Archive for November, 2008

Thanksgiving Orders…

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

…for BonBonBar close at Midnight on Friday, November 21. They will be shipped on Monday November 24.

Since I’ll be going home to NJ next week, any orders placed after the deadline will be shipped on Monday, December 1.

Wow. December!

Taking Stock of BonBonBar

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

My wordpress draft folder shows that I’ve been meaning to write this post since September 5th… Time goes by so fast — week after week! And whatever I wanted to say in September is completely outdated. It’s now nearing the end of November, and I just looked back to see that BonBonBar’s first order was put in on Dec 9, 2007. BonBonBar has been around for nearly a year! For almost 52 weekends and Mondays, I’ve spent my time making, packaging and shipping out candy.

I really do want to share what’s going on with my business with my readers, but it’s a bit more complicated than baking and eating info, and constantly changing… So, I thought I’d just run through and share a few bits about different subjects at this point… And get used to blogging about thoughts again!

KITCHEN

When I rented my first commercial kitchen last November, I had had such a hard time trying to find one that I just grabbed it out of desperation. Little did I know that I’d now be in my third kitchen (and the first with real A/C), and will switch to my fourth kitchen (also A/C’ed) in December.

The new kitchen is probably the biggest element of change since the company started because I will have unlimited hours and unlimited access. Until now, I’ve had limited kitchen time per week. Because of that, I’ve had to try to be busy, but not too busy; and that was another reason for being cautious about wholesale, which is volume-oriented…which, for me, means more time and less money for the same work and ingredient prices.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the unlimited thing, and try to figure out how I can take advantage of it sooner rather than later. A lot of my worries of the past year had to do with trying to figure out how much revenue I could make out of limited production time… And now that issue is practically gone. But I’m not convinced that a lot more wholesale is the answer now, either; there are still issues with it other than time. I think more direct sales is still the answer, hopefully for large orders like weddings, events, and gifts. At least I will have a faster turnaround time so that orders can be filled faster whenever necessary, which will help customer service. Already, I’m shipping Mon-Wed’s instead of just on Mondays. And it’s making me feel a lot less guilty.

Also, it’s been rare that I’ve been fully stocked for my Farmers Markets since the whirlwind of DailyCandy, and it’ll be nice to know that I can always go and make more when needed.

PRODUCTION

I have an intern! An intern who’s a fantastic worker and a wonderful person. So, not only have I not been alone in the kitchen for a few weeks, but more things are getting done in the same amount of time. It’s almost like magic — that things are done well that I didn’t do! And there’s another perspective in the kitchen. It’s very exciting.

In addition, I’ve gotten faster and more efficient with my work. When I started last year with 4 products, it seemed like such a daunting task to make and keep track of everything. Now I have 13 products! And so things shift — instead of making huge batches of 2 bars, I make smaller batches of 5 bars. I think I prefer that variety, or at least not having to make so many Malt Bars at one time. I like them and they’ve been especially popular lately (often beating out the Caramel Nut Bar for the first time), but they take more time and effort than any other bar. I’ve considered discontinuing them, or just offering them in dark chocolate, but I just can’t go through with it. At least, as I mentioned above, I’ve gotten faster with them. Oh, and I finally got a bigger mixer, so things are faster on the marshmallow front, too.

And while I occasionally have problems with what I make, my reject rate has gone waaaay down. I used to plan on so many rejects per batch, but now I don’t so concretely. In a way, I’ve probably gotten a bit cheaper because of this — I try to avoid waste more than I ever have.

It’s a nice feeling, to know how much I’ve improved since I started this blog in January 2006, when I started culinary school. And at the same time, I promise that chocolate and sugar keep me more than humble — I respect that they are complex and temperamental things that we manage to tame occasionally.

And when things do go wrong, I can take it in stride, and apply creativity and logic to fix problems. I don’t have the fear that I had about production that I had when I started. I know I can make it work somehow.

CUSTOMERS

I had vague ideas of having good customer service when I started, but I had no idea what that really meant beyond a vague idea of helping sales. It’s so much more than that. Customers have been so wonderful!!! I’ve met, emailed, befriended, and/or have been helped by so many customers around the world. I’m so touched — and amazed — by how many people are taken the time to email and call me to let me know how much they enjoy the confections and appreciate what I do. And at Farmers Markets, I look forward to chatting with my regulars perhaps more than anything else. Without that interaction, the business wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

FUTURE PLANS

I still think that a handmade candy store is the best form of the business. But with a bad economy, something of a naturally wandering spirit, and a lingering wish to be free from a city, I can’t quite commit myself to it yet. If money weren’t an issue, then sure, I’d go ahead, but it would be a big task now. I’ve learned a lot in the past year about running a business (and that’s really what this first year was for), and I think I could figure it out… Some days, it seems like a very big thing, and some days, it seems quite small. I think if I had a business partner, it would be a lot smoother; I gravitate towards food and recipes, and when I can, sleep. But when I think about what I’ve been able to accomplish as basically a one-person company — like press mentions by Gourmet and Bon Appetit — I wonder what could happen if the company was bigger and had more resources.

I hope that the changes above make things easier. I don’t want to go into all the time-consuming minutiae that I do for the company every week, but it’s sometimes tempting to imagine not having to do anything for it… and not have to think about sales, production, and the weather all the time… To go to a job at someone else’s company and come home and have true spare time. But then I think how would miss the decisions and connections that I get to make now. And I’m not sure what I would do with that spare time…

It’s kind of interesting — I was contacted by a TV production company to develop a cooking show a couple months ago, and as much as I think that lifestyle would be great and less strenuous, I just couldn’t imagine what I would do in front of the camera — I couldn’t even do a simple demo tape. Objectively, I know I could have done something, but subjectively, it just wasn’t something I could bring myself to do. The only viable title I could think of was “Awkward Silences with Nina” with a commensurate picture of me… :s And besides, I only have about 20 of my own recipes — and mostly esoteric candy ones at that. Anyway, it’d be a slim chance that the show would have happened even if I’d gone for it. Part of me is still getting used to being “on” to the public all time just as a business owner, and I think I still have things to do in this role.

So, I’ll see how the holidays go (hopefully lots of orders! you just never know!)… and will try to write about it more often…

Pumpkin Pie Bars in Ideal Bite

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Today’s Ideal Bite Los Angeles Tip is about my Pumpkin Pie Candy Bars!

“These limited-edition spiced-pumpkin-caramel-graham-cracker-oh-man-we’re-drooling-now candy bars are made with organic pumpkin and butternut squash (we know…squash doesn’t sound dessert-y, but it’s freakin’ good) from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market….

Fatted Calf – Napa

Friday, November 14th, 2008

There are some names for which I have an instant affinity. I remember the first time that I read the word “Fatted” followed by the word “Calf” on Sam’s blog (edit: link fixed!) when I lived in Napa. I knew that somehow I would get to know this Fatted Calf myself. It took a while. They opened their charcuterie store in Napa’s Oxbow Market after I had moved back to LA, and it wasn’t until I took a mini-desperation-vacation to Napa in February of this year that I was finally able to purchase their goods and try it for myself (after driving it back to Southern California in a mini-cooler w/ ice brought along for exactly that purpose).

And it was phenomenal. The bacon and the sausage became legend in my mind.

When I took my more relaxed visit to Napa last week, I was prepared to buy more, and couldn’t help telling everyone I knew about them and offering to take orders to bring back some. So, this time, I brought a larger cooler for their meaty goods, and got a bag of dry goods besides.

Bacon… Greens Sausage… Sheep’s Milk Ricotta… Bierwurst… Sweet Italian Sausage… Those were my spectacular goods this time. There’s a certain kind of freshness and exuberance of flavor that informs every product. The texture is very important, too — being rather looser than usual in the sausage and salami, and slightly more substantial than usual in the bacon. In the best and most respectful way, you realize that the meat comes from real animals who were treated well. I’ve never had anything quite like it, and I’m quite addicted. I wish I had bought more and my next trip to Napa will probably be fueled in large part by an overpowering craving; only a few strips of bacon remain, preserved in my freezer, and they don’t ship. I am even saving the rendered bacon fat, something I’ve never done before and I don’t really know what I’ll do with it.

If I lived in Napa, I don’t know how I’d resist having something from them daily. Their offerings rotate some every week, so I wouldn’t really get bored of flavors… And one a day would be balanced by a healthy diet overall… And they also sell gorgeous fresh meat, sandwiches, Rancho Gordo Beans, and Bates & Schmitt’s apple products (I got the syrup last time), so yeah, complete meals all around… And… And… hmm, I’ve put a lot of thought into this.

I have not been completely bedazzled by the Kool-Aid, though — the Beef Jerky that I got is way too tough for me, and I don’t know what to do with the pieces that remain. And the Rabbit Pate was a bit too firm for me, though I remember getting some kind of wonderfully silky pate last time… and perhaps will again next time!

BonBonBar Review on Sugar Savvy

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

The first official review of the Pumpkin Pie Bar is up over at Sugar Savvy!  Sera, who also maintains The Candy Enthusiast blog (and who I was lucky enough to meet at the Century City Farmers Market a few months ago), has written a completely fantastic review of the Pumpkin Pie, Orange, and Malt Bars.  I have to admit, whenever I read the clever and thorough analysis, I blush and bite my lip, and think “Wow… This is really all about candy made by my company?”  It’s so touching to read about how much they are appreciated!  Thank you, Sera!