Monday, June 29, 2009

New phone and some free stuff

Finally got my business phone replaced. Not allowing anyone to touch it or use it at this point. Even got a case for the outside of it. If someone breaks it, then things will be really interesting around here!

Will find out about my free refrigerator and freezer tomorrow. The fridge is mine, but the freezer was promised to someone else. If that person doesn't want it, then we are going to get it soon. That will give me 2 freezers and a refrigerator. Still need to get another fridge and will probably get a 1 or 2 door beverage cooler...those are big enough to store pickles and my produce.

Should find out about my food costs and the possibility of carrying some ice cream. With it being hot, that should be a pretty good money maker! We wanted to do some fresh squeezed lemonade also, but just don't have the time or man power to do that and run the cart. Might just make it up before hand and sell it that way.

Still no word on my grand opening date. Still working on getting the kitchen done. Tested the 3 bin sink in the kitchen and now the hot water doesn't work. Hopefully I can figure out what happened and fix it quick. It might just be turned off and I forgot to turn it back on.....that happens from time to time. Just asked the wife and she said we turned it off because it leaks and I never fixed it. Told you, it was something I forgot to do. Add it to my list.

I had an idea to buy a pontoon boat and put a cart on it. That idea didn't last long because Lake Travis in Austin is pretty much empty at this point. I could put it on Lake LBJ, but would probably have to permit thru 4 or 5 cities since it borders so many. Tried to convince my dad to do it when he retires, but don't think he wants to work in the heat.

Very tired after helping my wife with flowers for my brother in laws wedding. Need to push forward and get my stuff done....missing out on good money by being closed. The flower cooler is down again. It happened right before we left on Friday. That cooler is starting to really make me angry. Calling the repair man tomorrow and hopefully it doesn't cost us a ton of money to repair. We just paid $300 to fix it and now it will cost us again.

Still working on getting insurance on everything. Our current policy sucks and doesn't cover loss for the flower shop or the hot dog business, just the building. Will continue to work on getting a new policy for both of the businesses

Monday, June 22, 2009

Competitive eating and other stuff going on....

Finally got the flower cooler fixed. It ended up being a dryer valve...has something to do with converting the freon back over. It costs a lot less than replacing the compressor. Funny how I ended up finding a local person to do it after searching for nearly a month. It was kind of accidental since I had called them about a new alarm system, which they also sell and support. I had to get this fixed because we get flowers in tomorrow.

Still need to finish up my kitchen area and get my health certificate. It isn't going to take that long, but getting going is really hard. I hurt my neck the other day and moving all that stuff is going to be painful...not to mention that my wife has a stress fracture in her left leg. That happened from all the walking in Chicago.

Gotta spend time this week getting our insurance figured out. Not sure if our current policy covers my kitchen or not. I think we are going to find another company to use that will give me what I need. On top of all that, I still have to have insurance on my cart. Looks like I am going to be spending some serious money each month just on the insurance. That's fine because it will be one less thing I need to worry about if something bad happens.

Met with our new Vienna Beef rep. He used to work for them and now is an independent broker. He is the greatest! Others have shrines built and children named after him.....just kidding....but he is a great guy. He is sending me all of my marketing materials. He also gave me some sample signs, kids activity books, and a Vienna Beef clock. I was very excited. He is sending my stuff and it will be here on Wednesday. He is also sending some sample food for us to test. I can't wait to get all the stuff in. We talked about all kinds of things and found out he lives in a city that has a huge (HUGE) antique sale twice a year. This thing is HUGE!!!!!!!!!!! I mentioned that it would be nice to sell some dogs during the next one in October and he told me to come out and we could stay with him. That's a rep that cares about his customers and making not just a business connection, but a lifetime friendship.

One of the things I've always been a fan of is competitive eating. I just love watching people stuff food in their faces to the point of getting sick. In saying that, Joey Chestnut is the man! I watch the Nathan's contest on July 4th; every year for the past 8 years. Our rep mentioned that they are putting on a contest in Houston and I told him that we would love to do it. He asked when and I said "in November during our annual car show in Bastrop". There are normally 25 to 30 thousand people in town during that event. He said "I'll bring the hot dogs and buns". And that folks is how the 1st annual Hot Doggin for the Hungry was born. We plan on using this to not only promote the business, but also raise money and get food donations for the Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry. Getting them this help before Thanksgiving and Christmas will make a big difference in peoples lives. We are going to try to get some corporate sponsors, some prizes, a big trophy, and some celebrity guests to compete. I should compete in this, but it wouldn't be fair...I can eat a ton of hot dogs!

Still working on the idea of a video blog. I have a camera, but just need to find the time to record. Eventually I want to stream live from my cart so people can see how I work. That sounds funny, but it is a great marketing tool and gives people an insight to how things work. We have a couple network cameras for the building already (that I still haven't connected), but I am buying a dv camera tomorrow that I should be able to use to broadcast.

Figured out the menu and prices, but still need to finalize those based on how much the food service company is going to charge me. I should have those figures tomorrow. Once I have those figures then we can get those numbers set and order our menu board.

Looks like we might have to settle on opening up later than we thought. We had wanted to open on June 29th and then moved it to July 1st. We were also planning on doing something for the July 3rd celebration in Bastrop, but they are having it all at the park and I don't feel like buying a vendor pass from the city. So now the date looks to be July 6th or 7th, depending on if I have everything purchased and ready to go. I will update our main website ( and my blog when we set the date.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Passed a hurdle

Kitchen should be done by Wednesday at the latest and inspected by Friday or Monday. We are in business!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Still can't get my rep to call me back regarding my food products. Starting to get a little pissed about the situation. If he doesn't call by tomorrow afternoon, then I go over his head and talk to his boss....that should be an interesting conversation!

July 3rd looks to be good for our grand opening. Hopefully we have everything done and ready to go. It seems like this has taken forever, but the last part is going really quick. I am getting excited!

All for now....going to the pool to relax a little.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Still workin on the kitchen....

Couldn't get a hold of the health inspector on Thursday or Friday. Guess we aren't going to get our inspection next week. Hopefully this doesn't put us behind. We are going to go ahead and work on the kitchen and do what we think they want us to do. Would have been nice to know for sure. Guess I can ask a couple of restaurants in the area and see what they say.

Found another cart and kind of made a deal, but waiting to see if my wife's floral cooler is fixable or not. Her cooler went out before we went to Chicago and it has to be fixed. She can't operate her business without it and I can wait to get another cart. The cart needs some work, but would be perfect to add battery power and some other things to it. Plus, I need a second cart to do catering with. And to top it off, it is going to be paid for by someone else! Had another family member offer the money up. My wife was a little upset by it, but I think that is just because her cooler is down and she really needs to get it back up and running. Getting her cooler working so she can be back in business is the most important thing right now, my cart "wants" can wait for a while.

My business phone is down. I let my niece borrow it to take pictures of her friends and she broke the screen. Guess we won't be getting those pictures off the phone now. I need to find another Sprint phone to replace it with since I have vendors trying to call me. I should have bought the warranty, but I trusted that she wouldn't ruin it. Funny how she took pretty good care of it when it was her phone (minus letting the dog chew on it the night she got it). I'm still pretty angry over it because she never even bothered to apologize for breaking it. The phone isn't that big of a deal, but her learning how to be responsible for her actions is. Guess I will be making her work the cart until she pays me back.....she'll love that!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quick note before the chaos begins....

Still recovering from the Chicago trip. Boy that was so much fun!

Going to look at another cart this weekend. It is smaller than the one I currently have, but should work out a little better. I can still use my other cart for catering or when we get into Austin. I am hoping that the current owner is reasonable on it. He hasn't given me a price yet, but I won't pay him what I bought my bigger one for.

Going to try and finish the kitchen area this weekend. The plumbing is the biggest pain in the ass. I did find some cool plumbing tape that helps with any leaks and will be using it, if I can find it anywhere. I still have to put in a hand wash sink and the mop sink in the back. Since I only have 1 drain and 1 set of water outlets in the kitchen, this should get interesting really quick! Still need to get a "point of use" heater for the bathroom sink. We have a hot water heater, but no one ran lines to the bathroom sink. I think it would be cheaper to get one of those units than pay a plumber to run new lines.

I hope that our inspection goes good and we don't have to spend anymore money to do extra things. I am already feeling the crunch on the money end and hopefully don't need to spend much more.

I won't be posting again until after the weekend, since we will be very busy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Back home from Chicago

No posting while I was in Chicago. The only WiFi I had was at Vienna Beef and we could only use it for a couple of minutes between class. The hotel had WiFi, but it was expensive and we are still on a budget. I could have done it from my BlackBerry, but that would have been a pain. Still working out the kinks on doing a video blog. Will hopefully post my first one this week.

Chicago was a blast! We did so much while we were there and saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. I would go back again in a heartbeat. I even went to the top of the John Hancock building. My vertigo is pretty bad and the building was swaying pretty good, but I was able to handle it and got some great pictures! You can pretty much see everything in Chicago from the top of that building. We also went to see the Buckingham Fountain. It is the fountain from the intro of Married With Children. It is a sight to see. Very beautiful and at night they play music and have lights in the fountain.

We used public transportation instead of renting a car and would do it again. Their transportation services are clean, efficient, and affordable. We never felt unsafe on any of the trains or buses that we rode. I even walked by myself to get food one night and felt more safe than I would in Austin. By the end of our trip we were experts in navigating the system. We knew to ride the 6 bus to Lake and State, walk a block to Lake and Clark, ride the Blue Line Train to Damen Ave, and then take the 50 bus to the entrance of Vienna Beef. Pretty good for a southern boy!

We were wore out by the end of the trip and my wife's bad leg is still hurting. We walked a lot, but not as much as when we went to Vegas a few years ago. I think that all the stairs and revolving doors in Chicago are what wore us out. Chicago must have the most revolving doors that I have ever seen. I guess it keeps dirt and wind out of their buildings. We only found a couple of buildings that didn't have one.

The School

We arrived at 8am on Thursday for our first class. We met Mark Reitman (HDU Professor) and he took us upstairs to meet some people and get ready for our tour. We met some of their executives and found them extremly nice and very encouraging. We made our way towards the factory and got ready for the tour. We had to wear lab coats, hair nets, and I had to wear a beard net.

We met up with Jim Bodman who is the CEO of Vienna Beef and he personally took us on the tour. This was a great honor because he doesn't give tours. They normally have someone else do it, but they want Mark to start giving them to HDU students and Mr. Bodman wanted to train him. Mr. Bodman was very thorough in his explaination of how the factory works. I was starting to think that he might have a PhD in chemistry and physics, but in reality he really knows what his company does and is proud of it. I didn't think that CEOs like that existed, but found one that does.

Vienna Beef makes more than just hot dogs and we were able to see some of the prep work for some of the other items. I can't go into the processes, but they were very cool to see. We did get to watch them make the dogs and I have a new appreciation for the workers in that factory. We also got to do a tasting of the hot dog and sausage products. I love to eat hot dogs and this was right up my alley.

We ended up spending time speaking with one of their employees that handles the "muscle meats". They told him that I smoke my own briskets and we had a very long conversation on how I do it and what I use. It was nice to have a professional ask me questions about how I do something that they already know how to do. Guess they just wanted to pick the brain of someone who does it different.

We spent the rest of the day going thru the manual, but quickly figured out that I had already done my homework. Not to say that the manual isn't helpful. There are plenty of good ideas and instructions that will help us now and in the future. Mark was impressed that I had already done so much and was really proud that I had "bent" the rules a little in setting up my business. I didn't really bend much, I just found a way to keep local government out of my business.

We arrived at the factory and met up with Mark. We were going to go over the marketing end of the course, but decided to go ahead and get everything ready to sell hot dogs. We grabbed all of the needed items and started moving them over to in front of the factory store. We pushed Mark's behemoth of a cart over there also. He taught us the right was to setup the cart and we had it setup by 10:30am.

We put hot dogs and polish sausage in and the buns. We already had people wanting to buy from us. We sold our first dog before 11am and sold around 10 in the first 35 minutes. We were happy, but I wanted to sell tons of them. We did pretty good for a while, but things were just a little slow. It was a nice day in Chicago (mid 70s) and more people should have showed up. Can't always predict how things are going to go.

Mark had asked me about doing full service over doing self service. We were doing self service at the cart and that made things much easier. Mark asked me if I wanted to work inside at the restaurant to see how full service goes. I took the plunge and within 45 minutes had decided to do self service at our cart. The pace was very hectic in the restaurant and I had a hard time keeping up. I thought their employees were getting mad at me, but they were just pushing me to see how I would perform. I only made one mistake in making a hot dog and that was because the lady kept changing her mind. My restaurant instincts did finally kick in and I was able to survive. Mark rescued me in time before their big rush.

We shut down the cart because it just wasn't busy. It wasn't a problem because we needed to learn how to do it and was able to and not be tired from working all day. I learned so much from working the cart and it reinforced what I had known before......I really want to run a hot dog cart!

We spent some time speaking with Mark about our menu and pricing. He gave us some great ideas. He also found out who our rep is. We plan on calling him on Monday. I was able to say goodbye to a couple of the execs that we met and promised to keep them updated. I really feel that Vienna Beef cares about even the small business owners the same as the big companies that buy from them. They welcomed us with open arms and we plan on having a very long and fruitful relationship with them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Flying away....................

I'm kinda freaking out. I'm not a "good" flyer and already having serious anxiety about it. I like looking out the window when at altitude and LOVE landing, but taking off is what freaks me out. Why? I have no idea. It used to be that everything freaked me out, but now it is just take off. This is the 4th time I've taken a trip flying on a plane (Round Trip to Vegas and 2 RTs to San Jose), so I still don't have very much experience. I would love to get over the issue with take offs, but guess I need more flight time. I usually take something to help me, but it makes me VERY sleepy. Our flight is only 2 1/2 hours long, so I will have to make sure and have the wife wake me up when we land. We really need those high speed trains like they have in Japan. That would be my prefered way to travel!

We went and bought my Kodak Zi6 video camera today. It is really cool and came with a tripod, extra batteries, camera bag, and cleaner kit. I will hopefully get some good video of Chicago and upload it here. It seems funny but I think it is easier to say what I am thinking on video then having to type it out.

I might be getting a secondary cart to help with catering and/or setting up in Austin. If the cart is still available, then we will be going to get it after we land on Saturday. The cart is in Brownsville, but it will only take 4 or 5 hours to get there. The cart is cheap enough that it makes good sense to go get it. Plus, another family member offered to pay for the cart to help us out. We were talking to this person today and the offer came out of nowhere. I'm not sure the seller still has the cart, but I am hoping so. If not, I might try to find an indoor cart instead.

Will hopefully post my first video blog later on Tuesday night. We plan on going to do a little sight seeing before we can check in at 3pm. Kinda sucks because we will be landing at 8:45am. There really wasn't any way around it, so we will make the best of it.