning about these techniques. The problem was that I couldn't be everywhere at once, so I filmed and produced a series of educational bread baking DVDs to share my knowledge with those who couldn't attend the workshops personally. Breadhitz was born and has evolved ever since. Together with my wife, Kylee, we developed a website for our products including my DVDs, books, and a small selection of baking tools.  

As time went on, I was finding that the energy involved with prepping, packing, traveling, and teaching was starting to take its toll. I still wanted to teach workshops, but I also wanted to spend more time at home with my family. We decided that creating a small teaching and baking facility on our rural property would be a good solution. That way, I could still travel to teach workshops if I wanted to, but I also had the flexibility of hosting some of my own. In addition, I also could hone my production skills by running an occasional bread sale. 

Kathryn: What did you do before?
Ciril:  I am still employed full-time as an associate instructor of Johnson & Wales University at the Providence Campus.

Kathryn:  What's the name, location and website of the business?
Ciril: The business is called Breadhitz and we are located in Rehoboth, MA. The website is

Kathryn: How old is your business? What's the focus of your business, and who is your customer base? 
Ciril: Our first DVDs were produced in 2005. We have been hosting workshops and bread sales since 2011.  Our focus is on bread baking education and services, with our customer base ranging from the baking enthusiast to the industry professional.

Kathryn: Do you sell retail/wholesale/internet?  
Ciril: Our main retail sales are generated through our website; we also sell retail at our workshops and wholesale to select accounts. 

Kathryn: How did you finance your business: Investors, savings, loans? 
Ciril:  My wife and I made a pact not to take on any loans in order to finance this business. We financed our business through personal savings and limited corporate sponsors. 

Kathryn: Did you have a business plan, and if so, do you find it valuable, or are you just winging it?  
Ciril: We did not do a business plan and have been winging it ever since. That being said, I am certain that a business plan would be very helpful to us in providing a structure for identifying goals and implementing strategies to achieve them. 

Kathryn: What product(s) are you most proud of? 
Ciril: That's a difficult question! I view all of my products as an extension of me, but I suppose I am most proud of anything that has a sourdough flavor profile since they are such a challenge to produce on a consistent level. The sourdough breads have been nurtured along for 10 years. I am constantly refreshing the culture so that I can have a reliable starter and it takes a lot of care and wood fired oven maintenance to produce a consistent result. 

Kathryn: How has your menu evolved since you started? 
Ciril: My menu is constantly evolving. I try to pair my breads with the seasons in order to purvey the ingredients  and integrate ingredients through local vendors as much as possible. It's always fun to try something new!

Kathryn: How are your space, equipment and staffing going?
Ciril:  The space we have developed for our workshops is rather unique in that the mixing and shaping room is some distance away from our outdoor wood-fired oven. If our budget for the workshop facility had been unlimited, we would have constructed a new building closer to the source of baking. Our space is small, but so far we've made the best of the situation that we have. As our workshops grow, we do anticipate expanding our existing space. 

Kathryn: Do you feel you have outgrown your space? 
Ciril: Our space is snug and working during production bakes for the sales is definitely challenging. If we were doing this as a full-time venture, then we would definitely need to relocate or rethink our facilities. 

Kathryn: Do you have a lot of staff turnover in your area?  
Ciril: Aside from the occasional seasonal intern, this is a family-run business. So far our marriage has survived and I don't anticipate a turnover in staff in the future!

Kathryn: What is the biggest surprise you've encountered in this new business? 
Ciril: When we began selling breads to the local community through occasional bread sales, it was a single person operation making about 75 to 100 products. Now we plan on a two day production process and we make well over 1000+ items. We do not pay for advertising (word of mouth seems to do the job just fine) and we regularly sell out in less than 3 hours. Who would have thought?!

Kathryn: Is it overall more or less challenging than you expected?
Ciril: I thrive off of challenge! When I do bread sales, it's like my own competition. I try to see how much I can maximize my production in my given space and still continue to deliver a high-end product without sacrificing quality or integrity.

Kathryn: What is the biggest "lesson learned" you would share with other entrepreneurs? 
Ciril: Always treat people the way that you want to be treated. Of course, it's always good to be able to recognize when it is time to step back for the well-being of you and your family.  

Kathryn: What's next for you in terms of your business direction?
Ciril: Continue to diversify my teaching schedule for Breadhitz and keep up with industry subject matter and trends. 

 Kathryn: Thank you Ciril. Keep making those wonderful breads!

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