Thursday, April 29, 2004
Did you know that taste testing coffees is an art as well as a science?
Manager and I have been sampling coffees from a variety of roasters to see which one we want as the "House" coffee. We'll also be selecting the other types of coffees, and are debating flavored coffees.
Me, I've been disappointed in some of the flavored coffees. I think additives would be better than pre-flavored beans. My opinion. I seem to dislike beans that claim to carry cinnamon or hazelnut flavors because they taste off, but adding essential flavors to the grind in the basket, or afterwards, to the brewed coffee is fine. Maybe it's just the beans.
Anyway, I can't make a real judgement because I've only sampled from 4 different roasters.
So far, our choice has been "Strange Brew" from Organic Coffees for the House coffee. It has a nice balance with a slightly nutty aftertaste, clean and sharp. It has the added bonus of being relatively inexpensive.
But we haven't tested them all yet, and there may still be better ones.
If anyone reading this has any suggestions on their favorite roaster, blend, brand, or whatever, drop us a comment or an email. We'll try it.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Because there will be food, there will be pests trying to eat that food.
I know it's a bit early to consider pest control companies, but one stopped by today and left his card. I'll put it in the Rolodex we'll eventually get, and keep him in mind.
We also got a catalog in the mail for color coding preparation areas and color coded expiration stickers and cleaning supplies.
We'd already considered segregation of food prep areas: The Peanut Free Zone, the Meat Free Zone, and the Pretty Much Anything Goes Zone.
I hadn't realized other places are just as anal about segregation as we are.
I don't know that we'll buy their products, mostly because they are pricey. We can get much of the same supplies from elsewhere, in colors, and pay less, simply because they aren't marketing it specifically as "color-coded".
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
One of the things that will make or break the success of the Cracked Cauldron is how people like us. That means we have to provide superior customer service. There are other good bakeries in Oklahoma City. We even shop there and buy their breads and stuff. But, they serve recipes different from ours. Good as their breads and things are, they aren't using the recipes we've inherited and developed. There's room for diversity.
And I think there's a huge group of people out there in the Greater Oklahoma City area that want the sort of bakery we will provide. We've done studies, and test marketing. We've talked to people - shop-owners as well as potential customers. We've asked what they want, and we've told our dreams to them.
I'd like to say it was unanimous that everyone liked our ideas and were 100% supportive of what we plan. That's not true - But a huge proportion of the people we've talked to think it's a great idea, and are supportive. Some are so supportive they've already begun buying our products.
OK, let me give you one of the real benchmarks on this progress: Manager's father.
He's a tightwad of the first order. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but he won't spend money unless he really, really needs something. Example: He has a blacksmith's booth at the OU Medieval Faire every year, Elm Tree Forge. Yep, the guy with the brown kilt. He loves chocolate dipped bananas. And his booth is usually close to a food booth selling them. Does he buy one? No, he can make them cheaper at home.
That's the way he is.
We made him try our Bacon Bread recipe.
He never even asked for the recipe (something he's often done in the past). Nope. He forks over not only the money to make the bread every two weeks, he also provides the bacon for it. Good thing, too, because I hate the brand of bacon he likes. It doesn't crisp evenly and it has a higher salt content, so I have to adjust the recipe each time.
Now, that was a telling moment, when he asks to buy our bread. As Manager's father, we'd have just given it to him.
And the bread has proven popular with everyone who's sampled it.
Sure, there will be those who won't like it. After all, almost an entire pound of bacon goes into a loaf. It would make PETA shudder, and vegans turn pale. But Atkins, South Beach, Zone and related types of dieters love the stuff. With its high protein and comparatively low carbohydrate content, it fits their diets and has the super added plus of tasting great.
A few have felt we might be over-reaching ourselves in our aims for this bakery. We have scaled it back a lot from the beginning rush of enthusiasm, but the ultimate goals remain in place, just on a different time scale. We've adjusted and adapted dream to reality, and are proceeding with goals that we feel are imminently achievable. Instead of thousands of different kinds of bread, we'll start with a dozen, and rotate to see which prove the most popular. And we plan to bake small batches of special request breads, so if a loaf sells, but not well, the people who liked it won't be deprived of it.
I know, from casual conversation and talks on emailing lists, that people develope a loyalty to a particular flavor or product, and it really hurts when they can't get it anymore. One of the links, A Quarter of... , specializes in locating candies that have become hard to find, and have even been instrumental in a revival of some candies. And look what happened when Coca Cola changed the original cola recipe - they lost me as a customer. We want our customers to be happy, and we want to provide their favorite baked goodies. We'll take our lessons from both A Quarter Of... and Cocoa Cola.
Manager and I spent quite a bit of time discussing customer loyalty and the training we plan to give our employees. The article linked from The Small Business Blog only confirmed our own feelings and beliefs.
It's nice to get that sort of professional validation.
Monday, April 26, 2004
We went to the Arts Festival Saturday with an eye towards finding ideas (and maybe stuff) for the Cracked Cauldron.
We found all sorts of charming teapots, but none were useable. They were all ornamental. Maybe someday, one or two of the teapots will decorate the Cracked Cauldron but not now.
We saw an artist who made clocks - lovely ones, but while one might have been suitable for the Cracked Cauldron, none were in the right size or price range. On speaking to the artist, she couldn't make one the right size, so there went that idea.
We also found some lovely art for personal use, but well out of our price range as we are hoarding funds for opening the Cracked Cauldron.We did, however, discover the best pot roast we've ever tasted. Amber Ale pot roast in a bread bowl. Too bad the bowl actually dulled the flavor of the roast.
We plan to speak to the restaurant about possibly supplying them with better bowls. They need one that's a step up from cardboard. I think a ciabatta-style bread shaped like a bowl, slightly flavored with rosemary and bay will go a long way towards improving the dish (but not the roast, which was wonderful). The gravy needs a bowl that will soak it up and keep it's shape in the liquid without getting all tough. A crust that will not get limp and soggy, but stay slightly crisp and chewy. An interior dough full of small holes to trap that luscious gravy and small bits of roast so the flavor is enjoyed to the last crumb. Yes, that should do it.
On a non-bakery note, we discussed, with another shop owner, my personal hobby of making meads and homemade sodas. That brought up the topic of butterbeer as mentioned in the Harry Potter books. All the recipes I'd seen for it described using a cream soda with butter in it or a root beer with butter added. Yuck. A few mentioned adding buttershots, but really, this isn't child-appropriate in America.
But, making a soda with licorice root, costmary, sarsaparilla, burdock root, and almonds will make a foamy, light "root beer" that tastes creamy and buttery, and will stand up well to being heated. Topped up with a dollop of real whipped cream and sprinkles, it would make a foamy, bittersweet hot drink that will also magically leave a cool taste behind (thank you, costmary).
Now, we have to correlate the notes from the last cheesecake experiment.
Saturday, April 24, 2004
We ordered samples of coffees from several different suppliers today. We also sent in membership fees for the Bread Baker's Guild of America and the Specialty Coffee Association of America - links in the sidebar.
We visited the Arts Festival today for some inspiration, and to do a bit of networking.
I found a painting I desperatly want to own - I'll be happy with a print. The original is $6,000.00 - and worth every single penny. That, however is and will always be out of my price range. As I said, I would be happy with a print. I'd probably even be willing to pay $600.00 for a well done print. The artist is Dave Badger. He doesn't have a website yet, but he is based in Indiana. Larry Greer is another fabulous artist whose works we'd like to grace both our homes and possible the Cracked Cauldron.
We saw a number of artsy teapots, most of which were ornamental, but not really what we wanted for the Cracked Cauldron.
Later, shopping for a birthday gift, we did some networking with a local business owner, and discovered she had the info on the grants for certain business areas. We exchanged information, shared cheesecakes. As a business owner in one of the areas we were looking at, she gave us some invaluable information on business flow in the area.
In exchange, we gave her some leads on new artisans to feature in her shop - and some hints on financing her shop. She has lovely bits of stained glass, hand made candles, home decor items, and hand made bath products. Since I have worked with the Medieval Faire for so many years, I knew people who would benefit from being placed in her shop, and her shop would benefit from the increase in merchandise.
Things are looking very good.
Friday, April 23, 2004
There's this little coffeeshop Manager and I sometimes visit. Their coffee is really bad, and their little pastries obviously come from mixes, but the atmosphere is good, and it's a neutral place in which to interview potential employees, at least until we have a place of our own.
There's been a lot of love poured into this little shop, you can tell from the second-hand decor, and the original art - all depicting red cups in one fashion or another. If they had decent coffee, this could be a really nice place. It has such potential.
We want the Cracked Cauldron (which will be on the other side of town) to have that sort of homey ambience - but with much better coffee and pastries!
The times that we've visited it, they seem to do enough business to stay afloat, so that's a heartening sign for us.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
This weekend, we will send in membership applications for the Bread Bakers Guild of America, the Baristas Guild, and the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
This will give us contatcs and discounts on key supplies we'll need for the Cracked Cauldron.
A friend and potential investor in the Cracked Cauldron responded with some advertising suggestions.
Yanno, we have great friends. I think, without their support and enthusiastic cheering, compiling this bakery would have been much more stressful.
Any of you out there reading this who are starting new businesses or are contemplating new businesses - cherish those friends.
They will be the chipper word just when you think things are impossible, and they'll send you really bad advertising puns in email. And when you open, they'll be first in line.
Don't discount them at all.
And besides friends, look to your families. There are surprising talents among them, talents they will gladly share with you.
For example: Manager's brother (I know, I know, he's my son, but we're pinpointing her relatives) has developed an amazing artistic ability and is designing some awesome graphics for the Cracked Cauldron. Manager's aunt has spent years in insurance, and is willing to help select the policies that will be best for the business. Manager's other aunt has spent years in real estate, and can help interpret rental agreements and such. One of Manager's godfathers is an attorney. Her father and her grandfather are both in the law enforcement field, and have helped her get her Concealed Carry Permit. They're also helping her with burglar-proofing suggestions, and other things she would need to know to keep her business safe.
There was once such care taken to prevent nepotism in the workplace. I remember, when I was much younger, having to sign legal forms stating that no one in my family worked for this company or that, and there were dire penalties for not coming clean about it.
But, honestly, I think the dangers of nepotism are overrated, and I've seen a change in company attitudes towards hiring people in the same family.
For a small business like this, being able to rely on the skills and talents of family members could be the boost it needs to truly succeed.
I suppose it depends on the family. Manager is lucky to have family members who just happen to be in fields where she needs their expertise and years of training.
And is it really nepotism, if no one actually works in the Cracked Cauldron?
And beyond that, she has friends who are getting degrees and certifications in helpful fields. Reliable friends, because not all her friends are dependable when it comes to working.
We expect her friends to hang out at the Cracked Cauldron, spend money drinking coffee and eating pastries there, and bring in more friends to be customers. They know we expect that of them. Since that's something they want to do, and well within their abilities, they are happy to oblige us.
Besides, if they want to see us anymore, they'll have to stop by.
So, cherish your friends, and if they ask what they can do to help - they can be guinea pigs, and they can always bring in more customers.
Cherish your contacts and friends and family.
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
We discovered a company that will provide a bundled package of all the basic equipment for the beverage portion of the bakery at a substantial savings - we're talking $40,000.00 in savings.
Being able to also purchase the most expensive equipment on a lease/purchase option spread out over 4 years will also majorly reduce our initial opening expenses.
These two pieces of information have made the opening the bakery suddenly far less burdensome.
At this point, it looks as if our major expenses will be 1) the decorating. Until we know which of the several places we're looking at will be the winner, we won't know precisely what the redecorating costs will be. But - we know this lovely little second hand shop that offers good quality display cases, shelving, tables, and chairs at outstandingly low prices.
2) Wages. Yeah. No getting around this. Most of our employees will be part-timers, which reduces the expenses somewhat. That's counterbalanced by the fees we'll be paying an attorney and an outside accounting firm to help us keep our books straight and help us with taxes and such. The day-to-day bookkeeping can be done by Manager - who has not only taken classes in business accounting and bookkeeping, but understands them.
3) Initial stocking, especially of consumables and perishables. We have been collecting the "little" things - cookie cutters, rolling pins, pots, pans, cookie sheets, zesters, graters, grinders, basters, mixing bowls, and the like for a while and have most of what's needed. We do have a few small gaps which won't be terribly expensive to fill. After that, we have the storage containers for the bulk ingredients we'll be using, and the ingredients themselves.
It's nice to see how the finances are coming together to make this happen.
With our ability to make the Cracked Cauldron a place people will want to visit, a place they'll leave happy, and with a product that will bring them back, and a decent financial backing to get it off the ground, this will be a good little shop.
We're not expecting to rival Panera's in our first year, perhaps not even in our tenth year. But we should have the profit and staying power of Brown's or Ingrid's or La Baguette's.
On another bright note - Galileo's, a local bar that used to have Open Mike Night has started them back up. People want to have light local entertainment, and they want to be able to get up and show off some themselves. And not necessarily always in a bar situation.
We offer several things that are unique, and the combinations should, with skill and good marketing, make us successful: 1) there is a very limited number of places the employees of the call centers can go to for "lunch" at 10:00 p.m. and we will be one of them, 2) our foods are quick to get when ordered - a plus for those on a tight time schedule - even if they did take hours (and in some cases, days) in the making, 3) we'll have fresh bread ready when people get off work so they can buy loaves to take home for their dinner instead of getting whatever's left over from bakeries that complete their day's baking by 11:00 a.m.
With an alluring line of goodies to pass to reach the order station, entertainment to keep customers happily in the shop (and buying more coffees and pastries), meeting specials, and catering, as well as the convenience of quick ordering via phone or email, quick pick-ups, a friendly and attentive staff, we have the elements of a great business. All we have to do is carry through, have contingency plans for those inevitable emergencies and slight downturns, and we should be able to not only pay back our opening loans with alacrity, but even start showing a real profit by the third year.
Since we'll be opening in an election year, we will naturally take advantage of the extra sales opportunities - donkey and elephant and flag cakes and cookies!
This is a good time to be doing this.
The timing's right, the rebound from the low-carb diets will be gaining strength by then, with the season and the election, it all looks good.
Monday, April 19, 2004
I gave Manager a cookie Saturday for doing good.
We were hunting fresh herbs for the garden, and she spotted the lovely little curry plant.
As a joke, I told her what a good girl she was. "Good girls get cookies." Because it was hot - 90's, I think, with a relentless sun - she asked for a shaved ice instead.
Blogger, however, still gets no cookie because I still can't get back to the better updating screen. I keep geting this old one for people with ancient browsers. And after I just bought a new computer with the top of the line most recent browser, too. The computer, however, was last year's close-out model, adequate for my needs and cheap.
On a different note, I found three really ripe bananas hiding under the honey tangerines, so I had to make banana bread.
Manager likes banana bread. Almost everyone I know likes banana bread.
I hate banana bread.
So why, then, do I always get stuck making the banana bread?
Because I'm the one who forgets to eat the banana before they're too ripe.
I'm too savvy to believe it's because I bake a yummy banana bread.
I will never understand people who want to eat banana bread.
But as long as bananas ripen and people will eat the bread, I will bake it.
Friday, April 16, 2004
I'm not liking the return to the old-style window for writing new posts. I miss being able to scroll through the recent archives to see if I remembered to mention something, or to jog my memory to remember to include an update.
This old style doesn't give access to the archives as readily.
Ah well, we'll be moving it to its own domain and a new host shortly before the Cracked Cauldron opens. That way, we'll be able to add a few pretty features - too bad we can't get a smell-o feature even with the most advanced internet options. To truly appreciate the Cracked Cauldron you would have to smell the commingled fragrances of fresh hot bread, sweet sticky buns, warm chocolate, cinnamon, and rich, well-roasted coffee. If only we could create a website with the fragrance attached. If only.
So, we'll make do instead with lush photos and occassional streaming video, and forums for our customers and other such delights.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Well, the time has come to start applying for memberships in professional organizations related to baking. Manager and I have discussed it, and the Bread Baker's Guild of America looks like it will be our first choice.
Monday, April 12, 2004
In line with preparing to open, Manager and I discussed qualities to look for in employees, and training for them.
I introduced her to the Head Flour Monkey she'd hired sight unseen.
They agreed on the fundamentals of running a bakery, recipes, work flow, dependability, time off.
Not only do their work ethics align well, they also like one another. This is important, since they will be working in tense situations which accompany opening a new business.
We also investigated espresso/cappucino machines.
Evedrything is so expensive. We'll discuss financing these pieces of equipment.
Two floor mixers, at least tabletop heavy duty mixer, a laminator for cookies, pie crusts and flat breads, a dough extruder for coils to make the Celtic Knot breads.
Speaking of which - we learned how to make an endless circular knot, and can make it in several sizes and flavors. We also learned how to make small Celtic knot swans and dragons.
We'll also need to buy a fourplex deck oven, and possibly a rack oven.
Then, of course, there are the counters, sinks, refrigerator, freezer, storage containers, proofers (warm and cold), shelves, and a washer and dryer for the linens and fabric items we must have in the bakery.
That's just the back area.
Up front, we'll need a coffee grinder, an espresso. cappucino machine, a series of coffee pots (and we do want to provide French Press coffee, but those pots are inexpensive in comparison), a near boiling water tap for brewing hot teas, a milk frother (which may come as part of the espresso machine), storage containers for the coffee beans and teas, cold and hot display counters, and dry display counters, cash register, order computer, tables, chairs, and the cups, saucers, mugs, bowls, and flatware we'll need.
Of course, there will be the consumable supplies, like napkins, carryout containers, and such.
Fortunately, the business proposal, except for some fine tuning, is finished.
The "cook book" is almost ready. The employee handbook is close to being finished, but the training manual will have to wait until we know which machines we'll buy.
Next month, we need to set the business up unser its Subchapter S Corporation status, and determine what we will do with stock.
I know, I know, we'll be offering stock as part of the employee pay package, still, exactly how does stock work? We'll need to learn that.
Then, we need to actually apply for the loans. Our bank offers an unsecured loan of $50,000, and secured loans up to $100,000, plus the possibility of a SBA guaranteed loan, grants for being Native American, female and opening a business that is male dominated. And depending on which location we choose, there may also be development grants available from the city.
As soon as the loan process is underway, we'll start seriously looking at the locations we've already chosen.
The next step after that will be to negotiate the rental.
This should take most of May.
In June, we'll work more on grant and loan applications, take another tour of local suppliers, and solidify our contacts and posible start negotiating for those supplies. We'll get the business licenses in June, because by then, we should know where the bakery will be. We can also get business cards printed, and brochures to help in the purchasing and pre-advertising.
In July, if we haven't laready signed the lease, we'll do so. At that time we can start the actual advertising, finish up any loan and grant applications, and begin designing the layout of the bakery. We'll also get hte necessary insurances at that point. In August, we should be ready to start installing the large equipment, and get the first of the inspections done. At the end of August, the first week of September, we'll take another bakery tour to the East Coast, and there's a bakery seminar to attend. This will hopefully help give us a little more confidence in what we're doing. Maybe some tips to ease things.
September will see us madly finishing up the decorating and furnishing of the bakery, getting second stage inspections completed, finalizing our suppliers of fine ingredients, hiring our employees and training them, ramping up our advertising, launching the website, getting the necessary printing done, and re-evaluating our financial situation in case we need a little more than what we've already gotten.
Of course, we hope to stay under budget. Who doesn't?
The very end of September, early OCtober, we'll have a "soft" opening, unadvertisined so we can work out any bugs and kinks in our work flow, and get everyone trained up to speed. We'll test teh equipment at that time, and be able to get replacements or repairs in case they don't work out right. We'll get the final inspections done.
Then, the end of October, we'll have our Press Opening, followed by the Grand Opening.
Our supporter in Louisiana is sure to offer us sound advice and good, solid suggestions.
After we open, we'll re-evaluate our mid and long term plans, to see what needs adjusting.
I think, but we haven't decided yet, that we should save the Italian ices and sodas until Spring. Since we are opening at the start of winter, there will be less demand for such beverages, at least according to research with businesses who sell such products. If we are as successful as I expect we will be - on track for our financial projections, then Spring would be the right time to make the first expansion step. Adding in Italian sodas will be just the thing.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
I tried to create a non-yeast version of the honeybun, and instead created a deliciously moist cinnamon cake. I made a simple genois, but used sour cream for the bulk of the liquid, an extra egg, and a dash of white pepper. I layered the cake into a bundt pan, alternating with a brown sugar cinnamon, pecan, and chocolate chip blend - three layers of batter, two of the cinnamon sugar mix. After baking the cake, I glazed it with honey thickened with powdered sugar, chopped pecans and a touch of frangelico.
It didn't taste anything like a honeybun, but it was delicious. I wish I'd gotten more than a small piece.
Monday, April 05, 2004
And much was done, but very little of it actually bakery related.
This was the Medieval Faire weekend at OU, where we've worked for 27 years. OK, where I've worked for 27 years. Manager's only been alive for 22 years, but she's been working at the Faire since she was born.
Next year, we hope to have a Cracked Cauldron booth at MedFaire, so part of hte Ffaire was spent figuring out traffic flow patterns, optimal locations, and testing Scottish Eggs on as many people as we could convince to try them.
The south end of the Faire, near the Blacksmith's booth, looks to be an open and ideal location. This puts us close to all our special friends at the Faire.
The Scottish Eggs, by the way, were overwhelmingly well received. For those who've never tasted one, a Scottish Egg is a lightly boiled egg wrapped in seasoned pork sausage, then rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs. The Scottish actually fry these eggs in hot oil, but we feel baking them makes for a tastier egg, so we bake ours. I use herbs fresh from my garden to season the sausage and breadcrumbs, and use a different, but complimentary, combination on each. The completed egg then has layers of flavor that blend in your mouth for a taste sensation that brings people back for seconds and fourths.
We also brought loaves of sourdough rye bread to share around, and Celtic knotwork rolls - we've managed to make knotty swans and dragons, and a general knotwork circle. These are sweet rolls, the swans are white pepper, brown sugar and cinnamon with a pumpkin orange glaze, the dragons are apple cinnamon with tiny redhots and an almond glaze, and the circles are cream cheese peach with a mulled spice glaze.
Our MedFaire menu will be the sweet rolls, the Scottish Eggs, scones, Cornish Pasties, hand sized Beef Wellington pies, hot or cold mulled cider, and sweet mead (non-alcoholic).
At least, that's what we're planning for now. That could change.