Archive for July, 2008

S’More Inspiration

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

For a few reasons, I won’t be introducing my s’more kits until next week, but I just realized what it is about the kit that has been vaguely bothering me since I conceived of the idea: my s’more kit isn’t demonstrably different from the other gourmet s’more kits that are out there…. Marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate.

I like to think that each of my products is unique to my company — either b/c of the flavor combinations or technique, you can’t get them anywhere else.  Vanilla marshmallows are probably the least original of my products, but at least I use a combination of two vanillas, avoid corn syrup, and make them light ‘n fluffy, so they’re as unique as they can be.  A lot of customers are already amazed that marshmallows can be made outside of a factory.  I even think that they’ll have a similar reaction to handmade graham crackers, too.  After about 8 versions and much learning about crunchy cookie chemistry to make them just so, my graham cracker recipe is a nice balance of delicate dark sugar flavors, butter, and a touch of spice.

There’s a lot to be said to offer a traditional dessert made with good, pure flavors, and I think that my marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate tiles would deliver that… but I just want one unique touch.  I don’t want go adding a strong flavor to it, like peanut butter or coffee, or even replacing the cinnamon with allspice.   Instead I want to emphasize something that is already in the s’more, or something subtly complementary, to make a BonBonBar S’more just a little more special.

Sprinkle salt on the chocolate tiles?  Sprinkle caramel sugar dust on the chocolate (as long as the texture works)?  Encourage double decker smores?

I guess this sounds really fussy and kind of vague, but I’m going to consider the s’more and its ingredients more… And welcome any suggestions…

BonBonBar at Century Park East Farmers Market

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

This is a brand new Saturday market at 2049 Century Park East (in the nice little park behind the CAA building). It starts this Saturday, August 2, and runs from 10am – 2pm. As the name suggests, it’s in Century City.

I didn’t necessarily intend to have my second market in Century City, too, but I do think that the neighborhood/area needs a weekend farmers market. I’m a little concerned that the location is tucked away amongst the office buildings, but there are condos very nearby and a lot of houses somewhat nearby. And there have been signs on Santa Monica Blvd & Olympic Blvd. So, I’m giving it a shot, hoping that people will find it.

I’d still like to do a Sunday morning market, too — I think those really are the best ones for me — but the ones that I want are full. The LA markets run on a quarter system, and I’m told that there’s not too much shifting around during quarters — probably b/c we pay the health dept a flat fee at the beginning of the quarter for each market (although we pay the market organizers weekly). The next quarter starts in September or October, so maybe I’ll get into one then.

Scheduling the markets is a little tough for me. As I said in a previous post, doing my chocolate work on Sunday mornings is ideal. If I get into a Sunday market, I’d probably have to drop the Saturday market, and shift my production schedule so that I make my components Friday night and temper my chocolate Saturday mornings — if the rented kitchen can accommodate that.

Also, I’ve also been told that pre-packaged foods do very well during evening markets, so that’s a possibility for a third market. I like South Pasadena on Thursday evenings, but if I’m selling at Century City during lunchtime, I’m not sure if I could get over there and set up in time.

More Farmers Market Thoughts

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

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I finally thought of a quick answer to the “$5.00 for a candy bar?” comment: “Yes, but it tastes like a $5.00 candy bar.” I told Chad, and he came back with an ever better answer: “Yes, but it tastes like a $10 candy bar.”

A super-cheerful tone goes a long way, including when listing prices. Excitement about virtually anything is good. I try to keep genuine — um, if that’s technically possible.

A lot of people look at the Gourmet Weekly clipping displayed on my table, and ask if the picture on it is of me. I never realized how much I apparently look like Ruth Reichl.

I kind of enjoy incrementally carrying my tent, tables, etc, across the plaza to my space. Sadly, it’s probably the most exercise I get all week. I borrowed a dolly once for the heavy tent, and managed to knock into everything within striking distance. For a hundred yards.

The first week, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of samples, so I just offered one sample at a time to anyone who wanted a sample. Now, I have samples of just about everything (neatly stored in my cash box, which ironically, is useless for organizing cash — better for change, which I don’t use), and I ask what they want to sample. It’s kind of a lot of choices, but I try to narrow it down fast and I’d rather have them try what they want the most.

It’s best when people come up to my booth on their own, but smiling and looking people in the eye and asking in a friendly tone if they’d like to try a sample as they’re walking past has proven to be quite effective. But I don’t want people to sample as a favor — I don’t have a ton of samples.

The samples of chocolates always go first.

The popular flavors vary from week to week. There’s little predicting. For now, I just try to bring as much of everything as I can.

The most bargaining happened during the first week of July. I wonder if it’s a bill-paying thing. I’m still not amused by bargainers. But I am still trying to figure out a decent volume discount.

A crowd attracts a crowd, which is great, but hard to manage. I’ve never been good at talking to more than one person at a time, so it’s hard to know where to direct my attention. But I’ve noticed that if the people closest to the table don’t buy anything, the people on outskirts almost always drift away, so maybe that’s a clue.

Repeat customers, and people who come up to tell me how much they enjoyed their purchase from the previous week, are completely fantastic.

Another vendor told me that that, as he speaks, people tend to look around the booth and it helps to have signs that confirm what you’re saying, and small print doesn’t do much. So, I revised my “menu” to have bigger fonts, less description, and “organic & local ingredients.” I was a little reluctant to take away the descriptions, but no one ever did read them. And there are already descriptions of each candy bar on display (they’re the most complex, structurally), and I usually verbally describe products anyway.

I’m a little confused by people who try a sample, apparently like it, and ask “Will you be here next week?” Maybe they already spent their budget for the day, but if no one buys anything, then maybe I won’t be there next week. Or it’s just their way of exiting gracefully.

Since the market starts before lunch when it’s slow, I always fear that I won’t sell anything during the whole market.

It stays admirably cool under the tent. I often wear a hoodie, even when it’s in the 80s.

I’ve gotten into the habit of treating myself to a refreshing horchata after I finish setting up my booth. I try to bring a small snack, too, but one of these days, I’ll get one of the bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

Developing the S’More Kit

Friday, July 25th, 2008

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One of the things that I like about selling at the farmers market is that I can have specials and whatnot pretty easily. I’ve been selling frozen caramel nut bars as “Frozen Candy Bars” for the last couple of weeks, and people seem to like them. In general, for farmers market specials, I don’t have to worry about new packaging (which takes a lot of time and money for each product) or how they’ll ship. As long as I can fit them into cellophane bags and print out stickers with their ingredients lists, etc, I can sell pretty much whatever I can make.

So, I think I’m going to try selling a S’More Kit this upcoming Thursday, but there are still some decisions that I have to make (and happily, can adjust in upcoming weeks).

For instance, which brand and kind of chocolate should I offer? Chocolate tastes are so personal. And with s’mores, it can go either way — either the most upscale bitter chocolate or what many are used to having with s’mores: Hershey’s. Initially, I thought that I’d just sell a “s’more starter kit” and leave it to customers use their favorite chocolate, but I really do think that I should include all the parts, for people who don’t have chocolate lying around. But I don’t think that I can sell Hershey bars, and I’m not too keen on selling any pre-packaged chocolate bar for that matter. It doesn’t seem right. My current idea is to make my own chocolate tiles — spread tempered chocolate out thin, cut with my rolling bicycle cutter, and package them. I’ll try selling both milk and dark chocolate, and if one if very unpopular, I can always melt the tiles down again and turn them into something else.

And of course, I’ve developed my graham cracker recipe. It’s light, crunchy, and flavorful. It’s my third recipe that uses honey from Bill’s Bees, which is great b/c I just love their honey. I’ve been using their wildflower honey, though maybe their buckwheat would be even better; my only reservation would be that it’d be yet another ingredient to keep in stock. I’m not sure if I’ll offer the crackers separately or solely as part of the kit; I don’t really want to turn this into a baking business so probably just as part of the kit.

And my marshmallow recipe is all set, of course. Since the marshmallows also already have their own real stickers for packaging, they’ll probably be on top of the kit. I’ll probably start out with just the vanilla marshmallows, and if I get inquiries, try the passion fruit, too.

I still have to figure out how they’ll all fit together as a package — the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Most likely, they’ll all be packaged in separate cellophane bags, the same size as I use for my marshmallows. They’ll all be pretty much the same size, roughly 2.5″x2.5″ squares. I’m thinking of 4 servings per kit — so 4 marshmallows, 4 chocolate tiles, and 8 graham crackers.

If I had a lot of larger cellophane bags, I could bundle all of them in those, but I don’t and I don’t really want to spend money to buy them. Maybe I’ll tie them together with raffia that I already have. Or if it looks decent, clear tape — I swear, only if it looks decent. I’ll play around with it this weekend.

I also have to play around with microwave s’more instructions — I think some office workers would really like the idea of having a hot gooey s’more as an afternoon snack. Um, as long as they don’t explode in the microwave…

Edit: Looks like 7 seconds in the microwave, tops. Though it will vary slightly.

I Have A Sunday Night Again. And I’ve Discovered Facebook.

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Since I started selling my candy bars in December, I’ve been making them on Saturday and Sunday nights from about 6pm-2am. This schedule fit in with the times available for my first kitchen, but now I’m in my third rented commercial (with honest to god central Air, though it’s not normally turned on)… and it’s the summer… and the kitchen traps a lot of heat and humidity by 6pm. On Sunday nights, when I usually do most of my chocolate tempering, that means going in later when it’s cooler and even then waiting a couple hours at least for it to cool down so that I can temper chocolate.

So, this Sunday, I went in at 8am instead… and it was heaven. The temperature was perfect for tempering and it wasn’t humid. It was several hours before I even had to turn on the AC, and it was effective right away. The kitchen felt like a real chocolate kitchen. And I was fresh and not trying to get a second (and third) wind for the day. And when I finished work, I was free! There were still several hours of sunlight left, and I had no lurking feeling of all that I had to do that night. I even got to go to a bbq and meet Brian, who was in town.

In short: it was like a normal job, not a covert confectionery mission. It felt so nice.

August and September will probably be hotter than it is now, but I think going in a little earlier might be fine, too. And luckily, since Chad generally sleeps until about 11-12, I won’t be missing all that much time with him by going in early. And I usually wake up early anyway.

And in other news, I finally joined the rest of the world on Facebook, and I’m addicted. It’s such a great way to keep up with friends — fun and on your own time. Unfortunately, it competes with my time for the blog and returning emails… but it’s irresistible, like a big hug from people I’ve met during so many different times in my life. And I can publish mini-thoughts that won’t make it to the blog. I just made butterscotch pudding. I doubt I’ll blog about it, but why not let everyone know on Facebook… Plus, I get to play games. Scrabulous anyone?