help me fantasize/plan my tea & cake business
December 17, 2020 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I was enjoying this this thread. Someone posted that they'd enjoy a service that sent tea and loaf cake every month. I, too, would enjoy such a service; I think I'd also enjoy providing it. Help me think through what it would take to make a success of such a business.

Here's what I have:

* baking skill and knowledge
* spatial proximity to a Costco (for shopping) and UPS and Fedex stores (for shipping)
* time
* a reasonably decent home kitchen with oven
* access to an artist who would create materials (logos, etc) for cheap. (Don't freak out, it's my kid)

What else would I need? A website with secure payment capacity, obviously. Some sort of advertising; I'm guessing that's is the biggest investment. Compliance with local cottage laws... not sure how these apply for mail ordering, I'd need to research that. Maybe one of those food-saver shrink wrap machines. A business license. Some sort of insurance. And some research on tea, which I know nothing about currently as I only drink herb tea. Some strategy on pricing, definitely, as this seems like something that would lose money until it scaled. But on the other hand, baking tea cakes and packaging up stuff like this would be easy and pleasant for me. What else?

Also: currently there are about a million "of the month" clubs, including cakes, desserts and teas (although I don't see any that come in combination, but I didn't look hard.) If you're someone who likes sitting down with a cup of tea and tasty baked good, would you enjoy (i.e. be willing to pay for) a service like this? What would make it appealing? Would extras (a postcard with a joke on it? A list of suggested books?) make it more fun, or would they be annoying? What if the hot drink sometimes wasn't tea, but an interestingly flavored sweet drink (cider mix, mint hot chocolate etc)? Or is that a different service? Maybe herb teas can be offered as a different option too come to think of it.
posted by fingersandtoes to Work & Money (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to the business/insurance aspects of this, but as a subscriber, I would definitely want the hot drink to always be tea. If I'm eating a slice of cake, I don't want to also be drinking something sweet. If the loaf were savory (a batch of savory scones, perhaps?) then the cocoa mix would be acceptable.

It would be cool to include the recipe for the baked good you're sending!
posted by coppermoss at 8:31 AM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’d want an option for tea bread only, because I’m picky about my teas/coffees and wouldn’t want to pay for something I wouldn’t use.
posted by cyndigo at 8:33 AM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you do a subscription service thingy, you'll want a service to safely charge their credit card every month/period (which means you don't keep the numbers in your possession). I use Shopify for my online business, but it's very basic, and something like a subscription service requires paying for an additional app, which will probably double your fees. Maybe there's a better way through some other service, but you'll want to put in some good research before you get started.

And you'll likely need to comply with local food service laws. In many states, that means using a commercially certified kitchen. Looks like you're in California. You might find more rules & regs here.
posted by rikschell at 8:34 AM on December 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

You should really investigate the cottage laws where you are and where you plan to ship (everywhere?) before you go any further. You might find the regs incredibly restrictive, which would then restrict how much you can actually do.
posted by cooker girl at 8:35 AM on December 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

You may run up against licensing/permitting issues for sending baked goods, particularly, that are cooked in a home kitchen. The process for getting your kitchen approved for this might be onerous.

(But I would totally subscribe to a tea/loaf service!)
posted by nkknkk at 8:41 AM on December 17, 2020

You need a permit from your county health department, and more permits, take a food processing course, , insurance, etc..
Frankly, Costco’s prices aren’t really low enough for you to make a profit, unless you’re charging a pretty hefty price.
My husband has a food company, and his products are made by a local small facility, and he sells in retail and by mail order. This is not an easy business.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:54 AM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

you need an operations person. somebody to coordinate orders, shipping, bills, deadlines, regulations, basically all of the logistics so you can focus on the baking/creativity. this person could also be the strategy person should this project start to get big. i happen to know someone who is looking for a 2nd business opportunity with these skills. pm if you are interested.
posted by rglass at 9:02 AM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

ps i love your idea. i think it's just the kind of cozy that we all are in need of after this very terribly painful year! kudos to you for thinking of it!
posted by rglass at 9:03 AM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know nothing of the business needs, but I might subscribe to such a thing.

I would want to be able to fill in a form at the point of subscription listing my allergies and aversions, and then receive a surprise loaf cake each month that took those into account, along with enough bags of a tea that would go well with it to have one per portion. Not sweet drinks, I agree with whoever said above that they wouldn't go. Herb teas might though. Ginger tea with a lemon drizzle cake; spearmint and chamomile with pumpkin bread; peppermint with a double chocolate loaf; fennel tea with apple cinnamon cake...

I'd also want to be able to let you know if I really loved a particular cake and/or tea... or in principle if I really didn't care for one, but I'd feel very mean saying so! I'd hope that something I'd indicated I particularly liked might make a reappearance at some point.

I'd want you to let me know when you were putting the cake in the post, so that I'd know when to expect it. That's partly because I'd need to be in to receive the parcel, and partly because it would save me from baking (or buying) something just as my cake of the month was about to arrive.

I'd want to know how best to store it and how long you'd expect it to keep for.

And yes, a recipe would be brilliant. I've been surprised at how hard it is to find a book of loaf cake recipes.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:26 AM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Cakes are perishable!

If you're shipping through the regular ol' mail, you probably need a completely new set of tea cake recipes and packaging for same that means the cake would still be delicious up to two weeks later with no care taken in storage (allowing for mail delays, and the fact that most people don't want to get an "... of the month" subscription where they have to eat the cake the day it arrives because it's already on the verge of stale). I'll note that it will take a long time to figure out how good a recipe/packaging combo is at keeping a cake for two weeks, since each trial will take by definition... two weeks.

If you're shipping through UPS or their ilk, you need a supply of people willing to pay an awful lot of money for a random monthly cake, because you'll probably be spending $20-40 on shipping to get it there quickly. There are places that do mail order cake, but they are often regionally or nationally famous for a unique product.

Perhaps the best business model for you to start with might be local delivery, which skips both of these logistical issues and means your cakes could be in people's hands the day they're baked rather than after a shipping process. This is also something that could scale more gradually via word of mouth. Here's a guy local to me that started a baking business by studying bread making for years, then began delivering it by bicycle. That story's nine years old; he has a couple of permanent bakery locations and opened a restaurant last year.
posted by Superilla at 9:51 AM on December 17, 2020 [10 favorites]

I'd love to be able to tell you that this is a fabulous idea with lots of potential for success as a business.
posted by The Half Language Plant at 11:20 AM on December 17, 2020

For the website/management piece of things, you might consider Cratejoy, which is a sort of marketplace for subscription boxes that gives you a suite of tools to manage subscriptions, promote your box, etc.
posted by mosst at 11:25 AM on December 17, 2020

I love the idea, but as someone with allergies, I don't like 'surprise' foods, if it is indeed meant to be one.

I'd like the option to 'spoil the surprise' by being able to read the food types and all of the ingredients beforehand, so I could ask to swap it out or skip that month, if possible.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:50 AM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've quite often bought cakes by post for friends, family or myself from Etsy and other places. They've never arrived shrink-wrapped though. I would not subscribe to a regular service as, if I do want cake by post, I can always order it as a one-off and have a bit more control over what I get. Perhaps you could try selling cakes by post (with or without tea or tea bags) to start off with, rather than the subscription route?
posted by paduasoy at 12:08 PM on December 17, 2020

Padua: how are the cakes typically packaged? Regular plastic wrap?
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:18 PM on December 17, 2020

As far as I recall, for loaf cakes which are not iced, usually just a cardboard box. This one, which is iced and which I ordered in April, has a picture on Etsy of the packaging and looks as if it comes in a cellophane bag (I didn't see it when it arrived). I am in the UK though and the trading standards rules are different I expect.
posted by paduasoy at 12:36 PM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Slight pivot of a business idea: What meal kit delivery outfits exist in your area? Any of them need a cake supplier?

I belong to a local meal-kit delivery outfit (completely ran out of executive function, couldn't cook from scratch while shopping only once a month), and they get their bread from one local baker and at least some of their sweets from one or two other local places.
posted by humbug at 12:52 PM on December 17, 2020

Following on humbug’s thought, maybe you could just offer subscriptions locally and deliver instead ship? I use a few businesses like this in my area regularly (prepared meals, baked goods, ice cream) and would definitely at least consider a tea and cake service.
posted by tinymojo at 2:08 PM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

My daughter is looking to start a bread business and she talked about needing a commercial kitchen and certain permits. It's not easy to sustain profits because of this, unless you buy your ingredients wholesale and sell volume. Also, I used to do customer service for Harry and David until a few months ago when I quit. Shipping is not something you can count on nowadays. I can't tell you how many replacements and refunds had to be made because shipping was late-sometimes as much as several days. Don't want to rain on your parade but food selling by shipment is tough!
posted by DixieBaby at 4:23 PM on December 17, 2020

If you're someone who likes sitting down with a cup of tea and tasty baked good, would you enjoy (i.e. be willing to pay for) a service like this?

I would pay for this if you lived in my city and had either same-day delivery or pickup options. Sounds delightful.

What would make it appealing?

Selections tailored to the flavor profiles that I've indicated in advance. Teas that take into account my preference (both in terms of caffeine level and flavor profile). Cute packaging. Knowing that I'm helping a small, local business.

Would extras (a postcard with a joke on it? A list of suggested books?) make it more fun, or would they be annoying?

I love a good sticker.

What if the hot drink sometimes wasn't tea, but an interestingly flavored sweet drink (cider mix, mint hot chocolate etc)? Or is that a different service? Maybe herb teas can be offered as a different option too come to think of it.

Yeah, I'd offer tisanes as an option. Lots of people don't want even a small amount of caffeine, especially for an evening treat. I agree with others to steer clear of sweet drinks unless you have enough contrast with the baked goods. Oh! Or offer different packages: the Sweet-and-Savory, and Sugar-and-Spice, and the (ahem) Sugarbomb.
posted by sugarbomb at 4:28 PM on December 17, 2020

On-premises food prep regulations and permitting are onerous and expensive in the extreme. Like, you need a drain in the kitchen floor kind of extreme.

You might look into renting a commerical kitchen for a few days a month to get started, though you might still need a food safety certificate for yourself. I know in the Bay Area there were a few places that offered kitchen rentals, and with so many restaurants closed during lock downs, you might even be able to support a local business that could really use the money!
posted by ananci at 4:32 PM on December 17, 2020

A pivot idea: Tea & international snacks/desserts. Find a place where you can get international food around you (russian, polish, chinese, indian, etc). See if you can buy in bulk. You can curate a crate every month, but you don't have to worry about cottage laws, health codes, etc.
posted by pyro979 at 6:32 PM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

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