Little City Kitchen Co. Blog

My stories about local food, fermentation, and formerly organic baby food
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Throw out the Rule Book

This may be the first blog topic that has come to me more out of frustration than inspiration.  You guys know by now that aside from the occasional “I’ve had a crappy week” posting, typically I write about all the wonderful experiences and the progress I’ve made.  This week I’m going to share with you one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my short time as an entrepreneur:

Throw out the rule book.

A classic “rookie” mistake

My awareness of this concept began seven years ago when worked for Hilton Hotels and managed a team that sold for seven of their hotels in Boston.  I was on the phone with a member of the management staff of one of my hotels…and truth be told, we were driving each other crazy arguing about how to handle something.  I made a somewhat rookie mistake and said “but this is how all the other hotels are doing it”.

You can imagine what happened next… My colleague went through the roof.

And rightfully so.  I unknowingly fell into a common trap in today’s world; assuming that the way that it’s been done in the past is the best way to do things in the future.  I realized immediately that she was correct and (after a heartfelt apology) forever changed my approach problem solving.

This happened again when I was on the phone with a vendor from the Fancy Food Show yesterday.  I was explaining my idea for packaging, or trying to anyways, and he kept steering me back to a traditional solution.  Blah blah boring!  After several minutes of listening to his very predictable suggestions, I finally snapped and said “yes, I know it’s never been done before…that’s the whole point!”

My way or the highway

There is no rule book or roadmap when you’re starting any new business.  I guess that’s part of the challenge…umm…I mean appeal.  People can tell you what may have worked (or not worked) for them, but at the end of the day, nobody knows Little City Kitchen Co. like I do, and it’s empowering to be able to make what I think are the best business decisions.

With that being said, I use every available resource!  So many elements of this business are brand new to me, so  I reach out to the industry experts, my business coach, other food entrepreneurs, etc…  But I always consider their advice and ask myself “how can I make this work for me?”  Sometimes I can’t, but almost always there is some nugget that is helpful to me.

So along those lines, I’ve decided to throw the ole rule book out the window and just keep doing my thing.  And you know what…it feels pretty kick ass!

Upcoming events

For those interested in a baby food cooking demonstration, join me on Sunday, March 6 from 1pm – 2pm at Tot Tank in Alameda, and I’ll show you how easy it is to make organic baby food in any home kitchen.  Cost is only $20.00 and all participants get to take home the food we prepare during the demo.  Click here for more information and to register.

The Spring cooking class schedule will be released next week, so stay tuned.  Have fun until then!

From the Floor of the Fancy Food Show

The Winter Fancy Food Show descended upon San Francisco this week, so I channeled my inner-foodie, warmed up my tastebuds, and joined the over 18,000 attendees in search of new and innovative foods.  After seven hours of talking & tasting, even I was wiped!

I had two goals for the show: 1) search for new and innovative packaging for my baby food, and 2) check out all the hot new food products for some future recipe inspiration.

From the Tradeshow Floor

First impressions…holy food batman!  Albeit not in the food industry, I’ve been to tradeshows for 10 years and thought I knew what to expect.  I was not prepared however for the endless rows of cheese samples and mass chaos as the exhibit floor opened at 10am.

The first hour was a blur. The product I sampled with the biggest “cool factor” was a finger lime (think about something that looks like caviar but tastes like lemon/lime).  I tasted bacon jam, raw coconut energy bars, chocolate flavored tea, goats milk caramels, seaweed snacks, tea-seed oil, lentil chips, among other cool products…

In general, there seemed to be a lot of mid-sized food companies and distributors that sell hundreds of products.  Surprisingly, very few “small” producers has presence there…which is what I looked forward to the most.  After speaking with several of the vendors about this, they said that it’s extremely expensive to exhibit which can be pretty cost-prohibitive for small start-up companies.  Hmmm…  Noted.

Convergence of Foodcrafter peeps

Couple of really cool things happened though…  First, many of you remember reading my Dream a Little Dream blog where I went on record that Little City Kitchen Co. would be featured on the TV show Foodcrafters within two years.  Since I made that statement, I seem to be attracting other small businesses that have been featured on the show!

My new friend Donna @ Love & Hummus was just on in January, and at the Fancy Food Show I met with Josh Henderson from Skillet Bacon Jam and Justin Gold from Justin’s nut butters, both of whom are official Foodcrafters alumni.  Hoping some of their good ju-ju rubs off on me!!

The quest for the perfect package

Which brings me to packaging.  I’m going to have a unique design element that will really differentiate my baby food from other frozen baby food products, so I was on the hunt for an uber-cool way to show it off.  Had some great discussions with different packagers at the show…hopefully they’ll be able to take my vision and come up with a sample that will work.

The original plan was to start selling at the Farmers Markets in January, but it looks like it will more likely be February or early March before it happens.  Truth be told I’m a little annoyed (because those who know me know that when I make a plan I like to stick to it!!), but I’m trying to relax and go with the flow a little more.  Lots of steps involved, and it’s a slow (but steady) uphill climb!!

That’s it for this week!  I expect to release the next cooking class schedule in the next week or so, so stay tuned for farmers market selling locations as well as the Spring cooking class schedule coming soon.

Make Way for the Potato Masher…

I switched gears this week and looked at making baby food in a whole new, and much simpler, light…  My food processor got a rest as I went back to basics with the goal of developing easy, healthy, and inexpensive baby foods with minimal equipment.

Why this new quest?  A new friend of mine, who is a parenting coach and teaches parenting classes at Crossroads High School in Concord, invited me to speak to her classroom.  On Thursday, I led a baby food cooking demonstration for a group of 15 awesome high-school women who have kids between 4 and 12 months old.

The Core Requirements

As I was designing the class outline, I decided on a few core requirements…

  1. My definition of “minimal equipment” is a microwave & a potato masher, so I threw out any baby food recipe idea that needed more than those two items.
  2. Most babies don’t get enough vegetables these days (and you all know that I’m a die-hard veggie-aholic anyway), so the recipes were primarily focused on fresh vegetables.
  3. I wanted to keep the prep time to a minimal, under an hour a week, so I stuck to single items that could be prepared quickly.

After a brief discussion about introducing solids and common food allergies, we got to cooking.  There were several class volunteers that mashed their way to becoming really good baby food makers!

Our recipes included:

Steamed sweet potato puree
Butternut squash puree with coconut milk
Baby hummus (chickpeas with olive oil and water)
Zucchini steamed with butter
Avocado and banana mash with coconut milk

And the best part: The total cost for all those recipes was only $12.75.

I had a lot of helpers in the classroom, so a special shout out to the girls at Crossroads High School…and their adorable little ones.  Thanks to everyone for your participation during the class, and good luck making some of your own baby food!  Click here to see the pictures from the day.

Larissa & Cecelia, 1 yr
Griselda & Francisco, 4 mo.
Jazmin & Adrian, 4 mo.
Lauren & Dominic, 5 mo.
Jessica & Mireya, 5 mo.
Sara & Amy, 1 yr.
Veronica & Kyle, 6 mo.
Lucero & Israel, 11 mo.
Teresita & Lillie, 6 mo.
Crystal & Adianna, 5 mo.
Jasmine & Giovanni, 7 mo.
Felisa & Desire, 8 months

*Special thanks to Torie Henderson, life & parenting coach, who lent me her class for the hour!

Bring on the Samples…

Next week is going to be a little crazy.  The Winter Fancy Food Show is in town, so I plan to spend Sunday – Tuesday wandering the tradeshow floor in search of packaging, ingredient, and marketing ideas.  Heck, it’s a three-day show featuring some of the best specialty foods from around the world…do you think I would miss that???

I’ll be updating my Little City Kitchen Co. Facebook page throughout the Fancy Food Show, so make sure you click “Like” on my page for the most recent news.  I’m on a plane next Thursday for a family event, so the next blog will probably be coming out Friday, January 28.  Hope everyone has a great week until then!

A Fresh Start to the New Year…

As you could probably tell, it’s been pretty quiet at Little City Kitchen Co. as I took a break for most of December to enjoy the holidays with friends and family. My travels took me from sailing in the Virgin Islands (yup, that’s me on the left), to shoveling two feet of snow in Lake Tahoe. It was a good month, and I tried to enjoy every minute of it.

And yet, I was really eager to get back to work.

I think back to what I’ve accomplished with Little City Kitchen Co. in six short months: Decided on making baby food, rented a commercial kitchen, launched the cooking classes, created my recipes, organized the Baby Tasters, sampled and demoed my way through the Birth & Baby Fair, launched a new website, and the list goes on.

And yet, there is still SO much to do! In fact, I’m finding out that when you start a company, the to-do list is positively endless. It’s like being in perpetual “catch-up” mode. With that being said, I got back to my desk Monday morning with a renewed motivation and was excited to get moving…

And get moving I did…this has been a busy week so far.

New & Exciting

If you haven’t done so already, check out the new Little City Kitchen Co. website that launched in late November. I probably should have promoted this a bit more (oops!), but better late than never. It still has a few tweaks, but overall it’s a great start and I’m thrilled with the result.

I’ve (finally) made some progress on permits to sell at the Farmers Markets. One final kitchen inspection and a few more checks to Alameda Co. and I should be good to go. I had hoped to be selling at the Farmers Markets by January, but because of some other projects, selling will more than likely start in early February instead.

Why the delay? I’ve decided to apply for a small business loan! Had a great meeting yesterday morning with a lender to discuss what is needed to secure some extra funding. So for the next week or two, I’m putting the finishing touches on my business plan and financial statements so I can begin the application process. Decided that I’m going to hire some part-time help with the cooking so that I can stay focused on the sales & marketing part of the business.

In store for this year?

As you know, I’m still getting clear on my vision for this company…the path changes frequently as new opportunities surface.  On the list for now is: start selling at Farmers Markets, hire part-time help, better marketing the cooking classes, launch online sales & shipping, and (potentially) look at selling in retail stores like Whole Foods. Just to name a few.

It’s a busy and exciting time for me, and I’m so glad that you get to be part of the journey. A big thanks to everyone for their tremendous support in the past year! Looking forward to what this year brings…