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Year in Review, 2016 (Marshmallow Related. Politics Free. Mostly.)

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Recipes, thoughts and rants from Mallow & Hop.

Year in Review, 2016 (Marshmallow Related. Politics Free. Mostly.)

Karen Marshall

This year marks the first full year of Mallow & Hop existing. In some ways I've made a bunch of progress, and in others it's stalled - having a business is always such a balancing act.

JANUARY

I won't bore you too much with details that I already logged in my Q1 review. But I recently got some amazing pictures back for the wedding I provided favors for!

Strawberry Champagne, Chocolate & Cabernet Marshmallows! I am super honor red that they ask me, as both Jordan and Aaron have impeccable taste in food and wine.

The coffee shop that had been ordering vanilla marshmallows bi-weekly stops making orders and doesn't respond to my attempts to reach out.

FEBRUARY

The arrival of ACMC, my tempering droid, best friend, and sworn enemy of my boyfriend who is very frustrated with the amount of space taken up by my kitchen appliances.

I spend a lot of time coming up with some awesome marshmallow bar recipes. 

MAY

I lobby my job to allow me to go to 30 hours a week from 40 hours a week. Still technically full time, but I leave work at 1:30 now. It makes making marshmallows much easier.

Unique LA and the BUST Craftacular! The BUST Craftacular is a really illumniating event for me - far from a runaway money maker for sure, but I can still sense that I am doing better than most other vendors there. Walking to the other area at around 4pm to check out vendors on my break, I see that many had packed up and left already. My prime advantage is being pretty much the only food vendor there, besides Katbrain who is next to me selling some amazing lemon bars and a variety of really cool crocheted frisbees.  Special shoutout to Simon & Duffy who make amazingly nerdy candles that make my apartment smell great all summer.

A lady approaches me at Unique LA asking if I'd be interested in selling at her church bazaar early one Sunday morning in Redondo Beach with a fee of 10% of my sales going to benefit the church. I prepare lots of marshmallows and drive there and discover that the church serves free donuts and bagels to all service-goers, completely neutering their desire for marshmallows or any other of the food items on sale at the Bazaar. This is a recurring theme throughout the year. I make $36 and resignedly put $4 in the envelope they left for me.

Sometime between Unique & BUST and the church event, I realize that while naming the bars after neighborhoods in LA is very cute, it won't fly in retail stores without me there explaining what the actual flavors are. I change the names to be more descriptive, and drop the mint bar for being a giant pain in my ass to make.

However, to this day I call the Spicy Beer & Pretzel bar "The Highland Park".

However, to this day I call the Spicy Beer & Pretzel bar "The Highland Park".

My neighbor, who I had pretty successfully avoided until now - I am pretty anti-social when I'm allowed to be - invites me to a game night at the house of a friend of theirs. I show up with some marshmallows as a host gift, and although the neighbor who invited me didn't end up coming (!!!) the group is very welcoming of these strange people who brought candy. The hosts share the marshmallows with my neighbor, and my neighbor - previously unaware of this business venture at all - ends up hooking me up with a couple of catering gigs for the TV shows he works on.

(Update on said neighbor: my boyfriend and I are pretty good friends with them now and go over regularly to play Love Letter and other assorted games. I should be more open to people.) 

Eric and I go to a favorite restaurant of ours and notice they're offering a s'mores dessert item. I reach out to them and they display interest but say that they're only offering vegan desserts at the moment.

JUNE

I spend much of the month trying different recipes for vegan marshmallows, hoping to get something perfected by the time my CFO renewal happens so I can get the ingredients approved.

I fail.

Hard.

GROSSSSSSSSS

GROSSSSSSSSS

I also take this slow month before the Renegade events to totally revamp my packaging.

The packaging I land on is much cheaper than prior versions, highlights the product (NOT SOAP) and allows me to order a bunch of stuff from RubberStamps.net, which I am obsessed with. Win / win / win. 

I receive a check made out to Mallow & Hop instead of my name, and rather than go through the effort of telling them they made the check out to the wrong person, I open a business checking account.

JULY

Renegade Craft Fairs in LA (9 & 10) and SF (16 & 17). Not much to say that isn't already in that blog! Except that the packaging change seems to be a big success - in SF at least. I replace the mint bar with a bar made with cabernet marshmallow and peppered strawberry jelly with almonds and a dark chocolate coating. It is amazingly delicious but doesn't sell.

I swear off doing outdoor shows in the summer in LA.

Harvest Moon in Valley Village starts carrying my bars.

AUGUST

I reach out to 20ish event planners with an offer for samples. 2 respond, and request I ship them some samples. I cannot do this under the Cottage Food Law, but the addresses are local, so I drive around fruitlessly for an afternoon in Sherman Oaks trying to find the physical locations to no avail. I give up.

I drive around dropping off samples and wholesale linesheets at about 20 stores. One responds, making an order for October 1st.

Someone with a store in North Hollywood sees my bars at Harvest Moon and reaches out requesting samples to potentially sell themselves. I drop some off at the store, then follow up the next week. I never hear back from them.

A new startup venture pairing businesses with vendors reaches out to me and asks me to sign up for their (free) service. I do so. More later.

The LADOH office reaches out to schedule a kitchen inspection for my CFO renewal, and also asks me if I've been shipping my product. They're cracking down it seems.

SEPTEMBER

Inspection. The inspector is very impressed with the state of my kitchen. I am surprised but pleased.

I spend most of September coming home from work in the afternoon and curled up on my couch reading twitter, obsessed with the election, forgoing marshmallow making.

I receive a custom recipe development order for marshmallows that evoke a mixture of Opera Cake and Salt & Butter Donuts. Turns out salt is a nightmare in marshmallows (it is a moisture magnet, and moisture is a mold magnet... and is also just kinda gross). But Maldon sea salt sprinkled on a layer of tempered chocolate covering the top of coffee butter marshmallows? Pretty great. I get the final recipe out to her mid-December.

OCTOBER

I enter the KCRW pie contest for the 3rd year in a row. (I don't place. One day!!!) I have to work on my meringue.

I do a couple of events through The Odd Market, who are very lovely and supportive. I am woefully underprepared for The Odd Market at Union Station, and show up with a very sad table and super wonky signage. I borrow a friend's E-Z Up tent for the outdoor Odd Nights at the Autry event... only to get there and realize that the friend forgot to include the fabric that makes the tent a tent. But between the presence of the structure and the fact that the sun went down right as the event started, I'm pretty sure no one could even tell. Right? 

Subtracting the cost of the space at the two events, I probably net $100 total. Not awesome.

I decide that I'm not busy enough (because I still am somehow obsessively on twitter reading about the election), so I start a kid's podcast with my boyfriend. I edit and produce.

Also, I turn 30.

NOVEMBER

I get an email notifying me of my booth partner for Renegade Craft Fair. I reach out to talk about booth layout, she responds and inquires about how well the show went the last time I did it. I said great! She responds again and asks for specific dollar amounts. I give them to her, because as I've said in this blog, I am committed to transparency. She doesn't reply. I get an email a few days later from Renegade with my new booth partner. The initial one had dropped out.

That was a real blow to the ego.

...I am catatonic with grief about the election...

This time for Renegade in SF, I plan to drive up alone and spend the weekend at the Fort Mason Hostel next door to the venue. I love this so much. People staying at this hostel range in age from 18 to 70, they have free bagels for breakfast in the full kitchen downstairs, and a perfectly cozy lobby space with a fireplace and free wifi.

I do a better job at preparing enough product than I did over the summer, but I'm still out of both Passion Fruit and Spicy Beer & Pretzel by Sunday at 2pm. I make about 50% more money than I did over the summer. Take that, former booth partner.

I buy all of the angry feminist products I can find there and drive home Sunday night. I take a nap at about 10:30 at a rest stop somewhere, and blast the Hamilton cast recording for the final hour because singing along is the only thing that keeps me awake.

The week after - Thanksgiving weekend - I set up at a small nursery for #smallbusinesssaturday with a couple other vendors. It rains pretty hard and the roof starts to leak, so there's a scramble to move my table out of the danger zone. The people are all very nice, but I make about $60.

DECEMBER

Unique LA's holiday show! I show up on Friday to load in only to discover I've been upgraded from a table to a booth, which I now need to figure out how to decorate. I'm put in the "Pantry" with a bunch of other food vendors, and I have mixed feelings about this until Sunday afternoon when Eric comes to watch the booth and give me a break. I walk the hectic floor and have a hard time keeping everything separate - it's a sea of product and much of it gets lost. (I buy a bunch of stuff anyway.)

A table in a booth world.

A table in a booth world.

The final set-up... marginally better.

The final set-up... marginally better.

Amy Acker tries a marshmallow and I geek out a little bit.

I do very well at Unique LA! So well that I have to go home on Saturday night and pull an all-nighter making 7 batches of marshmallows to sell on Sunday, and most of them do. This Unique LA turns out to be my second best show (after November's Renegade) and I realized that my desire to make marshmallows has finally met my ability to sell them... at these events, at least.

I get a call sometime in December from the founder of the startup I signed up for in September - another vendor had to drop out of an event in 2 weeks, can you sub in? Sure, I say. I am put in touch with the organizer who says their Santa Monica tech office has 102 people and they will be setting up a hot chocolate bar to pair with my marshmallows.

I show up and not only does the place have 2 beers on tap in their break area, a full open bar, jars and jars of cheez-its, M&Ms and other assorted snacks... the person organizing the hot chocolate bar who asked me to be there bought two bags of mini marshmallows from the store for the employees to have for free. The founder of the startup is there because he wants to see how it goes and we chat a bit, and later he emails to see how I think it went. I respond at how disappointed I was that the woman organizing the event and asked me to come sell marshmallows thoughtlessly created the absolute worst environment for doing so, but I say that I recognize that in the future a better business model would be to charge the company a flat fee because companies like that clearly have money to burn. He responds and tells me that he's thinking of changing his business model so that that event (where I made $0 and drove 2 and a half hours home, dejected) would have cost me $50. Do I think that would be a good idea, he asks? I don't respond.

Also in December, I help beta test a new website designed to connect CFOs with local buyers. I'm pretty excited about it. More upon launch!

Today I dropped off my last order of the year and I get on a plane to Boston for the holidays. To great things in 2017 and (hopefully) cheers to the last year for which I can report a business loss on my tax returns.