The first pop-up

January 2015

I was lucky to be able to take Christmas off and I was really able to relax because I felt I had achieved something and the pipeline for Cracked was looking healthy.

I’m getting ready to start breakfasts in Bread & Bones so there’s a lot to organise. There are a good few offices around there and the footfall is really strong so I was hoping to target people either on their way to work or people willing to pop out for a healthy breakfast.

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It’s nothing I hadn’t done before but this venture has had both great and bad affects on my confidence. A new location brings the unknown and I guess I was just getting used to my system at the Christmas market. I know I’m hard on myself because I want to get every detail right but it’s hard to do everything so you have to try not to sweat the small stuff. Consulting my checklist every single day is crucial not to forget anything!

bbbI’ve also been working on getting into the all day markets. Preferably either Dun Laoghaire or Marley Park markets but also back ups like the honest to goodness in Glasnevin, Blackrock market and Bushy Park. Glasnevin would mean trading outside at an indoor market, Blackrock has promised me the first one applicable (although 6 months on I never heard a word and they’re supposedly desperate to improve the market!) and bushy park are slow to respond. Marley Park said they weren’t accepting any more hot food vendors for a few months and she was pretty adamant about it. I managed to get one of the guys who runs Dun Laoghaire to come down to the Cracked stall at the Christmas market and he seemed to like it but there is still an attitude that I don’t understand. There is concern I am in competition with the crepe guy because we both have a smoked salmon recipe and with the hot dog guy because I’m selling an omelette with sausages!!! I’ve been stalking those guys for months and I just don’t get much out of them on the phone. I get that lots of people want to get in there but I’m doing something that’s completely different, fits with the health trend and something people want! I’ve also developed a professional brand and yet they can’t seem to see the value. People doing average food with poor brands have been there for years, why would you not want to get interesting new businesses in there.

I’m all set for Bread & Bones with my menus, loyalty cards, posters, online launch campaign, branding paraphernalia etc. I’ve been down a couple of times to see how the set up will work best and test the cookers etc so now all I can do is get going.

It started well and the feedback was good. There were a few busy days but mostly it ticked over and there weren’t enough of my target market around there to get a significant portion through the door. Naturally people came in looking for Bread & Bones food too. I feel like this quirky type of idea of two different businesses operating out of the same space would fly in London. Pop-ups and things of this nature are at the fore front there but I’m not sure Dublin is ready for it or will ever be. I got some press from it which was great – Lovin Dublin came down to sample the goods and wrote a great article which really got people talking. I also learnt a huge amount running Cracked from a permanent premises and had lots of chats with the Bread & Bones guys which gave me a real insight into what’s involved in running a food business.

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Reaching K with storm names

Although I knew the first weekend’s weather probably wouldn’t last, I didn’t expect it to be quite as bad as it was. I think there were probably four good days out of five weeks, the rest I spent mostly sitting in the hut hoping it wouldn’t blow over. As you probably know, storm names start at A and work their way through the alphabet. By Christmas eve, it had reached Storm Katie. I think this was a first for Ireland.

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On the good days it was great. I got used to the process and started to really enjoy what I was doing. I slowly began to be able to chat to people and cook the omelettes at the same time, which although doesn’t sound hard, is quite challenging! I met some great people and the feedback I was getting was so encouraging. People who never liked omelettes were having their perceptions changed and omelette connoisseurs were praising them. I even met a food consultant who said it had success written all over it – I couldn’t contain my excitement on that one!! The support continued week after week with people you wouldn’t expect turning up to try it out. I was, and still am, so thankful for all the encouragement and well wishes.

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The highlight of the market was having Rob and Dave Kearney down (family connections and big supporters of Cracked). They tried a few omelettes, took a few pics and did an omelette challenge for a video which was hilarious. They were great and it got a lot of people talking, plus my instagram account began to look at look healthier 🙂

Because the location was not somewhere you would pass by and you needed to actually decide to go there, I felt the event organisers could have done a lot more to get people up there. Santa, a Christmas tree or any number of things like that would have been easy wins. I pushed them as much as I could but as people do when they don’t want to try, they put up barrier after barrier.

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The chilli chutney I was serving with all the omelettes was going down really well so I started bottling it and it began to take off as a product in it’s own right. I sold a lot of them over the period as Christmas gifts etc and began selling into shops in Dalkey. This kept the pennies ticking over when the weather was so bad no one left the house. A random guy actually came down to the market for a jar and said he had heard about it on twitter! Another moment I seriously cherished.

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A friend of mine runs Bread and Bones restaurant on Millenium Walkway and one of their aims was to branch out with pop-ups to make the most of the great space they have. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing pop-up breakfasts/brunch there starting in January and I was over the moon. I definitely think it was this that kept me going throughout Desmond and the other storms trying to destroy us before we got started.

The first weekend of trading

20th November 2016

I remember getting a call from the HSE three days before starting the market. Even though I had spent a huge amount of time running through everything with an EHO officer weeks prior, someone else was taking this on now. I had planned on using iced cooler boxes to keep the food cold which is pretty standard (and was November). I now needed a fridge on site, they would be out to inspect the first weekend and would shut me down if I didn’t have it. That was the first of a few reasons I would be shut down, other being that I had to have 80 litres of water for the sink! 80 litres!!! It’s no wonder people are scared of them and don’t go into the food business lightly. They really should be helping people not threatening to shut them down. I think there was tears that day – I had planned everything to a tee and actions from this phone call were not included!

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The first day was on a Friday evening. I was setting up my hut and felt all over the place – I didn’t really have a clue was I was doing and it was my new career! It’s such a strange feeling when you’ve been so used to the same type of work and suddenly you’re so in over your head. The evening was quiet which was fine for me, a slow test run!! The organisers informed me there was a fireworks display the next evening and they were expecting 2000 people. Oh god. I didn’t have enough food. Obviously it’s always better to sell out than have food left over but I hadn’t quite learnt that yet and completely freaked out. Off I went to Lidl and bought €100 worth of food.

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Despite my nerves the first day went really well. Spencer was there to help (thank god) so he kept me calm and I adopted a ‘don’t panic’ pep talk for myself every time I started to stress and it worked. The main thing I was worried about was dealing with volume but the omelettes were turning out really well and I was getting them out quickly. So many family and friends came down to support which was really amazing and so nice to see friendly faces. The fireworks display was really busy but I was pretty proud of Cracked running it smoothly. The weather was sunny and cold but a perfect weekend to be out and about so we were lucky. I remember plonking myself on the couch on Sunday night and feeling so exhilarated and tired at the same time. I guess it’s like overcoming something you don’t think you can do. Next stop: an iron man!

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Getting ready for my first market

End October 2015

The excitement of getting into the market is quickly overridden by the million things I had to do before it starts in a month.

Staff. I need to get someone to help me at the stall. I put an add on DIT for graduates from the culinary course, put one in a MAST ezine (the insurance guys) and rang a few people I know in the food area. My best friend’s brother has actually worked at a stall in Dun Laoghaire market and amazingly he’s willing to help on Sundays. I eventually got a student (from the MAST email) to help out Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Unfortunately because the weather was the most shocking December in years, I end up having to cancel him quite a bit which I felt so bad about but that’s the nature of part-time work. And so begins the staff problems that most shops say are the most challenging part.

The set up. I was delighted with the set up of the market – I was going to be in a little hut/chalet which means no wind blowing my tent away and once all the equipment in I can leave it there for 5 weeks which really takes the pain of setting up each day away. They’re very cute so all is need is lots of branding, some creative christmas/egg decs and it will look the part.

Branding. I’ve got my final branding back from the designer and I’m delighted with it. There are a few different versions she’s given me and each could work really well with different elements so I get working on that. I write about what the brand stands for (About the idea) why we chose eggs, why we think they’re superheroes and why we called it Cracked.

 

Social media, photography & marketing. I set up all my pages online carefully filling out the info as people underestimate the importance of that. Good quality food photography is crucial to the success of your brand so I invest in a proper camera and start learning how to take photos. I concoct each omelette with their ingredients for each page. I spend time creating my content for the launch of cracked – from day 1 to starting in markets. After a few days I’m getting loads of likes and well wishes on facebook so I’m thrilled and it really eggs me on;)

Pricing and margins. Takes forever but worth it. I excelled it up and listed exactly how much each ingredient would cost for each omelette – portion control is very important in pricing. Don’t forget to include packaging and any other extras like a chutney you’re serving with it. Once you have the cost of each work out different scenarios on pricing and what margin you would make on each. I sent my final pricing around to some people who I knew would be honest for their comments and feedback.

DIY. I’m making my menus on boards (inspiration from London) and you definitely underestimate how long it takes. It is something I enjoy but when you have all the other things to do it becomes more of a ‘get it done’ type of task unfortunately. My dad is a hero with DIY so kindly helps me one Saturday night in his ultimate man shed and they turned out quite well.

Packaging. In a previous post I mentioned I had found a good box and that I just needed to ring the guy a week before. After chasing James for 2 weeks I contacted another guy John who was providing the cutlery and John knows James. John said he was not off the radar and would contact him for me. James suddenly rings me and says he can’t get the packaging, if he had just told me that in the first place!! To be fair I do panic a bit but things happen for a reason and John is the nicest man ever (JFK disposables) and sends me more samples straight away. I find a box I am happy with.

Farm visit. I really wanted to bring home the fact that I am selling free range eggs and that I know they come from a great, local farm so I organise a trip to Monaghan and it was a fab day. It’s always good to meet people in the industry too and they loved the idea of celebrating eggs through a dedicated food business. We made a little video.

There’s lots of other small things to sort like PAT testing of all electrical equipment, cleaning products, cooking equipment etc and there are lots of hidden costs so you have to be absolutely stringent on your budget. There’s also lots of things to sort out in your head – what way you’re going to do things and that’s what really takes time but it has to be done. As long as you keep your to do list and plough through it everything will be fine!!! I did kinda feel like a superhero throughout that period, it is amazing how much you can get done in one day when you put your mind to it.

Location Location Location

October 2015

I went along to an event as part of a startup gathering and there were a few speakers from the Food Academy, an initiative run by Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Board which helps small local businesses get their products onto shelves. It’s nice to hear people who have done it and come out the other side. One of the best tips I got was from Boutique Bake who said- ‘just start’ and you’ll find your feet. That is exactly what I need to do, just start.  One of the speakers put up a photo of a roller coaster in her presentation which was the title of my first blog post so I’m on the right track 😉

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I tried a different tack with the HSE. I made the mistake of not really doing my homework when I first spoke to them and although you’re advised to make contact them as a first port of call, they definitely want people who know their stuff. At this stage I was pretty much ready to go with all the equipment and had read the manual so I called the branch in Dun Laoghaire instead of the city centre who I had spoken to originally.

I spoke to a nice girl who grilled me with questions and by the end of the conversation (about 45 mins) she was satisfied I knew what I was at and would register me which was eggsellent news (sorry). There was nothing about setting up first and coming out to inspect me, I had been given two totally different directions and had spent all this time getting the equipment for inspection and registration so I could apply to the markets when I didn’t have to!!! Anyway this was progress.

I received my confirmation of registration. I also had my logo and name confirmed at this stage – I had hummed and hawed over ‘The humble egg’ and ‘Cracked’ but I loved the different meanings Cracked gave and the firm nod it gave to the endless egg puns out there. I sent in all my applications to the markets I had looked at and pretty much stalked the guys who ran Dun Laoghaire but I was at the end of a very long list and it didn’t seem like my product and customer offering was the important thing.

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I remember sitting at my computer on a Monday morning at a low point and thought right, Christmas markets. I’m thinking it might actually be really good to start an event as a testing ground, that way I’ll have it all sussed out by the time I start regularly trading.

I ring ‘I believe’, the one in the docklands and they said there was too much footfall to put in a stall with no experience. I try a few others and then Dun Laoghaire Christmas market. I am actually getting quite excited about this one and I need to reign myself in!! They are little huts and it’s in a different location to last year in the grounds of the Maritime museum so more like a park for people to convene. Its on Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Sat and Sun for 5 weeks in the lead up to Christmas which is a great amount of time and means I would hopefully learn a lot in a short period. The applications said they closed a couple of weeks ago but I ring up anyway and they’re looking at them now so I apply. It asks for previous trading history and I feel like I’m back at the very beginning of my career when I have to say I don’t have much previous experience but I am really keen and passionate about what I’m doing! I got quite used to being able to say that I had 7 years in marketing!

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I ring them about a week later to see if there’s any news and I’m actually nervous. Automatically I think that if I don’t get in its fine, I’ll find somewhere else. You have to practice self-preservation in these situations! They say no news for a few days but then just before lunch time I see an email come in from them. Shut the front door, I’m in!!! ‘We think Cracked could work very well at this year’s market.’ Magical words. I literally start jumping up and down clapping my hands like my 1 year old nephew. The agony (so far) has definitely worth the achievement. I remember reading somewhere that it’s so important to celebrate the small wins.

This has literally given me a new lease of life,a focus and a goal which is what I’ve been trying to get to for the last 2 and a half months.

 

The Operational Octopus!

October 2015

There are a lot of different avenues to cover when you actually start setting up like equipment, branding, food, electrics, insurance, plumbing etc, some things I haven’t a clue about like the latter! It’s also still constantly on my mind that I’m setting all this up without a location which doesn’t help when feeling a little overwhelmed. I think that emotion probably sums up the entire process.

I’m trying to get set up without spending too much cash. That way I can get registered and concentrate on finding a location, then I can buy whatever else I need. I get a lot of the equipment in Musgraves and the smaller things in Homestore and More (container heaven below). Luckily, one of my family has a warehouse that is a hoarders dream and I find lots of good stuff in there, even a sink!

I haven’t found my egg supplier yet so I spend some more time ringing around. They have to be free range but I’d also like to get them from a small family farm as I think people would relate to that. Most importantly they have to be happy hens! There are things like minimum orders and delivering times that need to be considered. I leave messages for a few places but they don’t call back, I find that odd as all the message said was that I had a business based on eggs so they don’t know how much business I could be offering. I eventually speak to a salt of the earth farmer in Cavan and he (very nicely) advises me to buy them from a local shop or market for the moment where you can trace the supplier and buy as you go. You don’t want to end up with thousands of eggs when you don’t really have a clue how many you will need. Ok this could be an easier way to go.

I head down to the butchers in Ringsend as I go there a bit and they get the eggs in for a great price. They say they’re sure we can work something out and promises to ring me. After a week and phoning a few times I don’t hear back so I head down there again. The shop is now a barbers, oh dear. Probably pricing the eggs too cheap. Within that time I’ve found a supplier for my veg and they also do free range eggs from a local farm in Monaghan so I order a few to test them out. They’re lovely and priced well so I’m happy with that.

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I have to work on the design side of things too which is the fun part. I wrote in a previous post about making the stall look inviting so I get to work on getting a shop front made by a carpenter in the shape of a giant cracked egg. It’s supposed to be light enough for me to lift and fit in a jeep but I’m not sure how that will work if it’s supposed to withstand that elements! I brush over that one and wait to see what it will turn out like!! I put together my brand values; what the brand stands for, creating my superhero character and all of that exciting stuff which definitely motivates you, it’s kind of like a part of you is in the brand. I meet with a freelance designer a couple of times about doing the logo (a friend in advertising put us in touch). She really gets what I want it to be about and is also into food so I give her the go ahead. Some initial ideas below.

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The boring side of it still carries on and I order the HACCP manual from the Food safety authority (€70) which you have to fill in to be compliant. It’s actually not bad for learning the details and it comes with tonnes of books for control checks that need to be filled out on an ongoing basis, esp if an inspector comes a-knockin. I also have to educate myself on what foods can be pre-prepped and how long they will last, there are a certain amount of days each food ‘officially’ lasts. Are you asleep yet?

A girl who set up a similar business recommended a good insurance company to go with so that’s ticked off the list pretty quickly which is great. Some things you think will take time are sorted pretty quickly and others you think will be a quick job are painful.

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Packaging is the last big thing I need to sort. I do a lot of research on what type of packaging retains the heat the best as the omelette will go cold quickly and taste rubbery and bluh. Those white polystyrene boxes are tacky, I need something to look organic and be easy to eat from. The first guy I talk to seems to understand what I’m on about and is sending me some samples. Although when I give him my email address, he decides to call out my age! I set up a gmail years ago and at that time it seemed to be the done thing to put the year of birth at the end of your name and I haven’t changed it since. I get some packaging from a ‘very green’ company too, sustainability is important.

I test the packaging one night. One provides a load of condensation and makes the omelette soggy, ugh, bin immediately. Two are good heat retainers and one is really firm, you could eat it on your knee no bother. I try a few more but that seems to be the winner. James tells me he has it in stock so just to ring a week before I need it. I’ll come back to this story in another post but needless to say James does not deliver on his promises!

The minefield of government bodies

September 2015

One of the things about not knowing what you’re doing in a brand new industry is that you keep changing your mind on things, especially the order in which things need to be done. I’ll do this first, it will allow me to do that, no, that needs to be done before I can do the first thing etc etc. There is little advice out there to help with the step by step setup and I found it quite difficult to prioritise as different people tell you different things.

A location had always been first on my list. Find a location, then you can do the operational side of it. Makes sense right? Wrong. I made the mistake of not looking at the detail in the market applications which state they require you to be HSE registered before submitting an application. When I first spoke to the HSE they told me I needed to have everything set up and ready to go (and I mean everything from the type of surface sanitiser to the exact amounts of water to have on site), they would then come out and inspect the stall prior to trading and register the business. So now I had to shift my priorities and start the actual set up of the stall, so that I could get registered, so that I could put in market applications, find a location and actually start trading!! By the time I did all that it would be months, and you don’t just submit an application and get in, it can take a long time, if at all. The time lines for actually selling my product seemed very far away and it was a pretty bleak feeling.

In America, I’m pretty sure you can just apply for a licence to trade on the street and off you go. It’s near impossible to do that here. There are only five places in Dublin that are available to trade on the street and a lot of people try to get licences and fail. It’s no wonder more people don’t try to set up businesses, they make it incredibly difficult for us to start. Okay rant over.

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I was also looking into possible funding and support at this stage. I was in touch with the local enterprise office in Dublin city centre who told me that they didn’t give funding to any food businesses unless they were developing products as there was too many of them. They suggested I look into mentoring and directed me to the website but I spent about half an hour trying to find the info without success. There are some supports but mentoring is pretty much the only one that’s free. I had heard of a couple of other schemes – one with the revenue and another with the social welfare where you have to submit a business plan. Again, I couldn’t find anywhere official to get advice on what the best option for me was as they are all different agencies.

Writing a business plan had been on my list for a while and if I needed it to get possible funding, I’d better get going on it. I was eager to at least start trading before deciding where I’d be in five years but I also knew it was important for the direction of the business. I looked at Enterprise Ireland and a few other templates but happen to come across an American guy called ‘Dave Lavinsky’ from a company called Grow Think. He’s got a pretty impressive bio – he’s a successful entrepreneur, writes for Forbes and his tips for writing a business plan have been recommended by the New York Times, Forbes, Wall Street Journal etc. He presents these tips in a video with animations showing you what’s important to include and makes it look so easy. I am hooked. I not normally one for American enthusiasm but it’s compelling to watch…

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After about 15 minutes you’ve heard half of it and it’s so good you really need to hear the rest…..then, BOOM. He presents you with an offer you can’t refuse – just pay €80 for his template and all you have to do is fill in the blanks!! He gives you all the financial spreadsheets you’ll ever need with this ‘fantastic offer which only takes four hours to fill out’. I’m not a sucker and have never been influenced by this hard core kind of sales so I can’t believe it when I am actually considering this. He’s got hundreds of companies investments with this business plan. I’ve hit pay and entered my credit card details before I really know what’s happening. When I fill Spencer in, he just shakes his head laughs. After having some time to think about what I’ve done, I’m ashamed. I’ve spent €80 that I don’t have but convince myself it’s a good investment. In the back of my head I start thinking I can sell it to someone starting up when I’m finished which is just ridiculous and definitely will not happen!! The next day I miss a call from a weird number and listen to my voicemail….have a guess who’s on the other end of the line, none other than Dave Lavinsky himself. He’s congratulating me on purchasing the business plan and trying to sell me about a million other things which just enhances my mortification! Only in America.

I’ll fill in the plan in the next few weeks but I still think my priority is to get registered as a food business. So, I begin the setup of the stall…

Perfecting the product

September 2015

You have to get out of the house and do something every day or you’ll go mad. My way of keeping my motivation was to make sure I did one of five things every day; Meet a contact in the industry, look at new markets/cafes, take on one element of the operational set up, meet a friend for lunch and get their thoughts or do a tasting.

Now that I knew the type of market I was looking at, I needed to get cracking (sorry) on the actual product. Everyone in the markets will tell you that if you want to succeed, it’s all about the product – it needs to be high quality and consistently good. That may seem obvious but I think it’s worth mentioning as you need to keep it at the forefront of your mind. Also, to make the most out of your market application you need to have a pretty good idea of your menu and photos to back it up, so I spent the next few weeks concentrating on creating a brilliant product.

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I read countless reviews and recipes from chefs all over the world and well known food bloggers. It turns out there are many, many different opinions on how to make the ‘best omelette’. The one thing they all have in common is that they use an omelette as a skill test when hiring potential chefs and if they can cook a good one, chances are they have good cookery skills. Omelettes are definitely an art form but the great thing about them is that once mastered, they become simple and can be cooked to perfection again and again.

Mastering them comes down to countless different variants – the type of heat you use, the type of pan, the temperature of the pan, the amount of eggs, how you beat them, what you use as a base for the eggs, whether to use milk/water and I could go on and on. I was actually pretty excited about this because it meant I could create my own version of a gourmet omelette. I spent days cooking omelettes without any filling testing every different type of blend until I came up with my own combination I was happy to stand over.

Then came the ingredients. I’ve had loads of omelettes in cafes and restaurants which were nice enough but I always felt the same about them – too thick and filled with boring ingredients whose combinations weren’t thought through. I really felt I needed to do something different. Firstly, the egg base needed to be the right thickness and cooked to the same consistency each time. Secondly, the ingredients needed to stand out. There’s nothing wrong with a tried and tested classic version and I did plan to have that on my menu but the rest of the fillings needed to be gourmet, unique to my omelettes and foods that people loved. I found there were some ingredients you might never think of adding to an omelette but tasted surprisingly good – this is where the versatility of eggs adds so much. After looking at dozens of different foodie sites, I had about 10 different ideas I wanted to try out for omelettes and others for frittatas. I had tried some here and there which were ruled out for one reason or another and some that didn’t work in an omelette but were really good in a frittata and vice versa. The difference between an omelette and a frittata is in the thickness of the base and the way you cook it. A frittata is like a Spanish omelette but called a frittata because you can use whatever ingredients you like whereas a Spanish omelette is confined to the same ingredients. I’ll talk more about frittatas later. Time to get cooking those omelettes!

Spencer was the first of my guinea pigs so I spent a morning prepping all the ingredients for his tasting. Since I was busy making them I didn’t notice he had eaten all of the first two omelettes and was now full! I’m not sure he realised what I had planned for him! The smoked salmon and cream cheese was the first one we both agreed was gorgeous and it set the bar for the others which was a really good thing as I now had to make sure they all tasted that good. Spencer’s not a cheese lover (except on pizza) but I served up an avocado and feta thinking I’d get away with it as sometimes he doesn’t notice. I was wrong. He spit the whole thing out and thought I was trying to poison him. I had to make the call on that one myself – really good but lacking something which I’d experiment with later. I managed to get him to taste seven more but he had to take to the couch for a few hours afterwards and he went off omelettes for a couple of weeks that day.

Next up were Tara and Ailionora, quite the brunch goers and not afraid of experimenting with food. They are the reason there is now chilli in the avocado and feta omelette which is something I wouldn’t have thought of but works great.

For one of the tastings I had my immediate family and my cousin and her boyfriend over who try to live by the paleo diet. I wanted to include a paleo option and had tested a few but had never felt any of them hit the spot. My mum didn’t quite get it and kept asking ‘who is paleo’? After a few more versions, we tried simplifying it and Popeye’s paleo was born – an omelette with bacon and spinach. I learnt the key to good spinach is to heavily season it when cooking as it brings out the flavour. I was also trying out an omelette with guacamole which sounds like it would be nice but there was something not right quite about it – eventually we decided it was the heat of the omelette and although avocado is really good – ‘hot guac’ is actually a bit gross.

The same friend who did that mortifying survey with me came over with her boyfriend for a tasting. She is half French and in true French style knows a lot about cheese so we went through a few different options with the likes of Gruyere, Gouda etc. It turns out that strong cheeses like that don’t really add anything to the omelettes and you’re better off sticking to cheeses like feta, cheddar and mozzarella. I also tried using duck eggs in a few of the omelettes as they are creamier and a bit bigger so would fatten the omelette up a bit. We didn’t notice the difference in taste but this is something I may add a later date.

In total, there was about eight tastings with different people over the course of the two weeks with people who I knew would be really honest. I got them to record all their comments on the same sheet so I could compare the opinions and chat about what needed to be added etc. I’m lucky enough to know a couple of chefs/restaurant owners who partook in tastings for me and who suggested additions only chefs could. One of them was a friend who runs Bread & Bones restaurant on the Millennium walkway and I spent a morning cooking there for the staff.

All the tastings were unbelievably beneficial and really contributed to the final version of my menu which I was absolutely delighted with and I can honestly say I’ve never seen omelettes like these.

Now, all I need to do is find a location and begin the setup!

The first challenging decision

August 2015

I wanted to make sure I had covered as many areas of research as possible so that I could conclude (objectively) that this idea had potential. I created an online survey to get feedback, asking friends to send it around to colleagues so I could get an unbiased view. From previously working with super smart analysts, I know that for a meaningful analysis I am supposed to prioritise the things I want to know and cross reference them with the responses to find the biggest opportunity to intervene. I’ve done the best I can here but let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be employed for my analyst skills alone!! I do get a really positive reaction from people on the important questions though and it also makes me think about the detail of challenges I face, e.g. Keeping the omelettes warm enough in the winter so that people can take them back to the office and serving them in a way that people can eat them on the go. If anyone reading this did the survey, thanks for being so honest, it really, really helped.

I also felt I should be getting out on the streets to talk to my target market so I enlist the help of a friend who owns her own business, (Plug: SALT, Speech & Language therapy clinic) and is the furthest thing from shy! Our strategy is to pitch the survey so it took up only 10 seconds of people’s time with quick and easy to answer questions. We head out with our clipboards intact thinking we look quite the professionals. And we are literally burnt left right and center. People won’t even talk to us and it is full on rejection!! I can tick that one off the list because I won’t be doing that again! I’ll stick to online I think.

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I continue meeting whoever I can in the industry to see what they think about the idea. It turns out there are a lot of people who know someone they can put you in touch with. After meeting or talking to about ten people all from different areas of food, there’s not much more I can learn at this point. I have a good sense of the challenges they faced in the beginning and they all think the idea has merit and is worth pursuing so it’s time to move forward with it.

I need to find out more about the lunch time markets I’m launching myself into so I meet one of guys from ’00 pizza’ (savage pizzas by the way). He gives me a real dose of reality. He explains that the physical side of it is really underestimated and would be especially tough for a girl. He also tells me that you really only get a one hour 15 minute window to trade (I was thinking three). Costs are much more than you think too, he has a van plus insurance etc etc. I had been thinking of looking into a mobile unit as that would eliminate a lot of the physical side but it’s a big initial cost when you have no idea whether people will like your product. I think about the time you put into one day at the lunch time markets for what you get out of it. How many omelettes can you sell in one hour? Would this even cover the cost of rent, staff etc? Is this time well spent or would it be better somewhere else? He suggests looking into indoor markets as it’s coming into the winter and that would eliminate some of the physical side, i.e. putting up the gazebo and trying to stop the gazebo blowing away. I do that but unfortunately it doesn’t look like there are any that have high enough footfall, plus I’m cooking with gas and that’s an issue inside if there are no mains to connect to.

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He also suggests working in a full time job and doing the markets at the same time…uh oh, bit late for that! I could go and look for a new job but I really don’t know how I would do both, especially since I made the decision I was going to do this on my own. I am totally deflated about the whole thing and immediately start to question what I’m doing. I think it’s just hard because it hits you on such a personal level which is so different to dealing with challenges you face when you work for someone else. After about a day, I realise that this kind of thing is going to happen a lot and you have to find a way around the barriers, not crumble in front of them, otherwise you’ll never last. You just need to give yourself the time to digest the problem, get used to it, then find a solution.

I get back on it and start looking into gyms and events etc, alternative options where I can trade but I really feel I need a permanent fixture to at least get going. I eventually decide an all day market is the best option, obviously Dun Laoghaire or Marlay Park would be ideal but there are a few others out there to look into as well. I’m just going to have to suck it up and embrace the physicality, as well as the freezing Irish winter! I just need to be as minimalistic as possible with my equipment. Right, well at least that’s decided; sometimes that’s the hardest part. It doesn’t mean I can’t come back to lunch time markets in the future but for now I think I’m making the right call. Thanks to Karl and the 00 pizza guys, I probably would have gone a different way if it wasn’t for your advice.

Step 1 – Research!

July 2015

Research was first on my list. I nearly went straight into starting a business plan, only that my sister urged me to do the research. Everything you read about setting up a business will tell you the reason most people fail is because they haven’t done the research. The idea might sound great to you and your friends but that doesn’t mean everyone else will like it. I start with secondary research and document things like the value and consumption of the egg market, consumer lifestyle trends, food trends etc. I got a lot of this from countless Bord Bia studies which were so helpful. Other sources involved a lot of googling! I also spent a lot of time looking around the world for similar businesses, I found two in London, both started as pop ups/market stalls and are now opening restaurants, a couple in America (one called eggslut – amazing) and a few in Dubai – apparently they’re mad for the eggs in Dubai! As time went on, the more I looked, the more I came across. Some use eggs as a theme in their name and serve all types of food but others specialise in eggs. I start thinking this is going to become a trend… obviously not driven by me wanting that at all!! You have to be careful doing research because it’s easy to fit your idea into a trend when it might not really work, I was trying to be as objective as possible.

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Now to primary research…

…..It’s stalking time!! No one likes cold calling and it doesn’t get any easier but having done what feels like a life’s worth for feelingfrugal, I am a bit more gutsy than I used to be. Most people are really helpful and if they’re not then you haven’t lost anything. I’ve learnt that just talking to people wherever, whenever you can is the most valuable way of getting information. Even when you don’t think anything will come of it, you normally pick up something.

At this stage, my idea is to get into the lunch time markets in town so I start locally with the market at Grand Canal. I end up chatting to a couple of stall holders but spend a good bit of time with The Paella guys who were so helpful and give me loads of info. They are the kings of the lunch time markets and have the operation down to a tee. I head to Spencer dock, Sandyford and Mespil road markets and chat to various different stalls to assess the environment for my product. There are very few healthy alternatives and the ones that are, are salad based. I see my product as a healthy but hot and filling alternative, tasty enough not to crave a bar of chocolate afterwards. What’s the demographic like at these markets? I’ve tried but can’t quite tell if there are muscles under those suits. There is a mix of young, working professionals and I do think they would be swayed to try omelettes, if nothing else to feel instantly good about not giving into temptation the moment they order the healthy option. I also head into town and walk from street to street looking at what’s out there on the healthy cafe front. It is definitely on the increase….have you seen Upper Baggot Street!!

I call/meet the market organisers and pitch my idea. They seem keen as it is unique and the healthy element is definitely the way they see things going. Mind you, the impression I get from others is that they’re not really interested in the businesses and as long as they have the rent they’re happy. Now all I need to do is set it up!! I really did not think there was so much involved in this! I’ve literally dived straight into this and sometimes I catch myself wondering what the hell I’m at! But the minute I think that, it’s behind me again so that has to be a good thing right?!

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Looking online at the market stalls in London, there was such a huge focus on creativity, something I felt was missing from the stalls in Dublin. I really wanted to bring that creativity to my stall to give people a real experience of what my brand is about. The word ‘omelette’ doesn’t overly excite either so I wanted to use the look and feel of the stall to draw people in, then I could sell them a gourmet omelette. The product is number one and what will bring people back, but to bring people back you have to get them in and this was the best way I saw of doing that.

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I needed inspiration for the stall and a great friend lives in London so I headed over for a couple of days to do some research and have a much needed catch up on this mental adventure! It also gave me a chance to visit the egg based restaurants there. After visiting a tonne of markets and taking about 100 photos, I had some good ideas to go home with. I also had the best bruschetta I’ve ever had in my life at one of the stalls….this later became the inspiration for my Mario & Luigi omelette.

I was beginning to get a sense of whether my product would work and how it would fit in but the research wasn’t over…