Archive for the 'Los Angeles' Category

BonBonBar at the Brentwood Farmers Market

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Starting this Sunday, August 31, I’ll be selling my BonBonBar confections at the Brentwood Farmers Market in the morning at Gretna Green, off of San Vicente.  I’m really excited — Brentwood is a great, bustling farmers market and I’m looking forward to meeting new customers… and being a customer of quite a few stalls myself.

On the other hand, since I need to do production during one weekend morning, I will no longer be at the Century Park East market on Saturday mornings.  I may try to get into one more mid-week market, and then I think I’ll have my market situation set.

ThinKrisps – Los Angeles

Thursday, August 21st, 2008


One of the best parts of selling BonBonBars at farmers markets is getting to know my fellow vendors. At the Thursday Century City Farmers Market at 1800 Avenue of the Stars, I’m next to Jim — owner, maker, and purveyor of ThinKrisps.

ThinKrisps are baked discs of either parmesan or cheddar cheeses, in flavors ranging from Original to Lemon Pepper to Savory Sage to many others besides. There’s no flour, no sugar, no gluten. They’re 1 point in Weight Watchers, and have a 1/2g of carbs each… (And I know their sales pitch almost as well as mine. :)) Each disc is made from a 1/4c of cheese.

I have to admit that when I first considered ThinKrisps, I was a little ambivalent because I figured I could make them myself. I’ve made parmesan cheese crisps as part of Thomas Keller’s Goat Cheese Mousse and then for part of his Caesar Salad — and I’d simply baked grated cheese in the oven. They only took a few minutes, and were lacy, delicate, delicious, and in the case of the mousses, molded into egg carton indentations.

But ThinKrisps take the crisply baked cheese idea to a different — and dare I say it — more delectable level. In addition their great flavor, the key for me is that they’re thicker, and that textural change makes a world of difference. By being more substantial, they’re almost like crackers — except that they’re made completely of cheese (and on occasion, seasonings), and so have a zillion times more flavor. Sure, I sometimes like to dip them in hummus and Jim tells me that the Savory Sage ThinKrisps dipped into salsa tastes like pepperoni pizza, but they’re quite delicious all on their own. The potato chip freak in me thinks of them as the ultimate non-potato potato chip — the crunch… the burst of flavor… the saltiness… the way that they quickly disappear. I buy them nearly every week, and they’ve yet to see the end of the weekend. I think my favorite is the Red Pepper Parmesan because I like spicy food (with cheese!), but I eat them all… And fast.

Jim has been in business for 5 years, and he sells at 3 LA farmers markets (Century City on Thursdays, Larchmont Village on Sundays, and Downtown LA at the Bank of America Plaza on Fridays) and through 19 retail outlets in the LA area. He almost always arrives at Century City after I’m set up, and I’m always a little relieved when he shows up — because I know that for the next few hours, customers may come and go (and buy or not buy), but Jim will be there, with groovy music subtly playing on his iPod, to chat with and to commiserate with — and perhaps to discuss sales strategies (inc display, pitch, specials), or the adorable things that customers say, or Disney (of which he is an evangalist), or any interesting, slightly random, thing (which, I guess, is my evangelism — have I mentioned the time that I called Chad in a flurry from the kitchen a few moths ago because I realized that Axl Rose is in Guns & Roses? And Chad found out that the original guitarist was named Guns! Slash replaced him. Were we the last to know?).

Or perhaps we’ll chime in on customer reactions or overhear them — my favorite so far being when I overheard “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!” followed by “YEAH!” and I later confirmed that that had indeed been two friends’ reactions to ThinKrisps samples. Well said.



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.

Farmers Market Beginnings

Saturday, July 5th, 2008


So, I’ve sold at the Century City Farmers Market twice so far, and it’s very thought-provoking… probably b/c you spend so many hours standing in your tent and looking out at people, pretty much all you can do is think and observe…

Here are my musings so far:

It reminds me a little of camping. You only have what you bring, and if you forget something, you do without, fashion something, or ask others. There is, of course, a mall across the walkway, but it’s far for me to run and grab something. This week, I remembered to bring twine to tie my tent to the fence to prevent it from flying away, but I forgot scissors. I ended up tying up my tent with my plastic bags-as-rope instead.

I’ve taken to calling out some variation of “Handmade Candy Bars, Caramels, and Marshmallows!” when people go by (the market is in a pretty big plaza, so there’s a wide distance btw the vendor across the path and me; people aren’t forced against your booth like at some other markets). I didn’t have a banner the first time, so it was really necessary b/c my products aren’t exactly prominent enough to speak for themselves. If I see that they’re already looking at my booth, I say “free samples!” but I don’t generally look directly at them.

People expect to sample anything they might buy, or just expect samples in general. My marshmallows aren’t selling all that much so far, and I think it’s in part b/c I haven’t brought samples of them yet. The Health Dept permit dictates that I pre-wrap all of my samples. I usually cut marshmallows into 4 pieces for samples, so I’ve just been putting off the process of individually wrapping such tiny marshmallows pieces for the market (but I’m going to try it this upcoming week). People don’t really seem to be influenced by my Gourmet clip that I put next to them. Only a couple have actually read it, but anyone who glances at the marshmallows is innocently informed that “Gourmet magazine said that they’re the most fabulous marshmallows they’ve ever tasted.” The usual response is just a nod.

The market is really like a race, and this one is especially short — only 3 hours at most to get rid of your products. Hence, my calling out to anyone within earshot.

To display my bars, I ended up printing photo-quality sheets with their cross-section pic and description to put in frames, and I use leftovers from previous weeks as my display bars, so it’s ok if they’re damaged from the heat as long as they don’t look too melty. I had them propped up the first week, but one fell from the wind and the glass shattered. This week, I took off all the glass, and taped the pic’s into the frames as neatly as I could and put them flat. I have to look around harded for those clear acrylic frames in 8×10 so that they will stand up and it’s ok if they fall (I could only find them in smaller sizes last week)

The best feeling so far is when you can tell that someone is walking straight to your booth and they already know what they want to buy. I also liked it when someone came up to the booth on her cell phone excitedly saying “…she has a flavor she didn’t have last time…” And of course, when someone comes back with friends/colleagues to show off the products.

I get thirsty from the heat and calling out, but I don’t want to drink too much b/c going to the bathroom is a pain (far from my booth) and kind of gross (johnny on the spot).

Just like with my online sales, I wholeheartedly worship repeat customers, and feel a little weak-kneed when I’m around them.

The scale of purchases is very different from online. My most popular items online are boxes of 6 candy bars, which is $30. Most people at the market by one to three bars, and if they buy more (or even not that much sometimes), they almost always ask for a discount. I don’t really know what to do about that. I’m sorry, but a 4-bar sale is not a rare or huge sale for me, no matter how appreciative I am of it. The best I can think of is to throw in a couple extra caramel samples. I’m going to bring extra gift boxes so that I can put them together on the spot for people, but I hope they don’t expect a discount on them… That’s just not the scale of my business. I use less packaging at the market, but I still have to pay set fees every week that I have to cover and factor in.

People attempt to bargain more than I thought they would, or sometimes pick a price out of thin air. “I’ll take one of these candy bars… It’s a dollar….” as the customer opened her bag. “Um, no… it’s five dollars…” She scoffed and walked away. A few people have been scared off by the price, which I’m sure happens online, but it’s something to see their faces and hear their voices in person. If they’re nice about it and regretful that they can’t afford it, I practically force them to take an extra sample or two with them, because I genuinely want people to eat good candy. But if they’re rude about it, I let them go. I also try to explain why they’re so spendy.

It’s come to a point where I get completely giddy when people give me exact change. My candy bars are $5, but my marshmallows are $6 and my caramels $7 so I have needs for singles. I always leave with fewer bills than I brought — few ones, many twenties. Vendors generally help each other out if you need to break a $20. I dread the day I forget to go to the bank for $1s and $5s if I’m low…. though the market is surrounded by banks, so it shouldn’t be huge deal. But I hate to leave my booth/things alone, even if the other vendors will watch out for it.

I am between a hummus stand called BabaFoods and the ThinKrisps stand (which sells crunchy baked discs of parmesan and cheddar cheeses in different flavors), and all of their vendors are friendly and helpful. I’ve become addicted to both of their products, and especially with the hummus people, I’m hoping that our trading system keeps up (they especially like my cinnamon almond caramels) — I will not rest until I have had a container of all of their flavors, and will then choose what I want based on my mood. This week, Pesto Hummus… Yum! I even dipped some lemon-pepper parmesan crisps in it… Yum!

I admire the Hummus people, btw, for how much setup their booth requires that they go through. They bring lots of coolers with ice b/c the hummus is in a sort of indented table on ice for the whole market. It melts and gets wet, but they pack and unpack so cleanly. They get there maybe 2.5 hours before the market officially starts.

I bring two coolers, and one is a medium max-cold and one is only a mini. It was 70F my first time and 80F my second time. I put extra ice packs in my cooler the second time, but I think it got too cold — I saw a kid kind of gnaw at the orange bar sample that she had. I use my handy laser thermometer to monitor the temp, but it is a little uneven in the cooler.

I bought my tent used for $40, but it’s old and heavy. Another vendor guessed it was made in roughly 1964. They’re much lighter, and cleaner now. I don’t have a dolly, so I bring everything piece by piece across the plaza (though I’d probably be able to borrow a dolly if I inquired around, but part of me likes the exercise). I also have to move my car from where we unload… to a lot that charges $9 to park!

One customer suggested that I ask for people’s business cards so that I can add them to my mailing list for corporate holiday sales (which by the way, is a major reason for my selling at this market), which I think is a fantastic idea. Maybe I should offer a once a month drawing for a free box of 6 candy bars (or something??) as an incentive to give their business card? I could get a little jar for them.

A lot of people take my business card even if they don’t buy anything, which is great.

Market Gourmet in Venice – Where Wholesale is Good…

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Just a little blurb to say that for all of my whining about wholesale, I’ve met some really wonderful people who own and work at stores.   I love walking into Market Gourmet in Venice to restock my products, like I did today.  I’ve done two demos there (and had two cancelled b/c my products sold out, thus negating the need of the demo), and I know the people there and they know me.  It makes such a big difference!  After I drop off my products at a store, it can be oddly hard to figure out what happens to them beyond whether they sold or not, and whether employees are aware of them –  I’m just not there, and it’s not like I can stakeout the joint. But when I go to Market Gourmet just about everyone who works there who sees me makes a point to tell me about customers’ reactions — like how someone has been calling them daily to find out the availability of my bars, how people are so happy when they buy them, how a lot of people are buying two at a time (great when your smallish products are $5-6/ea), how my products fly off the shelves, and how I’ve developed a following.  It’s just so very nice.

Come to think of it, Metropulos and The Candy Store are also very good about sharing customer (and employee) reactions.  The only difference is that they’re out of town, so I don’t get to see them in person.  And at Chefmakers, I hear about and see customer reactions all the time… but I do work there, so it has an advantage. But it’s that communication and awareness of each other as human beings and business people that makes wholesale good.  Otherwise, when it’s impersonal, careless, or purely based on the bottom line, it’s just draining.

I’d never been to the Market Gourmet before I went to give them samples of my products, and actually, when I’m not looking for the people, my eyes wander on the shelves.  There may be lots of cupcake and frozen yogurt shops in LA, but true, well-rounded mom and pop gourmet stores are few and far between so if you can, check it out… and if your eyes wander to the shelf where my products are placed, so be it… and tell them that I said hello… 🙂