Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Resolutions- To Make or Not To Make?

Happy New Year everybody!

As I write this, a feverent version of "Auld Lang Syne" a la "It's A Wonderful Life" is running through my head. With 2008 just two days away, I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, on both a personal and business level. I read somewhere that about half the people that make New Year's resolutions end up abandoning them by June. Ah well, it's the effort that counts, right? For the past couple years, I haven't consciously made resolutions because I think sometimes one can get too ambitious, come up with an unrealistic resolution and then end up feeling crummy because one couldn't make it happen. What I do like about the idea of the New Year's resolution or the end of another year in general, is that it prompts me to look back on what I've done, what I didn't do, and what I hope to do. Right now, 2008 feels like a blank slate and I love it.

Until that apple drops in Time Square at midnight on January 1st, I can scheme all I want about the things I will do over the next 365 days. The results of my scheming included some realistic and ridiculously unrealistic ideas (i.e. would be great to go skydiving this year, but must conquer fear of heights and plummeting to death first). I weeded through and decided that I will try my best to make the following 4 things (in no particular order) happen over the next year:

1) Reteach myself the piano. Would love to play like Diana Krall or Count Basie, but must first figure out how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Hot Cross Buns."

2) Purchase my own place by Sept/Oct 2008. A personal and business goal in one. Because in order for me to invest in property, it means that business with Amandari Co is going well. I'm not thinking anything extravagant- something small, simple and cozy, where I can hang my hat at the end of the day. A fix 'er upper would be lots of fun. Then sometimes I think I watch too many of those Do-It-Yourself shows on HGTV and Fine Living.

3) Learn more about investing. Want to be savvy investor (but not like Gordon Gekko).

4) Get more involved. Would like to participate even more in the local community here in Pittsburgh. There's so much to do, but, it's just a matter of deciding what groups to join. Some more volunteering is definitely in the picture.

I think these are more like goals than resolutions. I think there's a fine line between what constitutes a goal vs. a resolution, but given my track record with resolutions, I'm going to call these goals to avoid jinxing myself.

Cheers to a new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Feeding Our Future

It seems that many of us are more charitable during the holiday season. Whether this is because we are reminded of how lucky we are to have what we have, or because of some guilt we feel because we haven't done as much as we would've liked to give back to the community over the year, folks are much more willing to place a dollar in that red kettle or donate a toy for a child in need. The thing is that there are people in need year-round.

There is one non-profit organization that we find particularly admirable, because of its widespread efforts to battle childhood hunger across the U.S.- Share Our Strength. I was suprised to learn that more than 12 million children here in America are at risk of going hungry every year.

Not having enough to eat is often times associated with people living in developing countries. It's not that we forget that there are people in our backyards that are also facing this same problem, but with all the causes out there to support, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

Share Our Strength (SOS) has not only partnered up with large companies and well known chefs to raise funds and increase awareness of this issue, but it has done a great job inspiring individuals throughout the country that they too can make a difference. This sounds cheesy, but when it comes to SOS, it's really true.

Because sometimes, when you are just one person (or in our case a small business), you want to help, but don't know how to get started. If you're interested in finding out more about how you can be a part of the solution, here are links to the main Share Our Strength initiatives:

Taste of the Nation

The Great American Bake Sale
Operation Frontline

We recently donated 10% of our total sales from the Sewickley Farmers' Market to Share Our Strength. We hope that in 2008, we'll be able to do even more- maybe a fundraiser or promotion.

If you think about it, feeding a child means you're feeding the future.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sweet Seasons Greetings

With Christmas just around the corner, I will admit that I am very much in the holiday spirit! I have a particular affinity for holiday music, and we have been listening to it as we work, since right after Thanksgiving. I know some people who have a pretty low tolerance for this music genre, but I am definitely not one of them.

On a more business related note, sales of our cookies this holiday season have been fairly good, although it's somewhat hard to tell just how well we are doing, since this is our first year of business. I think we'll have a much better idea of how our holiday sales are measuring up at the same time next year, as we'll at least have 2007 sales numbers with which to compare.

The holiday special that we've been running on the eBay store for our Meringue Cookie Sampler Gift Package has been pretty popular. I think it was a good idea to provide a discount (if you place an order for this item by Dec. 25th, you can save $2.00) and offer holiday packaging. I'd like to thank the couple of friends who suggested these ideas- you know who you are!

Another holiday related sale we made was to the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh. We have been working with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UPitt and they are part of this larger entrepreneurial organization. Every year, the Institute has a holiday party for its Entrepreneurial Fellows Center. We were asked by one of our contacts at the SBDC if they could purchase about 100 small packages of our cookies to include in the gift bags for the event. We were thrilled with this request! The SBDC is a great organization and has been an indispensable resource for us these past couple of months. After all the help our wonderful SBDC consultants have provided us with, we wanted to give something back. So we donated a portion of the cookies and the SBDC paid for the remainder of the packages. Although our company is small right now and has its limits, it was nice to be able to return the kindness that people have extended to us, even if it was a small gesture. Baby steps, right?

The small card attached to each bag of cookies for the party.

I leave you all with two album recommendations I guarantee will get you into the holiday mood if you still feel like Scrooge. If you're already in the holiday spirit, this music will make you feel like lighting those candles on the menorah or trimming that tree all over again:

December- Chris Botti

Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas- Ella Fitzgerald
A Charlie Brown Christmas- Vince Guaraldi

Seasons Eatings....I mean Greetings!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Seperation of burger and school?

I came across an interesting article about a school district in Florida that has been facing a great deal of heat due to a program it has instituted with McDonald's, where by students receive free happy meals for good grades (It's called "Straight A's, with a Burger for As A Prize"- I've posted the article under the Delicious Dishing section of the blog). The article discusses how the McDonald's program brings to the forefront issues such as marketing to kids and encouraging healthy eating habits to students.

The article is a sign of how times have definitely changed. When I was in elementary school, we had a reading program, called Book It that was sponsored by Pizza Hut. It was hugely successful, and I do to a certain extent credit the enthusiasm that I had for reading at that age to this program. The idea was that after you read a certain number of books, you would receive a coupon for a free personal pan pizza and a star on you Book It button. The button was sort of a badge of accomplishment you could show to your friends. The program was very popular at the time and is actually still around today.

From my perspective, rewarding kids with the fast-food that they love for a job well done is not a new concept, but with all the concern around obesity, trans-fats and other healthy issues like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, these are turbulent times for these chains. They have to choose which battles to fight, and anything having to do with kids is an especially touchy subject. Academic incentive programs like those run by McDonald's and Pizza Hut can help improve literacy and develop a love for learning in students, but it is also up to parents/caretakers to ensure that their children have a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.

I think the larger issue that this brings up is whether schools are taking too heavy a hand when it comes to determining what children while classes are in session. I am all for providing healthier lunch and snack options in the cafeteria and limiting the sale of soda and other sugary drinks at school, but completely banning cupcakes? I recently spoke to one mother of two little boys who mentioned that sweets such as cakes and cookies can no longer be brought in for children's birthdays, so parents have taken to bringing pencils and erasers as treats instead. This saddens me! You can't put a candle in a pencil and make a wish. And erasers don't taste very good.

It will be interesting to see how schools continue to try to improve the eating habits of students over the next several years. But I do hope they take the mystery meat off the lunch menu soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Post-Turkey Blog Post

Hopefully, everyone had a Tryptophan-ridden, traffic-free Thanksgiving! We enjoyed 70 degree weather in Southeastern VA, where we celebrated the day with our extended family. Since dinner wasn't at our house this year, we did substantially less cooking than we would normally do. I did manage to bake some homemade lemon sugar cookies with my 7-year old cousin and they were a hit! She's a natural in the kitchen.

While I was in town, I also stopped by to say hello to the owner and staff of one of our retailers, Bon Vivant at Governor's Pointe. The store is beautifully laid out, and has a fantastic selection of wine and beer, not to mention a variety of specialty foods. On certain days, the store also hosts beer and wine tastings. I was excited to find out that you can buy individual bottles of beer and ended up creating a sampler six-pack, with the help of a friendly Bon Vivant family member, who provided some great suggestions. The two brews I am most looking forward to trying are:

Young's Double Chocolate Stout- Yes, chocolate beer! Made by Britain's oldest brewery and flavored naturally
Abita Brewing Company Pecan Harvest Ale- Made with real Louisiana pecans

I have to say that I am not much of a beer drinker, but I always jump at the opportunity to try new and unusual foods or beverages. And, I figure it doesn't hurt to develop my palette for beer.

This has been one of the unexpected pluses of starting our business. I'm constantly doing research on specialty foods, and food and nutrition in general. Recently, I've taken to gravitating towards any store I encounter that contains the words "natural," "health" or "wholesome" in its name. I love perusing the aisles to see what new products are on the shelves and I try to figure out what the current trends are- for instance, that Goji berries may be this year's pomegranates. And it doesn't just stop at observational research. I've found that I enjoy reading articles about eating habits, health and new medical discoveries related to nutrition.

Currently, I'm reading the Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I'm only a couple chapters in, but what I love about the book is that it takes a scientific, economic, political and social approach in examining what and how we eat. So far, I have found it thought-provoking, controversial and informative- all things I identify with a really good read. I recommend picking up a copy if you get a chance.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Eating and Drinking Our Way Through The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show

Earlier this month, we went down to Washington D.C. to attend The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show at the D.C. Convention Center. The two day event featured specialty food companies, caterers, personal chefs and a variety of other epicurious things, such as workshops, demonstrations and an appearance by one, Paula Deen!

I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent here, because I think Paula Deen is delightful. Yes, I feel like I've gained 10 pounds every time I watch an episode of her show on the Food Network, but you can tell that she puts lots of love into everything that she makes. I also respect the fact that she doesn't skimp on any ingredients- that really takes gusto. She was doing several presentations while we were at the show, but we opted not to attend, since you need to purchase additional tickets and admission was a little out of our range for the weekend. Someday, when I make it to Savannah, I am determined to dine at Lady & Sons, the restaurant that she owns and operates with her sons. I love to eat healthy, but there is nothing wrong with enjoying some hearty comfort food from time to time: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, apple pie- I'll have all of the above, please.

The show was a great opportunity to see what a food trade show is really like. We are planning on participating as an exhibitor in at least one tradeshow next year, so in the meantime, we are trying to gather as many ideas and do as much preparation as possible. While this show was open to the public, some shows are reserved only for members of the food and beverage industry, such as retail buyers, distributors and food writers. When you stop to think about it, there are lots of logistics involved in being an exhibitor. A couple of the main things we are currently thinking about: the layout of our display, signage, sampling and collateral marketing material, such as brochures.

The show was also a great opportunity to try some of the newest food and beverage products currently on the market. A couple of the highlights:

The Kitchen Table Bakers- Parmesan wafer crisps
Sunland Peanut Butter- savory and sweet flavors like onion and chive or Cranberry
Sonoma Syrup Co- infused simple syrups with flavors such as lavendar and pomegranate
Red Rocker Candy- handmade toffees and brittles

Monday, October 29, 2007

Corny Packaging

It is hard to ignore all the talk that has been going on around environmental protection, sustainability and the mindset that each person should do their part to reduce their personal carbon footprint. So naturally, we have been trying our best to think of steps that we can take to be more environmentally friendly. I think we all would like to have clean air to breathe, potable water and the comfort of knowing that Mt. Kilimanjaro will still be distinguishable from the sand dunes of the Sahara ten years from now.

This brings me to the idea of bioplastics. What are bioplastics, you ask? They are plastics made from corn and other plants, that have been creating buzz in a variety of industries, including the food business. The idea is similar to using Ethanol (corn based fuel) as an alternative to gas, except in this case, bioplastics would replace petroleum-based plastics. The other major benefit to bioplastics is that in some cases, they can be completely biodegradable. Supporters of Ethanol and bioplastics emphasize that these materials would reduce our reliance on oil. Dissenters argue that bioplastics aren't necessarily any "greener" than the conventional plastics produced today, since the manufacturing process for bioplastics produces CO2 emissions and natural resources are used to grow the crops.


Utensils composed of Cereplast, a biodegradable resin made from corn and potato starch.

The front panels on this Sony Walkman are made from corn-based plastic.

This biodegradable tape was developed by German researchers.

Although there are currently only several producers of bioplastics in the U.S., the number of companies is steadily growing. The development of bioplastics is still at its early stages and can be controversial, I think they do fill a need. I was suprised to learn that only 6% of all plastics produced in the U.S. in 2005 was actually recycled. That is a disappointing figure. Part of the problem is that we are consuming more bottled water than ever before, but aren't recycling the bottles at anywhere near the same rate. I'm curious to know if bioplastics might be able to help us deal with this problem.

Chemical companies based outside the U.S. are also working on the bioplastics initiative. And already, there are plenty of products that either contain bioplastics or are packaged in bioplastics material, such as the ones above. It appears that bioplastics are just as versatile as their conventional petroleum based cousins. Perhaps the American Plastics Council will change their to "bioplastics make it possible." That may be a bit presumptuous, but probably not completely out of left field. And who knows, if biodegradable packaging made from corn is already available, ten years from now, completely edible packaging might be all the rage!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Go Ahead- Play With Your Food

Part of the fun and charm of cookies that are handmade is the fact that each cookie is different. With homemade goodies, you don't get what I sometimes feel are disturbingly uniform cookies- all exactly the same size, shape and texture. Even more frightening is when the cookies have the same number of chocolate chips or nut pieces in them- they might as well be called cookie clones.

We try to make each of the cookies we generally the same size and with the same amount of nuts, but inevitably their shapes and sizes slightly differ. So naturally from time to time, we end up with a couple funny looking ones that never make it to the packaging stage.

Remember how occasionally a person would come on the Tonight Show or Late Show with a potato chip that looked like a celebrity? Well, just the other day we stumbled across a meringue cookie that looked like a snowy egret. With a little imagination, isn't the resemblance uncanny?

Don't worry-we won't be eBaying this cookie for hundreds of dollars anytime soon. But isn't it nice to know that even after you've grown up, you can still play with your food?

Which one is the cookie?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Farmers' Market Follow-Up

On Saturday, we arrived at St. John's Church in Sewickley at almost exactly 8:00 a.m. We wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to set up before the market opened at 9, and sure enough, we were one of the first vendors on site. Like most vendors at the market, we had brought a 6 ft. table and a pop-up gazebo that provides shelter from the sun with us. After wrestling with the tent for a bit, a farmer who was also setting up came to our rescue, ensuring that the tent would not collapse on us later on in the day.

Our tent was located in a shady corner of the lot. Our neighbors next to and across from us were all very friendly. It was a bit chilly, but I'm not complaining because most importantly, it didn't rain! The weather was actually quite refreshing- the first real fall weekend we've had in southwestern Pennsylvania, I think.

For our first run at a farmers' market, it was a fantastic experience. We brought plenty of samples, so people were able to taste all three kinds of cookies if they wanted to and lots of shoppers did. In high school and college I worked a couple retail jobs and really loved them- there's something about meeting and talking to new people and encouraging them to try something new that I find challenging and fun. The Farmers' Market rekindled many of these fond memories. The market was also a great way to inform locals that our cookies are currently carried at a variety of area retailers- we even created a handout which had a list of these locations.

The one thing that we're going to have to remember for next week is to bring more change- we had to make a quick run to the bank during the market so we could get some smaller bills. I took a bunch pictures to commemorate our very first stint at the market. Here's a snapshot of our table.

Our table at the Sewickley Farmers' Market

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Edible PA

Recently, I learned some very interesting facts about the fine state of Pennsylvania, and all it has to offer by way of the many farms and small businesses that contribute a lot to the local economy. When many people think of Pittsburgh, they still picture a dreary, dirty city where buildings are covered in soot. Yes, the city was put on the map because of Carnegie and steel, but Pittsburgh has become one of the cleanest, most livable cities today. Much of the state is beautiful farm country, complete with rolling hills, grazing cattle and old, but well loved barns.

Canadian geese on a farm in the Laurel Highlands of PA

Here are some fun (and educational!) facts that I got from the PA Preferred Department of Agriculture site:

- Pennsylvania has a total of 58,105 farms
- The Christmas tree is the state's largest farm product
- 82 million pounds of pumpkins are grown in the state each year
- Hanover, PA is considered the "Snack Capital of the World," since it's home to Snyder's of Hanover

There is a great emphasis placed on supporting our local farmers and small businesses in general, which I think is something unique and admirable about Pennsylvania. We feel very lucky that were able to start our business here!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Making Our Farmers Market Debut

Next week, on Saturday, Oct. 13th, we will be making our debut as a visiting vendor at the Sewickley Farmers' Market! We will also be at the market on the following Saturday, Oct. 20th. It's located near downtown Sewickley, in the parking lot and surrounding area of St. John's Church. The market likes to offer shoppers as much variety as possible, which is why it is allowing us to come in for two weekends this fall.

The market is a lovely place to be on a Saturday morning. Picture shoppers of all ages leisurely perusing the stands, with cups of coffee in hand. Right now you can find everything from locally grown pumpkins and squash, homemade jams and jellies, and pierogies, made fresh before your eyes. A veritable smorgasboard of fresh from the earth, made with love food.

We're planning on handing out free samples to customers and selling all three flavors of our cookies at our table. Keeping our fingers crossed for good weather!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Amandari Co On-Line Store is Now Open!

After doing lots of research and carefully considering our e-commerce options, we have finally launched our on-line shop. It took a couple weeks because I was trying to decide whether I could create a store on my own that was fully integrated with our website. It turns out that to program the site to be able to perform sales functions, I could download free "shopping cart" software, but would need to either purchase a pre-programmed e-commerce template (a couple hundred bucks) or be able to code the software myself through HTML. I love web design as much as the next person, but even my HTML book for dummies (yes, there actually is a book by this name and yes, I actually do have a copy) wouldn't help me with this one.

Plus, given the issues with identity theft, concerns around the security of sales transactions over the Internet, etc. we figured it was best to leave the back end programming to the pros- thus our decision to open an on-line store via eBay!

Shop 'til you drop (or your stomach is full!) at the Amandari Co eBay on-line store.

You can get to our eBay store directly using the following link:

You can also access our eBay store if you're on our website:

I have to commend eBay on how easy it was to set-up the on-line store. There are certain requirements that have to be met before you can set-up the store, and various ways you can go about pricing your products (i.e. auction style or fixed price), but once you have a better idea of how you'd like to set-up the store, the process is fairly easy.

Right now you can order all three flavors of our cookies (Chocolate Cashew, Espresso Walnut and Chai Pistachio) on-line in batches of 20. We also have a Gift Sampler Package that comes in a snazzy little box and delicate fabric ribbon- perfect for gift giving.

Happy Shopping and Bon Apetit!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Moving and Shaking- Out of State Retailers and New Cookie Flavors!

I can't believe it's been two weeks since my last blog entry. I'm definitely going to try to be better about writing entries more regularly. Since my last update, we now have several out of state retailers that are now carrying our baked goods:

Cardullo's (Cambridge, MA)

Garelick & Herbs (Westport, New Canaan and Greenwich, CT)
The Store at 5 Corners (Williamstown, MA)

We are so excited to expand to other states on the east coast! These stores have a wonderful selection of gourmet foods and beverages, so our cookies have plenty of company.

Big news- this week, we are beginning to offer 2 new flavors of meringue cookies to retailers:

Since we are still in the process of informing retailers about these two new flavors, it will probably be at least another week or two before these two new flavors are available at retail locations.

Other news to report: Amandari Co's website ( is in the process of being updated. A portion of the changes are already complete- The layout of the site is much more consistent now. I used one template for all pages on the site, so it's much more user friendly. Photos and content are in the same places on each page, so your eyes don't have to dart back and forth trying to figure out where to get the info. you need- I figured anything I can to reduce eye strain is probably appreciated. You'll also see that I've added lots of new, mouth-watering photos of the cookies to the site.

I'll be uploading some additional photos and information about the new flavors in the next day or so. After this update is complete, the next step is to set-up an online store, which I think will be quite the adventure!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fun Food Photography

Add two more retail locations to that list where you can find our Chocolate Cashew Meringue cookies- 21 st Street Coffee and Tea. You can now purchase our cookies at both of the 21st Street locations- in downtown Pittsburgh at the Frick Building and as at the Strip District. 21 st Street is unique in that it serves direct trade coffee and tea, which means that growers are payed at least 25% above fair trade prices, providing additional incentives for farmers to follow environmentally sustainable growing practices.

On another note, I also took some new photos of the cookies the other day, to add to the website. I love photography and I think photos food especially, can be very artistic. Some of my favorite photographers include Michael Kenna, Walker Evans and Richard Avedon. Their subjects weren't food, but I find their work to be distinctive, really thought provoking, and in some cases, entertaining. It was fun dreaming up different set ups for the cookie "photoshoot." I have to admit that cookies are ideal models- they don't require wardrobe changes and they take direction really well. Below are a couple of the pics that will be appearing on the site soon.

The leaning tower of cookies- not to be
confused with the leaning tower of Pisa.

A bag of our cookies from upside down.

Next up- online retail! We're hoping to have our cookies available for purchase through by the end of the month. More info to come.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Big Idea w/ Donny Deutsch - Cereality Video Clip

The video clip above is from the show "The Big Idea" that I talk about in my previous entry. The episode features Cereality, which is a store that sells all kinds of cereal to go. Think ice cream shop- but with cereal instead of ice cream and fruit instead of sprinkles- a very cool idea, since something like 96% of Americans eat cereal on a daily basis.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Big Idea

So I've started watching a great show on CNBC that I think everyone should watch at least once if you've ever had a great idea to market something or make something and sell it, but you just didn't know how to go about doing it. If anything, I think it will inspire you to try something that you've always wanted to do, whether that means sky diving or starting your own business.

The show is called "The Big Idea" and it's hosted by Donny Deutsch, of the famed ad agency Deutsch. While the Deutsch ad agency has large clients like IKEA and Johnson & Johnson, the guests on Donny Deutsch's show are regular folk that just happen to have great ideas- big ideas. These individuals started small with one really good idea and now have extremely successful businesses.

A couple of my favorite success stories:

Laloo's Goat Milk Ice Cream
TOMS Shoes

While Deutsch tends to place an emphasis on the millions of dollars that each guest has made at the beginning of each episode, it's not really the financial aspect of the show that I'm interested in (although I'm not going to deny the fact that they're financially secure is a bad thing!). These are people that took a risk, went out on a limb, worked hard and were handsomely rewarded. For me, I think the show is aspirational and I can relate to some of the things that these people have gone through and it helps me anticipate what's ahead. But even if you're not planning on running your own business, the show fun is to watch- you get to learn about lots of new, interesting products and hear the stories behind them.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Being Green

This past week, two more retailers agreed to carry our cookies on a trial basis- joy! The first is a great neighborhood specialty foods store called Ruggeri's Food Shoppe, which carries items like homemade pasta, meat from local farms, fresh baked bread and imported olive oils and dressings. The other location is Cafe Phipps, which is located at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in downtown Pittsburgh. What's great about Cafe Phipps is that they're focused on being a truly environmentally friendly dining establishment- they use fresh local and organic ingredients when they can and eating utensils and dishware are made out of compostable materials.

Speaking of being green, we are doing our due diligence to try and be as environmentally friendly as possible. Last week, when we delivered our first orders of cookies to various locations, we transported them in reusable bags- the type that you can take with you to the grocery store in efforts to stop stock piling those pesky plastic bags.

Kermit isn't the only one that's green these days.

Seriously, those bags multiply faster than rabbits- one minute you have two or three in the cabinet under your sink and the next day they're so many of them you can't see anything under your sink and closing those cabinet doors are out of the question. The Blob also comes to mind.

The reusable bags are made out of recyclable materials and they're very compact. When we delivered the cookies, we just asked each of the retailers to hang on to the bags once all the cookies were sold. When we deliver the next order, we'll just pick up the empty bags and reuse them again. To make sure they don't get lost, we laminated some of our business cards and turned them into little tags, which we placed on the handle of each bag- the tags add a personal touch and they're practical too.

reBags, the reUsable delivery bags we transport our cookies in. reMember, they're a reAlly good investment!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How much is that cookie in the window?

This past week we started reaching out to retailers in the Western Pennsylvania/ Pittsburgh area to see if they would be interested in carrying our Chocolate Cashew Meringue cookies. Cold calling specialty food stores and coffee shops was difficult and a bit awkward for me at first, but after a couple calls, to my surprise, I got into a groove and discovered that I actually liked giving the sales pitch about our cookies over the phone. It's exciting and challenging at the same time because you never know what the reaction of the individual you're speaking with will be. Sometimes you catch people at a bad time and they won't let you finish your first sentence. Other people can be extremely kind and you get off the phone and give yourself a pat on the back because they sounded really interested.

My quick sales pitch and initial introduction to our cookies over the phone goes something like this (mind you, all of this is said without taking a breath):

"Hello! My name is Stephanie and I co-own a local baked goods company. We're launching a new Chocolate Cashew Meringue cookie that we thought would be great for your store. I wanted to see if I might be able to swing by with some free samples for you to try."

I have a theory that if I can just get to the part where I talk about bringing in free samples, that the chances of a potential retail customer agreeing to meet with me goes up about 50% or so. I mean, who would turn down free food? I am never one to walk through Costco or Whole Foods without taking a detour or two to sample that new smoked Gouda or artichoke ravioli.

I admit there were some folks who were not willing to try our cookies, but there were also a number who were very enthusiastic about sampling our treats. At the end of last week, we had 6 retail locations place initial orders! As of this week, our cookies will be carried at the following Pittsburgh area locations:

Coffee Tree Roasters (at all 4 locations in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Mt. Lebanon and Fox Chapel)
The Uncommon Market (Mt. Lebanon)
T-Bones Marketplace (Wexford)

We are scheduled to make deliveries tomorrow morning to 5 of the 6 locations. So hopefully by the end of this week or next week, we'll have a better idea of how our cookies are being received the the general public. Cross your fingers!

Monday, July 23, 2007 is live!

The official website for our company, Amandari Co is now up and running! The URL is It's all very exciting, especially since I had my doubts about just how much I remembered from the web design class I took last year at the School of Visual Arts in New York. These days, I think it's important for just about any business to have some sort of presence on the web. Obviously a company website is a great marketing tool and a way to reach customers on a much wider scale, but I think it also lends a certain aspect of credibility to your business.

I designed the site in Dreamweaver, which is an HTML based web design program. It's actually very user friendly (i.e. you don't need to know HTML coding to use it). I tend to like a clean and simple design when it comes to websites, so that's what you'll see if you visit ours. Eventually, I'd love to either learn Flash or get some help from a programmer to make the site more interactive, but tight purse strings precludes me from doing this at the moment. We also have plans to include an on-line store in the coming month or two, where customers will be able to order our baked goods directly from us. For now though, I'm pleased with the way the site has turned out. You'll see the first sweet treat we're launching with, Chocolate Cashew Meringue cookies, prominently featured on our Products page!

The Products page of

Monday, July 16, 2007

How many calories are in your cookie?

Last week, we were worked with a lab to figure the exact calorie count and nutritional value for the cookie that we are planning on launching with first. I have to admit, it was pretty fascinating, and it almost made me want to go back to school for chemistry or food science. What's interesting is that the FDA says that small businesses are exempted from labeling their food products with nutritional info as long as a company makes less than 100,000 units or has less than 100 employees. So, technically we fall into this category, but we decided that it would be smarter to include the nutritional information, since our company focuses on healthy baked goods. I mean, how can you really tell if something is healthy, if you don't know the calorie count, amount of sugar or fat in the product? That would be just plain sketchy.

So when I called the FDA, they noted that we should provide information about our cookie to a lab that uses FDA approved techniques to analyze the nutritional information for food products. There are two ways that a lab can come up with this information: 1) take an actual sample of the food product and subject it to various kinds of lab testing (i.e. running it through the calorimeter, etc.) 2) using the recipe for the product to calculate nutritional values through a complex database system of ingredients and formulas. Both techniques are used within the food industry and the latter is actually used in most cases, because it is as accurate as lab testing, but much more cost efficient. Knowing this, we went ahead and had the lab come up with the nutritional details using the database technique.

It looks like the verdict is in- our cookie is only 24 calories per piece. We are planning on selling our product in two sizes- a bag of 5 and a bag of 10, with a serving size being 5 pieces. So one serving size is only 120 calories. We also discovered that our cookies are fairly low in sugar and a pretty good source of iron and fiber. So no feeling guilty about eating our cookies!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Old McDonald Had a Farm(ers' Market)

With summer in full swing, farmers' markets have been on my mind lately. Over this past weekend, I traveled one town over to visit their Saturday morning farmers' market. Picture a shady tree-lined street with novel two-story houses. Now picture a church at the corner of this street. Once a week, the parking lot and a portion of the green grassy area in front of the church gets transformed into a market where local farmers sell their produce, bakers offer their bread and nurseries arrive with trucks of sweet-smelling flowers.

Fresh zucchini and squash from Woodward's Orchard.

While I was at the market, I spoke with the founder, who explained to me that the market is just 3 years old. They have been gradually growing the number of regular vendors, so as not to oversaturate it and create too much competition within the market. The market was very diverse, with a variety of vendors. While I was there I spotted a pierogi stand, a table selling homemade Greek food, a tent with all kinds of different preserves and a woman selling salmon, which her fisherman brother catches in Alaska.

When I was living in New York, the Greenmarket in Union Square on a warm and sunny Saturday morning was the place to be. Over the past 30 years it has grown to one of the most expansive in the area. There's nothing like chomping on a freshly picked apple or having crisp cool lettuce for a salad, so I would walk down to the market when I could.

Farmers' markets have been gaining in popularity around the country over the last couple years and I love this trend. If you think about it, the farmers' market is really interesting, because the idea is not really new or novel- a hundred years ago, before we had Food Emporium, Giant Eagle, Harris Teeter and the like, open air markets were how many people in cities would shop for their food. On one hand, today's farmers' markets are a symbol of culinary sophistication- many of the best chefs and the most health conscious and adventurous of eaters swear by these markets. On the other hand, the farmers' market is a return to the most simple and 'salt of the earth' way of getting your food. It's quite the dichotomy.

Summer flowers for sale are in full bloom.

When I talked to the markets' founder, I asked him about the possibility of us having a table where we could sell our baked goods. Since they are still in the growth stages, he mentioned that new vendors interested in participating could be invited to come and sell their products a couple times each season. He noted that once we were ready to sell our products at the market that I should get in touch with him, which is great news. If it works out, this will be a nice way to get some additional exposure!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

New Skoda Fabia TV Spot

I stumbled upon this TV spot for Skoda, the Czech car manufacturer and had to share. Never knew car commercials could make you this hungry. It's an homage to my previous career in advertising and it's completely baking related!

Ok, so I also used to reenact the "So Long, Farewell" number from the Sound of Music as a kid- the music makes me feel all nostalgic.

The Business Plan = Map to Success

Writing our business plan has made me use my brain in more ways than I have since college, I think. Lack of planning is one of the top ten reasons why small businesses fail in their early years, so having a solid business plan that includes information about your company, its products, your distribution and marketing strategy and financial projections for the next couple years is like a map that will help you chart out your course of business. Although it's taking a while to put the various sections of our business plan together, I have to admit that it's been really great to get all the ideas that have been swimming around in my head onto paper (or rather, typed out on my laptop).

Of course, it always helps if you have deadline to adhere to when you're working on a document like this one. We have an appointment to review our business plan with a consultant at a Small Business Development Center located at a nearby university in two weeks. This organization is part of the larger network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) across the country, which provide resources and services to help entrepreneurs at little or no ost. They can offer many of their services for free because they partner with universities, colleges and state economic development agencies as well as the U.S. Small Business Administration. At our meeting, the consultant will review our initial draft and provide us with feedback on any parts of the document she thinks can be flushed out.

Screenshot of SBDC website

Being the NPR addict that I am, I found out that NPR's daily show that focuses on business, Marketplace is currently doing a six-part series on small businesses called Nuts & Bolts: The Basics of Building a Small Business- it's pretty interesting, because they interview real entrepreneurs from all walks of life and discuss why some businesses fail and others flourish. You can also download podcasts for this series.

Screenshot of NPR Nuts & Bolts website

It's 4th of July tomorrow- enjoy those fireworks!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rights of Passage

This past week has been really busy! I need to be better about updating my blog more regularly- don't want posting once a week to become a habit. I hate when you stumble across those blog posts that are ridiculously long and I have tendency to ramble on as it is. I'm thinking creating a new posting every couple days would suffice.

On Tuesday, we had the chance to bake for the first time in the commercial kitchen that we have thought about using for a while. The director of the kitchen was kind enough to allow us to come in for a day and let us bake several batches of the cookies with which we are planning on launching the company. The good news is that the cookies turned out quite well! This was the first time that we have baked them in mass quantity.

The kitchen is actually a small business incubator. The idea of a small business incubator is to provide a facility where entrepreneurs can produce their products in a commercial environment and at a cost effective rate. This facility that we're planning on using is supported by several community development organizations that aim to encourage small business growth and increase the number of jobs in the area. The kitchen is a great space for us to use- it's relatively new and has all the equipment we need: professional-grade stove tops, ovens and an industrial mixer. Here are a couple photos of the kitchen, so you can get an idea of what the space looks like:

On this same day, we had a health inspector (they call them sanitariums- weird, huh?) from the Dept. of Agriculture come to inspect the kitchen. One of the requirements for being able to use this specific kitchen is that you have to have a license issued by this government department. Before you can get your license, someone from the Dept. of Agriculture must come to check out the space to make sure it's up to snuff with safety and health regulations. Luckily, we passed our inspection and we received our temporary license to regularly bake in the kitchen.

We've also made lots of progress in taking the steps we need to officially be recognized as a business with the federal and state governments- these are like rights of passage that you have to go through before any business can be legally recognized. We set up a separate bank account and also got a separate phone line (for now, this separate line is an additional cell phone that we've added to our family plan).

Yesterday we had a meeting with a local lawyer that specializes in working with small businesses to discuss how we should file our business structure. Legally, a small business can be anything from a sole proprietorship or partnership to an LLC or corporation. What I've learned from my research is that you and your business are subject to different tax regulations and various levels of personal liability depending on what structure you choose for your business. Filing as a sole proprietorship vs. an LLC can mean the difference between whether someone can claim you lost their pants, sue you for $54 million dollars and take all your personal assets or have your personal assets completely protected from any possible payout. I'm sure they were extremely nice pants- wool perhaps, or maybe silk.

This next week I'm continuing to work on our business plan- the financial projections are proving to be a bit tricky.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Goodbye New York, Hello Pennsylvania!

This is the first post of a blog which I hope will serve as a sort of on-line documentary, which will chronicle the baked goods business that I will be starting up, along with my mom. It's a bit of a new chapter in my life and I figured, years from now, whether the business takes off or not, I will appreciate being able to look back on this adventure.

For the past 3 years, I have lived in New York City. True, I didn't have much money, but I moved there to experience all that the city has to offer- the museums, theater, live music, food and mosaic of cultures, even if that meant being on a budget (which, I didn't always do the best job of following). I think this is a very typical thing that 20 somethings tend to do these days and I would recommend it to everyone.

Living in a large and bustling city like New York can teach you a lot about yourself and provide you with a new perspective. For example, it is not unreasonable to ask yourself, "Do I really need a window, let alone sunlight in my bedroom?" If the difference in rent is a couple hundred dollars per month, than your answer may likely be "To heck with the window, I get enough sun on my walk to work."

But truly, leaving the city was bittersweet (baking pun not intended) for me, but I knew that if I really wanted to start my own baked goods business, it would not be financially or logistically feasible for me to do so in New York right now. It was while I was in New York that I realized just how much of a passion I had for food.

My old apartment in New York

The cityscape of my new home

If you think about it, food plays such a prominent part in our everyday lives. It isn't just the idea that we are supposed to eat three square meals a day anymore. What you eat and how you eat helps to define your lifestyle and who you are as a person. Social gatherings often revolve around food and drink, whether you're at a wine and cheese party or stuffing your face with pizza while watching movies at friend's place.

Food and all things gastronomic are becoming a larger part of our popular culture. I can name ten friends easily, who watch the Food Network on a regular basis. Chefs like Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Paula Dean, Giada De Laurentiis and Jamie Oliver have become celebrities. Rachel Ray has even come out with her own brand of EVOO (yup, extra virgin olive oil.)

I also think that learning more about the food that you consume can teach you to be more environmentally and socially conscious. You also become more aware about your health. Issues like obesity, organic farming and food sourcing are things that are important to think about and discuss now, more than ever.

But, all things aside, the bottom line is that I have a dual interest in baking and business and realized that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive. I was inspired by how many entrepreneurs were making and selling their food stuffs at the Greenmarkets or local food shops in New York. As an avid baker with my own sweet tooth, my niche is making healthy baked goods (I swear, they don't taste like cardboard). I'm the type of person that will bake something and then, if I don't give it away, I end up eating half the pan. Given this tendency, I figured it would be great if I could make treats and snacks that are actually pretty good for you. After months of toying with the idea of starting a small business, I decided that fully dedicating myself to this project would give it the best chance of success. Here's where Pennsylvania comes in.

I've recently relocated back home to western Pennsylvania, where my family resides.
It's beautiful here- the scenery is all rolling hills, green trees and beautifully constructed bridges which span across the rivers. I'm starting this endeavor with my mom, because she is A) one of my best friends B) practically lives with one foot in the kitchen and I'm certain that this is where my interest in baking comes from C) has quite the business savvy and has been an entrepreneur in the past. Over the next couple months, we will be ardently working on bringing together all the things one needs to start a small business in the food industry (i.e. business plan, licenses/ permits) and eventually rolling out with our first product.

Wish us luck and follow this blog to see how things are going!