Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Lone Wolf...

...or why to avoid a business partner at all costs.

Well, not always. Over-generalization can be a problem with me sometimes.

I can only offer four short pieces of advice on whether or not to take on a partner in your business.

1. Talk about ownership before you begin planning. You don't want to get so far into the planning and building stages that major damage can be done by splitting ways with a partner.

2. No money, no ownership. If you are bringing money to the table, your prospective partner must bring money as well. Sweat equity is not enough, especially if your partner expects to collect a salary. No risk, no reward, right?

3. Consult a lawyer. Don't do what you "think" seems right to you. Especially if you have no previous experience in dividing a business.

4. And most importantly, it's business. It may make you uncomfortable to ask for what you want or need or to play hardball with someone you might consider to be a friend. But you need to do it because starting a business is a financial and personal risk. So take a step back to make sure you are doing what is best for your future.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

the case for base

For my ice cream business, I’ve chosen to go with an organic ice cream base made by Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn. An ice cream base is the beginning of your ice cream. It contains all the basic ingredients such as milk, cream and sugar, but does not contain any extra flavoring, such as vanilla or chocolate. The base itself also comes pasteurized, as specifically required by national law (all ice cream base for retail sale must be pasteurized. You can do this on your stove top as long as you don’t sell wholesale or you can purchase base from a company that pasteurizes it for you). The finished base is usually packaged in 2 or 3 gallon bags and most frequently arrives fresh though it can be frozen and dethawed when you're ready to use it.

Once I have my base, I portion it out (into three quart containers because of the constraints of my ice cream machine) and add flavors and ingredients to customize the base to my liking.

I keep getting asked why I am not making my own ice cream base from scratch, like most restaurants do. When I worked in a restaurant, I would combine the milk, cream, sugar, eggs and flavoring ingredients and cook the base on my own. So why not repeat this same process in a retail setting?

1. When a company like Blue Marble pasteurizes for you, they also homogenize the base. Homogenization creates a more stable emulsion in your ice cream by breaking down the fat particles into itsy bitsy pieces. That way, when you churn your ice cream, the fat particles are less likely to clump together and create a grainy texture. And a homogenizer is an extremely expensive piece of equipment and well out of reach for a start-up business like mine.

2. To make my own ice cream base in my shop would have been cost prohibitive for me. The main ingredient in ice cream is milk so I naturally think that all ice cream makers should use the highest quality milk possible (side note, if the store you buy ice cream from is not talking about where their dairy comes from, you have a problem. Don’t be fooled by words like “artisanal” or “hand-made.” ASK THEM WHERE THEIR DAIRY COMES FROM).

Blue Marble makes their base using grass-fed, organic dairy from organic farms in Maine. For me to buy grass-fed organic dairy to make my own base would have driven my food costs so high that I would not be able to actually pay my fixed costs to stay in business. I simply would not have been able to order enough bulk organic dairy to drive the overall cost down to where I could afford to use it.

3. I want to be a business woman, not just a chef. I know. All you cooks and chefs out their think that sounds sacrilegious. But since I am a small business, I will be taking care of marketing and promotion, book-keeping, inventory and ordering, hiring and employee training and much, much more. In other words, if I spend all my time making base, I will not have time to actually run the business. And yes, I could hire someone, but I am just starting out and have only so much money at this point. At least for now. I didn’t think this way originally, until I was able to speak with the culinary manager at Shake Shack and he asked me why I wasn’t going with a base so I could focus on actually running my business. Why, indeed…


And I’m in good company, as far as ice cream base is concerned. Bi-Rite creamery, the darling of the new wave ice cream scene, also uses a pre-made ice cream base from Strauss Organic Farms in California. They are just one of many.

I’m not saying that in the future, as my business grows, I won’t turn to making my own base. I would love to do that and, honestly, would have preferred to do so from the start (I am despotic in nature and would love nothing better than to control everything myself). With enough start-up capital it can be done successfully (check out the Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz, run by the amazingly talented Kendra Baker). But for now, using a pre-made base is the decision that makes the most business sense for my company.

Friday, April 5, 2013

I'm Legal

Drinking age, yes. But also as a business owner. My new ice cream business, Milk Sugar Love Creamery and Bakeshop is actually Milk Sugar Love, Inc., a corporation created in NJ and insured with liability coverage, working out of a health-department inspected commercial kitchen and licensed to sell in Jersey City.

As a consumer, this should be VERY important information for you because so many beginning food businesses are not. A lot of people starting out baking out of their own homes, which most state laws clearly prohibit. Health department requirement also prohibit this.

I used to think this was ridiculous until I began to think about the implications of eating food baked in someone else's home kitchen (and then sold to others as a business). I have worked in a restaurant and understand what it means to deep clean a kitchen. I have rarely seen a home cook that has a kitchen cleaned AND SANITIZED anywhere near as well as a professional kitchen. And that is just the beginning. There are no children or pets allowed in professional kitchens. Did that baker who just made the cupcake you bought play with Fido and then not wash their hands before starting work again?

Many people starting out in the food industry just don't want to spend the money to follow the law and put the consumer's health and safety first. Yes, creating a legal business is expensive, but it simply is not worth risking the safety of your customer (and the the lawsuit that will surely follow) to save money.

Also, from a professional standpoint, people baking out of their homes also hurt the industry as a whole because they are more often than not charging artificially low prices because they have no overhead (i.e. fixed costs). They are not paying to rent a commercial kitchen or to get the licenses needed to operate legally. If, as professionals, we all did this, we could improve the industry as a whole by helping customers adjust to and understand the real cost of doing business. The blame for this also falls on our mass-producing food culture, but that is a topic for another day.

So please. Do your research, ask questions and support legal small businesses.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Au Revoir, for now.

I'm moving!

The new repository for my photos and witticisms will be on the official blog for Layers NYC, Anthony's and my cake business.

Please check out the new blog HERE and stay tuned as we whip up more confectionery delights and continue to move forward with plans for our future ice cream business. Don't forget now! Conquering the world with our frozen treats in 2013!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

here kitty, kitty

vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream and strawberry jam
A cake for a very "girly-girl", as her mom put it. This cake was for Elizabeth who is graduating today. Her mom cuts Chris's hair at Aire Salon here in Jersey City---a wonderful salon run by the enormously talented duo, Aiko and Racheal. 

Aiko and I had a spirited discussion over the origins of Hello Kitty which led to frantic googling of her history. We discovered that Hello Kitty's full name is Kitty White and that she currently resides in the suburbs of  London with her parents and younger sister, Mimmy. She is a baker and an artist and keeps a cat as a pet (that's just twisted, right?) named Charmmy Kitty. She has an on-again-off-again relationship with Dear Daniel, also a cat, but they haven't gotten serious because, given that she measures five apples high but weighs only three apples, she is all looks and no substance. I'd like to thank Hello Kitty Universe for including such salacious details.

Check out the Layers NYC facebook page for a picture of our other cake from this week, a bottle in a box. And Anthony let me airbrush this one! He's an airbrush hog, so this was a treat.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

pounds and pounds of butter

vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream
We don't get a lot of requests for chocolate buttercream so I haven't tasted it in a while. I'd forgotten how DELICIOUS something as simple as chocolate buttercream can be. I highly recommend it. We put in 3/4's of a pound of 55% chocolate in there so it was intensely chocolatey.

This cake was for Julianna's Christening. Her mother had a very special Christening gown made for her and wanted the cake to reflect the details in the gown. Anthony and I have been extremely excited to do this cake because we wanted to whip out some techniques we don't normally get to use.

We Ron-Ben'ed this baby.

This is now a phrase by the way.

Ron Ben-Israel, a prominent NYC cake designer, makes good use of silicon molds to customize his cakes and add details from a bride's dress, or a special piece of jewelry. Here's a link to a blog that details the process. It's amazing.

We used silicone molds to make detailed fondant pieces that matched the details on Julianna's Christening dress. We then painted the pieces by hand with silver luster dust and attached silver dragées to add a little bling.

We also made peonies for the first time. It was a nice break from an endless line of roses and daisies.

And we also made a two-tier buttercream wedding cake to go with a slew of delicious cupcakes made by one of Anthony's close friends and cupcake wizardress, Tara Roed.

I'm still reeling from the amount of butter and sugar we went through this weekend. I had fifteen pounds of butter in my freezer and it is GONE now. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

there's nothing like Australia

I would love to move to Sydney. It's just gorgeous---filled with parks and surrounded by water. The downtown area is all walkable and the outlying areas are connected by easy-to-navigate public transportation and a nifty ferry system.

The food was outstanding. I ate either seafood or Thai food every night (apparently Thai is the hot thing right now in Sydney) and drank at least two flat whites (microfoam poured over a shot of espresso) every day. My brand of choice was Single Origin Roasters and their coffee was some of the best I've ever had.

I visited two terrific bakeries, Bourke Street Bakery and Becasse Bakery. Bourke Street was in Surry Hills, the Sydney neighborhood where our hotel was located. My favorite was the rhubarb tart with almond, though the passion fruit meringue tart was a close second.

Becasse was located in a kick-ass mall in Sydney CBD.  The mall had a myriad of mouth-watering options in their beautifully designed food court, as well as all the high-end shopping a girl could wish for. The bakery was classic French, and Chris and I made our way there every afternoon for a petit goûter. I always had the cream puff because I'm such a sucker for them.

I was surprised how expensive restaurant prices were. I talked to one of our waiters about it and he said that it was because the minimum wage is much higher in Australia (just over $15 an hour). Love the idea, but it blew my vacation budget to hell. Apparently Australia in general is riding an economic high due to increased demand for commodities. One tour guide mentioned that Australia is  the third largest provider of coal to China.

Security was quite tight in the airports as well. There was a strictly enforced quarantine for food items. Not even water bottles from the plane were allowed outside the airport. We flew Qantas, and even sitting in economy, it proved to be ten times better than United or American, which we flew from Newark to Los Angeles. Free movies, exremely friendly staff and tolerable food---amazing!

The weather was too cold for me. They had just finished an extremely wet summer and temperatures were already starting to drop into the 60's while we were there (it's fall there right now). It was extremely windy as well. At Cairns, we endured choppy seas which made it difficult to snorkel and made quite a few people sea sick on the boat rides we took out to the Great Barrier Reef. Luckily I have a strong stomach and a good sense of adventure. Everyone I talked to said that the wind (which was at 30 knots every day) was unusual for this time of year. A freakish phenomenon apparently.