food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 7 Lessons This Food Entrepreneur Learned

Written by Ori Zohar, Co-founder of Burlap & Barrel

“I’m gonna start a food company! How hard could it be?” -Everyone

Anytime you read the origin stories of successful food entrepreneurs, it goes something like this: I made something that people loved, my friends urged me to start a company making that thing, I did it, and now I’m super successful.

What about the hardships? Or the days your bills added up to more than the amount in your bank account? Or the months (years?) of living at a “founders salary”? Or how about all those friends that constantly pointed out the naive hubris of it all?

spices

Back in 2017, my co-founder and I launched Burlap & Barrel, a single-origin spice company, literally out of his apartment. We wanted to build a social enterprise that would bring equitably sourced spices from smallholder farmers across the world to kitchens across America. We’re almost at the 3-year mark, so I wanted to share the most important lessons that I learned along the way.

1. Build in room for error

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely one of two types of people: either you (1) have a tight business plan and have mapped out your path to success or (2) you feel good about things and think plans are for suckers. I’ll bet you’re in the first camp since I probably lost most people in the 2nd camp by giving this article an action-oriented headline. Nevertheless, you’re here whoever you are. Thanks for sticking around.

The truth about any new company is that you can’t possibly know what you’re in for. Even if you’re familiar with parts of it, there’s so much you don’t have control over. Things won’t go as planned, you’ll get the wrong inventory, you’ll have business partners that leave you high and dry, you’ll have unhappy customers—but your business has to be strong enough to float on. So before you kick off your new venture, think about whether you’ve left room for figuring stuff out, for getting things wrong and trying again.

We’ve had sacks of spices slashed open when the exporters wanted a bribe and bought thousands of jars that ended up not being the right size.

Any plan based on flawless execution or going viral is going to be even more stressful and frustrating than it needs to be. Leaving room for error will mean you have some buffer when things are going poorly and it will feel so good when things are going well.

2. You’re in charge of sales (and PR)

I’ve come across so many founders that say they don’t like sales and plan to hire a salesperson as soon as they can. The problem is that it’s really difficult to outsource sales since the founder is the most important salesperson that your company will have. No pitch will outperform a well-told founder’s story. The same goes for getting press coverage—there’s no magic PR unicorn waiting for you to ride it to the cover story on TIME Magazine.

If this is one of your strengths, great, keep honing it. Press coverage requires fresh angles and new stories to tell. If reading that last paragraph made you slink down in your chair, don’t worry, it’s something we all can learn. Go to a networking event—every time you make a new professional connection, it’s your turn to pitch. Keep doing it until you land on something that you’re comfortable with but it has to be captivating. You’ll know that you’re there when people keep asking follow-up questions.

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify

Businesses are built on doing the same thing over and over. There’s magic in creating something new, and there will hopefully be so many opportunities to do that throughout the life of your business. But, ultimately, your success will be based on whether you can provide a consistent product or experience to your customers.

Whenever we’re launching something new, I always ask myself whether this is something that simplifies or complicates our business. Our bar for something that complicates the business is pretty high—we don’t want to distract from our day-to-day business for something trivial. Instead, we put our main energy towards improving how we execute our core competency each and every day, and often that involves finding elegant solutions that simplify our business.

Don’t over-complicate it—find what you do well that your customers love, and keep adding to the magic.

4. Launch sooner rather than later

Your hypothetical plans for what your business will be are much less valuable than actually getting your business into the hands of some customers. 

You’ll gain a lot from real feedback and tweaking along the way, instead of betting big based on your “market research.” You know how Tony Hsieh started out? He took photos of shoes at a local store and posted them online. Whenever someone purchased a shoe, he bought it at that local store and shipped it to them. He could have leased a warehouse, filled it with inventory, and then launched his company, but that could have cost a pretty penny. Let’s say he sold 100 pairs of shoes at a $10 loss for each pair – that’s so much valuable information from a $1,000 investment.

5. Focus on your existing customers

Repeat customers are the lifeblood of most businesses (not looking at you, mortuaries). There’s a reason for that: it’s so much harder to win a new customer than it is to re-engage an existing customer.

Reach back out to your customers on a regular basis – use newsletters to let them know about new items or events, ask for feedback after they’ve received the product (bonus: that’ll give you feedback on what’s going well and a chance to win back angry customers before they leave a 1-star review), and send reorder reminders. Show your customers there’s value in staying engaged and you’ll build a loyal following and maybe even a community.

6. What’s your time worth?

Your time is finite and your business needs will feel infinite. How do you keep from being overwhelmed? The trick is in knowing that not every hour is created equal. 

Take a look at your day and divide your time into high, medium, and low-value tasks. Judge the value based on what it would cost for you to hire someone else to complete that task. Aim to spend 80% of your time on the tasks that no one else but you could accomplish—these are the highest value tasks. Do your best to automate the lower value tasks or get freelancers/interns/friends to help you with them.

The key is to be honest with yourself about which tasks only you can truly do—and guard your time fiercely to make sure that you’re spending enough on what’s most important (not necessarily the most urgent) to creating a healthy business.

7. Follow up like your business depends on it

Misaligned timing is responsible for the deaths of more deals than any other cause. Most people reach out once, receive either a “no thanks” or no response, then move along to the next thing. The person on the other end is often just busy, overwhelmed, distracted, or maybe you just caught them at a bad time. Don’t be obnoxious or take it personally, just be persistent. For the most important doors to open, you gotta keep knocking. 

Your secret tool is the Snooze button in Gmail. Send an email, then snooze it for 8 days. If 8 days have passed with no response, it’ll pop back into your inbox – followup again and snooze. If your contact says it’s not a good time, find out when would be and snooze the email until then.

I’ve emailed some folks this way for months (and months and month), keeping the conversation alive until finally the right time came along and we were able to make something happen. We’ve gotten so many partnerships and sales done just by persistently reaching out until the timing aligned.

So there you have it. Those are seven lessons that I’ve learned over the past 3 years. None of them are food-industry specific, but have come out of operating a single origin spice social enterprise. Best of luck on your journey, especially if it involves making our food systems even a little bit better.
Got more to add? Want to connect? Stop by burlapandbarrel.com and reach out.
ori zohar
Ori Zohar
Co-founder, Burlap & Barrel
Ori Zohar is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder of Burlap & Barrel, the world’s first comprehensive, single-origin spice company. Burlap & Barrel creates equitable global supply chains by working directly with farmers to cut out intermediaries and deliver exceptionally flavorful spices. The company has been featured in Epicurious, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and Fast Company, as well as in the kitchens of restaurants from Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill to sweetgreen and Chop’t to home cooks across the country.
ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Maybe you’re looking to scale a family business or grow an existing concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.
food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 4 Steps To Cultivating A Better Work Culture

We’ve heard it before, building and maintaining a healthy team is vital to the success of your business. But these days, it seems to be getting harder for businesses to retain their top talent. With compliance costs increasing alongside ever changing labor laws—like the increase of minimum wage or required anti-harassment training—it can be difficult for businesses to find ways to attract top talent without additional budget to do so. At our most recent Business Bites conversation, one of the questions that continued to resonate with our audience was apart from financial compensation, how can business attract top talent?

Our panelists Dorina Yuen, Associate Director of Human Resources at Union Square Hospitality Group, and Oron Franco, Director of Culinary Operations at Westville Restaurant Group both agreed, money matters, but it’s not the most important thing. The culture of your company is what dictates the longevity and retention of your employees. We asked our panelists to share their best practices for fostering a healthy, safe workplace that allows for employees to grow. Below, check out their advice for hiring, staff development, feedback and compliance!

Hire Well From The Start

When Yuen and Franco reflected on what they look for when hiring, they both agreed—it’s what can’t be taught that’s important. While chopping onions and plating to a restaurant’s specifications can all be learned, the intangibles that a potential employee demonstrates during an interview is what truly matters. Both Yuen and Franco agree that these are the things to look for when you’re interviewing someone:

  1. Do they demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit?
  2. Are they ambitious?
  3. Do they take initiative?
  4. Will they go out of their way to find solutions and do the right thing when no one is looking?

It’s all about finding the person that can and will versus someone who can, but won’t.

Invest In Your Employees

The age old saying is true—it’s less costly for your business if you invest in your employees, rather than trying to find new talent elsewhere. Use the resources around your business to create a staff development program that can educate and inspire your employees. For instance, the vendors that you work with can become the perfect resource to provide workshops and skills building opportunities for your staff. The same goes for your managers! You’ve hired them for a reason, most likely because they’re subject matter experts in an area key to your industry, so use their expertise to teach your employees and allow them to grow.

Create A Culture of Feedback

Employees crave recognition in the workplace and developing a culture that promotes feedback is imperative to the well-being of your employees. Feedback should be a two way street. The first step is to schedule quarterly, bi-annual, or annual one-on-one meetings with your employees to discuss their growth within the business and provide them with observations on where they excel, as well as areas for improvement. In addition, it’s important to encourage your employees to provide you with feedback about the business, operations, etc which is valuable to improving the culture of your organization. It shows your employees that you’re open to hearing their thoughts and that you value their opinions.

Take Compliance Seriously

Not only should you invest in being compliant because it’s the law, but taking compliance seriously shows your employees that you care. By investing in compliance measures, your employees will feel safe, which will cultivate a healthy environment to work in. You should also remember that as a chef and restaurateur, it’s impossible to know it all. Consult with experts to stay up to date on the ever-evolving world of compliance.

Building a better culture for your restaurant or food business will help to ensure the longevity of your business. By hiring well from the start, investing in your employees, developing a culture of feedback, and staying up to date on the latest in compliance, you’ll be on your way to building a business that your employees can feel proud to work at. Plus, when they leave for their next opportunity—and they should if they’re talented and deserving—they’ll be great representatives for your business to find the next talent. Remember, your previous employees are a reflection of your business and can be your greatest asset in attracting top talent!

ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Maybe you’re looking to scale a family business or grow an existing concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.
food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 3 Tips For Food Safety Success In Your Restaurant

Food safety may not be the first thought in your mind when opening your business, but it is essential to the success of it. Not only is it a requirement by law, but food safety can also be a great asset for any restaurant or food business operation. Whether in service, cooking, agriculture or manufacturing, the systems of food are all governed by science. Think of food safety practices as the management system for that science. Regardless of your role within the business, the entire team—from front of house to back of house and kitchen staff—has a responsibility to the success of a food safety management system.

trevor morones
Trevor Morones with ICC Chef Instructor Jeff Butler

To better understand the importance of food safety management, we spoke with Trevor Morones, ICC Professional Culinary Arts graduate and Founder + CEO of Control Point, a consulting company for food safety.  Below, check out his 3 tips for achieving food safety success from day one!

The Foundation of Food Safety Starts With The Team

For years, many restaurants and businesses have kept covert codes to warn about the presence of an inspector, frantically leaping into action upon their arrival. Wouldn’t it be better to develop a team with excellent standards from the start? To do this, it’s important to generate a culture of integrity and discipline, starting from the top. This will contribute greatly to the culture of the team.

By giving your team the proper tools, training and understanding of the science of food safety, you’ll leave your team feeling confident, supported and empowered to do what’s best. The best part—there are many tools available, such as books, forums, webinars or demonstrations, to provide food safety knowledge to your organization.

Preventative Maintenance Allows Your Team To Be Ahead of The Game

The overall goal of a preventative maintenance program for your business is to maintain your environment at an optimal level and minimize risks and equipment failure. Basically, by staying ahead of processes and procedures, you can mitigate problems before they happen. Most food safety issues happen by virtue of negligence that good planning and anticipating problems can easily cure.

Food safety does not have to be daunting—by engaging in preventative maintenance, your equipment, operation and team will all be protected. Remember, the cost of incompliance supersedes the cost of compliance, such as loss of customer trust, insurance and legal fees, PR damage, etc.

Food Safety Is Not One Size Fits All

Creating food safety practices is not the same for every restaurant or food business. Every program and implemented food safety practices should be specific to how an individual organization operates. Gone are the days of simply copying a method from another program or using someone else’s manual.

Food safety can indeed generate value for your restaurant or food business, whether it’s through customer loyalty or brand awareness. There are always opportunities to educate your team, prevent problems before they happen, and design a clear program that works for your business. And remember, when in doubt; always seek guidance from an expert like Control Point!

MEET THE EXPERT: TREVOR MORONES

Control Point founder, Trevor J. Morones, is a graduate of the International Culinary Center and a classically culinary trained expert butcher. As a craft butcher, he understands first-hand the desire to focus on the craft and create the best product possible, creating throngs of satisfied customers and fulfilling on brand promises of quality, efficiency, and unique value.

As a Lead HACCP Instructor, GFSI auditor in training, and Serv Safe Instructor, Trevor brings his brilliant engineering mind and spirit to craft training and solutions to minimize the amount of time spent with red tape and regulations—eliminating costly mistakes and fines while creating cultures of operational excellence.

In working with high volume manufacturing facilities and highly acclaimed restaurants such as B&B Hospitality Group, Good Uncle, and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Trevor has perfected the balance between productivity and compliance. Control Point was created to guide Chefs, Restaurant Groups, and Food Manufacturers through their food safety concerns and processes with a high level of excellence.

Control Point is all about results. Trevor’s training and implementation practices have proven to increase company growth, domestically and internationally, by 66%. Trevor holds positions on many committees critical to the support of food industry safety and excellence.

ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Maybe you’re looking to scale a family business or grow an existing concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.
food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 5 Entrepreneurship Myths Debunked

Many aspiring entrepreneurs may believe that there is a list of strengths, characteristics or traits out there that will make them successful in their endeavors. But the truth is, entrepreneurs by definition are mold-breakers. There are a lot of myths out there about entrepreneurship which can make taking the step to start your business very intimidating.

On the first day of our Food Business Fundamentals program, students begin by discussing the idea of entrepreneurship and many of the myths surrounding it are debunked. It’s the first step in becoming an entrepreneur—letting go of everything you believe about entrepreneurship. This opens the door for students to discuss their initial ideas, which in our most recent class have included concepts for new and existing restaurants, cafés, bakeries, food products, cocktail bars and more. Over the next six weeks, their ideas will evolve and change as they learn how to turn their concepts into reality. They’ll also gain the tools and confidence to leave these 5 myths of entrepreneurship behind!

MYTH #1: ENTREPRENEURS ARE BORN, NOT MADE

Virtually all entrepreneurial skills can be learned.

MYTH #2: ENTREPRENEURS MUST HAVE INNOVATIVE IDEAS

Most successful businesses are evolutions of existing ideas.

MYTH #3: ENTREPRENEURS HAVE TO BE ABLE TO DO EVERYTHING THEMSELVES

A good entrepreneur plays to his or her strengths but also solicits the right help.

MYTH #4: ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS REALLY RISKY

Deep and nimble planning help to reduce risk.

MYTH #5: ENTREPRENEURS HAVE TO BE LUCKY

You work to make your own luck through constant learning, constant effort and constant networking.

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Maybe you’re looking to scale a family business or grow an existing concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.
ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Secure Investors

One of the biggest challenges for restaurants and food business owners seeking growth is securing investors. So, how do you convince a total stranger to believe that your idea will sell? Well, it all starts with a great pitch and a solid business plan to back it up!

During our most recent Business Bites panel—Perfecting Your Pitch—we learned from industry experts Paul Daitz (Executive Chairman, BCMS), April Wachtel (Founder/CEO, Swig + Swallow) and Evan Madden-Peister (Consultant and Strategist, 13 Ventures) on how to secure capital to get your business up and running.

Their first piece of advice? Pitching your business is almost never like what you see on the popular TV show Shark Tank! Typically, it’s meeting in an office space or discussing your business over the phone. So, if your only reference on how to find investors is from the “sharks” on the show, we recommend you read what we learned from ICC’s very own investment-experts below!

The Environment of Pitching Has Changed

Like we said, pitching does not frequently happen in face-to-face scenarios anymore. With technology continuing to change the way that business is done, most pitch meetings occur over the phone via a call or video chat. While this does open the door for a wide range of investors from around the world, it can also hinder the quality of investors. Our investment experts recommend always trying to arrange an in-person meeting, when possible.

Don't Discount Early Investors

Early investors, like seed capitalists and angel investors, can be the success to your food business. These early investors are the ones that will help to get your business off the ground as they believe in your initial idea. They likely will not be large corporations or investment companies, but any investor, even if it’s a family member or small company, that you can secure at an early stage is important.

Know Your Audience

Investors are people too—they want to know whether the idea is useable for them, if the idea is unique to the market and others who may have invested in your company. Yes, the return on investment will be very important to the investor, but there are so many other factors that play into whether or not they will invest.

It’s also important to note that each investor will want different things. If you are bringing the same pitch deck to every investor, it probably will not work out for you in the long run. You should research your investors and know what they have invested in previously, but you do not need to know their whole life story. You must find a balance that will help you win their business in the end.

Clarity Is Key For Your Pitch Deck

There are certain points that all investors want to see covered in a stellar pitch deck including, who your company is, why this investment will matter to them in the long run and how it will ultimately benefit them. For a first meeting, it’s important that your deck hits on all of these points. You’ll want to leave 20 minutes of time for questions—that will most likely leave you with 40 minutes to present your pitch if the meeting is an hour long. A good pace to keep in mind is 3 minutes to present each slide, which will allow you to give enough substantive information without going into excessive detail.

One aspect of pitching that all of our experts agree on: clarity is key! At the end of the day, your pitch should begin and end with a presentation that looks put together and professional. If it’s difficult to follow, investors will be less likely to take away the main goal of your pitch.

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course starting September 14th, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.
ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 6 Steps To Building Your Brand

Building a brand is key to the success of a food business—even for small brands just starting out. A strong brand identity will help differentiate you from the competition, creating an experience that encourages customer engagement and effectively communicates your company message to consumers.

To learn more about how to create a brand identity & strategy, ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals program invited Alex Ostroff, Founder and Creative Director of Saint Urbain, for a Business Bites workshop open to students & alumni. With clients like Black Seed Bagels, Chip, and Seamore’s, the Saint Urbain team are behind some of NYC’s most unique and memorable food brands.

During the workshop, Ostroff gave us the inside scoop into how brand building begins for a successful restaurant concept: it’s all about creating a name, symbol and design that sets your business apart from the rest. But, there’s a lot that goes into taking that from concept to activation in order to build a lasting brand.

Below, see what Ostroff recommends as his 6 steps to building your food business brand!

Develop Your Brand Identity

Start by thinking about your brand from a high-level perspective. Recognize your competitors and what it is that you like or dislike about what they do. Understand who your customer is, and what their needs are. These will inform your goals for the brand.

Brainstorm Keywords

This is where you want to brainstorm keywords to describe your brand. Are you a modern, fun and hip gastro-pub? Are you a traditional, homey and wholesome café? These keywords will help to guide the overall vision and feel of your business.

Research and Narrow Down

Dive deeper into what your competitors are doing—what is it that you have to do to gain their market-share? Identify the opportunities that you have and what gap you’re filling in the marketplace. Then, identify any challenges that you will have to overcome. Narrow your research into visual possibilities and specific strategies that you can incorporate into your business.

Pick a Strategy

Now that you’ve done your research, figure out which of the strategies will work for your business. Your strategy will inform how you’ll go after your target market and will inform your long-term goals for your brand. Turn this into a solution for your brand. Create the identity of your food business based on your unique point of view and the need you’re filling for your target market.

Design is Key

Once you’ve selected your brand strategy, design or enlist the help of a graphic designer to create a comprehensive visual language that will communicate your brand look and feel. Do you want muted colors to play off of the space that your food business is in? Does your brand have loud colors to accentuate your flavorful food? Remember—customers eat with their eyes first, so not only do you want your food to look beautiful, you want your concept, and the elements that go along with it, to look beautiful too.

Time to Activate

Expand your design to craft your brand experience! Start with your logo and color palette, then create visuals to go with your brand. Will you be selling coffee and in need of to-go cups with your logo on them? How about the take-out bags for food, menu design and other key items that you want to create? Everything should go together and give a cohesive look to the business. You’ll want to play to your strengths to create a fun and memorable brand experience that will encourage your customers to return time and again!

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course starting September 14th, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.
ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 4 Tips For Finding A Restaurant Space

By Stephani Robson

Stephani Robson is a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and teaches in the Food Business Fundamentals program at the International Culinary Center.

Site selection is about much more than finding the right size of space in the right neighborhood for your food business. Have you ever considered that doors have to be a certain width to fit industrial kitchen equipment? What about the visibility that your restaurant will garner, or lose, depending on where the front door is?

There are so many different elements that go into choosing the perfect location. That’s why we sat down with Food Business Fundamentals instructor and Senior Lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Stephani Robson, to learn how to get it right when choosing a location for your restaurant or food business. With over 30 years of experience designing restaurants and teaching restaurant design, Robson’s advice is some of the best in the business! When looking for a site, Robson shares, “a broker can be really helpful, but remember that the broker is working for the landlord, not for you.” Brokers get paid only when the space is leased, so they have a real incentive to get you to commit. Her first tip: Always do your homework first, and be sure to get everything in writing so your lawyer can review it before you sign a lease.

Here are the 4 things she recommends checking with your broker as you look for spaces!

Rent

Ask about the rent and how it is structured— the rent you pay should not exceed 6% of your total sales.  If the rent you are quoted includes all property taxes, insurance, and common-area maintenance, that “all-in” rent should not exceed 10% of your sales.   Be sure to find out whether rents being quoted are “all-in” (including “CAM” charges, building insurance and your share of the property taxes) or “triple net.” If these aren’t included, you will have to pay another 10-20% a month to cover these additional occupancy costs.

Rents vary widely depending on city and neighborhood, so get a feel for local rents by talking to a broker well before you complete your business plan.  If your restaurant concept cannot easily generate the sales to cover the rent quoted using this 6% thumb-rule, do not sign the lease, no matter how appealing the space looks!

Street Level Matters

For restaurants, you really do need to be at street level. Spaces on second floors of buildings or above are also rarely successful for any kind of food business. However, a bar can sometimes work in a basement space that has direct access from the street— otherwise, save basements for storage and food prep! If a street level space you are looking at includes a basement, ask if there is any additional charge for the basement, or if you need to share that space with other building tenants. It’s not unusual to have to share the stairs to the basement with others which can make operations difficult if you need to use those stairs frequently.

Avoid Kitchen Upgrades

Find out if the space already has a grease trap or kitchen ventilation.  Adding these can be really expensive — as in thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.  But if these are already in place, you’ll probably need to give them a really good professional cleaning before use.  While you might be able to clean the grease trap yourself (although it’s a messy task!), you’ll need to spend a few hundred dollars or more having the hood and its associated duct-work professionally cleaned.  At the same time, have the ventilation and fire protection systems checked by an engineer.  That will cost you another couple of hundred, but will be money well spent.

Pay Attention to Doorways

Double check the width of all doorways before you buy any equipment.  Many restaurant owners have found that they can’t get that new freezer or oven into their building! Sometimes, you can make a tight squeeze work by taking off the equipment’s legs or doors, or by removing the building’s door and its jamb (that’s the trim around the doorway), but try to avoid this kind of hassle by measuring carefully before you shop for your kitchen equipment and restaurant space.

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course starting September 14th, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.
ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

Stephani RobsonStephani Robson has over thirty years of experience designing restaurants and teaching restaurant development and design.  She is a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and teaches in the Food Business Fundamentals program at the International Culinary Center.  Stephani holds a PhD in environmental psychology from Cornell and does research on how the design of restaurants affects guests and operators.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: Best Practices for Building Client Relations

Jacques Torres, Ron Ben-Israel and Jurgen DavidThe age old saying remains true—the customer really is always right. The success of your business relies on good customer experience. So, what does it take to make your clients happy? During our Pastry Plus conference this spring, Jacques Torres—ICC Dean of Pastry Arts, and Ron Ben-Israel—ICC Guest Master Pastry Chef, shared their experiences running some of the most successful businesses in pastry today. From custom designed wedding cakes to innovating new chocolate product lines, these chefs understand the importance of building client relations for continued business.

Their first tip for food business owners—start fostering long, healthy relationships from the moment your customers walk through the door. In this article, we share these experts best practices for building client relations to last a lifetime!

Listen To Your Customers

jacques torresInspiration for new products can come from even the littlest customers. This is the truth for one of Jacques Torres Chocolate’s most popular products, chocolate covered cheerios. One day, while at his shop, Jacques Torres noticed parents in the store giving their children Cheerios since it was all they would eat. That week, he went to the grocery store and bought a giant box of Cheerios to cover in chocolate (after all, he is “Mr. Chocolate!”).

Not thinking anything of it, he put a bowl of them out for customers to try. People would politely take one, then come back and take handfuls of the chocolate covered cereal to go. He knew he had a hit and had to act upon it.

Looking back on it now, he shares that, “In your career, you’re going to want to do things that you want to do, and there’s nothing wrong with that…But, after-all, your customers will be the one eating your products.”

Accept the Blame

ron ben israelIt’s easy to think that—especially in the custom cake business—your customers will only be one time purchasers that you won’t see again. But, it’s important to remember that everyone can become a repeat customer. That’s why when a recent Mother of the Bride complained that the wedding cake for her daughter was incorrect, Ron Ben-Israel found a way to fix the situation immediately.

After much investigation, he found out that the wedding cake sent to the venue was indeed the correct cake. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. However, instead of telling the mother that he was correct, he accepted responsibility for the situation and sent a personalized cake to the client. By going the extra mile to right the circumstances, the unhappy client became a repeat customer. Now, he is creating custom cakes for their whole family!

Respond To Feedback

panelistsIn this day and age, you can’t hide from a bad review or comment. Whether it’s a Yelp or Google review, a comment on Instagram or a direct message on Twitter, entrepreneurs are constantly receiving feedback—both good and bad about their businesses. Almost 20 years ago when Torres started his chocolate business, this wasn’t the case. He would receive feedback from his customers in person, without the potential of it escalating on social media.

Now that his business has grown to over 100 employees, it would be easy for Torres to ignore customer’s complaints and let someone on his team handle it. But, to this day, Torres still calls his customers personally to address concerns and find solutions that make them feel heard. Ultimately, what makes his business stand out is the way he works with his customers to provide a personalized experience—one that foster’s customer loyalty.

ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 4 Ways To Bring Sustainability To Your Kitchen

In celebration of Earth Day this month, and as a part of our Understanding Your ‘Foodprint’ series, our latest installment of Business Bites: Reaping the Benefits of Going Green discussed the economic rewards of making ethical & sustainable choices for your restaurant or food business.

In a passionate discussion led by moderator Alek Marfisi (Owner of Upwind Strategies & ICC Food Business Fundamentals instructor), panelists Christina Mitchell Grace (CEO of Foodprint Group), John Oppermann (Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative), Naama Tamir (Co-Founder of Lighthouse Lighthouse Outpost), and Michael Chernow (Co-Founder of The Meatball Shop & Founder of Seamore’s) shared their experiences running, or working with, restaurants & food businesses promoting sustainable, zero waste practices. Read our full recap of the conversation here.

You won’t be able to change everything all at once. Instead use these tips and resources to help you get started by doing one or two things differently today. Whether you’re a food business owner, chef or home cook, making small changes to your foodprint can have large impacts on the environment. Check them out below!

For The Food Business Owner

Sustainable practices aren’t limited to just the kitchen—incorporating them into every facet of your business can not only reduce waste and help to save money, but also educates your customers on how their actions impact the environment as well. Share your stories with your audience and they’ll reward you by becoming loyal customers.

This infographic from the NYC Department of Sanitation will help introduce you to the world of efficiency, creating a more usable space for your business, which will lead to less waste. Download their full Zero Waste Design Guidelines here or evaluate how much waste you generate by using their calculator here.

This organization provides organic collection solutions for small food businesses including in-house education to make composting easy, reduce waste & recycling costs, and guide you in edible food rescue opportunities.

Carbon Credit Capital helps to calculate your company’s emissions and find solutions for going carbon neutral.

Whether you’re looking for local compost drop offs or shopping for recycled kitchen appliances, Big Reuse has you covered.

For the Chef

As a chef, being focused on sustainability isn’t just trendy, it’s imperative. Chefs have an opportunity to advocate for better practices in our food systems and educate their customers through the food that they cook. In addition to the positive marketing & storytelling for your brand, incorporating sustainable practices can help to cut costs as well.

It’s no secret that chef’s enjoy cooking with what’s in season, and this seasonal food guide from FoodPrint.org allows you to search by your location and time of year to see what’s available near you! By choosing ingredients that are local, your food dollar goes directly to farmers and you eliminate environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles.

According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association, 90% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully or over-exploited. Help to recover the world’s oceans by diversifying the fish that you use and educate your customers on making the right choice.

Meat has long been at the center of the plate, but by making vegetables more appealing and using descriptive words on your menus, you can draw attention away from resource-consuming meat.

ICC special guest panelist Naama Tamir is the owner of Lighthouse Brooklyn and Lighthouse Outpost. Her restaurants go beyond farm-to-table dining, embracing sustainability in everything they do. At Lighthouse, everything has multiple uses. They recycle, compost, and collaborate with other green-oriented businesses to grow, improve and educate their staff, guests and community. From recycling empty wine bottles into candles for the restaurant and turning cooking oil into bio diesel, to returning oyster shells to the Billion Oyster Project, everything is re-purposed into a new life. Places like Industrial/Organic are taking it to the next level, deriving organic chemicals and ingredients from food waste—simultaneously diverting food waste from landfills and creating recycled home & personal care products, dietary supplements and more.

For the Home Cook

If you live in NYC, you know that the NYC Department of Sanitation requires all residents to recycle, so you’re already on the right path to decreasing your carbon footprint. Here are a few small steps you can take to bring sustainability into your kitchen, and home!

This short, fun quiz explores what your foodprint is, introducing the subject of sustainability and educates you on your carbon footprint based off of your food habits. They’ll provide you with tips at the end that you can apply to improve your foodprint.

While most chefs are trained to practice whole-ingredient cooking, it can be more difficult to do so at home without the proper education. Reducing food waste as you cook at home not only saves you money, it provides a better tasting product while also making small positive changes on the environment.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, The Earth Day Initiative has launched their Do Just 1 Thing campaign to encourage people to switch to clean energy whether for their residential or business dwelling.

60,000 plastic bags are used every 5 seconds in the US, so it’s time to start doing your part. Carry a reusable tote that you can put groceries and any other purchased items into instead of a single use plastic bag. Start now because by March 2020, NYC will have officially banned single use plastic bags.

ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: Managing Your Staff

Maintaining a healthy team is vital to the success of your business. Whether you run a kitchen, own a bakery or are looking to open a restaurant, it’s important to learn the key steps to managing and motivating your staff to success. Jackie McMann-Oliveri, Director of Talent and Culture for Bold Food, joined us at Pastry Plus this March to answer everyone’s burning question, how do I retain employees and build a successful team? A certified Professional in Human Resources, Jackie is responsible for supporting all of Bobby Flay’s restaurants, and brings her HR knowledge and experience to ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals program.

jackie mcmann oliveriIn her 75-minute breakout class on managing your staff, Jackie shared the importance of selection and hiring, training and retraining, and lastly, engagement and retention to a sold out class of pastry professionals—pastry chefs, bakery owners, and aspiring pastry business owners. Jackie began by discussing what makes a great leader. Great leadership encourages quality work and staff retention, the hallmarks of a successful establishment. Read below to see Jackie’s three qualities of great leadership and learn how you can adapt them for your team!

Select and hire amazing people.

Hire for character and a passion for the job, not necessarily skills, which can be taught. More time hiring means less time firing.

Give them the tools and support they need to do their job.

An employee handbook is a necessity for effectively managing your staff. This handbook clearly states the rules and expectations of your business. While many companies have a handbook, Jackie recommends going over one topic a week at a short meeting, which keeps the staff engaged and reminds them of the rules in the workplace that must be respected.

People follow leaders, not because they have to, but because they want to. Leaders listen more than they speak, are trustworthy, and accessible to their staff. Recognizing employees through rewards and other means goes a long way in retaining staff, as does actively promoting a work-life balance.

Practice consistent accountability.

Practicing consistent accountability is necessary so that the rules are enforced and respected. Conversations with unhappy employees are uncomfortable, but having the conversation is necessary and usually results in a positive outcome. Get to know your staff and trust your gut. While navigating this in small business models can seem more challenging than a large company, these fundamentals on leadership and staff management are applicable to all business models.

ABOUT BUSINESS BITES

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.