Sunday, September 23, 2012

Going Mobile

Interview with Gary Ele
Executive Pastry Chef/Proprietor
Oz Patisserie Mobile Dessert Truck
By Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

Kathryn:  Hi GaryJessie and I have known you for several years from working with you at the World Pastry Championships.  We see updates all the time on Facebook about your food truck business!  How long have you had it?

Gary:  I physically started the truck business in July of 2010. The planning phase started in December 2009.

Jessie:  What did you do before you opened the truck business?

Gary:   My background includes: US Navy, CA, IL, HI, VA; Norwegian Cruise Lines America, Honolulu HI; Sandia Resort and Casino, Albuquerque NM; Casino Arizona, Scottsdale, AZ. 

Kathryn:  How did you come up for the idea for a truck versus another format?

Gary:  I wanted to work for myself for years but could not afford a “Brick and Mortar” business.   I was a little ahead of the curve and started looking outside the box and came up with the idea of a Mobile Dessert Truck. There are many Food Trucks across the country, but I wanted to do a fine dining style of desserts.  My goal is “Michelin Quality at Street Food Prices.”

Jessie:  How's it working out for you running your business in a truck?

Gary:   Business is booming! I enjoy being my own boss and setting my own schedule.  

Jessie: Is it what you expected?  

Gary:   Actually it is more than I expected. I enjoy making the desserts that my customer base wants and what I want to experiment with and if something does not sell it comes off the menu.

Kathryn:  Is anything more difficult than you anticipated?  How many days a week are you open?

Gary:  The hours can be long when I get back-to-back events.  Normally I am open 6 days a week, but that is flexible dependant on the weather or booked events. I may not open prior to a very large event in order to have time to prepare, depending on the expected customer count.

Jessie:  What's your customer base like?  Are you in the same location on certain days of the week so you have regular followers?

Gary:  The majority of my daily customer base is post high school educated professionals.  I try to stick to a certain schedule of locations around Albuquerque for the daily operations, I have a very strong and loyal customer base that have on occasion driven up to 20 mile or so just to get the souffl├ęs or some of my one-time-only specials.

Kathryn:   How do you post your daily location for people to find you?

Gary:   I use Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and post updates daily. I can be located on Facebook at OZ Patisserie Mobile Dessert Truck , Twitter at @OzPatisserie or Foursquare at Gary Ele.

Kathryn:   Where do you bake?

Gary:  I bake in the truck. It is fully equipped with a convection oven, induction stove, mixers, sinks, refrigeration and storage. I do not require a separate commissary.

Jessie:  Do you have staff to help you?  If you suddenly have a run on something you’re selling, does it mean that you’re “out for the day?”

Gary:   Currently I am my own staff.   I normally carry enough stock to get through the day, but if I do run out of something I either make more on the truck or apologize to the customer.

GaryAs I am the “staff,” I am out with the truck daily. I do some wholesale to other trucks for the late night crowds.  My days run between 10 to 16 hours and I prefer to bake early in the mornings this time of year due to the hot weather.

Jessie:  Because it seems like you're always running "specials" when I see your facebook postings -- clearly you're always thinking up new menu items.

Gary:   I normally carry between 10 and 15 different items. Anyone in this business knows you have to constantly keep up with either new trends or go way back to the classics.

Jessie:  Is a truck format very expensive?

Gary:   The truck format can go from reasonable to the absurd depending on your budget. I am fortunate to have a strong mechanical background so I bought the basic shell and did the majority of the work on my own.

The capital investment someone needs to set up something like I have would vary between about $20,000.00 to well over $100,000.00 dependant on whether you have the need for a full kitchen or have a commissary to cook in and just serve. A truck I know of in Orlando just does Cup Cakes and everything is done in their commissary, packaged, loaded on speed racks and put in the truck.

Kathryn:   On your website, it says you can rent the truck for a party?

Gary: I do private catering where customers rent the truck based on a person count. More and more I am doing unconventional weddings; no cake, but an assortment of desserts.  Dependent on the extravagance, location and the budget I will vary the cost.  At some pay-as-you-go events I will set a minimum fee.

Jessie:   Gary, is there anything else that you think about, or whatever that I have not asked about that we should include? 

Gary:  This has been the most exciting time of my Culinary Career. I get excited when I see the faces of my customers as they try either something familiar or new. I have never been happier with the place in my life.

Kathryn:  Thanks Gary! 

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Small Business Health Insurance Options

Small Business Health Insurance Options

Interview with Mark Schwartz
Schwartz & Associates, NYC
By Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Mark, I know you’re a broker and help find health insurance for  business owners.  Can you tell us how COBRA (the Federally mandated continuation of coverage) works for someone that is considering quitting their current job to start their own business?

Mark: If an employee under a plan either quits or is let go, they can extend via COBRA for 18 additional months.  The employee remains under the coverage of the prior employer, but the employer can charge more for the plan at that point.  It may be worth pricing out COBRA coverage options because under state law (such as NY state), in certain circumstances it can be extended past 18 months. 

Jeff:  What do you see changing in the health insurance business going forward?

Mark:  The jury is still out on President Obama’s changes.  Some may choose to pay fines rather than follow a particular standard. Hopefully, more people will have access to healthcare!
Until 2014, if you are an employee of a small to medium-sized business, the owner doesn't have to offer group benefits but you can choose to buy an individual policy.  All you need for that is proof of residency in your state. Iindividual coverage will be more for coverage than a Sole Proprietor or Small Group Plan.

Kathryn:  Can you tell us more about a Small Group Plan and a Sole Proprietor Plan?

Mark:  Basically, there are 2 options open to business owners with less than 100 employees:  a small group plan or sole proprietor.  A company with more than 100 employees can qualify for a large group plan.

1)     Small Group Plan (coverage for 2-49 people)

The advantage is that you can obtain better rates than with individual health coverage (or sole proprietor rates).  What you need to qualify for a group plan is to be in a business relationship (either a partnership has been formed, or you have employees you pay via W2’s).  You can offer coverage, or not, to your employees.  You will be able to pick from a portfolio of different health insurance companies/costs via a broker, who can educate you on your options.  The business relationship has to be substantiated – and a “true arms length relationship” in case of an audit. 

2) Sole Proprietor (coverage for 1)

A business owner can obtain sole proprietor rates, which are generally not as favorable as group rates – but more favorable than individual health coverage rates.   You can put your family on as dependents, but it will cost more per month than it would under small group health plan rates.  So, if you have an employee besides yourself, it is clearly favorable to pursue small group options.  There are specific options available to the sole proprietor specific to each state, which means that there are not as many options as under a qualified small group plan.  But as a broker, we will find you what we can!

Jeff:  What kind of documentation is required for you as a broker to obtain rate quotes for a small group plan? 

Mark: We would need to have the following:

  • Breakdown of the number of singles, employee/children, employee/spouse and number of families.
  • The zip code of where the business resides
  • A copy of the existing plan design (if plan already exists)
Kathryn:  Would a couple working together qualify for a small group plan?

Mark:  It depends on the details of that couple.  If both people are working for XYZ company and both truly work for the entity, then regardless of their job descriptions they can get a small group plan.   The wife may be the business owner and hire other family members, paid via a W2.

However, if for example, a wife owns a business and the husband keeps the day job – the wife could be a dependent under the husband’s employer’s plan, but would probably only qualify to get her own Sole Proprietor plan herself– not a group plan.

Jeff:  Does the income level matter?  Can someone put someone “on the payroll” for a nominal wage and qualify for small group health insurance rates?

Mark: If the owner requires an employee to work full time then payroll records must reflect wages that correlate to full time hours.  Most small businesses pay their employees through a payroll service (such as Compu-Pay) for a nominal monthly fee, to have the documentation at the ready in case of a potential audit.  It’s illegal to be a legitimate company without payroll records if a claim is filed.  So in the prior example, a wife would have to legitimately hire the husband.

Jeff:  If a small business owner decides to obtain health insurance for themselves (and/or their family), do they have to offer the same plan to their employees?

Mark:  The owner can choose to have a different coverage plan for “upper management” versus what they offer to employees.  And the business owner can determine if they want the employee to pay the health insurance premium, or if the employer wants to pay the premium for the employee as an incentive to attract and retain employees. 

Kathryn:  When someone obtains health insurance, how long are rates locked in for? 

Mark:  Typically it is 12 months from the date of coverage.   We recommend that business owners be in contact with their broker so there isn’t a scramble regarding paperwork to make changes to a health plan.  A small business might not have human resources or a CFO and the business owner is typically the person doing their own job as well as researching their health insurance options and processing paperwork. 

Communication with their broker goes a long way.  We start to talk to our clients as soon as we know if plan options are being eliminated (by the health insurance company), to show new options in the market.  When we know projected rates, we start to talk to business owners.  What was competitive last year (regarding utilization, and/or laws) may not be the same now.  We need to talk to you, to avoid doing everything last minute. 

Plans can be initiated all year round – it doesn’t have to be on a calendar year basis.  Most companies make changes to their health plan 30 days prior.  There is usually an open enrollment period when the paperwork needs to be completed.

Kathryn:  It always seems like it’s a scramble, even for large companies to have their employees hurry up and complete paperwork!  

Mark:  Yes, but it doesn’t have to be.  Every carrier requires different paperwork, and it’s best not to do it in haste. Health insurance can be obtained overnight via email if it’s required.  Cards are typically mailed within the first month, but you can obtain verification of coverage via email to take to doctors in the interim.
Kathryn:  Thanks Mark for all the information!  And if someone wanted to contact you as a broker?

Mark:  My web address is and our office number is (212) 400-0011.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

eBay Is An Option

eBay Is An Option

Interview with Thierry Aujard
Sweet Prosperity Bakery
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

By Jeff Yoskowitz, Jessie Riley and Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Thierry!  Jessie and I have known you for years through the World Pastry Forum and Championships.  It’s great to visit you here in Pennsylvania, and see this amazing space you’re constructing.  How big is it?

Thierry:  We have 7,000 square feet.  It was formerly a chocolate production facility so there was already flooring and some useable walls.  We just got the space 2 weeks ago and we are in the middle of everything;  electric, sheet rock, adding washable wall surfaces, washable ceiling tiles, building a storage facility with a giant fork-lift and also adding a large walk-in freezer on the loading dock.

Digging under the concrete for the freezer walk-in insulation at the loading dock 

Jessie:  I thought that you had wanted to open a retail “corner” bakery? How did this project evolve instead?

Thierry:  I was working at another wholesale bakery in the area, and had taken over as pastry chef.   I worked with the recipes and procedures to make the process more efficient, and the clients liked my work.

Three clients from that bakery approached me to produce their product for them.   They came with me to the bank and supported me through the SBA loan process, verifying they would transfer their business to me when I am open in production.  They gave me a letter of intent to do business with them, and their past year’s sales data and projected 3 years.  The production levels are quite high, one of the clients already has an operational contract with Costco.

Jeff:  How are you financing building your own manufacturing facility?

Thierry:  We have taken an SBA loan and put our home up as collateral, and I had to put in some of my own savings (per SBA rules).   The bank gave us a loan and a line of credit for one-third of the total loan value.

Kathryn:  The whole process is amazing.  It’s like it all fell into place.  When did you start the process, and when are you hoping to open?

Thierry:  We just took possession of the space a few weeks ago, but I started working on the business plan for the loan application in May.  I’m hoping to open for production mid August.   We are in the construction phase now and equipment is coming in.
One of 3 depositors (never used) purchased through eBay 

Since I started to write the business plan, 4 additional companies and QVC (which is in the region) contacted me to ask if I would manufacture products for other businesses.  I said yes, because it is difficult for companies to find a co-producer with small production runs. I also now have my own contract with QVC for 3 of my own products to be launched at the end of the year.

Kathryn:  You wrote the business plan and you got your funding very quickly! 

Thierry:  It took a month and a half to put the business plan together, which is kind of stressful with everyone rushing you.  The SBA pressures you for the business plan, and the clients wanted to leave their existing manufacturing facility.

The SBA money came thru via our bank. The lender was organized by SCORE, who were awesome and helped identify 4-5 potential lenders.  My wife Cherie went to meet them with a few of our contracted clients, and that make a huge difference; the numbers were not coming from the sky, but were based on reality.

In 2-3 weeks, the lender came back with their underwriting.  So it was very fast and I finalized the paperwork last week.

A dishwasher that will accommodate washing a full speedrack!!! 
Jessie:  It’s amazing that you already have a strong relationship with your clients.

Thierry:  One even helped me find the production space, and a builder to do the construction.  I got this space the very first morning it was put on the market at 25 cents per square foot.

Kathryn:  How about your staff ? Are you ready to go with production in a month from a staff perspective?

Thierry:  I have my managers in place.  They are coming with me from the prior production facility.  Therefore they are already trained on producing these formulas.  We just have to get used to new equipment.

Jeff:  There was no equipment here, right?  You are bringing in everything?  How are you making the decisions regarding purchasing “new” versus “refurbished” equipment?

One of new the double rack rotating ovens 
Thierry:  I have a mix of new and used equipment.  If the equipment is essential to the “life of the bakery,” I am buying it new.  In other words, I cannot lose someone’s product while it is stored on our palets in the freezer.  I cannot risk that it is not baked correctly,  so the freezers/compressors/condensors and ovens are all new.  

Thierry:  We are fortunate to be located in the area near the largest equipment refurbisher in the United States, in case I need help.  I have gotten a lot of my equipment on eBay, and from as far away as Florida.  Through eBay, you pay for shipping but you can get some very good deals (like on the mixers and depositors).  

Jeff:  You know what equipment you need, and you are already experienced with manufacturing this product for these clients. Has anything been a surprise to you? 

Thierry:  Yes, the range of price quotes for the installation of the walk-in refrigerators and freezers with compressors and condensors.  The high end quote varied by as much as 5X more than we are currently paying for our installation.  Shop around!   
Two 120-quart refurbished mixers 
Calm before the storm?  Production facility in construction phase 

Kathryn:  Thank you Thierry, we look forward to visiting you again once you’re up and running!

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

How does an employer know whether an applicant for employment is legal and eligible for work?

Ask the Expert

First in a series of labor related questions answered by Attorney Denise Anderson.

How does an employer know whether an applicant for employment is legal and eligible for work?  What happens to the employer if she hires an employee who is not eligible for work? 

All employers are governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”).  Under the INA, employers may hire only persons who may legally work in the United States; either U.S. citizens or foreign citizens who have the necessary authorization.  Employers must verify the identity and employment eligibility of anyone to be hired by completing Form I-9, which lists the documents an employee must present. 

Employers may not require an employee to present a specific document and must accept the documents the new employee chooses to present as long as they appear to be genuine and relate to the person presenting them.  Otherwise, employers may violate federal law prohibiting discrimination in the verification process.  An employee who fails to produce the required document, or a receipt for a replacement of the document, within three business days of the date employment begins, may be terminated.  

An employee who shows a receipt has 90 days to present the original documents.  Employers must keep each I-9 for three years or one year after employment end, whichever is longer.  The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) conducts routine workplace audits to endure that employers are properly completing and retaining I-9 forms. 

During the application process, employers are required to ask of all applicants (1) whether the applicant is legally eligible to work in the United States and (2) whether the applicant will now or in the future require visa sponsorship for employment.  If the applicant answers “No” to the second question or both questions, she is not eligible to work.  If the applicant answers “Yes” to the second question or both questions, employers may ask further questions about immigration status without risking liability or a discrimination charge. 

Employers can use information taken from the I-9 to verify electronically the employment eligibility of newly hired employees through E-Verify.  E-Verify is free and, in order to use its data base, employers need to enroll by providing basic information about their business. 
When employers send an employee’s W-2 form to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), the employee’s name and Social Security number are checked against SSA records.  ICE will also verify the accuracy of information on I-9 forms.  If either agency cannot verify the information, a no-match letter will be sent to the employer indicating the employee’s name or Social Security number did not match government records. 

Employers who receive a “no-match” letter must avoid taking immediate adverse action against the employee.  Firing an employee solely on the basis of a no-match letter risks a discrimination lawsuit.  Rather, employers must follow up on the no-match letter in a timely manner or be cited for knowingly employing an unauthorized worker.  Employers are not required to resolve discrepancies but must check their records for errors, inform the employee of the no-match letter and ask the employee to review the information.  Employers who fail to respond timely to the no-match letter may be considered to have had constructive knowledge that the employee is not authorized to work in the United States and therefore subject to criminal prosecution and/or fines.

Please stay tuned for the next pieces in our series.

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