The holidays are something special for many food businesses. Last year, we were hardly ready for our first holiday season. When Macaron Parlour was mentioned on the Today show, orders started pouring in and we were overwhelmed. We packed and mailed out dozens of boxes of macarons every day, made deliveries throughout New York and held down a table at the Big Social Holiday Market the week before Christmas. We could barely keep up.
So this year, we started talking about our holiday business plans in August. We decided that our goal was to be in the Union Square Holiday Market. And now, I am not sure we ever would have been able to do Madison Square Eats or the Union Square Holiday Market without the ICE Culinary Management program. Sure, I didn’t need the program to handle the kitchen production (that is what I did the Pastry & Baking Arts program for!), but the class helped with everything else. Once I understood the business side, I embraced it. So, here I am, typing this while manning our booth at Union Square.
Some changes I managed to implement while in the program, but the real momentum seemed to start once the Culinary Management program ended and I had the time to really think about the next steps. In the past month, we hired more staff, came up with a schedule, put together sales goals, purchased packaging, found new suppliers, filled out ridiculous amounts of paperwork, came up with several new flavors and opened our booth the week before Thanksgiving. The crazy part? We aren’t stressed out. At all. Well, at least not yet. It’s a real feeling of legitimacy.
The Culinary Management program made me realize the potential of what we could be, and how we can get there. I realized the importance of coming up with a budget and trying to fit into it. I came up with conservative sales goals so we could plan for them and still have money in the event of a surprise. For the first time, we actually started doing inventory at the beginning and end of the day to come up with exact figures for our best sellers — rather than going by what we thought were the best. We vocalized to our staff what we want the customer experience to be like and we are thrilled to see repeat business. We are really looking at what might happen in the long run.
I may have had the same goals without the class, but the path there would have seemed a lot more intimidating, and a lot blurrier. I have a better idea of what will work for us and what risks are worth taking. We own a profitable and successful business and that is something to brag about.
The Culinary Management program is for people who want to work in food. It is not just for people who want to open a business; it helps those with existing businesses, too. There are valuable lessons to learn, like food costs, staffing, and pricing, and how that affects the business as a whole. It’s really a skills program. Steve Zagor said in the beginning of the program that when we graduate, we will know more than most of the people running a food business out there. I agree. We have a lot of friends who also own small food businesses, many whom we admire and hope to be like one day, and sometimes I feel like I have learned in six months from class what they have learned through years of experience, but without painful trial and error. Attending school was a real investment, but worth it for all of the things I have learned, all the mistakes I will avoid and all the new friends and colleagues I have met. Writing about my experience here on DICED has been a complete pleasure. If anyone has any doubts on this program, they should come, visit and sit in on a class or two. There is much to learn, restaurant mysteries to solve, and some really interesting people to meet. In six months, I went from burning myself out while trying to grow a business, to being more successful than we had ever anticipated and I have only implemented half of the things I have learned. Now I have to do something for Macaron Parlour that I have being putting off, write the blog!