One Startup. No Secrets. Start at the beginning.
Every last roll of packing tape is out of my apartment. Not a box or bottle darkens my living room. My computer no longer leers at me from its ottoman perch. I have my apartment back and MixedMade has a beautiful new permanent home.
From the start, my home has been the office and shipping headquarters. But as we continued to grow, it became an increasingly unrealistic situation. We needed to stay lean on budget, but find a more workable solution: somewhere where product could be made, stored, and shipped, with room to grow new product ideas.
I knew where I wanted to be. A former Pfizer factory in Williamsburg has become Brooklyn’s hub for food businesses (check out this great photo tour). It’s a wide-open and flexible space with freight elevators, loading docks, and pallet trucks! And a burgeoning community of makers all working under the same roof. My idea of heaven.
The only problem was construction costs. Most of the rooms in the building are raw spaces and left to the renter to convert, with wide ranges of construction needs. I saw some spaces that had drainage and ventilation, but no plumbing. Other spaces had plumbing and a great floor, but only two walls. We’re still fully self-funded, so we had a pretty strict budget.
But after months of waiting for the right space, a miracle happened. My friends at Brooklyn Biltong were leaving a newly constructed space and they needed a tenant immediately. Hi. Here I am.
From there, it became a rush of getting the lease signed, ordering equipment, and filling for a license. As a maker of packaged food, we fall under the Department of Agriculture and Markets rather than the dreaded Department of Health, which oversees restaurants and food service establishments. But the kitchen standards are the same and the inspection is real. The only real difference is we aren’t assigned a letter grade and we don’t face the threat of being shut down. Agriculture is like the gentler, nicer 5th grade teacher and Health is the strict teacher you stress about all summer.
Still, nothing feels less natural than a woman with a clipboard asking you to walk her through your production. Here are some tips to ensure you’re ready when the inspector calls:
- I urge everyone, in New York and beyond, to take the Department of Health’s excellent Food Protection Course. It’ll teach you more than you ever needed or wanted to know about food, but it gets you thinking about processes and procedures that will save you a lot of time down the road.
- Take an extremely critical look at your space. Pull out a flashlight and check under every sink and surface. Look at the walls, ceiling, baseboards, and floor. Clean, clean, and clean again.
- Make sure your entire staff is updated on what to expect. Inspectors show up unannounced, so any combination of people could be working in the space. Safeguard them and your business by giving them the information they need.
- Be prepared to get specific about your ingredients. They’ll want to know the name and address of your suppliers. Have this information somewhere handy—invoice copies are great—so you’re not wracking your brain on the spot.
- Be equally prepared to get specific about your process. The inspector will want to know every step in detail. Say it out loud to yourself, write it out, know it by heart. After making infinite batches of spicy honey, I just do it. I zone out to music and go through the motions. Go back to the start and rediscover your process.
- Don’t approach it as a test. It’s a conversation between two informed people; it’s a dialogue in the pursuit of safety. Be open, ask questions, and fix mistakes.
- Over prepare. The actual inspection was one of the easiest things I’ve ever been through, but I know it felt that way because I had done my homework.
- Breathe. It’s not that serious.
I feel like a king in my new 608 square foot workspace. Instead of pulling overnight shifts in a communal kitchen, transporting bottles back to my apartment, and hauling bags of boxes to the post office, everything now happens in one room. Production issues are all resolved, I have a great part-time employee (she’ll be posting here soon), and my workflow is so much more efficient. But from a psychological perspective, having a space where work begins and ends has been so essential. Maybe it’s the start of spring, but I feel completely reinvigorated and ready to tackle more.
I just need to find a desk.
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