Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our 1st retail location is opening in a few weeks

After much soul searching I have decided that it is time to open my first retail location. This is truly a very exciting step- to this point we've been behind the scenes, supplying our customers (stores) wholesale and did not at all make an appearance in the retail market (save for a few holiday bazaars a few years ago). After reading (finally!) the book "Chocolat" I thought there is definitely a benefit in having a charming little specialty food shop and be able to market my caramels, lollies and salts directly to those who like and seek out our products.
We will be opening our very first retail store in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood- it is known for its independent and local artisan stores, unique shops and diversity of population. It is truly an ideal location for Das Foods store! Our store will be very small and located in Andersonville Galleria, which is known for featuring local artists.
It is a shared space retail store where one can find a variety of things- from locally made toffee to antiques and vintage clothing to custom made purses. I fell in love with the space after I walked in- and even the exposed brick wall reminds me of our own manufacturing and production facility. It is a home away from home for sure!
Over the next few weeks my talented colleague and Das Foods designer Sara ( will be working on an awe inspiring design for our new space and I will update on the progress. I know that this space will be a piece of art: for starters it will have an Monet- inspired Mural, antique prints, cutting board, modern furniture and Indian brass wall sconce.
More in a few days...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sonoma Valley Trip - Adventures of the wine and food lover

During Memorial Day we took a short break and visited gorgeous Sonoma Valley in California. We ate great food, drunk lots of wine from small independent wineries, biked and hiked everywhere. Enjoy our pictures (we love Hipstamatic Prints app for IPhone!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Salted caramel dilemma

Today at Costco I came across Kirkland brand salted caramels. The were little pieces of caramels coated in milk chocolate. No matter how much I wished to dislike them, I have to admit that they were passable, tasty even (if I was hungry or had really bad cravings for chocolate). The were packaged in a plastic jar with a lid-so tacky, but hey they were also about $4/lb, so who can beat that, right?
These caramels once again made me wonder if indeed what we make at Das Foods will make the cut in a cold world of commerce. In an abstract world all of the wonderful ingredients and good deeds that surround our products (sustainable! made with ingredients purchased from small vendors! no corn syrup) are very differentiating. But does all of this meet it's cold reality at the moment of face off moment with $4/lb (vs Das Caramelini, that sells at about $15/lb)?
I think that in this day of high unemployment and across the board realization that high levels of disposable income are gone forever, businesses like Das Foods need to think hard and re-evaluate how we do business and position the products we make.
There is a lot of buzz around the statement 'green is dead' nowadays. I don't think it is, but if a consumer packaged good business (like Das Foods) wants to continue capitalizing on green positioning strategy, a different take on green must be employed. in business community green is very much alive, but that is because businesses were able to articulate how being green and sustainable delivers "triple bottom line"- a.ka. "people, planet, profit" model. In other words green first and foremost needs to deliver tangible benefit to all of those parties (yes, including increased profits too). Green also cannot cost more than conventional-or at least that is increasingly the fact in B2B world. The triple bottom line has been successfully articulated to and internalized by the business community and therefore green strategies are very much alive.
In the consumer world the situation is quite different - lots of companies market green as a benefit, but it is all too apparent that one has to pay extra for it with no additional benefits other than intangible self- satisfaction that comes from the sense of contributing to some ambiguous cause. So- faced with this dilemma many people will go fro the $4/lb caramels because they are simply cheaper .
To survive and co-inhabit the space with "cheap" alternative our businesses must think and articulate triple bottom line as well to our customers. This is how I see triple bottom line playing out for our business
  • Using local ingredients allows us to fuel $$ back to the vendors that otherwise would not be able to survive
  • Local vendors are mindful about the environment and kinder to the earth and the surroundings in which they farm or gather
  • By being local producer we are able to provide employment to a few people therefore contributing to economic growth
Are local and artisan products more expensive? of course they are, especially vs. Costco prices. But at the same time, what price would we pay if there was a no local alternative to Costco??

Monday, April 25, 2011

On teachers, foes and friends

I wonder sometimes why is it that time passing tends to turn our past experiences upside down and shine a new light on what REALLY was learned.
During my childhood I was not very much open to feedback (case to point- picture of me at 13 with my grandmother). Over the past 30 years, things have clearly changed.

Lesson 1- turning students into teachers
As I think about my past teachers I realize that some of them did not intend to teach me anything at all, and some just wanted to reaffirm themselves maybe. For example, back in 2006 I tried to teach at a small all girls college in Chicago. Heavens only knows why I thought I qualified (oh, yes, of course, I thought that having an MBA qualifies one for practically any job). Teaching just one semester shed a light on the fact that I never wanted to teach again, simply because in my cockiness I did not realize that teaching requires infinite patience, ability to listen to the silence in the classroom and perseverance in understanding why is it that some of my students struggled. In my naivete I thought that I was bestowing my infinite business wisdom on girls. Instead they thought me about my own shortcomings.

Lesson 2 - foe turned friend
During my corporate career I've had many bosses, but one in particular was constantly there to point out my mistakes stemming from my lack of attention to detail, rushed judgement and excessive enthusiasm for my projects. At the time of course, I thought she was a total witch and complained to my poor husband excessively. I thank my stars for having to report to this person til this day because while she was very demanding, she was also bright, no nonsense marketer who was down to earth and infinitely cool. Also, she made me far better marketer than I ever hoped to be.

Lesson 3 - Humbling dancing experiences (still ongoing)
After visiting Buenos Aires for the first time last July I thought that learning to dance tango would be a "cool thing to do". I love dancing (God did not give the gift of gracefulness though) and learning to dance was always something i had to prove to myself I could do easily. So, armed with a new pair of tango shoes I marched into a local dance school prepared to take a lesson and amaze everyone with my excellent steps. Needless to say that with such technically demanding dance as tango, here I am 8 months later, having only slightly better movements and body coordination. I dress up for the milongas (tango dances), have two more pairs of shoes and even get to dance once in a great while. Most of the time though I sit on my royal behind and play Angry Birds when everyone else around me is dancing. Maybe one day I will dance with a real partner, not mostly with my imaginary friends. But for now- I am armed with humbleness, patience etc..... this was not an entirely true statement, but I am trying to live up to these virtues.
So, I am raising a toast of herbal tea (it is Monday night after all which means no drinking for me because of my self- imposed calorie counting adventure) to all of the teachers, whether they intended to teach me or no.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Passover and reconnecting with my roots

Growing up I never realized that being Jewish is not the same as being Ukrainan, in other words not a nationality but a religion.. My grandmother had Jewish in her passport under nationality. You were supposed to take your passport everywhere, as a form of identification, sort of like Drivers' license. Except Grandma did not drive (at least not the car, however she drove us crazy most of the time). Every time Grandma had to show her passport, she would get a range of facial expressions from the government officials when they saw Jewish inside the front cover- from smirk to silent hatred and to a knowing sad smile. I did not have Jewish for nationality in my passport- I was apparently "Russian". This was done because my grandma and mom believed that my chances for success in life will be greatly increased if indeed I kept my Jewish roots closeted. I however, relished my Jewish-ness- I told everyone in school and then in university that I was in fact among the chosen ones. My mom and grandma did not approve of such behavior and no wonder- they after all lived through times when Stalin, in the fit of last minute madness decided to expatriate all Jewish people to sort of a gulag. Thank God he died before he could commit further evils. Mom and Gradma believed in being silent Jews- all high holidays were celebrated at home, behind closed doors, mostly with food and drink.
Until I came to the US I never have been to the Synagogue or really understood the meaning of Passover. And yet, I know that it's been with me all along through my childhood- through my grandma's stories of her childhood, through delicious stuffed fish that she made every Passover, through the candle she burned quietly by the dark windows during Hanukkah. Now that Grandma is gone, Passover is even more important for me- a way to remember my grandmother, to taste her delicious fish and to even remember how she in her heart loved everyone. That is why we would celebrate Christian holidays too- with painted eggs (always painted by the natural color from onion peel) and cone shaped fluffy columns of Easter pastries Grandma made (never with sprinkles on top because those are bad for me)!
Happy Passover everyone (and Grandma!)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Daily Indulgences

I believe in doing something good for myself every day: whatever it is that feels "good" on that particular day. So, today I got really lucky- not one, but two things felt really good
1. Work out at noon
2. Making a lentil soup (recipe from Food and Wine magazine).
Cherry on top? Re-runs of the "America's Next Top Model" of course!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Japanese candies with Russian accent

A friend brought box of hard candies from Japan recently as a gift for me. We have similar background (we were born in the Ukraine during Soviet times and have watched the same cartoons etc growing up). Imagine my surprise when the box that she brought for me featured Cheburashka, a creature with giant fan like ears and adorable eyes of a beagle puppy. What's up with Japanese obsession with Soviet characters?? In case you're wondering what this mythical Cheburashka does- he sings! He looks on adorably! He fans his ears! He lives with an older man (yes, he does, with a Crocodile!). He does your taxes...(not really). Check out this YouTube video of vintage Cheburashka