Mobile Oven Selection and Next Steps for Registering Your Business

So let’s talk ovens.  When we first decided to make this a mobile business (so that we could go to Farmers Markets, move the oven into storage when we’re not using it for long periods, and delve into catering), I started researching into both into turn key operations (the oven arrives mounted and built already) as well as self build option.  For those who do a topical search for mobile ovens, the first oven’s you’ll likely see are the Forno Bravo ovens.  I’m not sure if this is because they’ve marketed well, if they have a dominant share of the market, or some combination of the two, but it’s easily the first thing that comes up in any search engine.  I’m probably not the first to tell you that if you plan to do serious research, Google really only lets you scratch the surface when you don’t fully understand what your searching for.  My initial search resulted in 4-5 ovens options, which gave us a lot of pause in pursuing the mobile since the set ups were running $12-20K.  I even called a few places, and they told me that a mobile oven set up would easily be $15K and up.

As I continued to dig deeper, check out forums focused on making great pizza, and mobile catering forums, I found that there were faaaaar more ovens than what my initial Google search turned up.  At the end of my searches, here’s what I turned up:

Round Boy Oven
Breadstone Ovens (FGM)
Los Angeles Oven Works
Raul’s Ovens
Bel Forno Pizza Ovens
Wildwood
Maine Wood Heat (Le Panyol)
Forno Classico
Outdoor Pizza Oven (Batali 750)
Earthstone Model 90 PA or 90 PAGW
Rocky Mountain Woodfired Oven (with Trailer)
FornoBravo Tailgater
Woodstone Portables – Trailered Oven
Solo Pizza Cart
Mugnaini Mobile Oven
Marra Forni Oven

And these are just the ones that could potentially be mobile!  So after talking to all these vendors, looking into their websites for UL and NSF certification, and reviewing oven designs, we started to narrow it down as a balance between cost and focus of the oven.  If anyone is ever looking for an oven, mobile or not, and would like to talk more about what I learned from each of these places, drop a note!  I’d be happy to share more info!

Here’s the thing:  Ovens aren’t designed equally.  Wood fired ovens (WFOs) can be build with larger openings for ease of putting in larger objects (whole turkeys!), have higher ceilings to hang stuff off of (smoking sausage, standing up turkeys to roast or even suckling pigs!), and are made of different materials (piece by piece bricks, cast cement, copper, etc.)  So what were we looking for?

Here’s what helped us simplify the list – We needed the oven to be cast, as with the travel we were going to do over roads, highways, etc. having a bunch of smaller brick pieces would result in many small pieces that would be vibrating creating potential for the oven to break apart more easily.  Our oven was going to be focused 90% of the time solely on making a great pizza, so we wanted a low dome (to keep the high heat close to the top of the pizza) for a more balanced cook.  We also wanted a smaller opening in general so that less heat would escape from the front of the oven, which would be open pretty regularly since we would be operating at the farmers market over 4-6 hours of time.  It needed to have UL/NSF certification so that it would pass health inspection.  We also wanted someone with great customer service pre-purchase as well as post-purchase, since this was new territory for us.  And, we wanted to keep the price low enough that we could afford to invest in it ourselves, so that mobilizing, permits, equipment, etc. could be covered mostly by the kickstarter.

Ultimately, we chose the Four Grand Mere (FGM), a French company that has expanded into the US and renamed Breadstone Ovens.  It met the requirements we were looking for, the owner was very active on forums, and they had great reputation from previous purchasers.  And that’s the new toy that’s been in my garage since last Tuesday!

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Note the low dome, small entry way, and cast pieces instead of brick.

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Let me tell you, the oven did not come so prettily arranged… it took my wife and I about 2.5 hours to unpack, and then move the pieces into place for this shot.  The oven is 700 lbs, and while it’s spread across 5 pieces (3 dome, 2 floor), the awkwardness of attempting to grip the pieces in a small space between the two of us was VERY challenging.  But for now, it’s set up and sitting in my garage, getting initial stages of curing thanks to a halogen lamp, until we can mount it and start some real fires.  Rest assured, you’ll see more pics as we build out the oven, whether you want to or not.  =)

So for those that are looking to this blog to learn more about setting up your business, even if it’s not food related, we’ve taken you through the process of becoming an S-Corp or LLC for your new venture.  The next step now is to establish your federal employer identification number (FEIN) so that you’re registered at the federal level.

First off, unlike registered your company with state, setting up an FEIN is FREE.  If you’re using a service or a website that is charging you for setting up the FEIN, you’re getting ripped off.  It’s an easy process, and you can do it online in just a few minutes here:

https://sa2.www4.irs.gov/modiein/individual/index.jsp

The site is only available from 7 AM to 10 PM EST, Mon-Fri (odd since it’s a website) so don’t plan on doing this over a weekend.  Since you’ve completed your S-Corp/LLC registration, the FEIN is actually breezy compared to what you had to do before… you’ve got your name in place, you’ve decided on your owners, picked an address, etc.  Just click through and fill out the info!  The only hiccup I noticed between the state of Illinois and federal level was that I was able to use any characters easily producible by the keyboard with State of Illinois, while at the Federal site doesn’t allow you to use non-letter/number characters.  So I can’t use commas, periods, dashes, etc.

Trust me, even with the hiccup, this was a fairly easy process.

Once you receive your FEIN, the next step in Illinois for our business was to register our business.  Confusing at first, as we’ve already registered our LLC, right?  Technically, the LLC/S-Corp is just the structure of your controllers for your business.  It basically tells the state you’ve set up a group of folks or have the intent to do business.  Now you actually have to REGISTER your business for the purposes of understanding what type of business you’re doing, and what type of tax they should be collecting from you.  I’m guessing this is true of all other states as well.

Here’s the website you need for registering your business in Illinois:  https://mytax.illinois.gov/_/#1

Again, a fairly simple process where they ask for your FEIN, LLC/S-Corp name, officer names and addresses, etc.  Then they have a string of very business specific questions (do you sell tires?  vending machine sales?  cigarettes?  are you renting a vehicle or hotel room for the business? etc.)  Our process was simple, yours may be less so depending on what your business is.

So as a recap, here’s what you’ve done to start your business:

1.  Set up your LLC/S-Corp with officers, paperwork, etc.

2.  Apply for your FEIN.

3.  After receiving your FEIN, register your business with the state.

There will be a few more steps for a food retailer that we’ll cover later, but for now, most generic businesses are set for a bit!  Congrats on being registered to do business in your state!

Alright, I’m off to the city for some meetings, to do some ingredient and equipment shopping, and then back home.  Tonight, I”ll be teaching one of my partners (Gambit) the intricacies of opening the dough, and then having him create 10 pizzas for practice so that we’ll have multiple folks that are capable of opening the dough!  Looking forward to a great pizza night!

Setting up an LLC in Illinois… and Tandoori Chicken Pie tests.

One of the biggest challenges that you learn early on is that in order to venture into your own business, there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out.  If you’re flush with money already, you always have the option of hiring someone to figure out all the paperwork, and just sign off on where you signature needs to be.  For the rest of us just starting out with our first business and not wanting to be wasteful with our funding, you’ll have to learn just what paperwork needs to be filled out.  While there’s something enjoyable about the success of being able to complete the work, there tends to be hours of frustration trying to figure out which form you need, where it needs to go, etc.  This post will help you get started with the LLC work you’ll need to be familiar with in starting your journey of opening your own business.

Why set up a business?  Because it offers you a level of protection.  While the option to set up as a sole proprietorship is tempting, especially with the low cost and low amount of paperwork, by doing so, you have not separated your personal assets from your business assets.  Sounds simple, but it has high repercussions when you run into trouble, namely if you’re sued or go bankrupt or default on loans, this which are somewhat uncontrollable in the business climate.  By setting up an LLC or S-Corp, you basically have added a layer to your personal assets so that others cannot get at them as easily.  It’s still possible, unfortunately, but it’s definitely more difficult.  And from the horror stories I’ve heard about from small business owners, you want to set up as much protection for your personal assets as possible… You never know what may happen and who may want to sue, so do yourself a favor and do the paperwork.

First and foremost, you’ll want to figure out whether you want to be an LLC or S-corp.  While there are many modifications of this (LLC partnership, S-Corp, C-Corp, etc.), these two are the most commonly used for start ups.  I won’t go into the details here, but Mashables has a fairly decent explanation of consideration here.  After a week of reviewing with lawyers, accountants, and with each other, we decided that an LLC made the most sense for us right now.  From here, it’s time to begin setting up the business… now’s a good time to note that every state has slightly different rules/policies/costs associated with opening your own business, so I”ll be focusing on the Illinois LLC process from here on out.  If you’re looking for info around another state, Google is your best friend and your worst enemy at the same time, as usual.  Just make sure you look up multiple links and articles so that you get a full picture in whatever state you’re in.

Step 1:  Pick a name!  The first rule is that the name of your new business must have “limited liability company” or “LLC” or “L.L.C” in it.  Also, the name of your LLC needs to already not be taken.  Check this website to do a corporation/LLC name search around name ideas, and see what companies may sound similar to what you have in mind as well.  If you find a name you like, you can reserve the name for up to 30 days for $300.  This cost can be completely avoided if you don’t need to reserve the name, and just go to the next step and file incorporation papers.

Step 2:  File Articles of Incorporation!  This is where you fill in the information of the names of the business, who are the owners/managers, name of the LLC (note, you’ll be rejected if you didn’t check the existence of the name as suggested in the first step!)  The form you need is form LLC 5.5 at the time I’m writing this.  Since we didn’t hire anyone to do paperwork for us, the registering agent is you, as well as the owner.  Perhaps the only part that’s not completely clear in terms of what you should fill in is the free text field for “purpose of the LLC”.  You could definitely write the purpose of your company along the lines of “to serve great food in Chicago” or “to raise money for 3rd world countries” etc.  In actuality, the standard language is: “The purpose for which the company is organized is for the transaction of any and all lawful business for which limited liability companies may be organized.”  You may add a little specificity if you’d like but don’t really want to get so specific that you’ll lock yourself out from doing certain business either.  You’ll also need to state if you’re filing for a series LLC or not.  A series LLC basically allows you to form multiple LLCs that have separate assets protected in separate areas.  For instance, if you open three restaurants and set them up as a series LLC, a customer who is bent on suing can only go after the one restaurant they were at, and not all three.  The pain is that you’ll have to keep separate assets for each restaurant as well (revenue, expenses, payroll, etc.) but think of it as minimizing your risk by diversifying.  Each part of your LLC is insulated and protected from the other portions.

Articles of incorporation cost $500 to file via paper (which can take a LONG time) or $600 via online (24 hour approval stated, 2 hr turn around was my experience).  It’s $750 for a series with $50 for each additional series LLC, and prolly $100 more for the online convenience.  You can file on line here.

And you’re done!  Mostly anyways… at this point, you just have to wait for the response from Illinois to appoint your LLC.  A key thing to remember is that as an LLC, you need to file a annual report each year ($250) which is due on the first day of the month your LLC was formed.  I haven’t done it yet, but next year, I’ll be visiting this page to better understand what needs to be done.    If you’re late, it’s a $300 penalty to file (unsure if that’s in addition to the $250 or not).  If you don’t file, they can shut down your LLC.

Congratulations on your LLC!  It’s the first step of many that we’ll go through in order to get your business up and running in Illinois.  Next time, we’ll talk about how to set up your FEIN and notify the state that you’re planning to business.  (Yes, I know, confusing… one would think the LLC would’ve done that!)

Before we go, a new test pie that I worked on just this morning based on some suggestions of Za Pi fans:

Tandoori Chicken Pie Test

Tandoori Chicken Pie Test

On the whole pie: Tandoori chicken (soaked overnight in yogurt/masala seasoning, cooked in oven briefly), sliced red onions, and diced orange peppers

On left side of pie: Mango chutney base
On right side of pie: Tandoori paste base
On top of pie: Fresh mozz
On bottom of pie: Cubed paneer (to test for melting and flavor)

Overall impressions – Mango chutney base is sweet and tasty! Tandoori paste is overly salty, I may have added too much. I made a cilantro yogurt to finish on top of the tandoori paste side, and it definitely helps. Mozz melds the food together well, while the paneer doesn’t even begin to melt at 550 degree oven under broiler. Will have to test on a WFO at 900+ degrees to see if it melts any better.

What do YOU think Za Pi fans? Any thoughts on what would be great on an Indian based pie? Looking to hear your thoughts!

Partnership – Is it for you? And Chinese Sausage Pie…

Even though this blog’s primary focus is making great pies, part of the blog is also focused on the challenges of starting your own business in the Chicagoland market.  So today, I’d like talk a bit on the idea of business partnerships.

The idea of pursuing your own dream is not only exciting, but can also be a scary thing.  Not only is there the monetary aspect of investment, but also the idea you’ll be fully responsible for the success or failure of your dream in many ways.  While your gung-ho entrepreneur may never admit to the fear aspect, I firmly believe there’s always some nagging gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach that gives you pause/doubt. (I personally imagine it to be kind of like that implanted Alien egg that pops out of the guy’s stomach in Space Balls and starts singing “Helly My Baby”).

One of the ways we help ease our fears in starting the venture is to seek partners who will share not only in the risk, but also the work associated with making the venture successful. But as everyone in the world will tell you, mixing business and friendship (or family for that matter) can result in the destruction of those relationships.  So how does one go about pursuing the business without losing those relationships?  I’ve always firmly believed that it’s the same as any relationship you have: clear expectations.

Whenever you begin a partnership, it’s rare that your partners will commit to the same amount of work as you will whether it’s logistical reasons, interest in the process, or personal drive.  At extreme levels, they may work far faster and harder than you and spend 80+ hours a week on the business or they may do the bare minimum to get by with 1 hour a week.  Ultimately, there is no such thing as a perfectly equal partnership, and if you attempt to provide each individual within your new business equal stake, someone will likely start to develop feelings of discord and resentment.  This is why it’s important to establish those expectation as soon as possible from all partners, along with an identified list of roles, responsibilities, and duties that each partner will be responsible for so that you can hold each other accountable (that includes yourself!)

When Za Pi first started, we believed erroneously that it could be an even split of 33.33% ownership across Gambit, Aku, and myself, which definitely caused some feelings of discontent on my part as we progressed in the project.  It’s a feeling that I’m not comfortable with, as I never like internalizing feelings of unhappiness/disappointment with friends.  How does one separate business and friendship?  You really can’t… as much as you’d like, your interactions aren’t fully separable, and I would argue that they shouldn’t be.  You’ve selected some of your friends to join you because in your mind, you firmly believe that there will be a joy in working together on something to move towards success.  Something that will benefit the friendship and each of you individually.

Luckily, in our most recent conversation, we’ve clarified the work in terms of delegating responsibilities in our pre-kickstarter process as well as when we go live at the farmers markets, which has also helped define how our ownership shares should be distributed amongst the team.  While each of us has committed the same amount of money for investment, anyone that’s started a business can tell that the work required to succeed in business isn’t just about the money (unless you have one individual who is looking to serve as the primary investor and fund the majority of all needs).  The challenge is finding the right balance of ownership for those who are investing more and/or doing more work so that everyone is happy with their roles and ownership.  One would think that this is trivial at the start of any business, but it’s an important detail to be worked out earlier rather than later.  After all, what if the business succeed beyond your wildest dreams and there’s big money at stake?  I’m guessing the conversation gets much more heated when significant money is at stake (think Facebook fallout).  Similarly, if the project crashes and burns, it’s important to know who bears the risk.  Ultimately, I’m just glad that we’ve been able to negotiate amongst ourselves and come to a comfortable consensus  along with clear lines of responsibility.  Don’t forget, if you’re creating a multi-partner LLC, your bank will want a similar description that defines roles and responsibilities for each of your partners.

My advice to you: it’s never too early to start identifying roles/responsibilities in your business venture, and it’s important to revisit them whenever the situation changes.  The honesty between partnerships is paramount in keeping your relationships clear of resentment, and making the partnership work.

And now, a new pie in testing:  Chinese sausage pie!  For those of you who never have had Chinese sausage before, it’s a tasty/fatty cured meat, very similar to salami in concept, but much smaller and sweeter in taste.  I’m not entirely sure what the curing process entails (something to look up later), but there is a definite sweetness that brings back great childhood memories for me.

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You’ll see that it has a familiar curl from the oven that pepperoni gives, and the shimmer of delicious flavorful fat that has been rendered out at a high temperature bake which melds nicely with the tomato sauce.  Unfortunately, we need some additional ingredients to help round out the flavor more, as while the sausage is good, the sweetness is a bit much.

Any one with ideas on what may help balance out this favorite ingredient of mine?

Inspiration for Za Pi, and New Experiments

So what’s the theory behind Za Pi?  We want Za Pi to be interactive for the people and have thought of three  creative (at least we think so) methods to allow for everyone to be part of Za Pi.

1.  Kickstarter:  The definition of community approval.  We’ve launched the Za Pi kickstarter to help mobilize the oven, provide a nice discount on pizzas in advance, and to hear from the community whether they would be interested in such a project taking off at farmers markets.   WIth 21 days to go, we’re 18% funded with 32 backers.  While it’s a slow start, I’m a firm believer that it takes continued push and presence in order to build awareness for the project which will hopefully get us funded.  Unfortunately, if we don’t get funded, we won’t be able to mobilize, which would stink after all the work of setting up the LLC and stressing out over Amazon payments, not to mention the time our friend spent making the Kickstarter video for us.  I remain optimistic.  😉

2.  Customer voting:  Since we’ll be a mobile operation, we have to limit the toppings we can offer each week at the market.  Because of this, we want customers to be able to vote on the next set of toppings or “specialty” pizzas to appear!  So while we firmly believe that we should always offer the standard traditional pies (marinara, bianca, margherita), we’ll want customers to help tell us what THEY want next week to appear at the market.  Whether it’s straight up pepperoni, sausage and mushroom, or something more non-traditional like like mango pulled pork pie or Filipino breakfast pie, we leave it in the customers’ hands to vote for what’s next.

3.  BYOI:  While we’re still working with the local health department about this one, the goal is for customers to be able to bring us veggies from the farmers market that they purchased same day, and we’ll use them to help top their pizzas at no additional charge!  You’d pay for using our dough, sauces, and any additional ingredients, but this allows customers to really customize their pie with inventive creations!  Inspired by a trip to the Philippines where we went to an open market called D’Talipapa, my wife and I had one of our best experiences and meals ever… IMG_1749 IMG_1789

The center of the market was all the fresh ingredients you were able to negotiate for… fresh caught seafood, fresh slaughtered animals, various veggies, etc.  And surrounding the market were a slew of restaurants where the whole purpose was for you to bring your ingredients to them, and either ask for a suggestion on how to prepare them, or instruct how you would like those ingredients prepared into a dish.  While it’s not quite farm to table, it’s pretty much as close as you’ll get on that kind of scale.  We want Za Pi at the farmers market to reflect the same spirit of turning fresh food into a meal on the spot!  There’s nothing better than the brightness of fresh ingredients… and while we wanted to some how prep fresh meat as well (chicken/pork, etc), the amount of gear and elements we would need to prepare all that ended up being too complicated… so we decided to stick with fresh veggies!

The dream is for Za Pi at the farmers market to be interactive and have customers really help guide the direction of the pizzas.  You’re the designer, we’re just the pizzaolos that will make your design a tasty reality.

But just in case some of you feel like you lack the creativity or need inspiration, we continue to work at different pies to see how we can refine our final pies, and provide some new ideas for you to play with ultimately.  Here’s the three I had talked about last time:

Kimchi bacon pie

Kimchi bacon pie

While the kimchi bacon pie was tasty (it has bacon!  Who doesn’t love bacon!)  I couldn’t figure out what kind of sauce to put on, and just used an olive oil base.  Neither the kimchi nor bacon offered enough wetness to create a great pie, and next time, I”ll have to ponder more on a base sauce for this… perhaps GochuJang?  (Traditional Korean spicy pepper paste)?  Or some diluted version?

Peking Duck Pie

Peking Duck Pie

The Peking Duck pie, while true to form in terms of taste, was a LOT of work… beheading the duck’s head and claws, separating the skin, saucing it, air drying for a day, roasting it, breaking it down, etc. and for very little meat unfortunately.  This one may never make it to market just solely based on how time and cost intensive it was to prepare a few pieces of meat for the pie.  As tasty as it was, I’m guessing this one may be out.

Filipino Breakfast pie

Filipino Breakfast pie

And a Filipino breakfast pie, featuring a blended tomato/vinegar sauce with onions, garlic, sliced longaniza, an egg on top, along with fresh diced tomatoes – every aspect of a Filipino breakfast!  The sauce was dead on, according to the Filipinos in the room (including EyeDoc), and the leaky egg came out just right!  It’s a pretty sweet pie, so perhaps a touch of salt to finish next time… but boy was this good.

In any case, I’m off to work, and then to continue planning for all that we have to get in place for Za Pi to take off… the list of permits/licenses/requirements are astounding for such a simple business.  Who knew serving the food you love to people would require so many steps?  Next time, I’ll talk more about what this really all entails!