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 Post subject: gaining experience in food service as a vegan
PostPosted: Thu Jun 23, 2016 8:11 am 
Wears Durian Helmet
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Joined: Mon Jul 11, 2011 1:27 am
Posts: 849
Location: Southern Maryland
I'm not really sure if this should go here or somewhere else on the forum. I'm curious for other's thoughts/experience. For a long time my partner and I have had a dream of owning a business of our own, particularly a vegan cafe and bookstore. For many years we considered it a nice thought and brushed it aside, but more and more we're reallizing, this is what we actually want to do, and sooner rather than later. The problem is, neither one of us has a whole lot of retail or food industry experience (I worked in fast food in highschool and she delivered pizzas at the same time and that's it).

This would be a massive career change for us, and with a family to support I don't feel like I can quit my decent paying job with good benefits without having something semi-solid to land on. However, I can potentially go part time, so I've been looking into testing the waters in working food service part time, but would really like to work somewhere were I feel like my morals are reflected, i.e. a vegan business. There are only a handful in commuting distance from where I live and none of them are hiring people without experience in the industry. I totally get that, but I feel like it leaves me with two choices, either don't get experience, or get experience in a place that is omnivorous and compromise my values.

A few other notes - we don't want to stay in the area, and the place we're thinking about setting up shop several states away has no vegan establishments (a few places have one or two good vegan options on the menu, but for the most part it's a touristy town that hasn't caught on that lots of people that visit are vegan), so I'm not trying to learn something from a place local to me currently to directly compete with them when I leave.

I know Isa has Modern Love and is opening a second location and if by some freak chance she has a moment to breath and wants to respond that would be awesome, but does anyone else here run a brick and mortar vegan business? How did you get going on it? Did you jump in with lots of experience, or little to none? Were you one of the many amazing cookbook writers first?

One thought we've had is to reach out to fellow vegans and commision baked goods etc so that we could focus more on running the store, vice trying to do it all. Has anyone experienced that process from either the sales or supply side of things?

My mind is a mess right now, so I'm sure I'll have tons more questions, but I would love to see the conversation that comes from people in the industry discussing their experience, pitfalls, the rewards of doing this, and whatever else comes to mind.

Technically, we're all half-centaur - Nick Offerman

 Post subject: Re: gaining experience in food service as a vegan
PostPosted: Sun Jul 03, 2016 2:31 pm 
Invented Vegan Meringue
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Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:10 pm
Posts: 4051
Location: in the middle
I don't have any experience but if I had the capital to do this I'd go for an owner/manager role and hire people with hands on experience and muck in with them on a part-time basis while still keeping a day-job part time for security, take it from there. I don't know if that's helpful, but if I get capital I would do this, so I'd be interested if anyone else has actually tried that route and if it worked?

Sweet talkin' pie

 Post subject: Re: gaining experience in food service as a vegan
PostPosted: Sun Jul 03, 2016 3:33 pm 
Should Write a Goddam Book Already
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Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2010 3:02 pm
Posts: 1061
I've really enjoyed being on the ground floor of a vegan co-operative (aka buying club) in my home town. It's not food service per se, but it is food-related and definitely in alignment with my values (and maybe with yours). Plus, it develops a local vegan community.

It is only in its beginning stages now and is essentially a buying club. We have an account with a major natural foods distributor (UNFI) and can order anything from their catalog.

The software we use allows us to split bulk bags of beans and other 25-lb size items. We have fridges and freezers (donated or bought on Craigslist) in a small, cheap rental space so we can order ice cream and frozen foods. Our markup is 20% over wholesale, to cover rent, insurance and utilities. Right now we are completely volunteer run, so no salaries. Deliveries are every two weeks and generally we ask that people pick up everything they ordered soon after delivery so we can save money by turning off the fridges.

Eventually we will tie in with a local farmer to offer produce, but not yet. Since we are approved by the health department, we can sell packaged goods from any certified vendor (for instance, a local vegan cupcake baker).

Also, eventually we want to accumulate capital to have a collective kitchen / vegan biz incubator / education center and have longer hours.

The main thing I've come to realize is that our member-owners have a far, far greater variety of vegan options than any store will ever carry. It saves me time and money because now I don't have to make that special trip to each separate store that happens to carry the one vegan item I wanted. And it's lovely participating in a venture that is by, for, and with other vegans. Our local "big" co-op started out as a vegetarian buying club many years ago. Then in 2008 the BOD reorganized and revised its charter and the membership voted that the store carry meat. That change still rankles me.

Our core group of organizers and worker-bees is about six people. One amazing person got the ball rolling *by herself* over an incredibly intense one-week period. She had a lot of small-biz experience.

Here's our website, if you're interested - http://www.chicovegancoop.org/

Good luck!

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