Inside an 800-square-foot shop, D.C.-based social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar is using his Mom's falafel recipe to raise money for refugees.
Thanks to a recent a boom in small-scale independent food production, food lovers can visit local farmers markets and neighborhood pop-ups to find homemade ice cream, artisan croissants and hand-bottled soda. But consumers shouldn’t be deceived — turning artisan goods into profitable business takes more than delicious recipes. Local artisan food producers face a number of challenges that can make it hard just to break even, from finding commercial kitchen space to balancing the high costs of quality ingredients. Kojo talks with local producers and businesses about how one crafts a business model around a tasty idea.
- Erica Skolnik Owner and head baker, Frenchie's Artisan Pastries and Desserts.
- Jonas Singer Co-owner, Union Kitchen; co-owner, Blind Dog Cafe.
- Katy Chang Producer, Artisanal Soy; Owner of forthcoming Eatsplace.
Make Your Own Kimchee And Kimchee Dumplings
EatsPlace founder and artisanal kimchi producer Katy Chang demonstrates how to make spicy red kimchee and kimchee dumplings at Three Little Pigs in Washington, D.C. For Chang, the process of making kimchi is a family affair, a time for sharing gossip, stories and laughs. In the video, she walks through the steps of preparing kimchi and wrapping them into dumplings, and shares recommendations for tailoring the flavors to your own taste.
Spicy Red Kimchee Recipe
Cabbage Brine Ingredients:
1 head napa cabbage (approximately 2 lbs)
1/2 cup sea salt
Kimchee Seasoning Ingredients:
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 carrot, julienned
1/4 cup of cooked edamame (optional)
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
Chili, to taste (approximately 1/2 cup of red chilli powder if coarsely
ground or 2 tablespoons if finely ground)
1/2 cup water
Quarter cabbage and place in a container. Sprinkle salt evenly throughout cabbage. Use your hands to mix it in evenly. Cover and let cabbage pickle for 3 hours. Toss and turn over and pickle for 3 more hours. Add enough water to cover and pack into a crock, tamping down to force air and water out of the cabbage.
Weigh down cabbage with a heavy plate so it is submerged in the brine. Cover the entire crock with a cheesecloth to allow air circulation. Leave the crock to ferment at room temperature (around 70 degrees). The cabbage will start tasting tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. After a few days to a week, the cabbage is done pickling and it’s time to make the kimchee seasoning.
In a mixing bowl, combine all the seasoning ingredients. Let the seasonings stand for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. With your hands, spread the seasoning all over the cabbage — wear gloves as the chilis will burn.
Ready to serve or tightly pack the kimchee in a jar and cover loosely with cheesecloth. Store at room temperature for 24 hours for further fermentation. Store covered in refrigerator for several weeks.
Kimchee Dumpling Recipe
2 cups of flour
3/4 cups of water
3 cups of kimchee or other filling
Mound flour on work surface, creating a hollow in the middle. Add water to the middle of the flour and mix together with your hands. Knead for about 3 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. If you need more water, add it sparingly about a tablespoon at a time. Cover and let dough rest for 30 minutes. Roll dough out into dumpling wrappers, fill with Artisanal Soy Edamame Kimchee, and seal shut.
Heated 2 tablespoons of oil in a cast iron or nonstick pan on medium. Add the dumplings and cook till the bottoms are brown about 4 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of water and cover the pan with a lid. Let dumplings steam for about 7 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Turn dumplings out on a plate and serve with hot sauce.
1 shot of good whiskey
1 shot of pickle juice
Drink the whiskey and chase with the pickle juice. If you used naturally fermented pickle juice, the drink has live probiotics and is called a “liveback.” It’s good for your gut flora so have a few!
Artisanal Soy Recipes by EatsPlace founder Katy Chang
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world on "Food Wednesday."
MR. KOJO NNAMDISmall scale food producers are popping up all around the Washington area, selling products like artisan hot sauce, homemade chocolate and hand crafted sodas. And while they may make small batch baking, cooking or pickling look glamorous, small food businesses, small food businesses face a number of challenges that can put profit margins far out of reach. Finding commercial kitchen space in D.C. can be difficult. Equipment can be expensive and unlike bigger businesses, small producers can't always cut costs on ingredients by buying them in bulk.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo, once you've got a delicious recipe, what's the secret to making it a business? Here to help us discuss that is Erica Skolnik. She is owner and head baker of Frenchie's Artisan Pastries and Desserts. She joins us in studio. Erica, welcome.
MS. ERICA SKOLNIKThank you. I'm glad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Jonas Singer. He is co-owner of Union Kitchen, a communal kitchen and food incubator. He's also co-owner of Blind Dog café. Jonas, thank you for joining us.
MR. JONAS SINGERThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Katy Chang is with us. She is behind Artisanal Soy. She produces hand crafted soy products and kimchi. She's also the soon to be owner of "Eat's Place," an upcoming food incubator and marketplace. Katy Chang, thank you for joining us.
MS. KATY CHANGPleasure to be here. Thanks.
NNAMDIYou can join this "Food Wednesday" conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you dream of turning your best recipe into a business? Maybe you make a raspberry jam, a flourless chocolate cake or homemade popsicle, and you think it's good enough to sell. What hesitations would you have about making a business out of it? Call us at 800-433-8850 indeed. Jonas, many people have a recipe that they think is delicious.
NNAMDIMaybe it's homemade pasta that their grandmother taught them to make, or a delicious pie that their friends always rave about. And they may dream of quitting their nine to five so that they can produce it full time. What are some of the first questions, from a business standpoint, that they should be asking before taking that leap?
SINGERSure. Well, I think the first question, if they're baking pies or making jelly, is how many pies or how many jars of jelly do I need to make to pay myself? I think, you know, the first thing people have to do is make sure they're able to support themselves when they go into the venture. And they need to know how much money it's gonna cost them to start. I think those are the two biggest questions and the things we often get the most questions about.
SINGERAt Union Kitchen, just the start up costs and the risks that people are taking. Beyond that, I think it's people just asking of themselves if it's something they really wanna do, and as they do that, to go through and figure out the operations necessary. You know, making one or two pies is very different than making one or two hundred. And so it's important to make sure they're committed to the actual cause of making enough of their product to sell it to be profitable and to enjoy the lifestyle that they're about to embark on as a small business owner, especially in the food world.
NNAMDIErica, let's hear about what seems to be a success story. Long before you started baking your signature buttery croissants, you were a high schooler in Silver Spring, apparently dreaming of running a bakery. How did you make that a reality through Artisan Croissants?
SKOLNIKWell, I had been working in the food business, like since graduating from college, managing restaurants, and just really seeing all aspects of food. Cooking, baking, making chocolates, just doing different things. And seeing kind of every aspect of the business prepared me for the operations side of how to execute recipes, work in the kitchen, understanding what goes into the kitchen. And then the management side, really understanding how to make recipes work, how to make them work profitably, and how to produce volume.
SKOLNIKSo, right now we are producing a small volume, you know, to meet our demands at the market that we do every Saturday at the Fresh Farm 8th Street Market. And some of our smaller, like, catering orders and special wedding orders that we get throughout the week. But now, you know, we're at the process where we're still learning and we're still growing, and we're scaling up as much as we can. Still kind of in the incubator phase of sharing a kitchen while looking for our own. So, we're kind of at that like next step, ready to jump one more.
NNAMDIWhy did you decide to start your own small scale baking business rather than, say, work your way up through the ranks of someone else's bakery?
SKOLNIKWell, I mean, I love food and I've just loved working in food. I've worked in a bakery and like, in other, like food avenues, and I had a wonderful son, and I saw, like, a opportunity for me to control my own schedule and really chase my dream and go back to what I really wanted to do, which was baking. Because I stopped doing it for a few years. And so, during that time, my family was very supportive.
SKOLNIKAnd I think that's also really important when people are making this decision. Like, do you have savings, cause you're not gonna make money right away. And do you have the support from family and friends to kind of help you get there? And I did. So, I went for it. And I finally, you know, after now doing it for about two and a half years, we're making money. We're hiring. And we're building. So it's definitely paid off, for sure.
NNAMDIOnce you create that perfect recipe, it would be great if you could just bake or cook your product at home and then take it to local markets to sell, but what kinds of regulations do small scale producers have to follow here in the Washington, D.C. area, Katy?
CHANGWell, there are so many regulations and there's so much red tape to go through that, which is why I'm opening up Eat's Place, which is a pop uppery, where there'll be guest chef residencies and a commercial kitchen, so local food producers can make their food and sell it in a licensed commercial kitchen. And some issues people don't even think about. Besides all the business issues Jonas talked about, there are legal issues like trade marking, and copyrighting and sometimes if you have a secret sauce, that's a trade secret.
CHANGAnd there's also labeling issues with nutritional facts and allergy information. So, and there's just permeating issues. So, we try to help cut through all that red tape.
NNAMDIAnd then in D.C., Erica, it's my understanding that you cannot bake at home and sell, but that the Counselor's considering something called a Cottage Law.
SKOLNIKYeah, I remember hearing about that in the spring. I believe it was Council Member Chae that was going to introduce it at some point. And I think it's a great idea. I mean, it takes a lot more than just saying, ok, you can bake at home now. I mean, the Department of Health, D.C. area, a lot of people would be involved in making sure that home kitchens would be ready, you know? You can't have like your cat sleeping on your counter if you're baking something.
SKOLNIKTrash disposal, a lot of things like that. So, there are things that I know that they probably are gonna have to work on to get something like that going, but it is definitely done in Virginia.
NNAMDIAnd it's my understanding maybe in Montgomery County, too.
SKOLNIKIn Montgomery County, I think, is done to a level, to an extent, you know? We can't, like, set up dumpsters behind our houses, but, you know, we can...
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Are you a small scale food producer? How did you manage to jump around the challenges like kitchen space or the cost of ingredients and packaging? Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Jonas Singer, D.C. had a reputation as a town of steakhouses and big restaurant groups. Looking at D.C. now, what do you think the environment is like for small food businesses?
SINGERWell, I think that gets really to the heart of what Union Kitchen is about. We're very much about food, but more than anything, we're about culture. And we talk about the builders of our own community and really being the city that we wanna live in. And I think in Washington, D.C., there's a real hunger and thirst from consumers for locally made products, product with heart, product that's from a little bit grittier origins.
SINGERAnd recognizing that we wanna support start ups and people who are out there doing their own thing, bringing their own spin, and putting their own sense of culture into our city. And so I think Washington, D.C. has become a great place where you can succeed as a small business owner. I think if you're smart, if you're creative, if you're cost sensible and you find interesting ways to get your product to market, I think there will be people there to buy it. There are definitely lots of barriers to entry.
SINGERThe cost of rent, the cost of real estate, the cost of your equipment, some of the regulations that Katy eluded to. But overwhelmingly, if you can evade those obstacles, I think you can be successful here because there's income density. There's lots of people of lots of backgrounds and there really is a hunger for new and interesting products and there's a wide open marketplace to introduce them.
NNAMDIJonas Singer is co-owner of Union Kitchen. It's a communal kitchen and food incubator. He's also co-owner of Blind Dog Café. He joins us in studio with Katy Chang. She's behind Artisanal Soy. She produces hand crafted soy products and kimchi. She's also the soon to be owner of Eat's Place, an upcoming food incubator and marketplace. And Erica Skolnik is owner and head baker of Frenchie's Artisan Pastries and Desserts.
NNAMDIFood incubators like Union Kitchen and Eat's Place step in to help small food businesses get off the ground. While an incubator may be a familiar concept in the tech sector, what does it mean when we're talking about food? How does it work? Katy?
CHANGFor us, it's really about closing the loop. It's about starting from the farm to the kitchen and getting the chefs in there and the food producers in there to make the food. But then it's also finding the customers to eat the food. There's a reason why we call it Eat's Place, because eating is the finishing act of it. Once you're done making it, you have to find your customer base, you have to find your audience, if you will.
NNAMDIAnd how is your business model different at Union Kitchen, Jonas?
SINGERSure. Well, I guess what I would say is I think the dirty secret in the food world is the first thing that most food people talk about with each other is not food, but numbers. And so I think at Union Kitchen, while we're a food incubator, what we're really doing is helping to incubate small businesses. And so, at Union Kitchen, what we do is provide all of the services necessary to maintain a clean, organized and food safe kitchen. From providing the cleaning crew to the storage amenities, preventive maintenance of all the equipment, all the certifications, sanitation logs, so on and so forth.
SINGERBut we also then leverage our collective power. We now have 52 small businesses operating out of Union Kitchen. You can learn about a lot more of them at unionkitchendc.com. But what we do is we aggregate the power of the buying power we have to negotiate food prices down, to negotiate more convenient delivery of food. And we also aggregate that for branding through, you know, social media cyclones like on Twitter, like I'm hoping are happening now with all of our members.
SINGERBut, to help sell. To approach markets and say, we not only have one product for you, but we have 100 products coming out of our kitchen. And then we also aggregate to help negotiate better deals and relationships with strategic partners like lawyers, accountants, branding agencies, designers, so that we're really providing a full suite of services to the small businesses that we work with. Because owning your own business is a laundry list of different things to do.
SINGERAnd the more things that we can take off that list and internalize ourselves, the more we allow our small business operators to do what they love, which is make their food. And to do what they need to do, which is make sure they're paying their own bills and supporting themselves.
NNAMDIAre you an artisan food eater? Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Tell us which small scale food producers that you've discovered. 800-433-8850. Katy Chang, you've been on the producing side, making homemade soy products and artisan kimchi. Is that the experience that has motivated you to start up a food incubator in your neighborhood?
CHANGAbsolutely. I've had so many issues with producing my kimchi that I had to find a commercial kitchen. The farthest I've been was Pennsylvania. So, and I wasn't the only one who had those production issues. I mean, it's a good problem to have, to sell out of stock, and people always want more, but it's not good when you don't have a solution to that problem. And so many small scale food producers need space and they need help, in terms of legal advice, accounting and bookkeeping. And in even design help, that they run into a problem because we talk so much about sustainability in food production and environmental sustainability, but what about economic sustainability?
NNAMDIYou've received a grant from the city for your, for the incubator you're planning to open in Upper Petworth. That's my understanding.
CHANGYes, it's in Parkview. Petworth.
NNAMDIHow has the D.C. government been involved in helping food entrepreneurs grow in the city?
CHANGI think they've been hugely involved and very active and we're lucky in that we have a city that encourages food. They understand it, food as a cultural catalyst, much like art is. When there is an active food community of both food producers and eaters, that brings in more vibrancy to the city. It brings in more activity, both economically and culturally.
NNAMDIGotta take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this "Food Wednesday" conversation on the economics of artisan food production. But we're interested in hearing from you at 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a Tweet at kojoshow or go to our website and ask a question or make a comment there. That's kojoshow.org. You'll find recipes and a video there explaining how to make Katy Chang's Kimchi on the website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking about why human rights lawyers are suing the UN over cholera in Haiti. Right now we're talking about the economics of artisan food production with Erica Skolnik, owner and head baker of Frenchie's Artisan Pastries and Desserts. Jonas Singer is co-owner of Union Kitchen. It's a communal kitchen and food incubator. He's also co-owner of Blind Dog Café. And Katy Chang is behind Artisanal Soy. She produces handcrafted soy products and Kimchi. She's also the soon-to-be owner of Eats Place, an upcoming food incubator and marketplace.
NNAMDII want to go to Kelsey in Columbia, Md. Kelsey, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please.
KELSEYHi, Kojo. I love your show.
KELSEYYes. I know of a great -- hearing the granola, Bethlehem Bakery granola is one of the best I've ever tasted. The Bethlehem Inn.
NNAMDIAnd where is that?
KELSEYIt's in Bethlehem, Pa.
NNAMDIAh, anything closer to home?
KELSEYNot closer to home, no, but she does deliver and they are located in local (word?) I know, especially -- there's one in Columbia.
NNAMDIOkay. Kelsey, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. Erica, as D.C.'s food scene grows, so do the expectations. Many local consumers have come to expect local and organic ingredients. When you're a producer just getting started -- and this applies to you too, Katy -- how do you manage the cost of quality ingredients?
SKOLNIKWell, it's all about building those relationships with some local producers. Where I'm based at seasonal pantry, I'm really fortunate that the chef that owns the shop is bringing in local food every day pretty much. He's bringing in local milk that I can use, local butter that I basically will buy and share invoices. And make sure that I'm basically getting the same cost that he's getting. Local Amish farms and then some of the other ingredients I'm heading out to the farmers markets, the ones that I work with and talking to producers and seeing what I can get, buying cases of apples instead of buying just a few, you know, to save money on apple pie season.
SKOLNIKAnd that's really key. It's just really getting out there and talking to folks and seeing what you can do. And they know that you're small. And there's so many small producers out there now that they understand it a lot more than I would say four years ago.
NNAMDIKaty Chang, how do you do it?
CHANGI agree with Erica. It's about getting out there. It's being an active member of your community and reaching out to farmers and going to the various markets. Also it's about building coalitions. And even though as one food producer you're small, but as several food producers with small businesses you can get together. I'm a member of the Good Food Merchants Guild that's into authentic sustainable honest real food. And so we can share our different suppliers.
NNAMDIJonas, you work with producers to make sure they can stay within their bottom lines. What advice do you give to them when they have a commitment to an idea that doesn't seem to fit in their budget?
SINGERYeah, that's a challenge. We hear a lot about that. I think the first advice we give to them is that it's -- when you start out, your costs are never going to be higher than when you start. And so that people really need to make sure they can launch and they can be successful. If they have money in savings to invest in commitment to a concept then we encourage them to certainly do that. But we encourage them to try and be sustainable from the cost perspective so that they're able to launch. And that overtime as their other costs drop they can start investing in more of the products that maybe they want to put into their final product that they're making.
SINGERAt Union Kitchen with over 50 members now, we have a lot of buying power and we do a lot of negotiating with the vendors that we work with in order to drive some of those costs down, eliminate minimum delivery requirements, things like that so people really can buy and use the products they want to maintain the highest integrity for the business that they're running.
NNAMDIOn to the telephone again, here is Suzanne in Hamilton, Va. Suzanne, your turn.
SUZANNEHi, everybody. How are you all doing?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
SUZANNEGood. I have...
NNAMDIDid I tell you I have croissants? Did I mention that?
SUZANNEPardon me? You have croissants?
NNAMDII have croissants. Erica brought croissants. I'm doing really well.
SUZANNEOh, I'm jealous.
NNAMDIThank you. Go ahead, please.
SUZANNEI have a line of salsas that I produce. And this is my sixth season and I grow from my own little backyard in Hamilton. And it goes over really well, but I have no idea how to produce a nutrition label so that I can go to the bigger and next step. And I also want to know how to get a hold of Union Kitchen.
NNAMDIJonas, Jonas and Jonas.
SINGERSure. So there's a number of ways of doing a nutrition label. The easiest way is probably to engage with a food safety lab. And you can Google them, you can look them up online. We work with one that's called RL Food Safety Lab. And typically what that requires is taking a sample of your product, sending it off and specifically asking them to run the tests necessary to generate the nutrition label. And you'll also have to give them insight into your process and how you produce it and the ingredients that go into it.
SINGERAs far as getting in touch with us at Union Kitchen, our website is unionkitchendc.com and our Twitter handle is @unionkitchendc. And we're always happy to help with these kinds of challenges. Definitely a lot of nuance to handling some of the different things that come up in food. But there are fairly easy and accessible solutions for most of the challenges that new startups have.
SUZANNEFantastic. I really appreciate it.
NNAMDISuzanne, thank you very much for your call.
SUZANNEThank you. Have a good day.
NNAMDIErica, Katy, to be a small scale producer, it seems that you may have to get used to sharing, sharing kitchen space, sharing equipment or sharing ingredients. But the people you're sharing with, they're probably your competition. How do you get past that when you're trying to promote your product? First you, Katy.
CHANGI think there is a healthy level of competition in any business but as far -- I really believe in a rising tide raises all ships. The idea behind Eats Place is that you can make your food and sell it there too. So there's a lot of partnerships. So a guest chef will be cooking food but mentioning the granola from the first caller, if they're making their own yogurt, they'd like to serve it with a world class granola they would use that small producer for that.
SKOLNIKYeah, where I am baking currently, we've had a few, like, dessert and pastry people use the space. And it's always been very complimentary. We've always done really well collaborating and selling. It's also a shop where we sell Frenchie's. You can buy our baked goods at seasonal pantry whenever they're open. And it's a really cool way to kind of build that community, like Jonas was saying. And really, like, you know, nobody else may have croissants but one day they may make this awesome cookie. And then the next day maybe make a brownie.
SKOLNIKAnd I just think that people love seeing variety. They love seeing more people out there. I have gotten a few, you know, business leads from people that I've worked with in the kitchen. And it' worked out really well for me.
NNAMDIOn now to Jeanine in Arlington, Va. Jeanine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEANINEHello. I'm calling as a fan of Erica Skolnik. My husband and I tried her croissant and (unintelligible) and they are the best that we've had outside of Paris.
JEANINEKeep up the good work.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jeanine. Do you know exactly who Jeanine is by any chance?
SKOLNIKI do. Thank you.
NNAMDIWell, Jeanine, thank you very much for having your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850 if you want to offer your praise, criticism, comments or anything else to our guests, 800-433-8850. Are you an artisan food eater? Tell us which small scale food producers that you have discovered. You can also go to our website kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIJonas, people often say, as you mentioned, restaurants never make a profit in the first year or two. Well, it's even harder to imagine how you could ever make a profit from something like artisan pickles or handmade chocolate. What kind of an income can a small scale food producer expect in the first few years?
SINGERA small one. I think it's hard to make a lot of money doing it. I think it's a project of passion. You know, there are avenues available to folks who grow and scale their business quickly. The food business is one where there are big distributors, there are big box stores, there are opportunities to grow quickly. I think to do that typically means you no longer are artisanally producing. Your hands are not in every batch of pickles or every batch of croissants that you make.
SINGERBut there are ways to make money more quickly. I think if people who are doing this as art or as craft and who really want to, you know, grow a business with their own hands, it requires a lot of marketing tact and sales tact. I think, you know, combining wholesale and retail strategies, leveraging social media, having a nice website, beating the streets and being at farmers markets, going into retail shops to find placement to sell your product, these are all ways of making income. So you can definitely do it.
SINGERBut it takes savvy business people, savvy marketers and it takes a really, really good product. So I think if you're going to do it, definitely do it with all your heart but definitely don't do it to get rich quick.
CHANGIt is definitely a labor of love but it's still labor and it should be justly compensated. And I think that's exactly what Jonas means. When you have the right space, when you have a -- let's say you're doing a popup and it's in a proper space, you can invite your customers there to preview your restaurant when you open it up. You can invite investors over and they can really see that you can run a restaurant on your own with little to no risk of the investment of doing it and failing, so if you use a food incubator model like Eats Place.
NNAMDIErica, you said that you're in the process of looking for a brick and mortar place. So you might say, or some might say you're over the hump. Were there times when you were not sure if you could get your business even to this point?
SKOLNIKThere were times I would say when I was first starting out and just kind of really getting used to seeing what was selling very well. Before the farmers market I was doing, you know, a variety selling through Seasonal Pantry and wholesale contracts to see what items worked the best. And then after that I was like, okay, what's next. I've got to take the risk. And the risk -- the next leap was doing the fresh farm market. And that's when I kind of got my confidence back and I was, like, okay I'm doing something.
SKOLNIKAnd these are new people that are loving the product. I'm getting feedback every week. I'm making new customers. We're doing more orders, more wholesale orders. And then it kind of -- that was like a little mini, I guess, roadblock where -- you know, for a while if you're in a small space and you're sharing a space, you kind of start to think okay, one day you get -- you're in the grind basically every day. Like, one day I'm going to get, I'm going to get it. And then you just kind of get your rhythm and you have to keep moving.
NNAMDIWell, there's this. D.C. has some of the highest rents in the country. Should aspiring artisan producers take that into account before setting up shop here?
SKOLNIKThey should. And I think you need to make sure you have a strong business model that could support that rent. You know, when you're creating a space like Eats Place where you are doing different types of concepts, you know, you're supporting business, you're selling food, you're operating a restaurant and you're creating different avenues for revenue. And so for me, like if I were to say, I'm just going to open a bakery and sell croissants, that labor in making croissants and just selling croissants every day would probably not make it in many rent areas of D.C.
SKOLNIKSo I'm, you know, working, finalizing our concept of how we will make it happen with the cafe, with other little ideas that I have to make it work in D.C. and not move to Maryland right now. Because I really want to focus on D.C.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Neal in Baltimore, Md. Neal, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NEALGood afternoon, everybody. This is the show I have been waiting for. I'm out of Baltimore City. I'm getting a small hot sauce line off the ground, Tree Frog Hot Sauce, if you don't mind the shameless plug. I have two questions. Primarily, the regulatory hoops that I'm going to have to jump through to stop being a trench-coat operation, which I have to admit it has actually been pretty profitable, and could you recommend a incubator or a program like yours in the Baltimore area?
SINGERSure. In the Baltimore area there are the -- what's it called -- the Woodbury Kitchen is -- the spike who owns that is opening up the incubator down there. I don't know when that will launch, but that's the one I'm familiar with. I'm sure there's other commercial kitchens and incubators doing on in Baltimore. As far as the regulatory network for hot sauce, hot sauce tends to be an acidified product so you will have to go through some FDA USDA certification for that. They'll probably have to inspect your kitchen and understand your process since you're adding acid into your product.
SINGERAs far as the nutrition labels and things like that, whatever the federal guidelines are is they'll make you sticker your product saying that you're certified or acidified processes. And just depending on the amount of volume you're moving, that's what's going to trigger whether you have to have nutrition labels and guidelines on your actual bottles.
NNAMDIWhen he refers to his trench-coat operation, Erica, is that comparable to the gray markets that you used to work in here in D.C.?
SKOLNIKProbably. Yeah, the gray market was fantastic. We had that I think it was once a month.
NNAMDIHow did that work?
SKOLNIKI only did one and it was my first sales opportunity as Frenchie's. And I had no idea what to expect. It was in a bar off U Street. And we sold, like, 50 croissants, a few cakes, assorted cookies. And there were a lot of bakers there. There was tons of, you know, people selling like, you know, just all sorts of stuff. And we sold really well and people had a great response. And I was like, okay, croissants seem popular today. And so I kind of just stuck with practicing and making croissants.
SKOLNIKBut we were -- and then like that next week is when I started working in a commercial kitchen. So that gray market was done from my house and that was not something I would do.
NNAMDIBut, you know, you forgot to mention the part about the Culinary Institute of America and the part of working in San Francisco and all of that before you got to this point between your dream in high school and now. Thank you, Neal. Good luck to you. Here now is Stephanie in Alexandria, Va. Stephanie, your turn.
STEPHANIEHi. I have a pretty specific question. I'm involved with a nonprofit program and it's based on a small baking business. It's a job-training program for women in need of a second chance. So women coming out of prison, we teach them food-based (unintelligible) production and then help them get back on their feet. So we've sold primarily at a farmers market in Alexandria, which has been wonderful. We've had a great reception. We have two products. We have granola and chocolate chip cookies. And we want to move into retail.
STEPHANIESo we've done a lot of research and we have a couple places interested. We're going through the Virginia Department of Agriculture process. And the one thing that I'm not sure about is the UPC. Do we have to go through and get the codes? Is that going to be a necessary step, because it's kind of expensive for us as a nonprofit program?
CHANGA UPC code wouldn't be necessary but if you want to do large scale selling, you would need one. It's so helpful for retailers because they can put you in the system and also do automatic reorders. I think if you do the research and run the numbers -- small costly UPC code will even out overtime and it'll help increase your sales. Because a lot of -- even small retailers are unable to accept products without a UPC code to enter into their point of sale system.
SKOLNIKWhat is the name of your nonprofit?
STEPHANIEIt's called Together We Bake and it's based here in Alexandria.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We move on now to Donald in Germantown, Md. Donald, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Well, Donald isn't quite on the air yet.
DONALDKojo, my man. Second time caller, long time listener.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Donald.
DONALDGreat show. Hey, I make a mean crab soup and a lot of people have told me over the years that I should, you know, try and sell it. And the information I'm looking for today is earlier you talked about the food lab piece and getting a label. And then also how much does insurance cost to have, you know, insurance on a food operation? And I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIHey, thank you for your call, Donald. Jonas?
SINGERSo insurance for a food operation, it can range pretty widely depending on, you know, your product. For a lot of -- we don't do a lot of seafood out of Union Kitchen and I would say the premiums range typically for a business from $600 to $1000 per year. So you're looking at, you know, $50 to $75 bucks a month. For a crab soup frankly it might be more expensive because you're dealing with a product that could potentially get people ill. So that would be, you know, the main consideration as far as the insurance cost.
SINGERI think as far as launching your business, Donald, you know, our advice to people is to just do it. And by that I mean the first thing, the most important thing is that people will buy your product and that you can actually get people to pay for it. So I would start figuring out ways of getting people to pay for it, whether it's at farmers markets, whether it's partnering with a local restaurant, and see if it's actually commoditizable. And if people start paying for it then I would start jumping through the regulatory hoops.
SINGERYou know, way more important to have a good product that's actually going to be worth your time and to make sure of that on the front end.
NNAMDIFrom a consumer's perspective, Katy, what kind of an affect do you think this boom in artisan food production is having on Washington's food scene generally?
CHANGI think it's causing it to become a destination. People are hearing about all the local food producers and the competitions just makes the food product better for everyone.
NNAMDIThat's the effect you think it's having, Jonas?
SINGERYeah. I mean, you know, the three of us here are paying our mortgages off of it, so it's starting to become a part of the economy, and, you know, I think most importantly it's starting to build culture. You know, I grew up around here, and I often say that when I was growing up, the only culture in DC was the Redskins and go-go music, and so I think there's starting to be a lot more of it because you have small businesses, entrepreneurs, and I think part of it too is that food is such a salient, tangible, visual thing, that not only does it encourage more food entrepreneurs, but encouraging more entrepreneurialism in general because it's creating momentum.
SINGERIt's creating a psychology that people can be successful on their own, and I think that's just creating a sea change in the culture in Washington DC.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of the finances, here is Jocelyn in Washington DC with a question. Jocelyn, your turn.
JOCELYNYes. Thanks, Kojo. I wanted to ask you all about the use of the word artisanal. Because for me, artisanal confers a certain highbrow graduate degree of sensibility, and also a certain price tag. I mean, I would be thrilled to have a good local, reasonably-priced bakery that does not have to call itself artisanal. And for me, I'm sorry, but a $22 pie doesn't really fit in, you know, doesn't fit into that paradigm for me. Please talk about the use of this word artisanal and how -- why just regular local food doesn't fit into that.
NNAMDIArtisan goods do tend to cost more than a lot of people say they can afford, but why do you call it artisan, Erica?
SKOLNIKI call it artisan because we make everything, you know, we use a mixer, we use a food processor occasionally, but we use our hands. We're shaping pie crusts with our hands. And when -- right now when we're shaping, you know, 20 pie shells on a slow day, to when we have our own bakery and we're shaping a couple hundred, we're still going to be shaping them with our hands. And I think that is what separates the artisanal product from the not quite as artisanal. You know, there's different levels of it.
SKOLNIKOther people -- the name is thrown around a lot, and I think that, you know, it really depends on what you like and what you're willing to spend, and it's really up to you.
NNAMDIBut how long can you maintain that? Word is you still sell of croissants within a few hours. How far do you think you can expand your operation and still maintain that artisan hand-made quality of your goods?
SKOLNIKWell, there will always -- of course, there are limitations. Right now, you know, we -- I still at some point will be using a sheeter. It won't be our arms rolling out the croissants. And so at that point we'll be able to make definitely a lot more, and we'll be able to do more markets, and we'll bake croissants all day in our bakery versus baking them in one shot overnight. So there are ways to expand.
NNAMDISame question to you, Katy Chang.
CHANGI started -- my path to food was through art, so that's why I called it Artisanal Soy, and food is the way that I communicate and how I reach out and communicate to people and connect with them. So -- and I think a lot of the resistance behind the word artisanal is maybe a lack of outreach and education on the food producer's part of the effort that goes into producing what they're eating. It's so easy to cut into a cake or open a jar, but did you know it takes a 12-week ferment to make kimchi?
NNAMDIAnd finally, Jonas, once producers get past the point of needing help from an incubator like Union Kitchen, where do they go from there?
SINGERThat's a good question, Kojo. I think that's really hard. I think one of the problems in DC is that there is this just big void in the middle between being big enough to need your own kitchen but being too small to afford it. You know, one of the things we're actively working on is looking at ways we can scale up, and to sort of reference back to Jocelyn's question, I think that one of the things Union Kitchen is trying to do is start with artisanal products to have the integrity and the quality and the process that's there to make those products, but to facilitate the scaling up of those products.
SINGERI think -- I would love to see Washington DC exporting culture, exporting products to other cities, and I do think that means growing beyond what is, you know, just artisanally produced. I also think it's really important that consumers understand they do need to pay extra to have people in the city making food for them, that there is a cost and there's a premium to that. But I think as businesses scale up, there's a real challenge in finding commercial kitchen space that allows for regional distribution.
SINGERAnd I think that's one of the challenges that we look forward to challenging next, and I think that's one of the things that local jurisdictions like Maryland, Virginia, and DC are starting to look at, because to have a sustainable food infrastructure with more of a food middle class is going to require providing the means of production for that food middle class.
NNAMDIJonas Singer is co-owner of Union Kitchen, a communal kitchen and food incubator. He's also co-owner of Blind Dog Café. Jonas, thank you so much for joining us.
SINGERThanks a lot for having me.
NNAMDIKaty Chang is behind Artisanal Soy. She produces handcrafted soy products and kimchi. She's also the soon-to-be owner of Eats place. That's an upcoming food incubator and marketplace. Katy Chang, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
CHANGThanks so much.
NNAMDIErica Skolnik is owner and head baker of Frenchie's Artisan Pastries and Desserts. Erica Skolnik, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIThank you for bringing the croissants.
SKOLNIKOh, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIWe are going to take a short break. When we come back, why human rights lawyers are suing the U.N. over cholera in Haiti. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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