Open For Business

Sort of. It's only slightly on the DL.

You who have followed my blog for any length of time know that I like to cook. I recently started a new blog, The House Husband, to kind of separate that hobby from my indoor/general gardening obsession--at least, online, so that it makes more sense to visit The Indoor Garden(er). The House Husband joins Bagging The Baggage and Agritate in my new series of blogs to help separate content into more digestible streams--I started feeling like The Indoor Garden(er) was too much of a random catch-all, that I had lost focus, and that I might be confusing people with the content I post under the assumption that it's going to be garden-related on the basis of the blog title, description, and general content. I can't say I've been consistent posting on any of these new locations, but I do of course intend to be. I'm still working on getting into some sort of routine after moving back to DC, but without any actual steady schedule (read: work), I've found it difficult to corral my own activities.

Part of that difficulty is the myriad choices I can make: Go freelance full-time? Try for an office job? Quit the rat race and join the food industry? I've attempted some combination of all of the above since I returned to the US in August--I've freelanced a bit, I've searched for full-time office jobs, and I spent a few months in the food industry (and technically, I'm still in it as Whisked!'s bakery assistant, but work is infrequent at the moment now that the markets are over for the season). The lack of direction has made it difficult for me, generally--it's hard to hammer something down when you're aiming at many separate nails all at once (like Whack-A-Mole, except a bit more frantic and with more life-affecting consequences).

But, eventually, the effort will yield something. I have some freelance opportunities, and I'm pursuing the food industry angle a bit more proactively now, too. I registered for the DC Grey Market on 28 January. The Grey Market is a place where unregistered food businesses can go to sell their product--shoppers buy a ticket ahead of time and acknowledge that they understand the food they'll buy at the market was prepared in a non-health-inspected kitchen or somesuch, and we vendors get the opportunity to sell our products we make in our home kitchens.

It's difficult to be a small food business in DC (probably in a lot of places, I'd imagine), but I know so many people in the area who have succeeded, and it's been something of a simmering dream of mine--I think it's actually a genetic predisposition. Everyone in my family (and, it seems, my beau's, too) has dreamed of opening some sort of food establishment. While I was a child, my dad had a crab truck for a few years--he went to the docks every weekend, bought a ton of crabs, cooked them in the truck and sold them on the side of the road. This was definitely before the lunch-food-truck craze of the past few years, but then, a half-bushel of crabs is totally not an appropriate meal for an office setting, eh?

What I'm doing, however, is slightly different--I love interacting with the customer, and I'm thinking a farmers' market would be a wonderful place to get myself into in the future. So I'm testing the Grey Market. I'm bringing a bunch of different items, to see what people are interested in and whether it seems as if I could make anything of a profit. I'm calling myself "The Experimental Oven," for various reasons: I work under a trial-and-error scientific method; I like to be creative; I'm not baking, exclusively: I have a variety of products I plan on making; I never follow a recipe exactly, even if I'm doing it for the first time; and there's always something that makes each batch of what I make special, whether I ran out of milk and had to use a substitute or whether I accidentally had the temperature at 425 instead of 325 and had to reduce the bake time. I'm going to have to become a little more consistent if I want to start selling product to customers on a regular basis, but part of the name also implies that because everything I make is small-batch artisan foods, there will be some variation from week to week as I play around with the recipes.

What I consider to be a less-complicated but also less financially thrilling is doing wholesale orders for cafes or somesuch. I have a few ins that I could surely follow to make some of my specialty scones, biscotti, or random packaged goods such as hummus, pimiento cheese, or what-have-you. But wholesale is large-batch, low-cost: I'd have to make a ton of product to make the same amount of money I might at a market, because of the resale aspect, although the steady, more-certain income has its appeal.

After I try this Grey Market thing, I have to see whether I make enough money (after ingredient costs and other expenses) to consider doing it on a regular basis. I have to take into account rent for registered commercial kitchen space, the incorporation fees for the business, transportation, vendor fees, and insurance. There are probably other large expenses I'm forgetting at the moment (perhaps a stand mixer?), but there are a lot of start-up costs and a ton of things to hammer out if this is to become a reality. At least I'll soon have a logo--I had a meeting last night with blogger/foodie/friend FoodNewsie, who designed DC State Fair's first advertising back in 2010. He's working on a logo design for The Experimental Oven. I'm a logo virgin--I've never had one, and I'm totally excited about this!

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