Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Learning Curve

So we've been learning a LOT as we build this business.

How to buy a van off Craigslist. How to deal with the fact that the insurance costs more than what we paid for the van. What to doodle during hours on the phone spent finagling an alternative insurance plan, which, despite our best efforts, costs just as outrageously much. How to extract more credit from a bank so tightly wound that I've gotten bigger tips as a waitress than the credit they've extended.

Navigating the vagaries of various City departments: Revenue, Special Events, Health and Milk Control, Licensing and Permits, Ag & Markets, and Consumer Affairs, to name a few. Mapping out the best routes (whether in the van, on a bike or on the subway) between our commercial kitchen, the Greenmarket, Jetro Cash-n-Carry, our various apartments, and our dry ice supplier. Finding out--quickly--where to go when they're out of dry ice and we've got a freezer full of melting pops.

Tooling around the city breathless, passing the checkbook from hand to hand. Designing ingredient labels that the DOH will approve. Stamping pop sticks by hand, on both sides, 1000 to a session. Realizing that food-safe ink wasn't used. Realizing that they'll work just fine as business cards.

And then there's our technique. What are the most aerodynamic, wasteless ways to hull strawberries or wash rhubarb or measure out simple syrup? What's the ideal Brix level in a given pop mixture and how can we keep it there when our ingredients change week to week? How long do the pops take to freeze, and how do the different ingredients react to a blast chiller? What are the cleanest, most sensible ways to pour pops, unmold and wrap them? What--do you remember, guys?--is the legally correct proportion of sanitizer we're required to apply to clean molds?

Where can we source the best quality fruit for a good price and, for that matter, what fruits will survive this mid-June onslaught of water and cold?

What is the best proportion of gin to tonic after a long day's work? Might it be 100% gin, or does that just seem like the right solution when the bottle of tonic is empty and we're too tired to walk downstairs to the bodega?

Will it cost more to hire people to work the stand or work fewer stands and manage them ourselves? And how can we make the bloody sky stop raining?? How do we keep up with the endless ribbons of receipts for anti-bacterial wipes, pH test strips, food prep bucket lids, chalkboard paint, seven-ounce cups, gorgeous black mint, boxes of pop sticks, organic lemons, a couple hundred pounds of sugar, Department of Health permits, Deparment of Ag & Market permits, and dry ice, to name about a quarter of the things we spent money on this week?

How can we stay sane in the face of all these questions?

Now that is a good question.

Well, we've reduced our wastage. We found good prices on molds, packaging, a juice squeezer and a used freezer. Maxwell Farms, from whom we bought fruit this week, brought to the Greenmarket the best strawberries we've seen yet. We downloaded QuickBooks. All of our permits are finally in line. We designed labels we like. The pops, especially strawberry & cream, taste DYNAMITE. We figured out how to keep the pop sticks from slipping down while they freeze. This week, we had our second wholesale customer and two pieces of fan mail. We have a 29-day concession in Battery Park, four months in the making, that starts tomorrow.

And rain is predicted for the next ten days.

Still, I feel great. Learning feels great: diplomacy, negotiation, patience, creativity. Every little problem we surmount makes us Caesar-victorious.

And we still honestly have a great time together. That's the best part of it all.

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