I’ve had an interest in food trucks and pop up food businesses and got a silly idea in my head that maybe I could do this. San Francisco is a big place for foodies and since we don’t have two million people the big chefs won’t come here [a quote from Anthony Bourdain], but that gives the little guys a chance or so I thought.
Well the first thing I noticed was that if you’re going to start a pop up selling food products you have to have everything prepared like you’ve been in business for 20 years. You need to develop the logo, make t-shirts, print business cards, etc all before you actually figure out what you’re going to be selling so you can get money from people in a crowd funding start up site like Kickstarter.
I’m still kind of old school and I knew I had a thing for making candy and I was quite good at it, but the idea of making t-shirts and stickers before I even knew if I had a market was a bit much. I tend to be a bit of a mad scientist in the kitchen while at the same time there was always a certain art to what I did. I wanted something that I could turn over easily and that would transport easily and so I decided that out of my candy recipes I’d start with caramels. So I came up with a cool logo and phrase for the business. I could have done fudge or toffee, but those seemed kind of one dimensional to me. Fudge and Toffee are always just that they aren’t a base you can build on which caramels that are a basis of sugar, corn syrup and milk work very well with. I started with the fleur de sel caramels because they were the easiest to make then my mind started thinking outside the box and I came up with the following caramels:
1. Fleur de sel
2. Chocolate/Coconut caramels [vegan]
3. Bourbon & Black Pepper
4. Jolly Rogers [coconut and rum, but I needed a new name to avoid trademark issues]
5. Bacon & Maple syrup [yes, you read that right]
I made them all and they were great. The few people who sampled them loved them and wanted more and there is where the problem started. I did my homework while testing my recipes and found the best price to purchase the ingredients. I could even use agave nectar instead of sugar and corn syrup because it’s a natural invert sugar and would stay smooth and not grainy, but the key factor was in the kitchen and time.
I could crank out a batch in about an hour, but the problem was I could only crank out about 3lbs at a time and then I’d have to clean the pots while the caramels were setting so I could realistically only crank out about 12lbs a week given that I was making them at home and had to find time in between my daughter being at school, keeping the house clean and other things let alone going somewhere to sell them.
While I was thinking this I was looking at what other people were selling homemade caramels for and it was anywhere from $10-$25/pound. At this amount that would mean I would be able to earn between $120-$300/week if I sold them all. I also happened to run across an article about struggling pop up food businesses and one in particular caught me by surprise. It was a couple of women who where making homemade pies and selling them for $35 each. I don’t know about you, but that better be one really good pie for $35. I can get a decent pie for $6 and a pie for $10 that will have people asking for seconds, but what is going to make a $35 pie that special? Likewise, the only thing about my caramels that could justify say a $20/lb price would be what I was putting into them.
Then there was the fact that I’d have to sell that much every week to earn a below minimum wage income from it. In the end I’ve lived too long to earn that little, so I’ve had to put the idea of a candy pop up business on the side for now. That doesn’t mean I won’t be making my caramels anymore. I’ll still make some and have them around most of the time because you never know when someone is going to come by. They’ll also make nice end of the year gifts for the people who help us out because they’ll remember a pound of bourbon and black pepper caramels longer than a Starbucks gift card.