Interview with Jerome Chang
Chef/Owner Cathcart & Reddy (Formerly Dessert Truck and DT Works)
6 Clinton Street, Lower East Side, NYC
By Kathryn Gordon
Kathryn: Hi Jerome, it’s nice to meet you. Tell me about how you started your business.
Jerome: I’m an attorney who changed careers and went to FCI (French Culinary Institute) for their pastry program. Then I got some fine dining experience in the industry for about 3-4 years. At first, I thought I’d take the more traditional career path, like working to become the executive pastry chef of a hotel.
Kathryn: Why did you start off your entrepreneurial career with a desserts truck?
Jerome: That story’s a little bit strange, and who knows, but it just sort of happened. It seemed like a great idea, and I felt I was seasoned enough to pull it off well.
It was 2007. The time had come for the democratization of really good food. Chefs were offering more casual dining options for really solid food other than white table cloth establishments. At the time we were looking to get into business, there was a general movement to make really good food accessible.
We were pretty much the first gourmet food truck out there. If you look back at the old magazines (guides to NY), we’re in all of them when the NY food truck movement started.
Kathryn: Well, now you have a retail space. Was it always a dream to have a retail location?
Jerome: No, not really, especially as we didn’t have deep (financial) pockets and we still don’t. Basically I’m a small business owner who commutes from where I live in Harlem to the Lower East Side because the rents were reasonable here. I have one business partner, Suzanne. I had a different partner in the beginning who left after the first year because he had never been in the hospitality business before and didn’t understand what the work entailed.
I met my current business partner, Suzanne, when I was working at Le Cirque. She had started in chocolate working with Jacques Torres.
Kathryn: Okay, so you're both veterans then, from the Jacques Torres/Le Cirque world. That explains the bomboloni style doughnuts (“Brioche Doughnut Squares”) on your menu!
Kathryn: Why did you decide to transition to a set location and stop selling products off the truck?
Jerome: Last winter, we determined it was time to retire the truck because it was on its last legs. The whole truck aspect is a double-edged sword.
Jerome: It’s the logistics of it. The city regulations (against parking in metered spots) don’t work in your favor and that was a negative. There have been police crackdowns against food trucks and neighbors can complain, get you ticketed, fined and towed.
We did use the truck to support corporate catering for film and TV, and that was a good revenue source.
Kathryn: When you had the truck, where did you park it at night after you closed up? And before you had the retail and kitchen space where did you do your production?
Jerome: Overnight the truck has to be in a Department of Health approved commissary, so it was parked in Brooklyn when we weren’t selling.
I produced for the first couple of years in 2 different shared kitchens, beginning by working out of the kitchen of a catering company.
Kathryn: When I last visited, this location was called “DT Works” for “Dessert Truck Works,” and now you’ve changed your website, and some signage, to Cathcart & Reddy. Why did you decide to change the business name again?
Jerome: Well, we had gotten rid of the truck and people just get confused! They would mix us up with other trucks. We helped create a (mobile food) movement in NYC. There were other trucks with dessert, but we were the only ones focused on desserts.
We no want to reach a wider more traditional audience. Having the truck name didn’t help and they were skeptical.
Kathryn: You’re located on the Lower East Side and you want a more traditional audience?
Jerome: To be able to grow, we need to reach a wider customer base. It’s been hard here to build up a business during the day. The most traffic on this street is at night so we’d like to attract more people throughout the day.
Kathryn: Do you have any regrets with the path your business has taken?
Jerome: I have definitely made mistakes. I think the hardest thing is to make the transition from fine dining, where we live in a bubble and all think like foodies.
As chefs, we fantasize technique and exotic techniques too much, and that doesn’t help you “run a business.” 95% of your customers don’t care about that. You have to learn how to produce things that are easy to understand. It’s not about “pretty.”
Kathryn: Do you think that you were prepared for what you’ve had to do?
Jerome: I understand food costs and I did a business plan. I think most new businesses that fail don’t make it because the owners don’t understand what they’re getting into, are not adequately prepared, and do not understand what operating their business truly costs them. First and foremost, they do not understand their food costs or how to determine it.
Note: Food Start Up Help consulting services can assist you with determining your food costs, vis-à-vis industry standards. Please visit www.foodstartuphelp.com
Kathryn: I love that you’re using your iPad for your POS (Point of Sales) system.
Jerome: Yes, it’s very easy to use. A few months ago SQUARE came around aggressively marketing merchants, and it’s free. I created a custom menu and can add new line item additions (products) as needed.
Note: Square is a free system that allows you to swipe credit cards via your iPhone and turns your iPad into a cash register. You can research whether it could help your new business at www.squareup.com. Food Start Up Help chefs Kathryn, Jeff and Jessie like that it has in-depth analytics and reports that will help you understand your sales patterns.
Kathryn: What would you like most to happen next for your renamed business, Cathcart and Reddy?
Jerome: We’d like to attract more customers. We need more people to venture this far over on the Lower East Side. It’s a 10 minute walk here from the closest subway, but we like the space, the rent is cheaper than other places we found, and Clinton Street is a food destination street.
Kathryn: Thanks Jerome!
Able To Delegate
Interview with Jenny Ammirati
Co-Owner of Culture, An American Yogurt Company
331 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY
Interview by Kathryn Gordon
Kathryn: Hi Jenny! I’ve been back over here to eat yogurt periodically, but I haven’t seen you since you invited us to your launch, almost 1 ½ years ago! How are you?
Jenny: Great. As you can see, I just had a baby and yesterday we were in the NY Post!
Unfortunately, Dannon apparently just opened a yogurt shop in Manhattan that looks like our location, and incorporates “Culture” in the name. We have our attorney working on cease and desist letter. We found out about it because our customers actually pointed it out to us. They thought we had opened a second location already.
Kathryn: Wow. That will be an interesting process to go through and I’m sure going to keep you busy.
Kathryn: Tell us a bit about your concept here at Culture.
Jenny: Our mission is to provide a healthy snack alternative to those who crave strained yogurt combined with artisanal toppings. Our fresh and frozen yogurt is made entirely on the premises from local and organically sourced milks. We manufacture the probiotic yogurt and toppings to ensure everything is extremely fresh. We are a certified dairy.
Essentially, we are a neighborhood shop (in Park Slope, Brooklyn). We are open from the morning to provide breakfast and through to the evening. We have communal tables for people to sit at, and we are starting to promote neighborhood artists through an art show installation.
Kathryn: You’re open 7 days a week, for long days. Do you live nearby?
Jenny: I live about 20 minutes away, and can walk here.
Kathryn: OK, let’s go back to your decision to open a business after attending the Pastry & Baking program at ICE (Institute of Culinary Management). Did you always know it would be in yogurt?
Jenny: No! But while I was in school, I did make a lot of yogurt at home. We experimented a lot with freezing it. I had wanted to open a traditional bakery, but once my husband and I were talking about it, and we were actually eating our yogurt, we decided to open a yogurt business instead!
We realized that there is nothing else like this anywhere. Nobody was pasteurizing their own milk using locally sourced products.
Kathryn: So it wasn’t like you attended some “yogurt school” somewhere…
Jenny: No. We both worked in finance before, and my husband still does. I had worked in some restaurants. We started by testing the product at home to find the way we wanted to do the manufacturing. I did the research and found a machine from Holland to support our manufacturing method for the pasteurization process.
Kathryn: Which agencies regulate a “dairy?”
Jenny: We are under the NY State Department of Agriculture and the NYC Department of Health. We’re very regulated! There are inspections all the time, so we’re used to it.
The Department of Agriculture inspection is every 2 months, and they check the plant and test for bacteria in samples. The Department of Health inspection is only once a year, and sometimes the inspectors change so a new person has to come up to speed.
Kathryn: Coming out of a culinary school, was undergoing your first inspection for a new business scary?
Jenny: Yes, but I’ve learned that if someone finds a little thing then you can fix it while it’s little, that’s exactly how you want the process to work.
When I was researching our business, I went to the Department of Health and they worked with us. They told us who else to talk to and what would be needed for our pretty unique set-up. My staff is very well trained and know what the standards are that we must maintain.
Kathryn: How do you find staff for Culture’s operations?
Jenny: I post a notice in the window. My kitchen staff have been here long term. There is more turnover in the front of the house. I learned not to staff with high school kids, although college aged kids can be okay. Everyone is on a part-time schedule.
Kathryn: In the kitchen, does everyone do everything?
Jenny: No, the yogurt making process is pretty secret. Everyone knows how to make toppings and our granola. My manager knows how to pasteurize the milk and make our yogurts, as do I.
Kathryn: Can you tell us a little about the secret process?
Jenny: We have frequent milk deliveries. Right now we’re pasteurizing overnight a few days a week, but we could do more. The curds are then strained through synthetic cheesecloth bags for 7-8 hours to separate the whey.
Kathryn: I know initially you had a lot of excess whey. Have you found a way to utilize it? I know in France they sometimes use it to feed pigs, but I imagine here in Park Slope that’s a bit of an impossibility…
Jenny: We recently introduced a line of drinkable yogurts, and I incorporate some whey in the formula.
Kathryn: You gave birth to your baby daughter only a few months ago! How’s that going, managing a business and your first baby?
Jenny: Coming from a finance background, I was already very organized. To support your own business, you have to be organized. If I become a little disorganized, everything falls apart.
Everything here is run via checklists. There are separate checklists for opening, closing, deep cleaning schedules – everything! I pop in here frequently to check that they are filled out, and signed with times noted down.
I can also monitor what’s happening via camera at my house. I’m on the phone with staff every day. What’s key to succeeding is delegation. I knew that immediately and set everything up here to run that way. The more responsibility you give people the better they are. You also have to be good at interviewing people and determining which tasks they will be best at and can be trusted with.
After delegation, you need controls. Only 2 people ever cash out the register, for example. If there’s a problem, I can track it back via the security cameras. So there haven’t been any problems.
Kathryn: So what’s next for you here at Culture?
Jenny: We are working with a realtor now and looking into a second location. I’m not entirely set yet where it will be, or if it can be a retail only outlet. The refrigeration here probably will not support a second location’s production.
We currently have 800 square feet here. It’s a limited space, and in the kitchen, only 3 people can work simultaneously or they are on top of each other.
Kathryn: To help promote your expansion, are you planning a lot of advertising?
Jenny: Pretty much everything has been word-of-mouth. It’s paid the rent! We do have Facebook and Twitter, of course. That’s how we found out about the Dannon venture.
Kathryn: Thanks Jenny! Let us know what happens next with the cease and desist motion against a giant conglomerate versus a neighborhood dairy. They must have totally loved your business model, if they’ve emulated it….
Interview with Denise Anderson
Bagel Basement, Hanover, NH
By Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon
Kathryn: Denise, how was the transition from being a lawyer to becoming a baker?
Denise: It was a long transition and did not happen overnight, although the final jump off the bridge only takes one step! It started with a divorce and an opportunity to move to NYC from Kansas City (KC) to be near some of my kids.
My friends told me to just be honest with myself and admit that I loved to bake. Being a lawyer, I of course analyzed the options of a second career. I had a successful practice and my own law firm, so whatever I did would take some planning. Eventually I hired a head hunter and sold my firm to the highest bidder. I almost signed a lease on a bakery in KC, when I asked myself; what happened to your one-time dream of living in NYC?
I looked at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), amongst its competition in NYC, and liked the attitude, the way everyone shared experiences, and the idea that I could get a pastry and management diploma in less than one year. I kept a few cases and practiced part-time in NYC. It paid the tuition and rent. I felt "at home" with the environment even though at my age it was scary going back to school, particularly with people who never went to college, and of course in a city where I was a complete stranger.
Kathryn: What advice do you have for another professional thinking about changing careers, and ultimately becoming an entrepreneur? Was it worth it?
Denise: When I first decided to leave law, I was afraid to admit what I wanted to do was not as glamorous and lucrative as my career as a lawyer. What would my family and friends think?
I made the shift in my career because I was burned out and, at the time, I wanted to do something that was a win/win. My passion is baking, being in the kitchen, making others happy with food. Making this transition in my career, so late in life, I learned we are who we are because of our experiences. I am a lawyer of 23 years. I have skills and a way of thinking because of having practiced business and trial law. I bring that to being a pastry
chef. I struggled with how to join the two parts of my life, but then realized I always have had both parts. I have always been an entrepreneur and love to build a vision. I did it with my law firm, which was not easy but a huge success. I will do it in this industry too, but this time I will enjoy the ride.
Jeff: How much baking experience do you have, besides your externship at ICE?
Denise: I have been baking since I was very young. I learned from my grandmothers, both of whom were very skilled at baking. My dad's mother was a baker in Germany and worked as a baker after she came to America. I was self-taught until ICE.
Kathryn: How did you wind up moving to NH and finding a place to acquire there?
Denise: When I was practicing labor and employment law in KC, the owners of
Bagel Basement, one of whom is my son, contacted me to consult on the finances and structure of the company. I advised the owners on contracts and other business issues.
After I moved to NYC and was working as a pastry chef/cook, one of the owners contacted me. On behalf of the company, he asked if I would consult again, this time on the labor and management side. They wanted a full analysis of the cost of goods sold and whether the business was able to continue. They had gone through several managers and the business was losing money.
At the end of January, I moved temporarily to NH to advise on Bagel Basement. If Gordon Ramsay had approached me for a segment on Kitchen Nightmares, we would have aced the deal! It was the worst. Anything that could go wrong, went wrong. Being a lawyer, coming from my work ethic and having had the training at ICE and working in NYC, I was able to negotiate and save the business.
Jeff: How long was the bagel place in operation before you obtained it and why was it for sale?
Denise: It was started in the late 70's by a couple who wanted to steam bagels. It was the cool thing to do. It was the only bagel place in the area. The current investor group purchased the Bagel Basement around 2004, with the idea it would remain the historical, unique bagel college hangout (near Dartmouth College).
They have had several managers, none of whom have had the passion to run it to make a profit or grow it beyond just bagels. When they contacted me, the business was not worth anything. I doubt they would have been able to sell it for anything more than the equipment. A bankruptcy would have been the final outcome.
Jeff: And now you believe you’ve turned it around?
Denise: After the consulting period, the owners asked me to stay for another 30 days, which I agreed to, because I could see the business turning around. To convince me to stay on, the owners offered me a majority ownership interest, with full control of the daily operations.
Today, I am the CEO and majority owner. I feel that my legal background has fully transitioned into part of who I am and what I am doing. My investors are absolutely the best partners I could ask for. I am now in conversations with a couple who want to invest in the business, to grow it into a full bakery.
Kathryn: The location was originally a bagel place. Are you continuing to offer bagels as you expand the bakery aspect?
Denise: When I began my consulting, I was faced with a business that had been mis-managed and employees who were used to doing things as they pleased, without rules or care for the premises. Several of the employees ended walking off the job when I ran the schedules, held them accountable for the cash drawer, and implemented processes. I had to find another lead baker. I had to find staff/employees, etc. Everything was wrong and nothing was a standardized procedure or process. It was everything it should not be. I mean dirty, smelly, etc.
The last General Manager was selling premade frozen muffins. I sold the rest to empty the freezer and began making our own muffins. I have since created and designed a process and procedure for our own dry mix and muffins. I have added cookies, coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, baked bread, and much more, on a daily basis. We make everything everyday, from scratch, in our ovens. We also have sandwiches, soups and salads. We also have a retail location in the Medical School, which I have completely revamped. The menu is entirely in-line with the guests and customers.
Kathryn: Have you had to buy new equipment for the new production?
Denise: We have a 23-year old Excalibur oven and bagel former. There was a mixer that was probably 10 years old, which has since been replaced. Since the bakery was bagels only, with muffins frozen, I have supplied the rest of the equipment. We recently purchased a Viking 7 quart mixer, food processor, baking pans, pastry equipment, etc.
Jeff: What’s next for you at Bagel Basement?
Denise: I am finally writing a training manual. I have put in place many processes and now need to get them in a binder. I am hoping to franchise the business model and open another bakery. I may also rename the establishment.
Meanwhile, I am targeting local residents and business owners to help expand our customer base beyond the Dartmouth student population. We have 10,000 people in Hanover, in the surrounding area, and on campus. The downtown is mainly a Main Street, and we are located on a side street.
Jeff: How are you financing the purchase of the establishment and your new equipment for the bakery?
Denise: I have paid for the new mixer and other new small equipment with revenue generated from sales. We have not borrowed money, yet.
On a good note, the current investors have made current our past due accounts. I have since been able to make current the old loan and other bills with revenues being generated through our sales.
Editors: Thanks Denise! We will check up on your progress with the turnaround in a few months.
Interview with Karen Heyson
Interview by Jessie Riley and Kathryn Gordon
Kathryn: You directed, edited and produced the video to promote our book, Les Petits Macarons. Everyone loves it! Within a month of its release, the video was featured in Texas at the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference as an example of how to promote your own cookbook with a food video.
How did you start in video production?
Karen: I attribute my interest in all of this to when I was about 10 and my parents bought me a small reel-to-reel tape recorder. My friends and I used to spend hours making up characters, playing with our voices, and conducting mock interviews. It blew me away that you could have an instant recording like that. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, but I didn’t do anything about it for a long time.
After college I had a job I hated and was desperate to find another career. I decided to take a night class in video editing. I was immediately reminded of how much fun recording was. It took a while, but after a variety of transitional jobs I became an assistant editor at a post-production house called Post Perfect. In 1989, Post Perfect was one of the top post houses in town. They had all the latest bells and whistles and specialized in what’s referred to as “online” editing. Online editing is the final phase of editing where you rebuild the original edit in full resolution, and then add all the finishing touches, like transitions and graphics. In those days it was very technical and involved a lot of button pushing.
Of course, the business has changed dramatically since then. With the advance of more affordable equipment and software, those big fat post houses were replaced by much smaller editing “boutiques,” and a lot of that purely technical work disappeared. When I saw the writing on the wall, I started learning how to offline edit using an Avid system. It turned out to be blessing in disguise, because offline editing – the actual story telling - is much more creative and fun.
Karen with some of her camera equipment
Jessie: In addition to editing, you are now doing more of your own video production as well, from the planning phase through directing and shooting.
Karen: Yes. Maybe I’ve come full circle back to my recording roots and I’m still somewhat in awe of the fact that you can go out, record something, and then zip on home and start editing that same afternoon.
My pet project right now is something I call “PulseAP,” based right here in Asbury Park, NJ. I’m working with local teenagers and teaching them how to be broadcast journalists. It seemed like a natural fit, because Asbury Park is chock full of activity, the kids have a blast, and I get to run around, meet lots of people, and have fun making short videos.
Jessie: What do you think about when you go out to shoot?
Karen: I’ve always felt that a really good camera person should have at least some editing experience. It’s a tremendous advantage. When I go out into the field I already know what I need to get. The whole time I’m shooting I’m thinking about editing.
Each situation, in terms of a live video shoot, is different. For instance, if you’re shooting someone cooking in real time, you can’t ask them to repeat every step 5 times so it helps to have at least one additional camera. In that situation, I always have one camera shooting a medium shot of the head, with the person talking, and the second camera shooting all the close ups of the process. It’s common sense really. The trickier and more creative aspect of shooting is to shoot things in an interesting way (whether it be angles, lighting or camera moves) so the footage brings life to the final product.
Making pizzas at Porta for a PulseAP shoot
Kathryn: When we made the video for Les Petits Macaron we didn’t do a whole lot of pre-production. Would you say a script helps the director plan out the shots and be able to think ahead to the final, edited version?
Karen: Absolutely. If you can, plan EVERYTHING in advance. Think about what you want to accomplish. Who is your target audience? Think about how you’re opening, how you’re closing, and how you’re going to flow from one scene to the next. If you’re well prepared, the shooting and editing can be done much more efficiently and you will end up with a better product that is cheaper overall to produce.
Jessie: What are the best types of shots to try to capture?
Karen: Well, you generally need some kind of establishing shot for each scene, so you know where you are. There’s one basic rule I have with shooting: close ups, close-ups and more close-ups. A lot of the videos we make today are delivered via computer, on a tiny screen – it’s not going to be shown in a large theater. The image needs to fill the screen. If you’re shooting food, get right in there and shoot the actual product, because that’s what people want to see. At the same time, you can’t be totally divorced from the person doing the food preparation. As I said before, you should really have at least 2 cameras, so one can focus on the person’s face when they’re talking, and one can get close up’s of the food. Even in low budget situations it’s good to bring along the basics, like tripods and lights. Descent sound is also critical. I prefer small digital recorders that I sync up with the footage during the edit. But there are a variety of choices, depending on the type of camera you’re using.
Example of medium and close up food shots
Kathryn: I know from my experience working on our video that voiceovers can help with the transitions when you edit the finished tape.
Karen: If you’re shooting some kind of process that ultimately needs to be sped up, voiceovers will help. A sentence or two, along with a sequenced collage can work really well, especially if you add in some decent music.
Kathryn: You have the coolest software on your computer to edit with. I’ve just sat there and watched you zip through it.
Karen: Most decent editing programs allow for multiple layers of video and audio tracks. After you lay in the initial video and natural sound into a timeline, you can add all kinds of things to spice it up - animation, titles, visual effects, sound effects, music, etc. I especially like to play with music, so I subscribe to an online stock music library. There are lots of stock houses out there. You just have to find one you like, and can afford. In addition to the editing system, I also use a variety of external programs to create graphics and animations.
Jessie: Can someone get away with using a smartphone?
Karen: If you’re even remotely serious, I would not recommend using your phone.
Decent HD camcorders come in all price ranges and lots of people are also using the video feature on SLR’s (single lens reflex cameras) and getting some amazing results.
The thing to take into consideration is whether the camera output will be compatible with your editing system. These days most cameras use hard drives as opposed to tape, so you need to make sure that the video file being created by the camera will be compatible with your editing system.
Kathryn: If someone can afford a professional, how would they find one like you to help with their project?
Karen: Pretty much everyone can be found on the internet, these days. It’s probably best to select someone who has previous experience with the type of video you’re planning to make. Definitely ask to see samples of their work and if possible, get some references. There’s a very wide range of price and ability. You don’t want to spend a lot of money and end up with a really bad video.
Kathryn: When you’re shooting food, in particular, what hints would you give to someone trying to organize their own project?
Karen: 1. You need to realize that the camera is not the star of the video.
A common mistake is not realizing that the food has to be the star of a food video. You don’t need to do a lot of fancy moves and fly all over the place. Focus on the food. Show the person talking when they’re talking, and show the person demonstrating when they’re demonstrating but keep returning to the food.
2. Make the shots long enough.
Amateurs tend to be all over the place and their shots aren’t long enough. Try to relax and pay attention to what you’re doing. Look at your framing and what’s in the shot. Stay in one place. I know this sounds obvious, but make sure you are recording BEFORE the action starts. It’s really important to get both cameras rolling for 10 to 15 seconds before you start shooting. Make sure both cameras start and stop around the same time. Otherwise syncing the 2 cameras later will be a nightmare. Keep the cameras focused and rolling for 5 - 10 seconds AFTER the action stops and have your talent stay more or less in place.
3. Lighting is key.
Video needs evenly distributed light. The darker the image, the more pixilated (grainy) it will be. As much as possible I try to work with natural light. For an inexpensive, multipurpose lighting solution I always bring along two soft boxes with diffusion screens. They do a pretty decent job of providing general lighting with minimal shadows.
Remember that if you’re shooting in natural light, the light will shift during the day and you may need to compensate for changing hot spots and shadows. Most editing programs have color and lighting correction filters, but you still need to get the best initial image possible.
The Macaron Video
If you want to learn how to make French-style macarons, Karen produced 2 versions, the short version on our website, lespetitsmacarons.com and a slightly longer version which you can view on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K1Vl4LzYx4
If you want to see some of Karen’s work with Asbury Park, NJ teenagers go to: