Tuesday, December 21, 2010

to sample or not to sample

does sampling food whet your appetite, or give you enough of a taste such that you don't feel you need to purchase? how often do you sample something, then say to yourself, "I've got to have that", and then purchase the item? the other scenario is one where you are not able to sample an item, you purchase to satisfy a curiosity, and then you decide whether this item will become a regular purchase? does sampling itself create a customer experience that customers want to repeat (e.g. BJs, Costco)? I know the Cheese Board in SF is famous for sampling any of their fine cheeses on demand. Maybe we'll have to try both ways and see what works.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

1 for 1 Philantrophy

So I know TOMS are really popular. And I think philanthropy in general is part of the mission for mx+b. But would it work to have a 1 for 1 day at mx+b (e.g. you buy a loaf and we give a loaf to someone who can't afford it)? I pose the question because cynics, like Slavoj Zizek below, think that this type of feel-good philanthropy is actually a microcosm of everything that is wrong with our approach to dealing with class inequities today. Have a look and say what you think.


At my aunt and uncle's house in New Jersey, they had Thanksgiving dinner catered entirely by FreshDirect. This was either an omen or a harbinger or both.

People in the city of New York and surrounding counties are certainly ready for delivered groceries and prepared foods. What about in Durham? How about by bike?

The Mark of a Professional

I was speaking with my friend MT last night about mx+b and explaining that we were starting with a stand because i thought it was best to start with the lowest risk, lowest investment. then i can see if i have anything interesting going as a business concept, and build from there. to which she said, you know, some people won't take you seriously unless you have a truck. i agree with that, partially. the other part is that folks around here also understand the food venture concept, go to stands at the farmer's market, etc., where things can be a little more loose and they will still try it. so the key is to make it look professional and not a sketchy operation. so if you do a stand, there should be a bake case, a professional looking sign, a tent, a tablecloth. the service workers should look classy, not bedraggled.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Portion Sizes

So I recently went to a beautiful and fantastic meal at Watts Grocery with my darling Yoyo. Everything was tres bon except we both left feeling like we had a pound of foie sticking to our ribs. so the question is, do you serve a lot of food, letting people know that for their $23 they really got enough prime rib, or do you use portion control, downprice slightly, and leave them only marginally unsatisfied (because they didn't eat till it hurt) but wanting to come back for more? i'm more likely to head for the latter, but please do weigh in on this.


Jesus Pie: Dark Chocolate Chess Pie with Wine Glaze
Bourbon-Carmelized Apple Pie
Preserved Lemon Coriander Tart

To Do List (TDL)

Breakfast Pizzas
Apple Pandowdy


So I've been working on my pickling technique for about a year. Okra, cucumbers, turnips, kimchi, greens, etc. It's been a little tough, but I think I've got enough down to share some things.

1. Pre-salting is effective. Salting the vegetable in highly salty water for 2-4 hours helps things a lot. It kills a big bunch of the bacteria in the food. Also, you could alternatively add a lot of salt to your pickle, but the amount needed if you are going to do a long-fermentation is enough to make the end product too salty, i mean, do not put this thing in my mouth hot dog it is salty. So yeah, pre-salt, but take it out before the vegetable gets too too limp (you can tell it's done if you take a bite and it's salty all the way through). Otherwise you have a soggy pickle. No one likes a soggy pickle.
2. Ferment that sucker. This is the brilliant and mysterious portion of our saga. By pouring the brine (not the just-used saltwalter) over the pickle and putting a lid on it, reactions start to happen in that mason jar. I would recommend 3 days on the countertop to get things going.
3. Finish fermentation in the fridge. At this point, you could hot water bath the pickle, but I make small batches and put them in the fridge. They keep a long time, so don't worry (assuming you did your salting properly). But the pickle does need about a week more to finish its fermentation, so don't be opening the can and tasting it and then putting it back every day. That messes things up. Once you pickle the first day, the jar should not be opened till 10 days (3 outside and 7 in the fridge) later (fermentation only occurs in the absence of oxygen). The pickle reaches its best flavor around week 3 or 4.

Pickling is going to be an effective way to supplement fresh goods for mx+b. You can obviously can/preserve much more stuff and bring it out to market than you could produce in a day. A different kind of income stream, but one that is really dope because it will also hang out in peoples' fridges longer than a baguette or a muffin.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

a terrible bout of procrastination

and in this terrible bout of procrastination, i waited a year to do anything about opening a food concept store/stand/truck. and much of the procrastination revolved around incorporation, health permitting, zoning laws, and other complicated stuff that 1) took me a long time to get all the details about and 2) i put off because i feared it would complicate things. so i waited a year. and then, in one day, i got everything done. i took an assumed business name at the register of deeds. i got a zoning verfication letter from the city planning department saying i was opening a home-based business though my sales would occur at a mobile food stand. i got a business privilege license from the business license unit saying i could sell stuff and pay taxes in Durham. and i got a mobile food permit from that same unit saying i could sell that food at a mobile stand. all in one day. i think it took longer but was slightly less uncomfortable than a visit to the dentist. so if you got an idea, don't let an opaque bureaucratic city government stymie your motivation to start selling. it's not so bad, you just need to ask a lot of "dumb" questions and keep things moving forward.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

the template

so i've written about economic development templates previously.

the idea is that as we are exporting jobs overseas at a rapid pace, it is necessary to develop systems of economic self-sufficiency to protect jobs and bring household expenditure costs in line with incomes. to create self-sufficiency at a community level demands a new business template, one different from the typical free market capitalist model that has filled our landscape with big box stores and malls. the template is bigger than just food, but i'll share my thoughts on what it might look like for food.

the general food landscape right now looks like this: shitty fast food.

on the other end of the spectrum, we have a food revolution going on, but it's less than 2% of all food purchases: i.e. whole foods, fresh, local, organic, artisan blah blah, seasonal, etc. and all that stuff is wonderful, but it doesn't feed a lot of people, it's generally more expensive than fast food, and it doesn't employ many folks.

so the template has to roll out something as simple as fast food, that doesn't cost much, that can be replicated across the country, and that has ingredients and taste that we can stand behind.

my idea: take the trader joe's revolution and make fast-food joints out of it. make it affordable. switch up the menus frequently to avoid boredom. improve the taste. use good ingredients. simplify the cooking process so employees don't need to know sophisticated cooking techniques.

on the subject of simple cooking techniques, i was in biscuitville the other day, where you find low-wage workers mixing, kneading, and cutting biscuits, one of the toughest things to master in the kitchen. it goes to show you that with a proper recipe and training, regular workers with no previous experience can learn what are otherwise difficult tasks for the home cook.

prix fixe

So one of the big questions has been, how will people pay? by bartering? hah. on a netflix subscription model? membership-only club? prix fixe? sliding scale? pay what you like? it's tough to say because you want to make a profit, but at the same time deal with issues of income stratification. so you can't charge $3 for a gourmet hot chocolate and expect someone who spends that much for a full meal at mcdonald's will patronize your business. i'm thinking you have to have no listed prices, with sliding scale information upon request. when i was bartering with the farmers, and they asked me how much i charged, i would always say, "whatever you think is fair." that seemed to work out pretty well for both sides. sometimes people try to squeeze you a bit, but those folks are outnumbered by the folks that are generous.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

building with a grain of salt

one of the key questions has been how to begin the food venture. with a storefront? with a food truck?

my take thus far has been to start with the lowest-risk, lowest-investment venture and build slowly from there. so i started with bartering. then a stand. then a cart. then a truck. then a storefront. then an empire. hah.

the theoretical idea behind this is "peace is every step". there is no need to begin big with a lot of debt when every step of process can be fulfilling in its own way. additionally, building a clientele or book of business is a long-term affair, and building slowly allows for this to happen.

Liquid Lunch

so one idea i had for a mx+b special was "liquid lunch". i go through periods where i don't feel like cooking anything and i don't feel like eating anything. i just feel like i am in a place beyond solid food. for those times, it would be nice to have something liquid i could pound that tasted good and gave me all my nutrients. so, fruit smoothie packed with some kind of creamy fat and sugars (e.g. ice cream, nutella, honey). or veggie smoothie without all that sweet, more spinach, carrot, etc, maybe a little orange for acidity.

to rotate or not to rotate

one of the key questions for mx + b has been how many products to carry and how often to rotate them. seasonally? every day? every week? i feel like people, especially bourgeois people who eat out for a meal almost every day, want variety. only about 25% of folks are satisfied doing the same ol' same every day. having less choices, but rotating them more benefits mx+b's economies of scale. yet at the same time, if you heard that they had a good plate of friend chicken, you show up, and instead they're serving risotto, you might be pissed. also, some folks like a little bit of consistency. for example, my friend said, "i just want to find a place for a good turkey sandwich." so obviously she could go to Subway, but there is the idea that basics are not being well-provided for in Durham.

i'm leaning toward less products with more variety. to supplement this, i am thinking canned/preserved goods that can have a long shelf life. pickles, preserves, dressings, sauces, etc.

also, because i am thinking of starting mx+b with a stand/cart, it makes sense to have just one or two products to sell that are awesome, like babka.

bourgeois scones

i was getting my hair cut the other week and there was a hair product on the shelf called "Dumb Blonde", and i thought, my isn't that catchy? so in that vein, i thought of different things you could call products that insult the very people you are trying to sell to, albeit in a humorous way. hence, "bourgeois scones". do weigh in on this. do people inherently want to get called out, or is it their chance to say, "man, i love buying these tasty scones because if i am one thing it is certainly not bourgeois; i am totally subverting the class system of culinary taste!"?

beg barter steal

so one key point on the historical road map of this venture was an idea i had to bake goods at home and trade them with farmers (for veggies and other stuff) at the durham farmer's market. this idea was successful (i got a lot of stuff) and gratifying (the farmers seemed to appreciate the effort, quality, and novelty of it). so from there, i thought, why not set up a bakery or some kind of food venture based entirely around bartering? this may sound impractical and unprofitable, but please, do weigh in on this.

also, i wanted to call the concept "beg barter steal" which sounded catchy but would likely be an open invitation for theft.

on mx + b

so mx+b (or mx plus bee, as mxplusb was not an available domain) is an idea that through analysis, a food concept can be distilled via a collaborative, data-driven process. the food concept is open-sourced, in that i will try to post as much as i can about the process, and invite readers and tasters to give as much feedback as possible. if you would like to work on the project, i invite you to volunteer and i will do my best to welcome and reward your contribution.

in math, mx+b is shorthand for the form of a line in a 2D cartesian coordinate plane, where m is the slope and b is the y-intercept. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_equation

in statistics, OLS regession takes a cluster of data points in a 2D plane and solves for a "m" and a "b" to find a line that best fits the correlation inherent in the cluster of points. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OLS_Regression

that is what i like about referring to this project (and not necessarily the food concept's name) as mx plus b. i don't have all the answers, i'm just try to find a best-fit line to harmonize the data, and using a scientific approach to measure my success.

name name name

a name could be the least most important thing of any food venture, band, or baby. i have been debating many names with yoyo and it has become something of a pastime. possibilities:

foodie fa fa
wandering jew
always awkward on the radio
mx + b
ooh mami
beg barter steal
spoils of labor
crust and crumb
Berenbaum killa breads
so this a blog of a food concept yet to be determined. there will be posts related to this concept where i ask you, the reader to weigh in with comments.