Starting a Prepared Food Business | Prepared Meal Business
Running Time: 7 minutes
Most people work some crappy day job, and simply spend their days and nights complaining about it, never actually doing anything to fix the situation. Remember, the best thing anyone can invest in, is themselves.
I’m finally ready to talk about my wife and I starting a Prepared Foods business together. I would like to document how I got this project off the ground, because it was highly confusing and stressful due to all the regulations and negativity surrounding us.
Our New Prepared Food Business
Everybody wants to keep you stuck in a 9-5 day job. We think it’s a great idea, friends and family love it too. But when I start talking to landlords and similar types of people, suddenly we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into. Our business plan isn’t far enough along! What is the menu? Where is the website? Etc, etc. Yeah, well, every idea has to start somewhere, doesn’t it? And I have 20 things I need to move forward all at the same time. Give me half a second.
From licenses and permits, to selling of the food. From finding a storefront location, to purchasing all of the equipment, utensils and napkins. It’s a lot. It’s honestly no wonder people don’t want to start their own business. I am completely overwhelmed, and I never say that. Meanwhile, I just found a new model painting hobby shop that barely has any inventory, and yet nobody is stopping him from following his passion… even though it’s likely to die in a fiery explosion due to the incredibly narrow niche of local customers. But then again, there is another hobby shop in my neighborhood that is doing just fine. So what the hell do I know?
If you’re still with me, and think this is a video series that would be interesting to you, then give me a thumbs up and please leave a comment letting me know about what aspect of this you may be interested in. While I should technically start an entirely new channel for this topic, I don’t have time for my other established retouching channel, so I certainly don’t have time to start a 3rd one talking about starting and running a business. So if you’re still watching, let me know your thoughts.
The Business Plan
My wife is a cook by nature, and a chef by experience. She went to culinary school, did some side jobs cooking afterwards, and started gaining some experience. My own history is a marketer and business start-up, so we are a match made in heaven, as we always have been (we’ve known each other since second grade!). Recently I came across 2 businesses that caught my attention. One was a Prepared Foods retail location down the street from me. They cooked the food in the kitchen, then put it out in display cabinets. One thing they did that I thought was interesting, is that they put a refrigeration unit in my wife’s old gym, and sold food there too. This started getting the gears moving in my head, but the full idea hasn’t formed yet. In my area during the pandemic, I was sadly behind the curve, as businesses like this started popping up in the affluent neighboring towns.
The second business was a very small retail storefront called Soup Girl, and they sell… soup. If you’re thinking that this is a fairly limited business model, then you are correct. Honestly, we didn’t even like any of the soup. But the basic concept was there for me to pull from. A small 300×300 square foot space that included a single refrigerator unit filled with soup, some deserts and soda. In general, I thought it was a nice and simple idea.
I started asking the question, why do they need a kitchen in the back? This requires lots of expensive insurance in case of a fire or other damages. It also limits them to the storefront locations, between zoning and picky landlords, which I’ve also bumped into. If they wanted to open up another location, then they need to do it all over again, with an all-new staff. This was a very limited business model.
But that’s where my own idea came in. What if I rented a very small retail space, filling it with refrigeration units to sell the food, but cooked it all at another location. Renting a kitchen proved to be fairly easy, and not much of a stretch. The local and state health departments also verbally approved my plan. I actually have 2 Kitchen Incubators near me that rent out kitchen space, but also have experienced staff that can help you get all of the licenses and permits, as well as give business advice via mentorships. The kitchens are even available 24/7, which absolutely blew our minds. I would love to show it to you sometime. If you would like for me to keep making these videos, you know what you need to do.
Expanding and Correcting the Plan
Now think about this, I can rent a kitchen in a central location, and start adding small retail spaces in different towns that provide quick and easy parking. They come in, pick from like 20 different dishes, pay and leave. The overhead is minimal, and renting out a kitchen is regulated by how many meals you can sell during a week. The more we cook, the more money we can make. As for the kitchen, we simply swipe a keycard and work as many or as little as we need throughout the month. I found the entire business model simply brilliant. I’ve been so excited ever since.
I even found a prime location, if not my favorite, with a full kitchen and eating area. I didn’t expect to find something like this, but it was ready and available. But after pushing around numbers for a larger space, higher rent, and added for things like plowing of snow, this no longer made any sense to my otherwise simple business plan. Sadly, we needed to let it go.
Creating Our Own Jobs
My wife is a chef, but lost her job during the pandemic. As a solution, unemployment offered her a job on a bus being a bus escort for the little kids, ugh, no. These types of jobs keep people busy; they don’t offer long term solutions to families in need of making real money. Grades 1-12 teach children to be good little soldiers. Grades 13-16 make people like me, and I’m dangerous. Especially when I’m the smartest person in the room. (Huh? Squirrel?)
But seriously, we are taught that we need to make an “Adequate Living”. Go to work, pay the bills, and just get by. But the common folk need more than this. We should all be pushing for a “Thriving Living”, and not just let the 10% enjoy all the spoils. Why can’t we get in on some of that? It’s because even self employed people don’t understand the difference between creating a job for themselves, and creating a business.
While I started compiling all the various things that we need to do like get permits, licenses, secure a kitchen, etc, we also needed to find a location for the storefront. We started looking around at what was available in our area for a store. I wanted one that was on the main strip, even if it cost more, and also needed to have easy access parking. The key here is for grabbing and going. I thought finding a store was going to be easy. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t.
Our first choice was $1300/mo and it would have been almost perfect, but it rented by the end of the week, and we weren’t even remotely ready to commit. Turns out, they made it into a niche womens fashion store. Ugh, what a terrible idea. What didn’t they see about the location?! I give them 6 months because it’s a lower end neighborhood, next door to chinese food. We could have thrived, and they will fail. Mark my words.
The second location was at a stoplight on the correct side of town, but the landlord didn’t want anything to do with food. It also had other interested parties. Moving on.
The third location was in a richer client area, it was at a stoplight, but it did have prepared foods at the grocery store down the street. It was only $810/mo, and we were really excited for it at first. However, the landlord insisted we find a kitchen first, because without a kitchen, we didn’t have a business. While this makes sense, I already had multiple kitchen locations lined up, I just didn’t have any contracts. As I write this, I’m all good, but all of this is such a slow process to learn everything, I just wasn’t ready.
We found the realtor very demeaning, and not even remotely encouraging. I’m not saying he was wrong though, but I have so many things to do at once. I really feel like I am playing chicken or the egg. Which comes first; licenses, permits, or locations? According to the realtor, “All of it, that’s just life.”’
A big downside to this location was they wouldn’t let me do anything even close to computer repair, as a competitor of mine (that I often get unintentional work from) was in the same complex. While I am not planning on running a computer repair business out of my wife’s food place, there isn’t any reason I can’t do a little work on the side, in the back. Plus, it also had crappy electrical that would need to be replaced. So, it has upsides and huge downsides. I was told no one else was looking at it, but it’s no longer visible online, so F* them.
Because of the time this script and video sat around, we passed through several different locations, including the one I would have easily signed on 2 blocks from my house. But I never saw it for a complete month. It was in the middle of the strip mall, and I never frickin’ saw it. So I will tell myself that it wasn’t that good, if I drove past it for a month, and never saw the sign in the window. Once again, moving on.
As of right now, I don’t have a storefront, but I’ll continue to look for something. Today we drove around looking at places a bit farther away than we wanted. But one location seemed interesting. It was in the center of town, lots of housing down the side streets, and was even located near the train station. When I looked in the store’s window, I could see it had a full kitchen, although it was never mentioned in any of the listings I found online. I called the realtor, but he didn’t call me back yet, and never did. I’ve been getting a lot of that, and it’s really pissing me off. How do you plan on making money, if you don’t call people back? If I have a possible customer, I call them back. I mean, duh!
Honestly, I kinda feel like I am on Shark Tank. I have a great idea, I have a great product, I just don’t have all the little parts moving efficiently yet. Now that things are moving forward, I’m under a microscope where everyone is looking to find everything that I’m doing wrong. All I am really learning at this point, is a whole lot of things NOT to say. Business people don’t seem capable of telling the difference between jokes to lighten the mood, and serious comments. And wearing these damned masks all the time is not making any of this go any easier.