All posts by BiscottiDon

M33ting

(30January2015)

Late this morning I had a meeting with … well, before I get to that, let me say this – my meeting was both expected and unexpected, and it was GREAT!

So what does that mean?

I had a meeting scheduled with the Island County Commissioner and the head of the Economic Development Counsel (for a lack of better terms the Whidbey Island small business association) – what I didn’t know was that I was also getting two additional EDC members – it was a committee!

While I planned to meet in the front of the bakery where there’s a nice room, they came right in to the bakery and we started talking. They were interested in what I do & how I do it, how I got to where I’m at with my baking company, what I want to do with it, and most importantly what I need for my company to grow and be successful. Meeting in the bakery was great, I was finishing up a batch of Lemon Cake and Chocolate Citrus Biscotti for my guests – talking here instead of the fancy front room felt like they joined me in my trench. More than that was not only what they had to say but what they want to do. Not only do they serve as an information source for a small business person like me, but they want to get involved. Frankly, I can use and will take the help and be grateful for it.

They want me to send them some of the information I have built for my company up to this point. They want to assess aspects of my production for efficiency. They want to meet with business people carrying my product to get their perspective of carrying my product. They want to see if there are meetings they can help facilitate with other businesses and better align my business with beneficial opportunities.

I have a lot of ideas and a lot that I’m working on for my company, and I’m glad to be doing it. I don’t admit to know or see everything about what I’m doing with my company, and frankly there are things that are working and things that need to be working better. These kind folks are willing to apply their experience to my efforts, and if it will help the question-marks that exist with WIBC and help bring my product to people, I’ll do everything I can to receive and apply all that they have to offer.

So I knew that I was going to have a meet with two great people, and I was given the gift of four great people who genuinely want to help my company to grow in the way it needs. I’m grateful.

Thanks, Don

PS — That “M33ting” title was not me trying to be hip, that was a typeo … I meant to hit “ee” but working fast hit a couple of 3s, and I liked the look of it so I left it.

WIBC – In-Store Demos

(January 10th & 24th 2015)

I got to do my first in-store demos of my product January 10th & 24th 2015 at Goose Grocery in Bayview on Whidbey Island.

The 10th preceded a professional football game. I’m not a game person but apparently this was an important one locally as the Seahawks were getting into the finals going toward the Super Bowl. I don’t know what the Super Bowl is, but by the name alone I suspect it is a very large bowl and people are very pleased about it. I on the other hand wonder if I can mix a lot of biscotti dough in it &/or fill it with biscotti and serve it to many people. I will set the official WIBC R&D Department on finding out the dimensions of this bowl right away – more will be revealed.

I sampled the January flavour array from WIBC – Double Chocolate, Almond, and Espresso. While I planned to be there for four hours I think I was there for five. It was great! Samples went out every minute. People talked with me about my company. A few even shared ideas they had – I love that! The Whidbey Island County Commissioner met me – COOL – saying that she is pleased to see new businesses on the island and enjoyed seeing mine. A few days later she started a very nice email dialogue and now I’m scheduled to meet with her on the 30th to talk about ways to further my company. All in all it was thrilling to get to this point – nearly two years in the making – getting to tell people about my product and seeing many people enjoy it for the first time. By the end of my time I was nearly out of samples and I had (basically) sold-out Goose’s stock.

January 24th I was back … this time having the nerve to do something in the way of marketing I’ve had in mind since early in the inception … I wore my kilt. I figure my biscotto is not like normal biscotti, so why should my advertising be … plain? Besides, it was the eve of Robert Burns Day (a Scottish poet from the 1700s who is still celebrated today … or, well, tomorrow as it was). My product seemed to get plenty of attention – which I saw as good since I really wanted to not get too much personal attention, kilt attention, or confuse the public. Again, samples flew off the table and much enjoyment was had (yea). By the end of my time I was nearly out of samples and I had (basically) sold-out Goose’s stock.

Here’s a few things with these in-store demos …

  • For all the performing I’ve done, wearing my kilt or as with the first week wearing jeans and a fitted dress shirt, I found myself extremely nervous. I believe in my product, and my baking has already made many people very happy; now that I am doing it professionally I have become very critical and I want it to show well. I want people to give it a chance.
  • When talking with people, while I had some speaking points, I wanted to not be scripted. I wanted to connect with people, and that’s what everyone gave back to me. We talked, we laughed, I told them about my biscotti, some told me some of their flavour ideas and baking tips, and I was flattered to hear many compliments on my biscotti.
  • In my now two demo experiences I’ve found that there is an energy level that comes up as you meet many people and talk constantly about your product. A few hours into each demo I found myself about as dingy as I could possibly be. The experience cooks your brains. Although I was pleased with what went on each day, afterward I was tired. I felt like I had spent all day playing my (bag)pipes at a festival with my Celtic-rock band – high energy, hard work, put all of your passion out. As much as it lifts you up, it can also wear you out.
  • In addition to samples I gave out small bags of my cookie crumbs. I’d look for kids, give these to them, and tell them to take them home and put the crumbs on their ice cream. The kids were pleased with this and so were their parents. No kid was more pleased than one little girl who I saw on the 24th. After I gave her a bag of crumbs she said thank you. Her and her mom came by my table about 3 more times as they did their shopping, and each time she said “THANK YOU FOR MY CRUMBS!” and the whole store knew it. As she passed by my table she did a skipping little dance holding up the bag of crumbs. I hope to never forget her – she was AWESOME!

Until the next one,
Don

Two Months

(End of December 2014 and January 2015)

So I’m the baker who blogs, right? But you’re asking yourself “Where then are the blogs, why haven’t you posted lately?” While I may be a semi-blogging baker, I’m also a quite busy baker.

December 2014 proved to be all about finding my feet and getting my process to be as efficient as possible. The act of producing a high quantity of biscotti took a number of changes in my baking space. First I thought this would be limited to the layout and rearrangement of my space until I found the greatest ergonomics. Other elements followed – obviously I found how I needed to coordinate mixing & baking my dough with dish-washing and packaging, but what was unexpected was finding aspects of how I need to move in my workspace (really this too is an ergonomics thing but I’m not sure how better to describe it).

By the end of December, having sought the consultation of my SBA associate and a friend who has been further coaching me in sales, I identified that I needed to reduce my cost of labor. Please don’t mistake this as meaning I found I needed to pay my employees less because I am all of my employees – my costs where in my time and energy (and by the way, for the sake of my company, I’m not paying myself yet). In producing for businesses to sell my product, I had been offering that they could order any of my flavours, which had me drawing from a wide assortment of ingredients to make a variety of biscotto flavours having to wash my equipment at every turn.

Starting in January I made a shift – every location would regularly receive two flavours, Double Chocolate and Almond, and the flavour-of-the-month, with January being Espresso (a little caffeine to start the new year you see). I’m happy about this approach, not just for the efficiency of my baking production, but because I like what this does with presenting the public with my flavours – two tried and true flavours and one highlight.
TO BE CLEAR – Anyone wanting to place a retail order direct from WIBC may purchase from the complete flavour list of biscotti and shortbread.

So what’s the score-board look like now at the end of two months?

When I’m in the bakery my production is flowing. My company has established business with a few new groceries and restaurants and private orders are beginning to come in. Frankly, WIBC is operating below viability but I’m seeing good growth in a short amount of time. The lack of business has been an asset, giving me not only time to reach additional businesses but also to be able to refine my process with available time.

Getting placed in restaurants and stores has been going okay, however I’ve needed to get more locations faster. Frankly, I’m concerned about running out of my start-up funding before the company takes … which may well be a legit concern or may just be common new-small-business jitters. I’ve been told that there is good money to be made with selling at area festivals / events / conventions and I’ve begun looking into attending a list that has kindly been shared with me by a fellow small business person.

Whatever the case, I keep thinking back to a paper in college – moreover the subject. I wrote on the 100th Battalion & 442nd Regimental Combat Team – the all-Japanese American soldiers of WWII. Without going into a dissertation on the subject here, I will say it is a fascinating, powerful, and inspiring piece of history and I encourage everyone to do some research. Those men had a motto – “Go For Broke”. All out – that’s how they worked and that’s how they played – that’s how they gambled and that’s how they fought. Every time I wonder if the up-hill to this company is too up-hill, I remember their astounding trials & tribulations and I think “Go For Broke”.

I also remember something I learned from Journey …

Don’t Stop Believin’,
Don

Week 2

(Dec8 – Dec12)

This past week was a blur of bad cocoa, good cocoa, new boughts(sp?) of strong weather, and positive sales reports from the businesses carrying my products. I remember the parts better than the order, which might also have to do with the fact that I’ve only had coffee about 4 times in the past 3 weeks. So as I was saying, week #2 went something like this…

My chocolate recipes were still coming out not bad but not right. When I cut the loaves the ends of the biscotto would break. This was particularly a problem because every store I’m serving is ordering at least one type of chocolate recipe – and all of them want Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti. In addition to the breaking I noted that the texture was cake-like by comparison to what I’ve been producing since I started making biscotti. I thought perhaps I had an issue with adjusting my oven temperature now that I’m working with high grade commercial ovens – but the problem was only occurring with my chocolate recipes. My dad was suggesting that maybe it was an issue with my cocoa – I’d tried just about everything else. I picked John’s brains and he suggested it probably had to do with the fat levels of the cocoa. After doing a bit of research I found out that there was a difference between what I had bought for the company and what I’ve been using for the years prior. After a few test batches, my ability to make Double Chocolate, Chocolate Peppermint, and Chocolate Orange Biscotti was back! Prior to this though there were more batches donated to the Langely Tue/Thur soup kitchen.

This week has been one of weather. The snow we woke up to November 30th stuck around until about December 5th – much of it in the form of compact snow and ice along with downed trees. Early this week we had heavy rains. I worked late Tuesday night to get my production done – by late I mean I left at 1210 AM Wednesday morning – I had to walk home, which takes about an hour … suffice to say I got more than a little wet despite my gear. Late in the week the area had heavy winds and the power got knocked out – fortunately all of my baking was done, but I was out of power for about 48 hours … oh, and did I mention the house I live in is on a well and the pump is electric? No power also means no water. That made for a speed bump in some of the other work I intended to do for the company. I found there comes a point when you’re out of power long enough that as you’re boiling water on your BBQ you realize you’re camping in your own home, just that your house is a really fancy tent and your bed is still more comfortable than an air mattress.

Tuesday I went to the soup kitchen with about three batches of not-quite-right biscotti (and about as many more on Thursday). I got to meet Dan, who heads up the soup-kitchen crew. Dan is a character and clearly a good guy. Everyone contributing there was VERY nice, VERY friendly – I felt good going there and even better having gotten to donate.

Somewhere during the second half of the week I started hearing good things about my biscotti. (Yes, back to the bullets – remember that ‘lack of time but get it written’ thing from Week 1? Same deal.)

  • Jessica, the manager of Three Sisters Grocery, called me (Friday?) asking when the next supply would arrive – they were out of stock and customers were coming in asking for more!
  • Useless Bay Coffee requested an adjustment with their stock for better sales. When I went in to the café it appeared about half of their stock had sold – that’s not bad. After I left the café a little bird told me that the manager of the Langley post office has lately been enjoying some lemon biscotti – the post office in Langley is next door to Useless Bay Café … hmm, I wonder who’s lemon biscotto that was?
  • Dad drove my deliveries north Friday afternoon – the first stop being at Greenbank Store & Grille. Last and this week they have taken the biggest order, approximately a third larger than my other locations. That evening dad reported that when he arrived they only had six single-serving packages remaining.
  • I spoke with Drag N Fly Espresso in Oak Harbor and they are about ready for a re-stock. They have no more supply of Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti. I can’t blame their customers – it’s good stuff! (Although I rather like the Ginger Citrus and the Almond, too.)

That was the first supply to go out and sold over the course of … about a week and a half … as the saying goes “That ain’t shabby.” I take it as rather good news.

Okay, I’ve now finished my first 2 blog posts – it’s 234AM on December 15th and I’m going to bed. I hope these have amused you because they’ll have to hold you for a while. Tomorrow … er, today I have a good bit of calling and other administrative work to do – including talking with a few land-side businesses about carrying my product … I wonder who will be the first one?

Goodnight Alfalfa, Don

PS – If you’re on my Xmas gift list you can pretty much expect biscotti. Any money I have is too tied up in the company to buy you another bad tie or a chia-pet … although I have to say it’s pretty cool that they’re now making zombie chia-pets. I wonder if they’ll start making chia-ties.

PPS – Saturday’s date was 12.13.14.

Week 1

(1Dec – 5Dec2014)

My first week of business was nothing short of a crazy interesting learning experience I found thoroughly satisfying. Yeah, you read that right. It went something like this…

Oh, and as you read, keep in mind that I have developed an ability to laugh at myself when things go wrong just as I can find great joy even in little things when they go right.  So while you may prefer to read that everything went well, no hitches, no bumps, everything is polished & smooth, that’s just not the truth of the matter … things started out bumpy and got better, and I can laugh at the tough stuff and celebrate the recovery phase.

Monday December 1st — Failed Production

  • At the beginning of my first day I tried a triple batch of Almond Biscotti in one of the big mixers at the bakery – and it completely flopped. The dough wasn’t mixing and some gray ooze appeared on the bowl – I had to throw everything out.
  • The company (cell) phone wasn’t working. The battery wouldn’t charge, there was a lack of signal in the bakery, and I wasn’t able to tether my computer to the data signal that also wasn’t there – all things contrary to the purpose. I took a break from the 3-batch Almond Biscotti debacle to head out and address my phone issue – ultimately to no avail.
  • Not knowing what happened to the Almond batches, I needed to start producing in a way I was confident about. I switched to my personal 5-quart mixer and produced for 3 businesses. Many of these batches didn’t turn out right – the cookies broke when I cut them. I thought I hadn’t properly adjusted for the temperature of the commercial ovens. Ultimately the product was edible but it was not right. As you can imagine I was quite frustrated. (The problem was with the chocolate recipes – which were popular among the orders I was filling. I found out the following week that the issue was with the type of cocoa powder I was using – which I’ll write about in the week-2 blog.)
  • Dad helped me from the time I got back from the cell-phone-fix outing. We left bakery at 11PM having only produced a lot of not-right biscotti … not to mention a lot of personal disappointment. I went home thinking about my first day, that it was just one day – and of course that I had come too far for this to discourage me. It made me think about the (8?) years of seeking employment prior to starting this company … I had picked up a saying that was representative of what I did … “When times are trying don’t stop trying.” I went to bed knowing I’d return to the bakery the next day with refreshed vigor.

Tuesday December 2nd — Successful Production

  • Just before leaving the house for the bakery I received a call from Three Sisters Farm Grocery following up on placing an order. Now I was off to the bakery to fix everything I made for the 3 businesses the day before along with an additional store. No pressure … right.
  • When I arrived at the bakery I asked John, the owner of the bakery and his business JW Desserts (I rent space from him) about where I might take my failed biscotti from Monday and Almond batches that didn’t mix along with the gray ooze. John instructed that the ooze occurred because I didn’t attach the bowl correctly to the mixer, and the dough didn’t mix simply because I wasn’t stopping the machine to scrape the ingredients off the bottom. None of that occurred to me because I assumed this commercial mixer was like my Kitchen Aid, and these things don’t happen with that. Live and learn. As for the not-right biscotti, I could take & donate that to the soup kitchen in Langley that produces lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and write it off as a donation.
  • Needing to get started on production, my dad took the Monday biscotti to the soup kitchen. When he returned he said the kitchen crew was happy to receive it and that they don’t usually get something like this in. My dad was also carrying a Mason jar full of hot chicken soup – he said the kitchen staff offered it to him. This struck me as an amazing thing … one of my dreams for what I might do with this company is to fight hunger with helping to support food banks. It wasn’t my plan, but as it turned out the first act of my company was to contribute to a soup kitchen. I was happy just to donate, and as it happened that the first thing my company did was to give as I had dreamt – and without expecting anything for it we got a jar of soup. It’s a simple thing, and it’s beautiful. I’m humbled by this, I’m grateful for this, and I like to think optimistically that this is just the beginning. I think that was the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.
  • Dad stuck around for the day. He wanted to see my production work out right and to help me get caught up. He made himself available for any loose end I needed picked-up; his help was invaluable and I was glad to get to spend the time with him at the beginning of my company. For the first half of the day I was going with what I know – I was cranking my batches out one at a time using my 5-quarter mixer. As the afternoon stretched on it seemed that progress was plodding. I weighed my options and decided to try working with one of the big mixers again. I had around four batches of Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti to make with a few other batches of flavours to finish the day. I rolled the dice with the instructions John gave me and it all worked. This time dad & I left the bakery at 10 PM – the biscotti for 4 stores had been produced and everything came out right.
  • Tuesday was about 180-degrees different than Monday. As I saw things come together better than the day before I said what I understand Da Vinci to have said – “I’m still learning.” I have plenty to learn about this new business venture – all elements of it. I realized that the day I go home saying “Everything went well today; I didn’t learn anything new.” is plenty far in the future … and the day that happens is probably the day something really went wrong.

Wednesday December 3rd — First Deliveries

  • Dad and I got to the bakery to handle the packaging/labeling, loaded everything into 12gal totes according to where the deliveries were going. We work well together, which is good because the packaging is currently a bit of a slow process. Biscotto goes into a bag, the bag gets weighed, the weight gets hand-written on the label, the label gets applied to the bag, and the finished package goes in its tote. Since I don’t know the general weight of my packages just yet this adds detail to the production.
  • First delivery was to Useless Bay Café (or is it Coffee) in Langley. The staff apparently was expecting me. I was directed to bring my tote to the end of the counter to unload. 3 or 4 staff members met me with eager curiosity. I realized then that I should have brought samples for them, thought to bring with my next delivery.
  • Second delivery was to Greenbank Store & Grille. I connected with Brian Cedar, the owner, and he immediately set up a display by the front door. I got a picture of him with the product – and my company received its first check.
  • Third delivery was to Three Sisters Farm Store on the north side of Penn Cove. For me this was a special stop. The original inception of my company in January 2013 was to start as a cottage business then shift into being a commercial business once it grew large enough. During these many months a number of business owners received samples of my baked goods and expressed interest in carrying my products once my company became a commercial business. My understanding has been that the Three Sisters Farm is the largest food producer on Whidbey Island; their products are local-grown/made and all natural, as are the other items they carry. My plans changed when they said they wanted to carry my baked goods – that was the ‘critical mass’ of interest for me to start as a commercial business. I met with the manager – Jessica, who is one of the three sisters. I made the delivery and then attempted tripping over one of their displays on the way out.
  • My last delivery was to Drag N Fly Espresso in Oak Harbor. I got to meet the owner, Tina, and talk small-business shop a bit.

I should also mention that Saturday night before the launch the south end of Whidbey Island received a pretty good delivery of snow. There is a personal significance to this – I have had many good beginnings with snow. My first Xmas was white, I got my driver’s license in snow, and my move to live full-time on Whidbey Island was in snow – to name a few. I take this as a good sign.

If you’re wondering where my writing is about Thursday & Friday, it’s not here. I haven’t had much time, and I’m finishing writing this on the 14th – I frankly don’t remember what happened. Also, I realize you the reader may be more accustom to better polished blog post article things instead of these bullet-point notes – chalk that up to the same ‘lack of time’ reason. Which brings us to this – the good news and the bad news … the bad news is that I’ve started a company and I haven’t exactly come up for air yet; the good news is MY COMPANY HAS LAUNCHED!!!

Best, Don

PS about Week 1 – I had some dental surgery about a week before the company launch, which also added to the trials/tribulations. On one hand, I couldn’t sample what I produced because I was on a soft-food order from my surgeon; on the other hand, I had a number of pleased volunteer taste-testers. While I can carefully consume my biscotti now, I am supposed to remain on soft foods into January – so if you’re passing through Clinton let me know, it will make my surgeon happy to know I have samplers … I’m quite certain it would make you happy, too.