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.