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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is It Too Late to Start an Artisanal Food Business? Maybe.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 at 8:43 AM

Happy Girl already makes wonderful pickles. Do you need to, too? - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • Happy Girl already makes wonderful pickles. Do you need to, too?

In the 1980s, food types all talked up the simple little French restaurant they wanted to open -- nothing pretentious, mind you, but serving a proper blanquette de veau, just like the one they'd eaten in Bordeaux last summer. These days, we all seem to be collectively dreaming about starting a food truck or an artisanal food business.

Not so fast, says CHOW, the Debbie Downer San Francisco-based online food mag in an article published yesterday. Have you considered the fact that everyone else has been thinking about launching a line of preserves/pickles/mustards/cheese nips? Fact is, author Joyce Slaton writes, there's a very limited outlet for your products, since the big grocery stores won't take small-time goods and Bi-Rite is besieged -- besieged! -- with ambitious young artisans like you. And besides, if you've never worked in a small business or restaurant, you have no idea how hard it is, and how much of your life it will suck up.

Frankly, it's sound advice. You might want to take a look at those hip-kid craft shows before you rent commercial kitchen space. SFoodie goes to a few of them every year, and is always disheartened by how all the vendors pile on to the same idea -- right now, it's maps, which show up on posters and paper cuts and pillowcases. After you've passed the fifth fake moustache on a stick, none of them end up looking worth buying.

Does the world really need another small-batch Meyer lemon curd? More importantly, do Bi-Rite or Foodzie? If you're really going to be serious about going into the artisanal food biz, find a product that few people are making but probably would want to eat. Take a small-business course. Talk to cheesemakers who sell their wares at the farmers markets about how much work they have to do pitching their own product to passers-by, or convince a food artisan (pick someone who wouldn't be your direct competition) to let you shadow them for a few days. Read up on everything you need to do to get started in this regulation-happy city. 

There's no point in chasing your dreams if you're racing, with a crowd of your fellow lemmings, toward the edge of the cliff.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodieand like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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