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: (www.dessertrun.com)
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!