Sunday, April 28, 2013

Food Festivals and Weddings = Profits

 Interview with JulianPlyter
Co Owner/Chef of Melt Bakery

Interview by Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Hi Julian!  I’d wanted to come and visit you at Melt Bakery ever since you were a guest panelist at one of our How to Start a Successful Bakery-Related Business at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education); and I absolutely love ice cream…

Julian:  And cookies. I really enjoy baking the cookies! 

Kathryn:  It’s very “neighborhood” here.  Already 3 guys have come in for ice cream sandwiches, and one has already come back for another one of the “sandwiches of the day.”

Julian:  We opened in this retail (brick and mortar) location in 2012 after 2 years of being in markets. The majority of our customers here do live or work in the neighborhood.  At our second permanent location, on the High Line, sales are more tourists driven. 

Kathryn:  Are all of your sales retail?

Julian:  We’re also in about 20 wholesale outlets, for example we’re in 5 Brother Jimmy’s BBQ locations. 

Kathryn:  How do you transport your ice cream sandwiches from here to the other locations?

Julian:  We use a delivery-around-town service that some friends started called “Dessert Run.”  The will cover wholesale and retail sales:   (

Kathryn:  And how did you get your wholesale clients?

Julian:  We’ve been working with a salesperson.  He finds it easier to sell ice cream than what he did before, which was energy sales.  Who doesn’t want to sample ice cream?

Kathryn:  Can you talk about how you got started in the ice cream sandwich business?

Julian:  I was working as restaurant and hotel pastry chefs, and was ready to “do my own thing.”  I had catered a party several years back and met my business partner Kareem Hamady; he still works in finance but was looking for a food project.  Initially he helped with the business financing but we've essentially been self sufficient after an initial $300 food investment.

At first we rented from 2 different commercial kitchens for our production, and outsourced to run the ice cream.  We knew where we wanted to locate and found this (former leather jacket) store (1,400 square feet on 2 floors).  We built it all out ourselves over 4 months, except hiring someone to do the tiling, plumbing and electric. 

Kathryn:  And you were able to do that because…

Julian:  I come from a line of handymen!  When I was 7, I helped my father build a log cabin – I worked on the shingles.  Now I can fix my own electric if I have to.

Kathryn:  How did you find this location? 

Julian:  Kareem and I just walked around.  It was very near where we first started selling at the Hester Street market.  Note:  Melt Bakery's first location is at 132 Orchard Street.

Kathryn:  And now you rent your kitchen out to other food entrepreneurs?

Julian:  We have both NY State Department of Agriculture and NYC Department of Health oversight, so we have been able to rent to other people who need ice cream machines.  Not many kitchens can offer that option – and the utility cost is high. 

Melt Bakery’s 37.5Q Carpigiani 660 Volt machine, bought at auction

Kathryn:  What are the state level inspections like for you?

Julian:  Everything is from samples.  If they take a sample away, and it grows in a petri dish – they would come back.  The NYC Department of Health is much more focused on “what they see” immediately in the kitchen, versus data.  One risk is that it's my responsibility for any other businesses who produce in my kitchen (for other ice cream companies who rent from us as an incubator kitchen).

Kathryn:  Are you thinking of expanding locations?

Photo:  machine to track data for state inspections

Julian:  I am always thinking about expanding!  Right now our target is Tokyo!  We have a lot of press in Japan – some people have gotten off their air plane and come straight here for ice cream sandwiches and a photo op.  

Kathryn:  How cyclical have you found the ice cream business?

Julian:  I really consider us to be in the “ice cream sandwich business,” not ice cream.  Ice cream is a very different proposition – people have to wait in lines, make their choices, the ice cream has to be scooped and then put on a cone or in a cup.  Our sales are quick.  That’s why the format works from carts in food festivals, etc.  Everything is pre packaged. You just have to decide what flavor and size sandwich you want. 

Kathryn:  How many satellite locations/carts do you have?

Julian:  It varies.  With the High Line location (open April to October), some weekends in May we will have 6 outlets running (such as Madison Square Eats). Sometimes we do weddings. It’s a good growth niche with a high profit.  They are also easy to plan for and not weather dependent.  If I have leftover inventory, it's frozen and protected to sell another day.  E-Commerce is also expanding. We can also ship within a 2-day delivery zone.

Kathryn:  You’ve been on TV and you’ve gotten some very good press. 

Julian:  It’s actually been entirely from word-of-mouth.

Kathryn:  To what do you attribute your success to date?

Julian:  Correct growth.  What I mean by that is:  no loans, no borrowing, no equity shares.  From the time I quit my paying job, this business has been self financing.  In fact, the most surprising aspect is “how much money we didn’t need” to be able to do it ourselves.

Kathryn:  What advice would you give another food entrepreneur?

Julian:  Look into wholesale.  And food festivals.  You are only constrained by time in terms of what you sell.  If you have the capacity to have stock (and restock) and “move the line” you will make profits – even with apparently high entry fees.

Kathryn:  Thank you Julian.  I'm going to come visit you on the High Line next!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Want to Get Started with Low Start-Up Money? You need an Incubator Kitchen

Interview with Michasel Hu
Pastry Chef/Owner Hana Enterprises

With Jessie Riley, Jeff Yoskowitz and Alan Someck

(Editor’s note: Michael Hu, acclaimed Pastry Chef, is owner of a wholesale pastry business and an incubator kitchen)

Jessie:  Hi Michael; since I worked with you here about 6 years ago, you’ve really expanded your space here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Michael:  We now have 12,000 square feet total space.  I actually expanded after the economic downturn because my own wholesale clients weren’t ordering as much product.  People who had lost their jobs wanted to start their own food businesses.  But not all entrepreneurs have the business financing they hope for to fulfill their dream.

My open commercial kitchens were the perfect match for entrepreneurs to rent.   We’re open 24 hours a day for 3 production shifts a day. It’s fully equipped, offers office space, laundry and cold storage. Parking is possible and it is near the subway. 

Jeff:  How do clients find you?

Michael:  We have an open house the first Saturday of each month (10 am – 2 pm).  Everyone is welcome!

Section of Hana Enterprises Checklist for Incubator Clients

Alan:  How many kitchens do you operate?

Michael:  Currently we have 10 kitchens here.  Not all are operated for pastry – it ranges from candy to BBQ, mac and cheese to macarons, sausages to granola, and organic dog food to ice cream. 

Jeff:  So you have USDA oversight?

Michael:  Yes. We email the production schedule to the USDA inspector, so they can choose whether to be onsite or not. 

Chef Michael with the production schedule

Jessie:  Are you still doing some of your own production here?

Michael:  Yes, I am still producing and selling kosher pastries.

Jessie:  How do you juggle your own production and that of all your clients?

Michael:  We have a central scheduling system.  In fact, I have staff that runs all the centralized machinery for everyone, and it is also inspected after each use.  For example, we have direct wired the Hobart mixers so they have to be turned on by my staff – not people renting the kitchen. That ensures it is all fully operational and maintained for everyone.  

Some of Hana's Hobart Mixers

Alan:  Kathryn knows you from 1995 and we know you were the Executive Pastry Chef at the Waldorf-Astoria, have competed internationally and you have been named Top Ten Pastry Chef of the year.  Having that experience for an entrepreneur to draw on, what else distinguishes Hana from other incubator kitchens?

Michael:  Our management staff is quite experienced in the food field and are valuable resources for anyone starting or growing a food business.  We are also an approved vendor for Birch Street, which makes it possible for you to sell your product to all Hyatt and Marriott hotels. 

 Birch Street vendor

Jessie:  How do you decide what products you will back up for distribution through Birch Street?

Michael:  It has to be made with really great ingredients and it has to taste really good, and I have to believe it will be sustainable at a higher production level.

Jeff:  You have supported some very successful start-ups here; what do you see as the key signs if a food entrepreneur will succeed, or not?

Michael:  Assuming they have a good product, it is hard to find the right sales margins.  Then when they are able to optimize that, they need to streamline their production.  Some just increase production of product without optimization – and eventually that stunts growth.

Alan:  What outlets do your clients sell through?

Michael:  80% of my tenants sell in farm markets, and/or wholesale to stores.  Direct sales have a higher profit margin than going through distributors.  Incubator clients typically do not have the funds for building a brick and mortar location.
 Edible Brooklyn's picture of a production kitchen at Hana

Alan:  Is the incubator commercial kitchen here to stay? 

Michael:  We have good tenancy here now; I believe there is strong demand for incubator resources now, given the number of people who want to be entrepreneurs.  I’ve actually been looking at opening another location in the Bronx. 

Alan:  What’s next for you with Hana Enterprises?

Michael:  I want to attract bread bakers.  I see a need for a “central oven,” like when people years ago made their own dough and brought it to the baker to bake.  Except this could be for multiple artisan bread manufacturers, not just individuals. I would like that to be a center point where one day I can open my facilities to also become markets where the incubator clients can easily sell their products.

Alan: That sounds great Michael We’re really impressed with what you’ve done here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Work Your Friend of Friends Circle

Interview with Michelle Tampakis
Chef/Owner Whipped Pastry Boutique

By Jeff Yoskowitz, Jessie Riley and Kathryn Gordon

(Editor’s note- Michelle has been a long time Instructor colleague at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). In 2010, she was named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs by Dessert Professional Magazine. She was diagnosed with celiac disease 6 years ago.  Her medical diagnosis turned into a passion to be able to eat delicious foods again.  Whipped Pastry Boutique is a gluten free bakery.)

Kathryn:  Hi Michelle!  We’re so excited to be visiting you here in Red Hook, Brooklyn, because it feels like we never see you at ICE anymore after you’ve opened your bakery.

Michelle: I’m still teaching but mostly weekends. I love teaching and it would be very hard for me to give it up.

We opened the bakery January 20th.  We had been planning to open Whipped Pastry Boutique before the holidays, but everything got delayed in Brooklyn because of Hurricane Sandy.

(Michelle pointed out where the high point of the water from the hurricane rose to, and explained all the damage it caused in the pre opening period last fall)

Jessie:  As we were coming in, we saw a sizable wholesale delivery going out from your bakery. How is everything progressing; 2 months after opening?

Michelle:  Our biggest client is Juice Generation.  They bring me fresh squeezed juice for “input ingredients” for their custom line of muffins We recently started Kale muffins for them and now they are a best seller. Their delivery truck comes and gets their orders for Manhattan every afternoon. 

Custom gluten-free kale and other muffins featuring Juice Gernation's products

Jeff:  How did you get Juice Generation as a customer?

Michelle:  It was through a friend of a friend.  My favorite, FOF’s!  This one was through someone we all know (for many years) who represents a chocolate company.  He knew the owners. 

Jessie:  How do you structure your production?  It seems like everyone is working now on measuring eggs…

Michelle: Basically we start here around 8 in the morning with production. In the afternoon, we “mise en place” for the next day and then end with packaging by late afternoon. We can move to 2 staggered shifts a day if necessary when we're busy. 

I’ve been trying to schedule product tastings with potential clients in the morning so I try to be back in the early afternoon to help the staff.  I have a lead production manager, several assistant bakers and a dishwasher/prep person right now.

At the end of the production shift, everyone cleans.  There are floor drains so we can hose down everything and we clean everything, including inside the ovens.  Then when I get home, I do paperwork.   Sometimes I’m frantic; I’ll never get the paperwork done.  But overall I love it here.

Note:  Gluten free baking tends to incorporate lots of ingredients to mimic the complex functions of wheat flour – no one ingredient will act exactly like flour.  

Jeff:  What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Michelle:  Producing gluten free products, I have a very large and diverse set of ingredients. Meeting the minimum orders for each of my many suppliers is the most surprising challenge I’ve come across especially since some suppliers only deliver to certain areas on a particular day of the week. It’s very challenging for a new business that doesn’t want to keep too many supplies on inventory.  I’ve learned to be very creative as I place my orders during the week and look at everything a vendor sells, to meet their minimums.

Meanwhile, I’ve been very surprised.  Some vendors don’t even call you back!   Big vendors, ones I have worked with for years (like through ICE) and have actually gotten to know the local reps, now that I have my own small business, phone calls are ignored.  

Kathryn:  I know everything you bake here is gluten free. Is it also dairy free, egg free or cater to other dietary restrictions?

Michelle:  Dairy free baking I’ve been doing for a while.  I’m starting to get my first orders for egg free cakes, especially birthday cakes for kids. 

Jeff:  What’s next here for you at Whipped Pastry Boutique?  Would you want to have your own Retail (Brick and Mortar) General Patisserie location as well as wholesale production?

Michelle:  I have leads to wholesale my dry mixes and we’re starting the process to become HACCP certified.  We may need to purchase an x-ray machine as a result.  I’m also looking for a distributor for our frozen cookie dough.

Jessie:  Thank you Michelle. It’s really great to see that you have more room to expand your kitchen space into this facility as you grow. We’ll follow up with you to get updates on your new business. Congratulations.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Entrepreneurship: Never Wanting to Work for Another

Interview with Esty Hirsch
Whimsical Confections - Your Imagination. Our Creation.

With Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

Jessie:  How did you learn to bake?

Esty:   Like many others, who started baking as a child, I loved to watch my mom bake as I was growing up. My mother was into baking and also liked to try new ideas and designs,  My siblings loved to practice on the Wilton Practice board while I, the youngest tried to mimic the shells and scrolls. I also felt I was born with the gift of being artistically talented.  Play dough was one of the things I loved to create food items with starting at a really young age.

At about the age of 10, I was looking through one of the Woman's World magazines, and was astounded to see a featured backgammon or checkers game made out of cake! That photo really inspired me and I had to try to recreate that edible art piece on my own.

As the years went by one of my favorite places to shop was the NY Cake and Art supply store, and so the collection of baking supplies started growing, and I loved experimenting on new recipes and new ideas.

Kathryn:  I first met you when you took some classes at ICE. Do you take a lot of classes?

Esty:  I am always on the look out to learning new techniques or at least trying to create some on my own. I think people always look for something new or something that has never been seen.  Hands-on cookie decorating classes for birthdays, bridal showers, etc. are also always helpful in keeping updated with the latest trends. We now teach our own classes. We bake the dough, bring the icing, and I teach people how to decorate their own cookies.

Jessie:  How did you decide to start your own business?

Esty:  I always wanted to run my own business, never wanting to work for another soul. It started out with selling to friends and family. I think that is a good thing, because it took a while to gain professionalism in a lot of different aspects and this was a good trial and error period for me.  I also started offering hands on baking classes and that has been a hit ever since, and for all age groups.

Kathryn:  Knowing that you are Kosher, has it been a challenge, not being able to taste foods prepared in classes at culinary schools you have attended?

Esty:  I did not really find the non-kosher pastry classes being a challenge (aside for being able to taste). I mostly knew how to recreate the recipes in a kosher version and the chefs were very helpful if I had a question regarding substitution of ingredients.

I think if I would have taken on the culinary challenge, versus artistic baking, then it would be much greater of a challenge do to the many diversified ingredients used as opposed to pastry where mostly neutral ingredients like eggs, flour and sugar etc. are used.

Jessie:  From a baking perspective, to make everything parve (non-dairy) – how difficult has that been?

Esty:  At first some of the substitutions were difficult because I did find that by using other ingredients the batters or specific cupcakes did not at first come out as moist or tasty, and it did take a while of experimenting.  There are plenty of kosher bakeries, but I would not really think of contacting them for help because my bakery is a very specialty type bakery as opposed to the regular kosher bakeries who mostly produce items in bulk and I assume don’t produce a lot of products from scratch.

Kathryn:  Can you tell us about your Rabbinical Certification?

Esty: The Rabbinical supervision was difficult to obtain because there are so many kosher supervisions out there, and most communities tend to rely on their local Rabbinical supervision unless it is a well known supervision that many communities rely on So making a decision was difficult but we did land on the right decision and we comply with all of the kosher standard rules that are required.

Jessie:  How do you market your business? 

Esty:  We don’t spend a lot on print advertising, and mostly drive new sales via the web, word of mouth and Facebook.

Facebook is all inclusive: great word of mouth/web advertizing.  A big percentage of our clients are repeat customers, especially when it comes to a personal occasion like a birthday party or a specific holiday where we know to expect calls from these repeat clients.

See Whimisical Confections, Brooklyn page on Facebook

Kathryn:  Do you deliver?  I imagine the cookies are easier than the cupcakes, whoopie pies, etc.

Esty:  I ship, or the clients have an option of picking up the order or we deliver for a minimal fee.

Jessie:  What’s new or trending for Whimsical Confections now?

Esty:  There are always new trends. One year it was stacked custom wedding cookies, now it’s the Chevron design on the custom cookies and the trend of adding bling to the very tasty French macaron.

Jessie:  Have you experienced demand for other gluten free decorated cookies (besides French macarons)?

Esty:  Regarding allergy related baked goods, we know there are many people looking for the specific gluten free product, but because we are so small we are mostly trying to keep up with latest trend requests and of course make everything from scratch using the most pure, natural and local ingredients available.

Kathryn:  What’s next for you and your staff?

Esty: I have been trying to determine if I want to focus more on teaching classes and have my staff decorate cookies.  Cookie sales are somewhat cyclical given holidays, etc.  I am also looking to understand my food costs better and optimize our kitchen design, and when we get a chance given the cookie demand, to do a bit of remodeling.  We have outgrown our current freezer and refrigeration space, and need to reorganize.  I am also trying to redo our website, but I keep getting too busy!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Interview with Miriam Rieder of Taste by Spellbound – Dessert Studio

Interview with Miriam Rieder
Taste by Spellbound – Dessert Studio
Avon, CT

By Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley 

Kathryn:   Hi Miriam!  I met you in one of my macaron classes, but how did you get started in your business?

Miriam:  My first business venture was at 10 years of age, decorating cakes after taking a summer class at the local Parks & Recreational department in my area.  My mother enrolled me when she got divorced.  And now we bake together!

Jessie:  Did you always want to bake?

Miriam:  I grew up with a love of food but it didn't become a passion until a few years back. 

Kathryn:   How did you find the location for your bakery?  And how many square feet is the bakery? 

Miriam:  I found the location through a family friend.  The bakery is 1,100 square feet. I had saved up quite a bit over the past two years and was able to fund most of it.  We had to take out a small loan as well for our business financing.  I've been very blessed.

Jessie:   You’re very young; when you started the business a year ago, you were 20!  What else is it that differentiates you from other businesses? 
Miriam:  The quality of my food and atmosphere of the bakery. 

Kathryn:  You seem to have a pretty clear vision for a general patisserie, from your personal look (retro hairdo), vintage apron collection, business card and photos on Facebook.   The bakery evokes Alice in Wonderland.   How did you develop your vision?

Miriam:   I've loved fairy tales for quite awhile and with my baking business being named Taste by Spellbound, I was able to piggyback off my first business venture (fashion headbands), Spellbound.

Jessie: How many employees do you have?   

Miriam:  There are 2 part time employees who bake with me.  I don't even keep a running log of how much I work.  I just know it's A LOT.  I’m baking, running a business and teaching classes. 

 Jessie: How do you see the role of social media for your business?

Miriam:   It's huge.  Facebook is a major media outlet for the business. I post photos and update my fans daily with what we have in the bakery and fun pictures of all the projects we're working on.  But I also have close to 1,000 followers on Twitter as well.  [Follow Miriam @MiriamHope on Twitter].  And although Twitter is an amazing outlet I think Facebook is still “where it's at.”  You can connect and interact with customers and friends so easily.

Jessie:  Who takes your photographs?

Miriam:  I take all the photos for Facebook and Twitter; I love taking pictures of food.  

Kathryn:  What is the link to the Z100 radio station, and how often do you make an appearance?

Miriam:  I sent Elvis Duran on the Morning Show some of my truffles!  Now I've made 5-6 appearances on Elvis Duran over the past 2 years.

Jessie:  Do you see a spike in internet orders after you're on the radio?

Miriam:  Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But regardless, it refreshes people’s memory about me and the business.

Kathryn:   What advice would you give other entrepreneurs regarding self promotion?

Miriam:   Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and sell yourself. Just keep at it and the fan base will grow.

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