Friday, December 12, 2008

Flea Market Research

I need to do some specific site research. There are 2 locations that on paper i.e. are large 250+ booths and near where I live, that I need to physically go to and see what the action is like. While I am there I have some questions.

What am I looking for?

I want to know the lay of the land how other food vendors are set up.

How much does each space cost?
Do they have sinks?
Do they have electricity?
How do they cook their food?
How do they refridgerate their food?
How do they serve their food?
How do they serve their drinks?
How much are they charging for food and drinks?
What kind of "specials" or "meal deals" do they have?
What are their hours of operation?
What type of POS are they using?
Does it require electricity?
What kind of payments do they accept (cash and/or credit)?
If credit cards, do they charge a fee?
Is there Internet access (for PayPal)?
What type of signage do they have, both permits and advertising?
Do they give out free samples?
Who manages their place (owner or employee)?
Where is all of the foot traffic?
Is there a "food court"?
How much space do I need?
Is this indoor, outdoor or both?
Do they advertise a web site?
What else would you want to know?

Monday, December 1, 2008

How do I take an order from start to finish?

How do I take an order from start to finish? Seems like a simple enough question right?

What do I use for POS (Point of Sale)? An old school register or do I get a full blown POS system?

Benefits of the old school - simplicity and cost. It is easy to use and implement and I can find a register on Craig's List for about $50. No credit card transactions with the old school either. I wonder how much that will affect sales in the beginning days at the Flea Market. Not much is my guess. Honestly, I already know this is the way I am going for the beginning. I just wanted to think things through (TTT - anyone remember the halls of MBNA?).

Benefits of the new school w/a full blown POS application (I am thinking web based too) - most of it has to do with access to detailed information on sales and inventory i.e. business intelligence. This solution is also scalable, meaning (if)when I open multiple locations, this POS will grow with the business. It also integrates periphials like a credit card reader, the cash drawer and the reciept printer. All of these things are good, but cost A LOT more and also make more sense in a larger store, so I will keep this in mind.

So, for the near future, here's how it is going to work - Customer orders, I ring it up, they give me cash and I give them a receipt, food and change if needed. Oh, speaking of change. I mostly hate change, change as in coins. My prices will always end in a denomination of $0.25 and will always include tax. When I give change, the only change will be paper bills and quarters. I won't accept pennies, nickels or dimes... just kidding about that last part =).

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's in a name?

What's in a name? Well for a retail establishment , I'm going to call it very important. During the taste testing someone asked, "What are you going to name this place?" I replied "Lake's Kitchen."

For me, I know who Lake is. She's my Mom and everything that that embodies. So if someone were to say to me, that place is like Lake's Kitchen, I can picture what the place would look like, I know the smells, and I already have expectations of what the food will taste like. My point being, other than my family and some friends, no one else will know what Lake's Kitchen is and that is exactly the point that my friends made to me.

When they heard the name, Lake's Kitchen, they thought of a diner, like Mama's Cafe here in Houston. We tossed some names around like Lake's My Thai, which I liked for awhile. I also considered Lake's Rice Bowl, as there is a place in Bakersfield called something similar and it works for them. In the end, Lake's My Thai sounded too gimicky for me and Lake's Rice Bowl was too narrow of a name for me. Obviously, "Lake" will be part of the name.

I agreed with my friends in that I needed to be more specific with the name of the place and at the same time I didn't want to limit my self too much. As you can see, I am 99% sure I will be going with, "Lake's Kitchen: A Thai Eatery". The 1% unsure, is because one has to stay flexible in business; change is the only constant. That sounds all knowledgable, wise and sage-like. Heh, I didn't make that up so, I must have read that somewhere.

Here are some of the other names I was thinking of:
  • Lake's: A Thai Kitchen -this one is still in the running
  • Lake's Kitchen: A Thai Cafe - I decided I didn't care for the word "Cafe". Cafe and Thai doesn't seem to go together.
  • Lake's: A Thai Cafe
  • Lake's My Thai - too gimicky
I ended up really liking the word "Eatery". For the foodie in me, it conjures up a place that is authentic, has home cooking and is family owned. I imagine recipes that have been handed down through generations, so much so, that there are no recipes. The cooks in the family just know how to make them. This is exactly how it is when my Mom cooks. No recipes or books, just my Mom, a sharp knife, a heating element and food.

In addition to that, Eatery, doesn't limit me on what should go on a menu. I do plan to introduce a few other dishes that my Mom has cooked. Maybe on a limited basis, maybe as a permanent menu item. Hopefully, when someone reads, Lake's Kitchen: A Thai Eatery, it will correctly set their expectations.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Market Research

My Mom was in town over the last 10 days. While she was here, I had her teach me how to make the items that I will eventually be selling. In addition to that, I had a bunch of friends over to do a taste test. I didn't tell anyone that this was a taste test or that I planned to start a business selling these dishes.

We cooked standard white rice. The way my Mom has always cooked it and of course the way I like it. The rise is moist unlike most of the dry rice you get at a Chinese food place. I'm not saying the dryer rice is bad, it is just different.

Next we cooked spicy chicken, then spicy ham and then spicy Pak Boong (Chinese Spinach). We didn't cook the spring rolls until my friends arrived, we wanted them to be crispy.

As far as I could tell, everyone really liked the food. Everyone that was present can handle spicy so none of them thought the food was too spicy. My plan was to offer both a mild and a spicy version anyway. I wasn't sure how well the Pak Boong would do, but it rounded of the dish well. The (not so) surprising hit was were the spring rolls.

I had an open discussion with my Mom and a couple of the friends that lingered. I asked their thoughts and what they thought of the whole idea and also for advice. The discussion mostly centered about what the "meal" i.e. the meal deal, would be and how much it should cost.

My initial plan was to have the meal be rice topped with meat and a drink for $7 and that's it. After the discussion and with the way I served the meal to my friends I think I will go with this:

Rice topped with either (chicken or ham) and pak boong will be the rice bowl. This will be $6.50 including tax. Customers can make it a "meal deal" by getting a drink (canned soda or bottle of water) and a spring roll and it will be $8.00 including tax. I think this is a fair price and we talked about the food costs and the numbers seem to "line up" i.e. covers costs and nets a profit.

There was also talk of a vegetarian version, but I'll hold off on that because I want to keep this thing as simple as possible. I know it is a niche market and when it happens, the vegetarians will be some of my most loyal customers.

Like I've said in my other posts too, this will be a boot strap operation, starting very small at a flea market "weekend only" venture. I have plenty more work to do, like deciding on which equipment I want to buy vs. what I need, I STILL need to check out the venues, but I've found some good information on 3 different places, plus I need to cook these dishes myself and find out how much I can actually have prepared before they are cooked. I think all of the prep work will be key when I first start selling these rice bowls.

I've also decided that I will take the jump and actually DO instead of just plan and talk about it in March. The last weekend in March will be my dead line to BE at venue selling my rice bowls.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What would it take?

If I were to open this place tomorrow, on a shoe string budget, as a concession type stand at an open air (flea) market, what would it take?

So things I know I would need: Chicken, ham, veggies, spices, rice, rice cooker, bowls, plastic-ware, drinks, grill, cooler, ice, propane, utensils, napkins, signage, oil, trash can, trash bags, register, cash, change, pen and paper, a location.

Hmmm... What am I missing? What don't I know?

I know for the rice cooker(s) I will need electricity. I am not sure that will be available. I also have no idea how much of anything I would need. Will I have 20 customers or 200? All things being equal, I would rather run out of stuff than have too much.

I also want to know how much getting a spot would cost, I need to know where that spot is located, is it even in a good place? What are the other places around this spot? How's the foot traffic? Is it next to one of those incense burning places that always give me a headache?

What if it rains or some other type of weather becomes a factor? Do I need some kind of insurance mandated by the open air market?

I am for sure going to take a look at some open air markets this weekend. I will be trying to answer these questions and look for questions that I have not asked.

Feel free to add to my list, as they would be much appreciated. Thanks,


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Now? Prepare

So I have the idea in my head and in all of the books/magazines/articles I have read, it is VERY important to put it on paper; write it down, hash out your thoughts, and solidify, on paper, what your goals and visions are.

So I met the requirement halfway. I didn't put it on paper, but I did write it out on Google Docs. The reason I chose Google Docs is because the first thing I wanted to do with this document is share it and get feedback from friends of mine.

This is a basic outline of what I/We wrote out:
  • An overview: things like what items will be on the menu, how many tables (if any) I will have, the ideal location, pricing, what the food will be served in - very specific, yet succinct
  • BOH (Back Of House) items - anything I could think of like counter tops, dry storage, refrigeration, grills and then I priced them all on Craig's List (don't buy new if you don't have to)
  • FOH (Front Of House) items - cash register, cold drink fridge, tables, chairs, and again I priced all of these on Craig's List
  • Soft items like "to go" containers/bags, spices, oil
  • Future Enhancements/Thoughts - additional menu items or specials, online ordering
  • Preparation - plate spec book, recipe book, price book
This document will always be a work in progress and I will continue to add/edit/delete things from it as time goes on even after I open Lake's Kitchen.

"Why would I need this after I opened the place?", you ask. So I can open ANOTHER Lake's Kitchen and I'll have a very good blue print from which to work from. NICE!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Idea

Would Be Owner's Log, Star Date Aug 28 2008

I should have started this blog sooner with all the daily updates. For now, I will be posting a back log of events.

I want to start a business that will grow nationwide and that I can franchise. I think I will go with a food business.

Basically starting a food business seems like an easy thing to do. Make food and people will buy it. I mean I know. I buy food ALL the time. Some of it just plain sucks, some of it is simply amazing and along the lines of going to Heaven.

I have 2 ideas for why a food place will work. Some places survive because of location and convenience. Some places make it because their food is truly good. I hope to achieve both.

I may sound a bit aloof and "shooting-from-the-hip'ish" but I've been contemplating this for years. I've read books. I've done research.

This is what I decided on.

I want food that is almost fast food, convenient, and unique. I want my menu to be SMALL and simple ala a classic burger joint. I want to be able to get this started with as little money and equipment as possible. I want a SECRET recipe!

Decisions have been made, the menu items chosen, and the name of the place is...

Lake's Kitchen

Lake is my Mom's nickname and since we'll be using her SECRET recipe, I thought I'd name the place after her. The place's logo will have an iris in it. I won't explain the iris yet.