Starting a food business.
June 15, 2005 4:01 PM   Subscribe

Seattle has crap Mexican food. Anyone have experience in the frozen food business? Because I want to start up a small business selling meals in local stores. We're talking 3-4 products, minimal ingredients. I think I have access to a rest. kitchen. Looking past legal/supplier costs, where can I go wrong?
posted by poodlemouthe to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
Can't offer advice, but I can tell you that you are right. Email me when you've got chile rellenos up for sale.
posted by fatllama at 4:44 PM on June 15, 2005

Yeah, me too. Can I volunteer to be a taster?
posted by jeffbarr at 5:58 PM on June 15, 2005

I like Chile Pepper in Wallingford, but everything else seems to be at about the Taco Time level. I've often wondered about the overall demand for Mexican food in this area, because the few good places always seem to be dead.

I hope it works out for you, 'cause this area really needs some more decent Mexican food.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 6:33 PM on June 15, 2005

You think Seattle has crap Mexican food? Move to New York. *grumble*
posted by falconred at 6:51 PM on June 15, 2005

Bah, try Australia! AFAIK, there isn't a decent Mexican restaurant on the entire Eastern seaboard!
posted by coriolisdave at 6:59 PM on June 15, 2005

I live in northern Oklahoma, in a town of about 45,000 and a decent size immigrant population. I know of seven Mexican restaurants in town, one of which is an El Chico, a tex-mex chain. It's alright, but far outclassed by most of the others, and twice as expensive easily. One hole-in-the-wall restaurant offers some of the best Mexican food I've had in the US (outside of the almost-Mexico areas of Texas), at about $5-6 a plate.

From what I've seen, here's a few pieces of advice.

Do NOT skimp on ingredients. It's far too easy to cut corners here and offer just more mediocre Mexican fare. If possible, use fresh farmer's market vegetables. Personally, I'd rather have enchiladas with fajita steak, chicken, a mix of cheeses, or spinach over ground beef, which is just weak filler.

If you're doing this as a business, consider a restaurant. Fresh made always beats frozen.

The more stuff that's hand-made, the better. Any tortillas, guacamole, and pico de gallo should be made by you if possible. It may take more labor, but the quality shows.

Be careful not to overuse cheddar cheese. One restaurant in town uses what seems to be a mix of jack cheese and goat's cheese for a few dishes, and it makes a remarkable dip for their fresh chips.

If you want to make good Mexican food, you need to put a lot of effort into it. If you use too many premade ingredients, you could wind up like a restaurant I visited in Pittsburgh once. Absolutely no other patrons, for good reason. $13 for food that made Taco Bell look appetizing.
posted by Saydur at 7:10 PM on June 15, 2005

Aw man. Burrito Loco on N. 105th in Greenwood/Crown Hill is good, Also great: El Gaito on Capitol Hill.

El Camino in Fremont is also very good, but maybe more American southwest than Mexican, but sorta.

Also: come on! Gordito's in Greenwood on 85th.

I'm offended. I'm gonna take this to MeTa.
posted by xmutex at 7:20 PM on June 15, 2005

Also: come on! Gordito's in Greenwood on 85th.
Oops, good point.
posted by fatllama at 9:22 PM on June 15, 2005

What about Pancho Villa Tacqueria on Lake City? They're pretty freakin' good. They just changed their name to Mr. Villa's, but I don't know if they changed owners (anybody?).
posted by Hildago at 9:39 PM on June 15, 2005

Tacquiera Express on Broadway in the Market, Blue Water on Queen Anne Ave, Agua Verde in the U district on the water.

C'mon. Crap?
posted by xmutex at 9:51 PM on June 15, 2005

woohoo! awesome recommendations! I've been trying to find some good mexican food since i moved here. xmutex i think i'll try taquiera express tomorrow...mmmmmmmmmm
posted by freudianslipper at 10:12 PM on June 15, 2005

Decent Mexican (or any Mexican) food is nearly impossible to find on the other side of the Atlantic. Any notions of making a business out of this cuisine should consider that fact. I found one place in the Netherlands, near Maastrict, that is decent. I doubt there is any at all in South Africa, but I haven't been everywhere.
posted by Goofyy at 10:47 PM on June 15, 2005

I've spent some time in Mexico, and let me tell you: the place is sadly lacking in both Dutch and South African cuisine. It goes both ways.
posted by item at 12:40 AM on June 16, 2005

I used to like El Gallito on Capitol Hill as well. A long-established family place, very sweet. But the food was a pale reminder of the stuff I used to love in South Texas. My feeling is that Seattle is too milky for spicy food, and even all the excellent Asian food there is often de-hottened for general consumption by non-Asian customers. Seattlelites like to think they drink a lot of coffee, but really they drink a lot of steamed milk. Welcome to Scandinavia (er, Minnesota) on the Pacific. Swaddled, milky, cloying, passive aggressive, smile while they stab you in the back Seattle friendly. It don't mix with tacos sesos or smoked chipotles.

Yeah, Seattle was a bad time for me. I'm bitter.

As for NYC, where I live now, it has historically sucked but it's getting better. There are something like 50K Mexican immigrants who have moved here in the last few years, and in parts of el Barrio you can do very well indeed for Mexican food. I'm not revealing my favorite places (he said jealously) but even on the West Side you can do way better than Mama Mexico (which I like to call Chuckie Quesos). Try Noche Mexicana on Amsterdam around 101st.
posted by realcountrymusic at 5:18 AM on June 16, 2005

Carta de Oaxaca on Ballard Avenue is phenomenal. Also seconds to Pancho/Mr. Villa. Sorry I can't answer your original question, but I too will volunteer to be a taster.
posted by matildaben at 7:44 AM on June 16, 2005

Writing a business plan (you'll need it for the loan anyway) might help you with focus. Once you have that you can talk to local businesses that'll sell your stuff. Be prepared to revise, though.

Be firm about what you want to do, and be prepared to hear "oh, it would be so nice to sell mini tacos/fish enchiladas/things you have no desire to make."

Another thing to consider is that UW or another school up there might have a prepared food program/class you can take. I'm in Nebraska and the University here has a terrific class that helps people do just that. People who want to sell homemade salsa or other prepackaged goods can take that class and it's quite useful. That might help you with the logistics.
posted by Atom12 at 7:52 AM on June 16, 2005

Let me give a shoutout to Galerias on Cap Hill (Broadway).
posted by Skot at 10:38 AM on June 16, 2005

No experience with frozen food business but as an alternative, I suggest looking into developing fresh, organic Mexican food for specialty markets. I'd imagine frozen food production requires significant overhead to research freezer life, freezer-compatible ingridients, and preservatives. With fresh, prepared food you can focus on quality ingridients and preserve the integrity of your recipes. These would only require light refrigeration. Think of the prepared food in Whole Foods Markets that only require reheating. You also wouldn't have to compete with the established frozen food brands - with fresh prepared food, you're selling the quality ingridients and freshness, not the brand.

That said, I think the competition for shelf space in major markets is high. It's probably better to start small and sell small quantities to friends, family, neighbors, and locals. Take their feedback to refine your product while improving the production process. When you're ready for the big leagues, then pitch to a big market.

Good luck!
posted by junesix at 12:33 PM on June 16, 2005

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