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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.

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