Although we are exploring many options and hope to find a way to continue making our sorbet, the article is not quite correct. We have talked to Ici and several other local businesses about possible collaboration, but this has been separate from our talks with potential investors. Mary has offered kind advice and encouragement but has no plans to invest --- at least not that she has told me! Still, feel free to send other collaborators or illustrious prospects our way.
Sugartoof, your optimism is wonderful, but I sense that you have yet to operate a food business in Oakland. But if you have, my hat is off to you on your ability to work within the system! We are indeed looking for a managerial partner. All acquisition offers will be seriously considered as well.
The $80K was just for the store itself, and was as low as it was because we did the majority of labor ourselves and already had most of the equipment. The total amount into the business so far is about $350K, plus 4 years of my unpaid labor. Plus a lot of free or underpaid help from dedicated employees and helpful outsiders.
Robert is right that we came into this underfunded, but I disagree with his assertion that we did not have a business plan. Rather, the business plan we had underestimated the costs of starting and operating a business in California. Our assumptions for actual production costs were much more accurate.
As to the success of nearby businesses, it's likely that many of them have more business talent than I do, or insight that I lack. But I'd warn against taking their continued existence for granted. While many are making it, I'm not sure how many are thriving. I'd suggest that all that still exist are working extremely hard to be where they are at. Unless you specifically know otherwise, I think you should consider all of them to be at risk.
"scream sorbet should have had cost estimates to see how much compliance would cost and how long it would take.
We'd love to have this information, and still haven't been able to find a way to get it. Suggestions of affordable health compliance consultants appreciated. But given what we know now, the result would have been that Scream Sorbet would have never existed.
It's arguable whether this would have been better or worse for the world. Certainly I and our backers would be in a better financial situation if we'd never started. But then our sorbet, which many people clearly like, would never have been tasted and enjoyed.
There is also some benefit even to the public who does not consume our sorbet. Since starting, we've probably paid around $1M of local wages, $200K of payroll taxes, and over $100K of market fees and permits. Despite our compliance issues, we've paid at least $20K to Alameda County Health alone.
Rather than starting with the goal of maximum profitability, we started with a passion for a great product, and hoped that along the way we'd find a way to make it a sustainable business. This is naive, but also why the sorbet is as uncompromised as it is, and largely why we have the fans that we do.
We hope to still find that way.
There's certainly an element of truth to that, although the reason we were actually shut down was probably more due to our poor negotiating skill than with the violations themselves.
The store was very difficult to open. We figured it would be fast and inexpensive to open, as there were very few improvements that we needed to make. After $80K, 14 months, and much floundering with permits, we finally managed to open in a way that we thought was legal. It involved selling from a licensed mobile food cart, inside of our of our rented space. We were told that Blue Bottle started this way.
This approach is clearly not the intent of the law, but is technically legal if done correctly, and at least got us open. Renovating the space to be licensed in a traditional manner as a commercial kitchen would have been longer and at least $100K more. We probably should have listened to the people who told us that we shouldn't consider any space that wasn't already licensed, but we felt this was a great location in the exact neighborhood we wanted to be part of.
It wasn't until our recent meeting with Alameda Health that I realized that the sale of the prepacked cartons was not legal. I had presumed that packaged food did not require anything other than a Oakland sales permit. We did know that we were noncompliant by leaving the cart and the frozen sorbet overnight in the store. Identical freezers in a licensed commissary would have been legal, and the same freezers in the same spot would have been legal if we had been properly permitted.
I don't fault Alameda Health. They treated us as well as they could, and eventually got fed up with our non-compliance. Our goal was/is to achieve compliance, but we could never find a way to transition from our partially-licensed state to the proper state without being shut down while we obtained the proper permits. We kept hoping that an opportunity would present itself and it never came. This is partly due to the inherent complexity of dealing with all the overlapping regulatory agencies, but mostly due to my lack of skill in this area and insufficient money to hire outside experts.
The slightly longer answer is that we'll be closing down in early March unless our situation rapidly changes for the better. It's not a certain fate, but definitely the direction we are headed. We've gotten as far as we have based largely on the dedication of our employees, and while most of them are still with us, all of them have already been encouraged to line up other work.
The most pressing problem is that at the beginning of February, Alameda County Health informed us (quite reasonably) that our permit to sell from the store was not going to be extended unless we submitted architectural plans within 30 days for legally required improvements. We've made no progress on this, don't really even know where to begin, but are certain we can't afford this project without outside funding.
Slightly less pressing but still urgent, we've come through the winter with about $50K of unpaid bills. We've done our best to pay the smaller vendors we rely on (and who rely on us), but still owe some. And although some of these would be willing to grant us further credit, we don't feel comfortable running up our bill further with more purchases we may not be able to repay. Others (like the credit cards and store landlords) would really prefer their money now, and it will be difficult to continue without their blessing.
Slightly farther out, we would still need to grow the business significantly (> 2x current sales) to reach financial stability. Every summer, our goal is to simply to figure out how to make it through the next winter. By our models, two more stores around the Bay Area would do it. Or possibly one more and a couple food trucks. Or maybe a couple trucks, lots of markets, and an awful lot of wholesale, catering, corporate campuses, and restaurants. But all of these require significant capital investment, and all would be more achievable by someone with more business experience and connections than we possess.
So if you happen to know the right investor and/or the right person to help run the company, please send them our way. Soon, preferably.
Nathan Kurz, (founder Scream Sorbet)
We had two of the sushi lunch specials last week, one with a California roll and one with a spicy tuna roll. We asked for no shrimp (dining partner's preference) and each got one piece of: red snapper, white tuna, red tuna, yellowtail, and salmon. The white tuna (binnaga) was great, the salmon medicore, and the rest were good. The rolls were fair: Krabby and mushy, respectively. Miso soup was very good, strong and hearty. Lunch for two came to $25 pre tip, which seemed fair but not a bargain.
I went a couple days ago with another Chowhounder, and we had the loc lac beef, the 5 spice chicken, the bahn xeo crepe, and the fried squid. It was all solidly good, with the 5 spice chicken being my favorite. They have a pretty deep menu, and it seems like it would be a fun please to delve deeper into Vietnamese cuisine.
We went last night, and found it satisfying. It's definitely worth going if you are in Austin and craving Ethiopian food, or if you have never had it before. The doro watt chicken was a little hotter than I'm used to, the vegetable dishes were a little plainer, but everything was good. Two dishes were a pleasant amount for two people, and extra injera bread was served on request.
Here's some short takes on some recent meals:
Enoteca Vespaio: Really tasty but not cheap. I had the stuffed shells with meat on the recommendation of the person sitting next to me at the bar who was back for for the third day that week. I'm planning to go back.
Tan My (formerly Tan Tan): Inexpensive Vietnamese with really good pho. I had the Pho Tai Nam Gan, and it was loaded with tasty meats. Seemed like a lot of interesting restaurants worth checking out nearby.
P. Terry's Burgers: The cheeseburger was lousy, and the chicken sandwich wasn't good either. Fries and shakes better, but not worth it. Is there a good home grown burger place here in Austin?
Mi Colombia: Good South American food. The aborrajado appetizer (fried sweet plaintain with cheese) was the highlight. The steak with the Bandeja Paisa was a bit tough, but the seasonings and sides were real good. Dining partner really liked the fish salad.
Tony's Southern Comfort: Comfy southern food. The chicken fried steak was done crispier than I was used too, but very flavorful. The yams as a side dish stole the show.
I realize these probably aren't that useful without context, but maybe they'll spur someone into some other recommendations...
Yes. Reading your report, I felt you were served the same duck that I was. To clarify, it wasn't horrific, just raw. But I wasn't being snide when I said that they graciously roasted my remaining slice: they expressed sadness I hadn't told them earlier, brought it back prettily plated on a saucer with some more greens, and it was delicious. For me at least, service was good; it's their taste I was doubting. Considering how pretty the seared duck looked, it made me feel like they thought the appearance of the food was more important than the eating.
We had supper last night at Wink in Austin. I’ll start with the positives: it was wonderfully friendly and inviting, they were great at accomodating our indecision in ordering, they happily split entrees and glasses of wine into two. On the downside, it was pricey even with a $25 certificate, the variable pacing between courses was awkward, and two of the dishes were flawed to a level highly unexpected for a restaurant of this price level.
The amuse bouche (a blue cheese mouse on a vegetable chip with lemon oil) was very tasty and things boded well. I started with the Buttered Chicory Soup, which was delicious, and unfortunately my favorite dish of the night. My companion had the Endive and Parsley salad, which was visually appealing but she felt fell flat in flavor. I liked the bits of it I sampled, appreciating the lemon dressing, but felt the olives didn’t fit the other flavors.
The scallop with mushroom was very tasty, if a bit salty. The hebi (spearfish) with beets, mushroom, and red onion marmalade was good. I felt there were too many competing flavors, but my dining companion though the combination worked. Unfortunately, the thumb-sized beets were unpeeled and not well washed. My companion was smart enough to peel them, staining her fingers red. I unsuccessfully tried to convince myself the grit was pepper, and was left with a furry feeling tongue that took a full course to get rid of.
The duck would have been excellent had it been cooked. Were it seared tuna, it would have been perfect; were it beef, it would be called bleu; but as it was duck, it was simply raw. It looked beautiful (and the sauteed edges were very tasty) but the room-temperature center portions were inedible. Had I been smarter I would have asked it to be redone before trying it, but as they had so nicely split the entree into two appealing plates I felt silly doing so. As it was, they very graciously broiled my uneaten single slice after I had finished the rest edible portions.
The waiter apologized, and said that unless otherwise specified this is how they cook their duck. I presumed he was just covering for the kitchen’s error, for through no stretch could this have been classified as medium-rare, but reading through Chowhound, I find that someone else has had the same experience. While I realize that tastes vary, I’m still hard-pressed to come up with any explanation other than a chef who do not eat duck. At the least, the waiters should be explaining how it will be prepared and asking if this is desired.
We had the chocolate soup for dessert, which was a tasty combination of melted chocolate and chocolate mousse flavored with ginger and tea. It went very well with the tasty Talijancich White Solero.
Overall, I came away disappointed. I’m sure it’s possible to eat a great meal here, whether by chance or better planning, but the misses that did occur were large and inexplicable enough to shake my faith in the kitchen. The friendliness made up for a lot, and I’d happily explore more of the menu were someone else were footing the bill, but for myself—at that price point—I’m looking for something closer to flawless.
I and a friend had supper last night at Uchi, and were pleasantly suprised: yes, there is great sushi in Austin! Service was an excellent combination of informed and informal, the eating environment was pleasant if a bit loud, and the food ranged from pretty good to world class excellent.
We had a 6:00 reservation, arrived at 5:50, and were seated immediately. The Omakase for two was offered at ~$175, but fearing the expense we chose to order off the menu as we went along. Here’s what we had:
Brown Butter Sorbet: We started with a small serving of the brown butter sorbet that would have begun the omakase: tasty, but so sweet and buttery that it felt like an odd beginning to a meal.
Higawari Carpaccio: About six slices of madai snapper with a delicious tangerine oil and a scattering of golden tobiko. Delicious, and put us back on track after the oddly buttery beginning. We had it accompanied by a shared glass of Aneri Prosecco, which matched wonderfully.
Japanese Pumpkin Tempura (two orders): Excellent, although a bit greasy from the perspective of perfect tempura. Served with a strong and tasty ginger dipping sauce which we happily drunk as a soup broth after finishing the tempura. Two orders because we really like pumpkin, and because it was on sale as a ‘Happy Hour Special’.
Kai Mushi: The mussels were also ordered because they were a Happy Hour Special. This was the one failed dish of the night. Some of the mussels were quite good, and others, umm, not so good. Not spoiled, just stronger in flavor in a bad way and not too tender. We mentioned this, and were happy to see we weren’t charged for it at the end. Mussels were served in a mild but tasty Thai coconut curry broth.
Hiya Yako: A delicious and delicate cold tofu dish served over shaved ice, and at $4 probably the best bargain of the meal. Sprinkled with bonito, scallions, and I think some yuzu. Large enough to share comfortably.
Kabocha Hotate: A delicious single fried scallop with a pumpkin puree. I thought it was really good but not a good value, my dining partner thought was OK but nothing special.
Saba Shio: A small but very tasty piece of boneless mackerel, served with small piles of salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Delicious, and for $5 we probably should have ordered one for each person.
Miso Soup (one with shiitake, one without): Solidly good miso soup, well priced at $2/$2.50. Nothing extraordinary, just good.
Sushi Selection: 2 Hamachi, 1 Super Toro, 1 Hotate, 1 Uni. The hamachi was tremendous, probably the best I’ve had (including in Japan). I had the scallap which was good but nothing special. My dining partner had the uni with quail egg, pronounced wonderful. The bluefin toro was great, but not great enough to justify the price or probably the killing of such a rare fish.
Sake: We shared a single glass of the Wakatake “Demon Slayer” with the suchi, which was very good on the smooth and subtle side. We also sampled three others, and found the unfiltered California Takara Nigori to be the tastiest (good balance of sweet, sour, and body), the Hokkaido Otokoyama to be wonderfully pure and clear, and the Suishin Ani sort of artificial tasting. As the Takara Nigori was the cheapest on the menu and I liked it best of the four, I’d probably get it next time, although the Wakatake was certainly a more refined flavor and we liked it better than the other two. But I know little about sake, and the samples were tasted after the sushi, so you might be better trusting your own tastes and the generally accurate descriptions on the menu.
Bacon Steakie: Horrible name, but a truly delicious piece of boar belly bacon. Although pork not beef, it’s a worthy homage to the local BBQ scene, but served with a tangerine glaze it fit in well with the meal. Large enough for two to share at the end of a meal when most of the hunger has been sated.
Chocolate and Wasabi Fondant: Better than it sounds. My dining partner thought the chocolate/wasabi combo was perfect; I think I would have preferred pepper to horseradish for contrast. I thought it went great with the pistachio ice cream and tuile cookie; dining partner thought it best on its own, unadulterated.
Including the two shared drinks (and minus the not-the-best mussels) the total came to $115 pre-tip — pretty expensive by our standards, but it felt like a very fair price for a wonderful hours long meal.
Hamachi Sushi — probably should be ordered periodically through the meal, and as dessert. That good.
Hiya Yako and Saba Shio and Pumpkin Tempura — low priced and delicious. I’m interested in trying the other lower priced items on the menu, as these were hits.
Bacon Steakie — high end BBQ rivalling the traditional stuff around Austin. Perhaps awkward to find a place for in the meal, but worth fitting in.
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that I had some BBQ for lunch today, and perhaps closer to the truth to say that thanks to Luling City Market (Luling, TX) my faith in American restaurants has been rejuvenated. The food was wonderful, but even better, the restaurant itself was as well honed as the finest Parisian neighborhood restaurant.
One enters through the two dining rooms, packed with local families and couples (equally Mexican, White, and Black), and finds in the back the enclosed smokehouse where one orders the meat. For $8 a pound one gets brisket and pork ribs, and for $1.75 more a smoked homemade beef sausage. Pickles and onions and fluffy white bread are available, and many people ordering for a family carried off a whole loaf of bread still in the plastic bag. The meat is served on two layers of butcher paper with the corners folded up to make it easier to carry to your table.
From a counter in the middle of the dining room one can order soft drinks (Big Red and root beer seemed most popular), potato salad, and beans. If you had two people you could save a bit of time by each hitting one line, but the experience wouldn’t really be complete for either one. The sauce (sweet, mustardy, red-peppery, black-peppery goodness) is already in bottles on the tables, but you can get more from the counter if the bottle is empty.
The beef sausage was coarse and juicy, almost like a burger that was smoked in a casing. It was good, but not really my thing. The ribs were sweet, succulent, and salty, also good, but I like my pork a little drier and spicier. The beans were straightforward, unspiced pintos — a nice complement, but forgettable. The potato salad was standard mayonnaised stuff, but perked up nicely with some of the sauce added. But the brisket, the brisket was perfect: crispy on the outside, moist and juicy inside, wood smoke throughout, too good even for the otherwise tremendous sauce.
There may be better brisket out there (I’ve yet to eat the neighboring BBQ mecca of Lockhart) but this was pretty good. And as restaurants go, this is the sort of place one should take food conscious Europeans or Asians to show them that at least in parts of this country we know how to eat too.
I went to Kreuz Market in Lockhart today, and while good it didn’t exceed my expectations the way that Luling City Market did. While the smoked prime rib was delicious, at $20/lb I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than twice as good as the brisket at Luling. The brisket at Kreuz’s ($10/lb vs $8/lb) was excellent (probably juicier than Luling) but a bit salty for my taste. The clod shoulder (also $10/lb) was very good, and an interesting example of a drier cut, but not as good as the brisket at either establishment.
The sides at Kreuz (German Potato Salad and Saurkraut) were disappointing, and the overall ambiance was of disinterested workers and industrial scale. It was friendly, but definitely felt like a commercial establishment rather than a neighborhood favorite. Certainly Kreuz has better BBQ than can be found just about anywhere else in the country, but given the choice for a single visit I’d definitely choose Luling City Market. I’m still hoping to try the other Lockhart establishments, though.