Monday, November 14, 2005

Entering the Third Year 

Had everything gone according to hopes and plans, we'd be celebrating our first anniversary as an open and fully functioning bakery.

Things didn't happen as planned - if you've been reading this blog, you'll know most of the trials and obstacles we've faced.

Some of them are of our own making - Manager has a specific idea of how the Cracked Cauldron should be operated, and won't change that even if it means turning down venture capitol. We have a vision for this bakery, and changing it to be just like Starbuck's or Panera's just isn't a part of it.

Yes, we know Starbuck's and Panera's are wildly successful, and we've certainly studied how they got that way. The Cracked Cauldron has a dofferent vision, though - one that's more community-oriented on many levels. You see, Starbuck's and Panera's succeed because they are "generic" - because there so many of them they mass-produce their products to insure the same level of quality at every store. For them, this is good, and their customers have the comfort of knowing the menu no matter which store they visit.

But we want a bakery that uses local produce, supports local farmers and ranchers, and is an intergral part of the local culture.

This is why the Cracked Cauldron, when it finally opens (and it will open - someday), will feature music from local performers, art from local artists, and a seasonal menu using locally grown and raised foods, and celebrating local events. And we will use our bakery to help the working poor and working homeless - a class of poor that is overlooked by almost every charity and agency out there.

Even though we aren't open as a bakery, we've been proceeding with our plans to assist the working poor and homeless through a Sandwich Saturdays program, where we bake bread and make sandwiches that we deliver to the places where the working homeless sleep before they head out for their jobs. Now that cold weather is arriving, we will make nourishing soups and bread for them. It's not much. It's far less than what we'd be capable of once the bakery's open, but it's such a need we can't keep looking the other way.

Potential customers of ours keep asking when we'll open, and occassionally, even though we know we don't have a commercially approved kitchen, we'll nake things for them - for a party, for a favor. We still create new recipes, and encourage our Beloved Guinea Pigs to eat them.

Last night, for example, we baked Fairy Cakes, topped with a frosting that is light, airy, and meltingly good - made with whipping cream, marshmallow creme, and almond milk, and decorated with rainbow sprinkles. The cake itself was "magic cake" made with vinegar, mayonnaise, tomato soup, coffee, and cocoa. It came out looking like a red velvet cake, without the artifical red food coloring. It was light, moist, and subtly sweet, well complimented by the fluffy frosting.

We've also been playing around with the Hot Drops recipe, to give them more flavor and make them taste less like Cheez-Its. We've made them chewy, and I think the blend of hot sauces (smoky chipotle, tabasco, habanero, a jamaican blend of tamarinds, cayenne, and pineapple, and a nice mango, mustard, and Scotch Bonnet sauce) and the seriously sharp cheddar is a good one. But what makes the new Hot Drops even better is the topping of different cracked peppers, salt, and garlic. I think I need to up the jamaican and mustard sauces a bit because their flavor was scarcley noticeable. Once we get this recipe right, no one will ever again be reminded of Cheez-Its when they eat them.

Manager has spent the past 10 months getting experience in management techniques, budgeting, and payroll by working as an intern/temp for a large company. This has given her some amazing insights in how big companies operate - and helped her refine her own employee policy. She feels her initial instincts in employee relations was the right one, her experience conforms her in this, except now she has actual working experience for it - and she knows what not to do, something almost as important as knowing what to do.

Her next step is to get certification from the Culinary Arts Institute - which just opened a branch locally, making it affordable for her. It's not that she doesn't know how to bake, it's that potential investors tend not to believe that someone so young knows what she's doing without that piece of paper to back her up.

That's going to delay our opening plans even further.

Do you know how frustrating it is to know you have this great idea, one that will be amazingly successful, with recipes that are deliciously unique and addictive in their flavors - and not be able to implement it because the right people don't believe in you? We have lots of supporters, lots of people who want us to open, lots of people who will be faithful customers once we open, but none of them can afford to invest in pre-opening costs.

Those costs are not cheap: rent, utilities, fees, licenses, inspections, ovens.

Manager is still considering opening in some other state. Before Katrina, she was considering New Orleans - not the French Quarter, much as she loves it, but downtown New Orleans, where rents are - were - less expensive.

Post-Katrina, it's still a possibility. It just may need more contrivance than before.

Still, however we look at things, it will be several years before we get to where we hoped to be a year ago.

Starting up a business from complete and total scratch is possible, but nobody ever said it would be easy.

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