Monday, July 27, 2009

Where's Super Mario when I need a plumber?

No real update. Plumbing problems are keeping us from opening. I have to replace some of the plumbing connections in the building and install the tankless heater. The heater is an issue because we have to find a place to connect to electricity. It has to be done or we get no health permit. Who would have thought that the bathroom is required to have hot water?

Working hard on the catering side of the business. I have to finish some quotes for two events in October. Got the lead for these events thru my brother in law. One of the events could be huge for me and hopefully will lead to more work. I would like to be busy enough to have either someone run the retail cart or someone to run the catering. If it was my choice, then I would do the catering and run the business side.....retail is fun, but each catering job can bring more jobs if you really work hard at it.....and pass out a ton of business cards!

Have to get my cart all setup this week and then find a commissary in Austin. I thought my kitchen would work, but it might not since Travis county is picky about what qualifies. Will find out tomorrow and will have to contact a couple people to see if I can use their kitchens. Shouldn't be a problem. Have to get my health permit in Travis County since my two catering jobs are in that this will help me when we are ready to open in Austin!

Bought an electric steam pan. It is a 6" deep full size stainless built in pan that has temp control and is 1200 watts....about the same as most higher end microwaves. This thing will do 200+ degrees. It will be perfect to keep things warm or to steam buns. I am buying 2 more of them in the future and will install them on my indoor cart. Only paid $60 for it! The 700 watt units are $122 at Restaurant Depot, so my used one was a better deal. Just need to find the other two and then buy the pans for it.

No news on getting a second cart. Will try again this winter when people are desperate to get rid of them. Maybe after a few catering jobs, we can afford to build one instead. I would rather build the one I want versus buying another one that I have to "rig" to work. I would love to build two really good carts and then use my current one for catering or a third site.

Working on adding special things to the menu. Already going to have a Double Bacon Chili Dog that will be for a limited time. Looking to recreate the Albuquerque Isotopes Dog from the Simpson's "Hungry Hungry Homer" episode. Have to figure out how to mesquite grill the onions and everything else is easy. I think that smoking them whole and then refrigerating will allow me to cut and put them on the griddle...with the same result. Also going to carry the real cane sugar sodas from time to time. Not really a fan of carrying glass bottles, but I know that people really like those and I am all about pleasing my fans!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Injuries and Grand Openings....

Worked on Saturday and Sunday. Nearly have the kitchen ready to go. Still moving things out of it and moving my stuff into it. It didn't take very long to get most of it out. We will have to sort thru it for a couple of months now, but that won't be a problem. I think most of it was silk flowers (for my wife's business) and garage sale stuff. It is hard to take that space over because it was really setup perfect for my wife's floral items. I had built shelves there a couple years ago and now have to take them down since I can't use them. Not taking them all down, but have to take some down. Will hopefully get a chance to move those to her side, so she has twice the storage. I am leery of installing them again because the last time resulted in me having knee surgery (fell off the ladder....but had also closed my knee in a car door and had a dining room table dropped on it...all within a month.....yes, I am injury prone!).

Got my free refrigerator and freezer last night. Both of them work fine, so they will come in handy. Nearly lost a finger moving the refrigerator, but all is good today. I had the front end on the door side and my finger got caught between the two door handles. It hurt and I had a hard time getting it out....until I opened the bottom door. We then moved it into the building and I nearly dropped my end. I hate moving heavy things and obviously I suck at it. Last time we moved something heavy, my finger got trapped beneath it and was drug thru broken glass....the broken glass was beneath the cabinet we moved. That hurt for a long time, but luckily it wasn't broken. Oh and I had hit my hand with a mallet back in May....that was an accident, but the first time I cried from being hurt since I was a really hurt!

Opening on Saturday the 25th, is still a possibility. We decided to stay home instead of going to my cousin's wedding in the hopes that I will be ready. I only have a few weeks left of summer and need to get open. I am not saying that after summer my business will be dead, but feel like summer time will make me more money. I really wanted to go to the wedding, but getting this business opened in priority one. Even if Saturday comes and we aren't ready, we will be by Monday. I plan to have all my food items purchased and ready to go by then. The only major thing I will have to do is test my cart...still haven't done that, but know it will work fine.

Still planning my grand opening. We are going to try and operate for a couple of weeks before we do the actual "Grand Opening". This will give me a chance to invite people and plan a little party. Was going to make it an open party, but will make it private and then extend the grand opening to the next day for the general public. I am going to try to find some things to give away for the kids and adults. Not sure what that will be, but I think we are giving the kids activity books and Vienna Beef paper hats. Trying to find something that adults would like that won't cost me an arm and a leg! Any ideas?

Still working on plans for the hot dog eating contest in November. I just need to find the time to write it all up and then send it over to the food pantry. I am working with them on this since all proceeds will go to them. I am excited about the prospects of the contest and how it will help my business. I think that the winter time will be our slowest and any kind of advertising I can get will help. I am also excited because this could really help the food pantry with their holiday rush. I know that they start to run low during that time and this will hopefully help them and everyone they help.

I had found a smaller cart for sale back in June and we had decided not to buy it. At the time, we didn't have the money and needed to get the floral cooler fixed. The guy still has it. I am going to try and go see it this week and maybe work a deal. I have a family member that is willing to put up some of the money, but hoping that the seller will come down a little. He already came down $200, but would like him to come down another $100 so that I am not out of pocket (the relative has agreed to pay $500 and the cart is $600). Can't spend an extra $100 on it when I still have to buy my pans and other items for the cart I have now! And this cart needs some work so I wouldn't be able to use it until it is fixed...but it would make a perfect catering cart!

Got some marketing materials, but should be getting more. I received a 2nd umbrella, 3 Vienna Beef hats, 4 Vienna Beef cardboard signs, a Chicago Dog banner, and a box of 100 paper hats. I am hoping that we can get a couple metal signs for the cart and a lighted sign. I really wanted a neon sign, but was told that they do not travel very well. They have also ordered my menu board, but it takes a month or two for those to be completed. Trying also to get a couple of shirts since we do not have our logo created yet. The other option to that is to pay for the use of the Vienna logo and build my own shirts. That would cost me money, but I could advertise Vienna and Frank's Franks at the same time.

The floral cooler is working again. Finally got a new compressor. It is holding temps and is so much quieter than before. I wasn't sure the compressor was working at first because you can hardly hear it! I think the fan inside is louder than the new compressor. Will still have to figure something out about a back room cooler, before Valentine's Day. If I could fix the old one, I would....but my refrigeration guy said it wouldn't be worth the money. He suggested we buy a beverage cooler. I found out that if you replace the thermostat and flip the fan blade over, then you can use those for flowers. Will have to see what we can do about that. I also have an option of building my own walk-in cooler, but the wife doesn't think that is a good idea. I agree because we won't know for sure if it does work and how long it would actually work.

Not much else going on. We are taking a break tomorrow (Tuesday) and going to Splash Way in Columbus, Texas. That will put us a little behind, but figured that this is the last time we will have an opportunity to we haven't taken our niece and nephew on a trip this year...this will have to be it! We are all nuts about swimming (even me) and this should be lots of fun! I used to hate swimming, but we go twice a week now and I have become a better swimmer. Still can't tred water, but I can swim the length of our friends pool 3 times without taking a breath!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Prices are set!

Set my prices last night. Don't think they are going to change. I based them on my food costs and what my local competition is charging. I think they are fair considering that we are full service and don't charge extra for the condiments. The only thing I will charge extra for is when we do specialty dogs....

and we already have our first one...

Introducing the Double Bacon Chili Dog! This will be our first specialty dog offered on the cart. Still working everything out, but it should be available sometime after we open. I will keep it on the menu if it sells well, if not then I will try another idea. That's what is going to be fun about running this cart....I can try unusual things and possibly make money off of them.

Still no date for opening. Checking with the local heath department on something so that we can save on plumbing. Still need to get that finalized and find some insurance. Those two things are the last in this step. Still hoping to open in the next week or so. Need to open soon so I can make some of that summer money.

Got a new compressor for the floral cooler. Now I just need to get it installed. Once that is done, the flower shop will be back in business. We are also going to get the antiques straightened out so that we can sell more of them. We need to make some room since I am going to have inside seating.

Not much else going on. Just trying to keep my head above water!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel....

Looks like everything is resolved for now. I met with my rep today and got everything straightened out and got a free breakfast! I am much happier now and can finally see the end of setting up and the beginning of selling.

I should be getting all of my marketing materials on Wednesday. Found out that their ordering system has been down and items are backlogged because of all the new hot dog businesses opening up. They are sending my stuff express thru FedEx and promised me that it would arrive on Wednesday. We have had a couple of "Wednesday Deadlines" before and I hope this is the final one.

My local rep brought me some dogs, buns, a pennant, an open/close sign, and the biggest freaking umbrella! I put the umbrella on the cart and it covers the whole cart.....and I don't have a little cart, I have the biggest one that All American Carts makes. That put a big smile on my face because it means that I am that much closer to opening.

Having a hot dog taste test this weekend. I have 2 packages of Vienna (skinless and natural casing) and 1 package of their competition. I am going to make them all the same and have a test to see which ones taste the best. In the grand scheme of things, it won't change what I am going to sell...I just wanted to do it to prove that Vienna makes the best dogs!

I spoke with my preferred food service vendor and got my prices back down to a reasonable level. Some items came down nearly $10 a case. I know that these companies are out to make money, but why try to squeeze me for every penny when you know I am going to order from you. This cart isn't the only one I am going to own and the more I make, the more I order from them. The prices are very good now and actually compete with the local restaurant warehouse store. This company still doesn't deliver to my area, but I am working on that....since they deliver to the resort which is 8 miles away!

Bratwurst. Texas loves Bratwurst. I love Bratwurst. Bratwurst is confusing. You have uncooked and pre-cooked. Pre-cooked is good because I can just put them in my pan and heat them up on the cart. Uncooked are good because you have the ability to change the flavor by cooking in onions, garlic, and beer. Pre-cooked are usually already cooked in onions, garlic, and beer but still don't taste the same as fresh. They don't taste bad, but the spice content is a little different....not enough for an untrained person to recognize, but I would know. Uncooked are a big no-no unless you have a special permit that allows you to cook food on your cart. It really isn't worth the cost. The price difference is very little and so is the taste difference. Guess we are going with pre-cooked....

Now on to bigger issues......

Bratwurst gets more confusing. Everyone in Texas loves Beef......that is why we are selling pure beef hot dogs, not all beef. All beef hot dogs mean any part of the cow/bull except parts not acceptable by USDA standards (lips and assholes!). Pure beef means that they make it out of the same cow/bull (Vienna uses bull meat) meat that kosher companies do.....anything behind the neck and about mid-way thru the cow/bull. That is where brisket and other tasty items come from! Bratwurst also has it purely German roots. German Bratwurst is pork and veal (pig and baby cow) in a sheep's intestine casing. Yes, they really use intestines to do it....not that big of a deal considering all the processes it goes thru. With the different style Bratwursts comes a big difference in price. The pure beef ones are actually more expensive than the pork/veal. But what do I choose for my customers? I would rather have the original German style, but will people in my area like those or will they even notice a difference? I know the difference, but I am a tube meat (keep the dirty comments to yourself) eater and know the difference in my hot dogs and bratwurst. This is something that will take a little time to figure out. I might offer both at first and see which one sales....or just carry the one I like better and see how that goes.

Spoke to some people about carrying ice cream bars. Not interested at this point. They need me to buy $85 worth, just to stop the truck next to the building. And I have to buy my own ice cream freezer. Thanks, but no thanks.....maybe next year.

Looks like we are on the final push to open. Will be getting my insurance and heath permit next week and then just have to buy all of my products. I am seriously going to try and open on the 18th or 20th. We do not know for sure and won't until everything is done. I will be sure to let everyone know when that date is set in stone!

The floral coolers are still broken. I am working on giving one of them away since it was built in the 70s and doesn't work. Not sure I am going to find someone who wants it. The other cooler should be getting a new compressor on Monday or Tuesday. Waiting to see if we can get the compressor and then will need to get my buddy to put it on for us. Can't wait to get that resolved so my wife's business can be back up and running.

Not much else going on right now. I don't think I could take anymore! Hopefully I will have a productive weekend and can make strides in getting everything taken care of!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Not happy!

Still no prices on food. Was working with one food service company and now my Vienna rep switched to a different company. I spoke with their sales guy yesterday and he is supposed to get prices for me. The only problem is that I have to buy 15 cases of product each time. It is a requirement because they only do delivery and won't allow you to pick up the product. They sell everything I need, so it might not be a problem but only if I am full time. If I go part time, then this setup will not work.

Still no marketing materials from Vienna. Not sure who is dropping the ball on this. I have emailed my rep several times and will call him tomorrow. If something doesn't happen by Friday @ 5pm, then I will be making a major change. Tired of these people not taking me seriously!

No word on the job. Will have to wait and see how it plays out. I really need a good job, but was hoping that the cart was that good job. Guess this will play out some time in the next couple of weeks. Still planning on getting someone to work the cart during the week, if I get this job. Hopefully it won't be a problem finding someone good.

Going up to Fort Worth on the 25th. My cousin is getting married. Have plans to see some old friends in Plano on the 26th. This will be my first trip back in over a year and only my 10th time back since moving to Austin in 2003.....and more than half of those trips were in 03 and 04. Don't really miss that area, just miss my friends and family.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Got an email today. It wasn't what I expected and has me wondering what to do. Before I tell you what it said, I'll give you some back story.

I spent 7 years with the same company and followed them down from Dallas to Austin back in 2003. I left in 2007 because I wasn't going anywhere in the company. I found another job and thought it was the company I would retire at. Unfortunately, there was an issue (that was made up by the company) and they let me go in June of 2008.

I was unemployed until October of 2008 and was offered a job. I took the job and was not happy with it, but kept going and doing my work. I found another job in February 2009 and had a phone interview. The moron I had the phone interview with called the current employer and they fired me 2 days later. They also made up a lie about why I was fired and the TWC didn't believe them.

Now I am unemployed again and can't find a single job in the Austin area. I apply for pretty much everything and no one is calling or emailing. During this time is when I get the bright idea to open a hot dog cart (April 2009). I spend months working on this and we are only a couple weeks out from opening the cart and then this happens.....

Today I checked my email and was asked to fill out an application for a job and come by next week for an interview. This job is REALLY good and should pay really good! I sent my resume for this job months ago and not sure why they are just now sending me this email. I had thought they filled the position, but I guess they didn't.

So my issue now is, what do I do? My wife thinks I should take the job and just run the cart part time. I feel like this is a big investment for us and only doing it part time is a waste. The other option is to not take the job and just do the cart. I don't have the job yet, but am planning like I will get it.

I feel conflicted. If they offer me a lot of money, then I can't pass it up. The money would be guaranteed and hot dog money isn't. I really love the hot dog business and that is what I want to do with my life. Not just run a cart, but own and operate my own concession business. I want to do more than just hot dogs and do it all over the state of Texas.

So I guess we have to wait until next week to see what happens. It is possible that they won't like me and won't hire me, but I have a feeling that they are going to offer me the job. My other option in all of this is to hire someone to run the cart during the week while I work. That might be a good choice, but finding someone responsible enough is nearly impossible in this town.

Still don't have my food costs nailed down. Waiting to find out if we can renegotiate and get the prices lower. I have to get my margins up to 50% - 70% to ever make it in the business. I can't sell a hot dog for $2.50 and spend $1.75 in food costs. That would give me a $.75 profit and would have to sell 400 to 500 hot dogs a day...and that probably isn't going to happen. If I can sell a hot dog for $2.50 and spend $1.25 or less, then I won't have to sell as many. I know that carrying Vienna Beef will cost me more than Nathans or Sabrette products, but Vienna has a better product and I want to serve the best.

Nothing else going on right now. Still trying to nail down my insurance. It is hard because my business is technically a restaurant, but I am serving from a cart. There isn't anyone local that really knows what to do or offer me in the way of insurance. Will have to head into Austin to get it figured out.

Making some brisket for our little 4th of July party. The people eating it have never tried my brisket and are really looking forward to it. Trying a new twist to my existing recipe and if it works, then we will sell these from the cart this fall. It takes a long time to make the brisket, but is worth the trouble and the $3.50+ per sandwich that I can charge for chopped beef. I am also making a batch of my sauce. Gonna keep some extra this time so others can try it. Will also have it on the cart with the sandwiches.