Monday, June 16, 2014

We'd Like to Share Tips for a Successful Fundraising Campaign

In this free guide, Elena Mikhaylova shares tips for food entrepreneurs looking to crowfund their next venture.  Drawing from 7 interviews of successful Kickstarter projects, the guide covers topics including preparation, marketing, and avoiding common crowdfunding mistakes.

It's a great starting point if you are a food entrepreneur or looking to launch a food startup and are researching non-traditional forms of financing.  With crowdfunding becoming more popular every year, we expect to see more and more food-related kickstarter campaigns popping up across the world. 

You can check out the guide here:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Product That Always Brings a Smile to a Customer's Face

Interview with Jean Paul Hepp
Owner Chocodiem

By Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

Jessie:  Hi JP!   It’s been awhile since Food Startup Help created a themed showpiece for your grand opening, and worked with you on the bon bon, truffle and hand dipped production.  You’ve hired a chocolatier and other staff since then. 

Take us back and tell us why you decided to start an artisan chocolate company after 23 years in the pharmaceutical industry? 

Jean Paul:  I was born and raised in Belgium, so I’ve been surrounded by and indulged on great chocolates throughout my life.  My palate was spoiled when I came over to the US in 1997!

I quickly realized that the so called Belgian style chocolates didn’t taste at all like what I was used to.   Worse even, I found out the famed ‘Belgian Chocolate’ Godiva was being praised for as the best chocolate, was no more Belgian than Campbell Soups who acquired them in 1974!

So my daughter Eveline (who lives in Belgium) and I (from the US) decided to start our own production.  Eveline helped me out with original product line using traditional Belgian recipes.  We choose to go for artisan made chocolates, using the best ingredients we can find simply because that’s how we do it in Belgium.

Jessie:  I know you started off taking some online courses. Would you recommend that to other chocolatiers as a method to “come-up-to speed”, now that you've been producing for a while? 

Jean Paul:  I learned a lot about the theory and science behind the art of chocolate making in several online courses.  Theory is definitely important, but I now know more than before that this also needs to go along with hands-on experience.  While I participated in several classes with chocolatiers and manufacturers on location (Belgium, Canada and Ecuador) – classes are often held in an ideal climate controlled environment.  I now would recommend to also sign up for internships in order to know and better understand the ‘natural’ (environmental) challenges of making artisan chocolate.

Kathryn:  What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned since you opened Chocodiem?

Jean Paul:  Location, location, location, right?  Right for several reasons!

Water is the biggest enemy of chocolate.  The chocolate just will not temper correctly if the ambient air is too humid.  I didn’t give that enough thought when I started my production right next to a river in historic Clinton, NJ, which by itself is known to be humid most of the year.  I don’t have a completely insulated kitchen; dehumidifiers aren’t adequate to do the job. So, wrong location for production for sure!

Then there is the commercial location.  I planned to start wholesale first but after 3 months it became clear that this strategy only works well when the brand is already known, accepted, and proven.  To redress this situation, I opened a retail store adjacent to our production kitchen but it is not in the most accessible part of town.  Additionally, it’s located in the back of a large building and relatively difficult to find even with proper signage.  Changing location is expensive so we are still dealing with this challenge. 

It would have been better to make the right decision upfront.  This then relates back to internships again.  Experience in the field would probably have helped me avert such unknowns and helped with adapting the business plan accordingly.

Kathryn:  If you could step back in time and plan everything all out again to open your business, what aspects would you change besides industry internships?

When analyzing the market in search of the best places to settle, don’t just select an affluent area, but also look at the activity level of the local population.  Are they retired, commuting to jobs?  Is there public transportation to and from the major areas? 

Jessie:  You’ve tried several different approaches in terms of sales since 2012.   What has been the best sales strategy for you?  Hiring a sales person?  The parties?  The walk in traffic?  Local advertising?  Internet presence?  Wedding favors?  Tables for events? I know you’ve done them all.

Jean Paul:  I would say the best sales return on investment (in our startup phase) has been advertising in high end, state-wide magazines.  It has helped us to connect with the right audience beyond our local community.

However, there are other factors to consider in setting the best sales strategy.  I did start small (and am still small) and would definitely do that again.  I wrote a business plan and would do this again too.

While the following sounds cliché it is so true.  Staff is very important for the making and supporting the quality of your products, as well as representing and maintaining a high image of your store and company.  We’re lucky to be able to rely on an excellent Pastry Chef Kathleen Hernandez (ICE graduate), great advisors for marketing and operations, special holiday related events, and on the support of the employees staffing our store.

Finally, being able to rely on the community is no small matter.  It includes the landlord and many other friends and neighbors who try to help in any way possible to make this successful.

Jessie:  What’s your favorite chocolate that you’ve created?

Jean Paul:   Our “Naked Truffle” is made of dark or milk ganache with only a thin, one-layer enrobing.  This is used as the base for all other truffles infused with different flavors. 

This is how we created a unique line of liquor truffles which is quickly becoming Chocodiem’s signature chocolate collection. It’s not only unique in its conception but it’s also unique in its approach of customization as we can make any truffle with the customers’ liquor of choice whether it’s for personal indulgence, for weddings, parties, corporate or other events, vineyards, microbreweries, liquor stores, gift stores etc.

Kathryn:  What’s next for Chocodiem?

Jean Paul:  Reaching out to a larger audience.  Chocodiem is known and very much appreciated for its high quality products.  This comes with a higher price tag which is not always attractive for the local consumers.  While many businesses started with high quality products, most of them took the easy way out and converted to cheaper chocolates and by doing so sometimes dramatically increased their sales. 

Chocodiem wants to maintain a high standard over the long run.  It will take a while before this can be obtained through our branding and sales efforts, but we believe that hard work, perseverance, and continued word of mouth will rule.

Kathryn:  Anything else you’d add?

Jean Paul:   Work hard, very hard.   Try to keep it fun.  After all what other product can guarantee a smile each time it even just gets mentioned!  Enjoy!

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!