Monday, April 25, 2005


Manager and I spent a bit of time talking about the direction the Cracked Cauldron is taking, and ways to move it back on track.

We've been pursing alternative sources of funding - so far with minimal luck. Most potential investors keep looking at this as if it were a franchise, or an established chain and expecting us to dig into dwindling poackets to buy someone else's study that isn't targeting our customers or their needs. We've spent more than a year talking to the very people who will buy our breads and goods, testing our baked goods, and refining the recipes to suit our future customer's tastes. You can't buy a study like that - it takes far too many man-hours, and way too much time baking and talking.

We've talked to potential local suppliers, and we know our local market extremely well - both from the supply end and from the demand end. And we're the yummy middle.

It'll take her a while to run the new numbers, not just for the revamps, but new numbers for the new data we've gotten for the original spreadsheets and cash flow plans.

Part of the revamping was caused by new laws passed in the legislature which will cause certain basic operating costs to increase - some of them substantially. One of those is the liability insurance, which, if we're interpreting things correctly (thanks to events like the woman who sued Wendy's for the finger in the chili) means an increase of almost 1/3 the previous costs. Security requirements for small businesses have also altered (to the higher end of the dollar scale), and with the substantial increase in gasoline prices, we'll have to figure that will effect the bottom line on the delivery of supplies, not to mention their increased cost. We've cut out as many middle men as possible in order to keep prices down, but even they will feel the gasoline pinch.

If we'd been able to get the funding 8 months ago, as we'd planned, we might have to do some minor shifting to cover these increased costs, but getting them added on to the opening expenses is making it seem very difficult.

Manager doesn't want to let go of opening the Cracked Cauldron because she knows, by hard personal research, that it will succeed. It's just convincing these people who are accustomed to operating from an old (and dare we say outworn?) template for operating a business that our methods are sound and will prove exceedingly successful. All she needs is a chance to prove it.

If the county health codes were more business-friendly, she'd be able to operate out of our home kitchen. This is a time-honored avenue many established bakers were able to use to get their businesses going (can you say Mrs. Field's?), but that's closed off to us here. The remodeling expenses to bring the home kitchen up to minimal county health codes would cost almost as much as opening in a more commercial fashion, assuming our little town would even allow us the zoning variance, given our proximity to a public school. Our property abuts the school grounds, not even an alleyway between us, as there is for the little bookstore just east of the school.

So, refocusing, refiguring, and plotting the future of the Cracked Cauldron.

There is the remote possibility that Manager may table opening the Cracked Cauldron as planned in Oklahoma City because of the regulatory difficulties and expenses and consider opening it elsewhere more amenable to a small business.

There's also the remote possibility of going into it backwards - marketing the cookboooks, accessories, local artists' art, and promoting local performers, then expand into the coffeeshop, then finally expand into the actual bakery.

We attended the Oklahoma Festival of the Arts this past weekend and noticed a desperate need to promote local artists in a local venue - something we were planning on adding to the Cracked Cauldron, but maybe we should start there and work our way towards the bakery? Most of the artists at the Festival of the Arts were from out of state. Many of our favorite artists weren't present at all. Some of them will be at the Paseo Arts Festival in a few weeks.

Our original plans were to start the bakery - all the bells and whistles: artisan breads, pastries, cookies, meat pies, cakes, muffins, coffees, with stage room for local performers and wall space for local artists.

Expansion would encompass extended hours, an expanded menu, and - accessories: more art - not just wall art, but sculptures and even "bohemian" style handmade clothing, jams and jellies and bread spreads and condiments and salad dressings, signature coffees, better stage room, and sponsoring artistic events.

These things would not only bring in more customers (which would bring more people into contact with the working homeless problem and help us fund a resource center for that cause), it would hep raise the income and exposure of the artists (many of whom are borderline working homeless themselves).

Too many potential investors hear "bakery" and think "failure" because they've erroneously associated it with "delicatessen", which in turn brings in "restaurant". They know the numbers for restaurants, and many aren't willing to enter what is a risky business. They don't realize a bakery is different in many ways from a restaurant - and apparently they either gloss over the differences pointed out in the business proposal or they assume Manager got it wrong because of her youth. The figures for small bakeries are much more promising than those of restaurants, and the durability of small bakeries is well proven across the country. Big commercial bakeries are a different category again.

Perhaps because Oklahoma City isn't a "foodie" city (we can't buy Meyer's lemons or blue potatoes at either of the Farmer's Markets - yes, we only have 2, as large as we are, and one is seasonal and only open limited hours on some weekends), the mindset here just isn't prepared for a business as simple and radical as the Cracked Cauldron.

Manager will keep trying, though, even if it means completely revamping how she'll accomplish her goals.

One way or another, through unfriendly regulations, laws, and all, the Cracked Cauldron will exist.

We'll keep blogging about it. Maybe someone in some other city or state will find our trials and tribulations and triumphs interesting.

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