May 20, 2010

My Fears and Blueberry Muffins

On the days that I have no business workshops to attend, no meetings with potential commercial kitchens or clients, I get overwhelmed.  What do I do first? Ultimately, all that is really left for me to do to be a legitimate business is to physically go get & pay for my business license.  Awesome, right?  

I'm excited because I'm ALLLLLMOST there.  ALMOST, ALMOST there.  It has taken soooo long just to get a license to work out of commercial kitchens, it's ridiculous.  But it is, truly, right around the corner.  After this license, I can start working & getting my name out there immediately.

At the same time I'm afraid, however,  because there is still so much I NEED to do and SHOULD do before I hit the ground running. And even moreso, there will be so much money required to do it.  MONEY.  *grumpy, grumpy* (Notice to the right, if you will,  a little 'Donate To The Crazy Lady' Paypal button I've put up with on my site!)

Here are my thoughts, fears & 'to do' lists... and heavens to Betsy, it will be listed in no particular order.

1)  Getting a license will probably be an exorbitant amount of money ($600+).  I have an appointment on Friday at 2pm to find out the exact number & will proceed to lose all of my hair.

2)  I need to find a super cheap, super close, well-equipped commercial kitchen to work out of.  I saw a fantastic kitchen a couple of days ago.  They have gorgeous equipment and it's a nice facility but it's kind of far.  Totally worth it but the problem is that you rent hourly and it's $21-$24 per hour depending on the time of day and how many hours a week you use it.  Dry storage, fridge space and freezer space all have monthly charges as well.  

When you're just starting out & business is sporadic, that's no way to make money really.  If I had 12,000 brownies to do-- yeah, I could crank those puppies out in 3 hours because it has a multi-level convection oven, well worth the money.  But if you're doing a 'Happy Birthday, Evan!' 1/4 sheet cake three times a week, you're not making a penny.  EEKS. Suggestions?  Play in traffic?  Eat a bag of Garrett's Popcorn? Stop whining, stop feeling hopeless and instead start looking for solutions?  (I was really hoping you'd say 'play poker.')

3)  My website needs to be finished.  I've got a good chunk of it done but the following still needs to happen with it:

  • I need to set up paypal accounts & buttons on everything so customers out of state can make purchases.  This is going to be a lot of time.
  • For every item I offer, I'd like to have pictures.  That's really important to me because pictures are what make mouths water.  While I have many of them done, it's still a LOT of baking to do.  Baking that requires.... right.  MONEY.  
  • I need to work on my FAQ section.
3)  I need to work on staple baked goods that I know people will ask me for- MUFFINS for example, that I kind of suck at.  I need to work on muffins and about 150 other standard items.  You'd think a gal that's been baking her whole life has a great yellow cake recipe?  Nope.  THAT'S CRAZY TALK, I KNOW!!!  

The Ipod loved boxed yellow cake mix and because I love her, I'd fancy up a box cake mix.  But that's not completely from scrach.  It's all her fault!!!  ;)  What is ready to go, is REALLY ready to go.  My banana cream pie?  LOVE IT.  FROM SCRATCH. AWESOME.  LET'S DO THIS. But whatever random things I've still yet to perfect and have fallen through the cracks (MUFFINS, YELLOW CAKE, ETC.), need some work.

Long story short, for years I've been baking with whatever ingredients, I've had in the house.  I've made lots of fruit tarts but they've all been different.  Make-a sense?  My friends would say that my improvised, half-@$$ed baked goods would be better than most baker's best.  (They're biased, I love biased friends). But I don't EVER want to put out a product that is mediocre.  MandiCakes is always about richer, thicker, gooey-er items, completely from scratch.  If I do a fruit tart, it has to be the BEST fruit tart.  If I do muffins, they have to be the BEST muffins.  'YOU'RE LIFE WILL BE MEANINGLESS IF YOU DON'T EAT THIS BEFORE YOU DIE!!!'  kind of muffins. No pressure!  But that IS what makes me a Johnstown Field Hockey Champion.  ;)

4)  I need to buy items that I'm going to need to make quality products, make them fast and well produced:

  • 9 inch triple layer pans (I have two which isn't even enough for one triple layer cake- HA! But when you're broke, you improvise. I've been improvising for years. Word?)
  • Large baking sheet pans.  (These are the big ones that you can put it speed racks).
  • Mini tart pans (So I can make mini banana cream pies & fruit tarts, etc).
  • Emulsion blender (So I can whip air into ganache, pastry creams, etc.- very important for quality).
  • Dough hook for my Kitchen Aid- (I lost it in the move).
  • Ramekins/ small cake molds- For chocolate molten cakes, creme brulees, etc.
  • Filing Cabinet for all of my important papers that are strewn about our apt. VERY IMPORTANT.
  • Brown Paper Liners for my various sized cupcakes as I'm out.
  • Chocolate Liquor - something else I have to send away for (not like a liqueur or alcohol... it's chocolate post cocoa nibs, pre-sugared stage).
  • Boxes for packaging- I'm out of 1/4 sheets, tart & small boxes.  You have to order in bulk which is a million dollars.
  • Chocolate Molds- Really nice molds that create quality, distinguished chocolates cost about 12,000,000 dollars.  But I have a potential client that wants chocolates.  
  • Oven thermometer
  • 8 inch. fruit tart pan-- I only have an 11inch.
  • Bundt Cake Pan- Can you believe I don't have one of these either?  Crazy talk.
  • Muffin Liner Papers
  • Candy Thermometer- A commercial, culinary school one.  Every time I buy one from the store, it's cheap, gets flooded & never works again.
5)  I need to research how to ship things with dry ice.  I want to be able to ship pies & cupcakes, etc. cross country and that will require freezing baked goods & shipping them with dry ice.  Maybe I'm not using the proper google word combinations but I need some kind of kindergarten youtube tutorial on how to do this.  And where on earth do you store it?  Not in your freezer!  It disappears (so I've learned) and you're lucky to still have a working freezer after.  

Dry ice is colder than your freezer, so it can seriously damage the cooling compartments AND it releases toxic gasses- awesome!  If you're not shipping out a 14,000 frozen pizzas a day, how do you do this reasonably?  Lou Malnati's had to start somewhere, right?  WHERE!?  FOR THE LOVE OF SMALL AFRICAN CHILDREN PLAYING UNDER THE BLEACHERS AT THE WORLD CUP-- WHERE??!!

6)  Labels/ Shipping/ Packaging Costs- This means MandiCakes labels.  Individual Bags for various items to ship.  UPS boxes for packaging.  Paper stuffing for my UPS packages so contents don't shift.  And shipping...  is there a way to ship items to people regularly & not have it cost $126 per package? I don't know. I don't think there is...  

7)  Get my name Trademarked.  Lots of Mandi's out there, this needs to happen asap.  Was quoted $1000 by a lawyer.  YAY!!!

8)  Get a business phone. I think I can upgrade in June.

9) Set up a business banking account.  I can do this tomorrow if I want.  That's easy.

10)  Revisit Quickbooks (it's been a while!)-- or do something accountant-worthy so my books are legit. Then again, this is Chicago... I'll just tell them all of my ingredients fell off the back of a truck.  :)

11)  Have someone design a logo.  On the list of things to do that require money.

So long-winded story short,  I'm overwhelmed.  MOST of this stuff does not need to happen RIGHT NOW.  I CAN do what I can do now. I CAN get started taking orders and improvise as I go until I learn more of what sells, what works, etc. But this is my business... I want to be an organizational Nazi about it. I want it to be professional. I want to give it every opportunity to take off and be successful. I want to be aware of every single ball that I'm juggling so that there are no surprises. I think that's fair.

I sooooo want my own shop.  Wholesale-ing yourself to death really isn't the kind of baking I enjoy. And I want to win the lottery.  Or a poker tournament.  (You judge but you can win BIG MONEY!)  ;)

Okay, I'm going to get started on my website now. Oh right! And muffins... these were my attempt at blueberry muffins:

I used the 'To Die For Blueberry Muffins' on for starters to see what supposedly constitutes a good blueberry muffin.

They were jumbo muffins.  They didn't rock my socks off. Then again, I don't really eat muffins that often so what DOES a good muffin taste like?

I always imagine muffins to be hearty, buttermilk-y, let the fruit sweeten the buttery muffins kind of sweet, an awesome crunchy-top (whether with streusel or not). The consistency shouldn't be too cake-like but I also don't want a bland muffin either.

I just want them to be, you know... PERFECT.

I've vomited the fear.  I accept and choose joy.
I CAN choose to be successful and hopeful and confident.  
So I am successful and hopeful and confident.  

I'm glad that's done.  :)

Success and possibility,

I'll be honest in saying that this particular blog is more for me than you guys this time.  I'm feeling overwhelmed so I'm going to put all of my fears out there as a way to 'exorcise' my inner doubt demons, if you will. 


Alise said...

One step at a time. Make sure you are scouring the Women's Business Development Center.

In my experience, these women will give you the shirts off their backs or hand over the best references to what you need. Also, may be some money if you haven't already looked there.

Dream big Miss can do this. Nan and I are sending BIG KARMA from Vermont!

juliette said...

If you could in some way figure out how to put a spin on a classic that ships well (like brownies) and make that your 'phase 1' cash cow, that might generate enough income to go to 'phase 2'.

That said: scour Etsy for some graphic design work. I'm in need of a logo right now as well and just found somebody with what appears to be decent work who only charges $100 for a business logo. Check her out: I haven't made the leap yet b/c I'm waiting on a friend-of-friend connection first, but still...

Also - once you have that logo in a million different sizes and in black and white, you can put that sucker ALL OVER THE PLACE and you brand yourself instantly. MOO cards and products are incredible and affordable (great quality, too!). I sprung for some waiting-for-logo business cards to start dishing out. I did already have my domain name purchased, so stuck that on there, although the website needs help, but works for now =)

You should also look at this $7 make-your-own sticker thing I just saw posted about here: Head to Wal-Mart and find some cute ribbon or fabric in your business colors and get to it!

Brand yourself baby! and ship out some classics to build up a base! Whatever you decide, keep working on it - you've had this dream for a long time - don't give up!

Sassypants Wifey said...

Arg the stress I am sure!!! I feel ya on a small scale. We are starting our own organic family farm, using hydroponics. Big undertaking when you are broke, ha! However we have a group that we found that helps Veterans become farmers, but they are newly established also, so its somewhat slow.
I hope you find an affordable place to do your cookery. Esh, talk about price gouging. Too bad there isnt a little old lady around there with a top notch fabu kitchen that was lookin for someone to bake up some love in it. (welcome to the fantasy world in my head where obscure scenarios play out...) Wouldnt that just be perfect?!
But yes, a good stiff drink always seems to help. Unless you are knocked up, then it just irks you to not have and you deal by eating 10 lbs of ice to compensate...
Someday we shall prevail!

Robyn said...

Mandi! you are so awesome.

I mean, I feel like you tackle these really big things that most people shy away from (like, um, Hollywood?!?). And I think it's so inspiring! I love it about you.

That said, Mandi, this is a REALLY big thing you are doing. I wouldn't do it. And I feel like I already spend most of my life baking. But when I think about professional baking I have to stop what I am doing and go breathe in a paper bag for a few minutes.

I think this list is a GREAT start. Maybe you should add it to the sidebar of your blog and cross things out as you go. That way we can all see your progress and if someone has an idea about one of your things, they can chime in whenever.

Anyway, you're pretty cool. Own it. ;)

And who is this Alise from Vermont?!? I'M the one from Vermont!!! (There really aren't that many of us.)

Beth said...

Sweetie you rock. Don't sweat the small stuff even though the kitchen can get mighty hot at times! If you weren't as sensational as you are I wouldn't order from you all the freaking time. I can help you out with a few things.

1- dough hook. I never use the damn thing you can borrow it until you get a new one.

2- Bundt cake pan. I NEVER use the thing. I think the last time I did was 2001. Same deal as above.

3- I know all about mailing with dry ice. Call me for specifics.

4- My sis might trade a logo design for baked goods. I can ask her this weekend if you want.

5- check craigslist for a filing cabinet. If it is too big for your car call me.

we love you!

Kellisays said...

Your improvised, "half-@$$ed" baked goods ARE better than most baker's best! That's the MandiCakes magic, you can make miracles with whatever you have in the kitchen - as the kitchen gets bigger, so will the miracles.
Now figure out how to ship me some cupcakes! If you have to go to Lou Malnoti's to do some research, so be it :)

Tuscan foodie in America said...

If I may, a couple of advise on how to solve a couple of your issues:

5 - dryice. Why don't you just go to a place such as Lou Malnati's or Omaha steak and ASK THEM to show you how they do it? I am 100% they will be willing to help.

8 - business phone. My two cents: do not buy the iphone and do not buy AT&T. I have a friend here in Chicago who is starting his own business like you. The number of times he had calls dropped or had to tell his prospective customer "can you hear me? And now? Better? Can you hear me now?" is enormous.

Get something else, or else you will add stress to stress. (and yes, I do have an iphone and a bberry for work, and the bberry is a better business phone. Period).

Stuff to buy: I guess you have already checked, but...what about ebay?

Family of Food said...

Hey lady,

You sound stressed, but just take it one thing at a time. It's great that you already have a list to work from.

As for Yellow Cake, I really like the recipe in "I Like You" by Amy Sedaris. I know, you would not expect such a talented funny lady to bake, too... wait a minute... anyway, maybe you can use that recipe as a starting place.

Daughter of Food

PS. I was thinking, food trucks are all the rage in LA, maybe Mandicakes can be mobile?

Darci said...

That Daughter of Food is a smarty, with the food truck idea! And I'm with Kellisays - figure out how to ship the cupcakes! :-)

I know this is so much work and so overwhelming. I am overwhelmed too. Video, dance mixes, all takes finances we don't have at the moment. I wish I could make things easier for you, Puddin' Pie. But until such time, let's both hang in there, no matter the doubts, be they from friends, family or our own selves. I believe it's our genius sister who can be quoted as saying, "Shut up and take the pain." And take it we shall, with smiles on our faces! Okay...maybe with a wince and a groan, but we'll still take it better than men.

I love you and I believe in you.


MandiCrocker said...

Thanks for all the pointers & tips everyone-- looks like my friends have a lot of these answers. COOL. :)

stacy marie said...

I've been working on creating logos, trifold brochures, business cards and letterheads...I'd be more than happy to do yours. For free :) let's chat.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think the food truck idea is kinda brilliant. The head of the food truck association in LA just went out last week to meet with the Chicago lawmakers about ways to ease restrictions and barriers to entry for food trucks in Chicago.

As someone who has started a business, it is totally overwhelming and terrifying at every don't think you're alone in thinking that. Bur, all you have to do is just keep doing the next thing that needs to be done.