Most things we’ve done so far as a group has been for the purposes of a) securing a kitchen space and b) launching our Kickstarter. At this point in our trajectory, both are still unfinished projects but at present somewhat out of our hands. Whatever happens with Kickstarter will only be a result of the interest our networks and those networks of networks have in supporting what we’re doing in its infancy. Thanks so much for those who have already backed us and we look forward to hearing from any of you at any point.
About a week and a half ago we had our interview with Hot Bread Kitchen which is based out of East Harlem at the home of La Marqueta which is under the Metro North tracks around 116 st.
We first visited HBK after I had stumbled upon them sort of accidentally. I had already found, by chance, a commercial kitchen space for rent as-needed while walking dogs in Harlem. I didn’t think to record the name but when I got home I searched on Google for “communal kitchen” and “Harlem” assuming it’d instantly recognize it. Whether or not it was included in my results I’m not sure because Hot Bread was the first link returned. Whatever this space on 5th ave may offer, Hot Bread Kitchen advertised themselves as an incubator, which is a term I was yet unfamiliar with. What the space provides is an environment and workplace for emerging food-based businesses and the guidance necessary to establish themselves as a business and file all the appropriate permits while also nurturing an extended community of producers and buyers to create important and lasting networks. For example, somebody seeking catering for an Ethiopian wedding would be referred to A Taste of Ethiopia. Similarly if the regional manager for Whole Foods was interesting in coaching businesses on what they look for in a product, a call would be placed out to those who don’t yet have wide distribution. In short it sounded perfect for what we need.
None of us have a real background in business, but we realized we had to start talking like we do.
New Years Eve my phone rang around 9 pm and on the other line was somebody responding to one of my fliers for my dogwalking collective, Pups Before Profits. The conversation necessary to establish that he needed a dog walker and that I could do it is a brief one. In short: yes and yes. He was curious, though, about what else I did so I explained to him that I was a chef and in the process of establishing a business making sauerkraut and catering as well. He said he was a former partner in Cafe Mozart and was in the process of opening a new market/cafe in the area and wanted to make vegan/vegetarian food a focus. He wanted to meet to discuss a lot of things and offered that I bring some samples.
Our meeting was rescheduled by him, but excited for the opportunity I wrote it off. I had to pretend to know a lot about business and had to pretend to think that was a normal thing. He lives on the northern end of Claremont st which is one of my favourite streets in Manhattan (at least uptown) and was hoping he was in one of the beautiful buildings on the south end which are responsible for the block’s infamous windiness. Though a walk-up, buildings this far uptown and close to the river had to be built promising elegance since until relatively recently the industry-laden waterfront of New York City was a less-than desirable place to live with few exceptions. River House, the notoriously exclusive mid-rise south of Sutton Pl was considered an enormous risk and as such was at a point in danger of bankruptcy. Never mind.
His apartment was in a pretty traditional style of buildings of the period with a narrow hallway as the main feature of the unit with rooms of sorts branching off: a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Comfortable for a person or couple to be sure, but like all real estate here definitely overpriced.
I had thrown together some samples scrounging up whatever small mason jars I could find around the house. I had tried to buy some but on New Years Day everything is closed, presumably as a result of all sorts of debauchery the night before. I remembered a sprouting kit one of my housemates received and pass of me for lack of interest and time. I emptied the rations into larger containers of the same grain or bean I already had and replaced the contents with different flavours of my kraut.
We sat in his kitchen while he explained to me a quick bit about his dog, but that lab was not the main focus of our conversation. To be honest he canceled every single dog walk he ever scheduled with me. He then presented to me a business plan, which is a type of document I had only ever read about and certainly never read. That moment was no exception as he quickly retrieved it before I could absorb anything except the proposed business name. He explained what he might want from somebody like me and I assured him that I could provide it, even if I wasn’t so certain.
But we would have to meet with my business partner.
When I got home I had to decide who that might be so I called up Bill since he is a person I know who can tell people what to do and I was hoping he could demonstrate that with this interested man.
The day of we were forced to, in no large number of hours, throw together a sample menu that might appear to have been developed over any amount of time long enough to even allow for a nap.
We met at a new coffee shop that opened on Columbia’s campus and thankfully since it was winter break the place was notably free of students. Nevertheless, this restaurateur took no issue asking a stranger if we might be able to sit with them. Ugh.
Well we spoke.
This man wore his sunglasses throughout almost the entire meeting and he would sometimes take them off to show us the intense look in his eyes. He warned us that the meeting might have to be cut short since he had scheduled also a meeting with a Czech very interested in his band’s coming world-wide reunion tour. To be sure we understood how popular his band was in Czech Republic he allowed each of us to listen to a twelve minute long song in its entirety playing from his Coby portable CD player. Coby is a brand known for cutting corners such as abandoning skip-preventing technology and not having the technological prowess to abandon the use of compact discs altogether in favour of digital media. I wouldn’t complain about this if he didn’t insist on holding the player in his hands the entire time which he was using to make grand gestures about his proposal.
But really things remained more or less amiable for most of our meeting. Then the sunglasses came off one last time and a hard stare accompanied “so what do you want?” which is not something we had prepared ourselves to answer.
Bill tried his best to explain our organizational methods to somebody who was admittedly pretty good at inserting words like “communal” and “collective” into a model he also was able to describe as unapologetically capitalistic. Anyway this explanation of ours wasn’t enough.
We were told rather harshly to think it over ASAP and sent on our way while the next meeting of his arrived: a nineteen year old Czech boy who was somehow able to finance his band’s entire romp through the Eastern Bloc.
Between questioning whether or not we should actually work with this person, I did try to draw up fantastical figures of what I think our time was worth in the hopes that, though more than I’ve ever made, they were deemed realistic and thusly granted.
It would be weeks and several (all) canceled meetings before we realized that we would need to move on in our own direction and welcome back any advance from him provided he made the effort. After that first meeting we received a voicemail apologizing for the harshness and were reassured (depending on how you look at it) that establishing a business is no small task and perfection, not time, is of the essence.
Each call thereafter preached essentially the same message and then one of those cold days where it hurt to keep your hands anywhere but your coat pocket, my phone rang and on the other end was “David! Tomorrow at the space. Two pm”
“The space” is the ground floor of a co-op building outside the 125th st 1 station that has been laid claim to by this encounter of ours, but still yet nothing appears to have been done with it.
“Well I can’t do that…I have to work”
“So what? So do I?”
That doesn’t sound so real to me and before I could tell him that my hands are so cold and I need to put them back in my pockets which is to say take them off the phone and possibly pull them out of this agreement, he assured me that it was no loss of his and I hung up without having expressed it and assumed that it was understood.
I might have received one last voicemail but I never bothered responding.
Perhaps some great opportunity has been abandoned and one day we’ll walk down Broadway and pass the quaint storefront adorned with the copper sign he promised and wonder what coulda been. But all of that, we decided, is less important than playing this “game” the way we want to. We’re going to, for sure, enter into business relationships with stores and restaurants that operate in a more traditional method. We don’t doubt that and we’re not so concerned that in order to espouse what we believe in we need to necessarily avoid dealing with those that believe differently.
We’ve since then put together a business plan, which this man had requested of us. It’s not something that we could have returned in any decent time since it ended up taking probably in the neighbourhood of one hundred person-hours to complete. Definitely in order to be understood by those we’re making our proposal to (Hot Bread Kitchen not withstanding), we would need to assume the role of a regular business and provide projections as thus.
And I think we recognize that in the process of raising money and establishing relationships we’re not breaking many rules. Yet. Kickstarter can be a great resource and although it involves a community of people supporting project they hopefully believe in, it is a very traditional exchange of money and goods. If it doesn’t end up being effective for us, we’re prepared to follow other traditional routes that most businesses assume as the standard (savings, loans, etc) and we’ll need to disguise ourselves in a certain way in order to take those routes.
The people we meet along the way in this project are definitely going to expect different things from us. We’re hoping that the same people who like our food also are fans of the way we organize. It’s obvious that so far there have been people who have liked our food but do business in a way that is incompatible. We don’t think that will remain a trend.
Again thanks for reading and supporting. Hate for this to seem a platform but I’d be lying if we weren’t also interested in continued support for our Kickstarter Campaign. Some have donated and it’s been a huge source of support for us. If you haven’t backed us yet we look forward to a time when you can, or if that’s not possible it is just as valuable to talk about us to people you think might be interested in either what we cook or how we do it.