My quest to start a whoopie pie stand of my very own in a Chicago farmers market.
I am alive and well, I swear. I have just been doing a lot of soul searching/question posing/doubting lately. It’s coming down to crunch time; I’ll need to get my sanitation certificate by the end of the month if I want to complete an application to a farmers market as well as apply to work in a community kitchen. The only thing really stopping me from moving forward with the plan is my lack of success in the macaron area, i.e. the very epicenter of this whole plan.
I have made two batches in the new and adorable countertop convection oven I got for Christmas. I didn’t even need to take pictures of the first batch, because they looked exactly like this batch I made back in October except without feet:
They had the perfect texture, they just weren’t up to snuff in the appearance department. The second batch I made last night had feet (!) but this was because I finally did some serious thinking and realized I got the best feet when I actually aged my egg whites by leaving them in the fridge for a day or two before baking. This is bad news because aging egg whites is not going to be a simple task in a commercial kitchen. I’ll have to rent cooler space, which I wasn’t planning on, and I’ll have to reserve at least an hour the day or two before I want to bake in order to go in and separate dozens and dozens of eggs. Those two things add a significant amount to my budget, which is my next concern.
I recently drew up a rough budget of what I think would be all of my costs to set up a stand in the Nettlehorst French Market for two Saturdays a month from April to October. It came out to over $4,000. You would think drawing up a budget would be clarifying and only lead to better decision making, but it’s actually had the opposite effect on me. I’ve just been thinking of all of these other things I could do with $4,000: pay back more of my student loans, go to a bunch of fancy restaurants in Chicago, go on vacation to Paris, visit Napa Valley, take fiddle classes with my boyfriend, use it towards buying a car…
In order to just break even, I figured out that I will need to sell approximately 158 macarons for $2 each on 14 Saturdays over the course of the season. Based on my experiences in the Nettlehorst market, that number seems way too high for the amount of traffic I’ve seen there, but I’m loath to raise the price to $2.25 or $2.50 because I think consumers would balk at paying over $2 for a cookie no matter how cute.
However, I still have several things pulling me towards the “you need to try this!” mind set. I came up with some great potential flavors when drawing up the budget, like key lime pie, peach cobbler, twinkies, Boston cream pie, and Fluffernutter. I also recently took a tour of Kitchen Chicago and really liked it.
I think it would be a great place to work and the rates seem pretty reasonable. They’re right in line with Logan Square Kitchen, where I can’t take a tour until I have my sanitation certificate, but where I also already attended a pastry market.
This past weekend I also attended a local artisan market at the Williams Sonoma in downtown Chicago.
I heard about it through my Score small business mentor because I sent her my budget, and she immediately replied that another baking client of hers would be at the market and maybe I would want to check it out. I found that client (Lexyne Jackson of Savor Baking Company) and had a fantastic, encouraging conversation with her. She is a fellow non-classically trained baker who went to school and worked in an industry completely unrelated to baking. Her focus is on homemade baked goods, and she really delivers – her chocolate chip cookies taste exactly like the kind your mom makes. As she mentioned, macarons would fit in well at WS’s artisan market, but I’m not sure there was enough traffic. The focus seemed to be more on getting your name out there, and I don’t think I need that if I’ll be set up at a location people flock to anyway. But the rumors I had heard of a supportive, non-competitive community among small-scale local artisans are totally true. I also had a great conversation with Kimberly Crupi Dobbins of Simple Squares, although to be honest, she scared me a little bit when she said she had to start looking for a small-scale producer for her nut & honey squares after being rejected from farmers markets for making an unwrapped product.
My mind went into a tailspin as I imagined individually wrapping each macaron. That could add even more time onto the production process, and time equals money equals an even bigger budget. I thought back to the other stands in Nettlehorst. I think all of BTrue Bakery‘s treats are individually packaged (side note, I e-mailed Brady Braden, owner of BTrue to ask a few stand-related questions and his reply was fantastically gracious). Each caramel was individually wrapped at that caramel stand that first gave me the macaron stand idea…so uh oh. I won’t know for sure until the company that runs Nettlehorst releases their 2012 application, but to be honest, that could be the camel that breaks my dream’s back.
If I could just get one perfect batch of macarons out of that oven, I think I could take the plunge and even be ok with losing money, but if that doesn’t happen…
What do you think? Should I switch to brownies?