Questions To Ask T Restaurant Owner

Ask the owner or chef during the first interview:

Would you like some farm fresh locally grown produce?

What volume do you use each week?

swiss chard spinach radishes scallions peppers eggplant cucumbers tomatoes cherry tomatoes beans leaf lettuce cos lettuce

Do you use any unusual vegetables?

bok choy Chinese cabbage

Japanese turnips sugar snap peas

Is there anything special I could grow for you? What is the best day and time for delivery? Would you like my fresh harvest for the weekend trade? Would you be willing to help me get started?

An easy way to ask the final question is to make the answer easy. For example, "How many bunches of parsley will you need every week?" "What's the best delivery day for you?" Or simply, "Would you be willing to try this idea to help me get started?"

If the owner seems reluctant, find out why and then see if you can't reason him out of his objections. If he says, "We don't know how well special lettuce will be accepted," then answer, "Let's try just a little at first and keep most of it to the more common varieties." His question: "What if your crop is a failure, or you get sick and can't supply us?" Your answer: "I'm planting quite a variety of different crops at different times, so if one particular crop fails it won't have much effect. If I get sick, my wife (son-in-law, whoever) will be helping me and can take over. And since we're only supplying 20 percent of your fresh vegetable needs, no great catastrophe can occur."

A display of your vegetables often will convince the restaurant chef.

If he still wants to think about it, your chances don't look too good. Don't be discouraged, but go on to your second choice right away. Even if the first restaurant says, "We'll try it and see," I'd go on to thesecond one and sign it up so you have two. Only when the first restaurant is very enthusiastic would I rely on one place for all my business. You might go to the second or third and at least talk to it about your ideas; get reactions and say, "When I'm ready to harvest, could I come back to talk to you again?" If that restaurant is at all interested, you'll get a "yes," but you haven't committed yourself in case something else comes along.

If you close the sale, write the plan out on paper so he fully understands it and can keep a record in his files. So many misunderstandings are over "I didn't think you meant that,"or "I thought you said you were going to do this." Since you both said a lot during your first meeting, put the agreement in writing and leave room at the bottom for two signatures. Have it typed, keeping it as simple and short aspossible. Don't try to be a lawyer, and for heaven's sake don't go out and get one. He'll only complicate the deal and expand a simple one-page agreement into four pages to justify his fee. Your agreement should merely state what you're going to provide and what the restaurant will do.

Dear Restaurant Owner:

This letter may serve as our agreement for the purchase of fresh vegetables.

1. .. ._._agrees to grow and harvest choice select vege-

tables for sale-to---for the

Restaurant name growing season of 19) —:-

  1. All vegetables will be sorted, culled, washed, and cleaned of waste material, and delivered within a few hours of harvesting.
  2. An itemized list showing quantities and current farm stand prices will accompany each delivery. Cash payment will be made upon completion of delivery.
  3. Delivery will be made twice a week on _and _at approximately_o'clock a.m. /p.m.

5 _will try to grow those varieties particularly

Gardener's name requested, and each delivery shall consist of whatever is currently ready for harvest without regard to exact quantities.

  1. All food shall be grown by strictly organic methods, using no chemical fertilizer, no chemical insecticides. (Include only if it applies.)
  2. _agrees to act as an independent contractor/

Gardener's name ° 1

supplier and neither party will hold the other liable for any of his operation or business.

Gardener's signature Date

Restaurant owners signature Uate

The restaurant owner might ask you to add to that agreement this paragraph:

8. Either party can terminate the agreement with ten days' written notice if produce, prices, or conditions are unsatisfactory.

A lawyer would add all kinds of things like, "This agreement is binding to both parties and will be assumed by any new owner, heirs, etc.," but it all boils down to two parties'desire to get together. If one wants out, no written agreement is going to keep him in. You'd have to hire a lawyer to enforce any agreement, and who needs that?

Why have an agreement at all, you might ask. Only to make sure that both parties know the general conditions of the agreement and are sincere enough to sign their names to it.

What if the owner won't sign, but is willing to go ahead on a verbal say-so? Well, you'll have to decide whether he is trustworthy, honest, and sincere in wanting to try this plan. Many people won't sign their names to anything because the very idea makes them suspicious. Don't try to change people's personalities. Just accept them and proceed with enthusiasm and hope.

The Timing

D o you start planting and then go out to sign up restaurants, or do you try to get your customers first? It all depends on the season in which you read this book and decide to start your own cash garden. If it's winter, I'd plan the garden, order the seeds, search the restaurants for the best three, and in early spring go see one (without a basket of vegetables). In the meantime, I'd plant a full crop because I'd be sure to find at least one good customer.

If I read the book in the spring, I'd do all of the above, but very quickly! If it's summer when I decide, I'd pick a harvest basket from my present garden and sign up a place or two for the fall and next spring. If it's fall, unless you plant ahead, you're not going to have enough in your present garden to make it worthwhile for you to deliver to the owner. In fact, you may kill the whole deal if he decides it's too much bother for such a small amount and says no for next year. So it's better to take a basket in and sign him up for next year.

Health Food Stores

If you garden organically, there is one market that runs a poor second to restaurants, and that is health food stores or very small, specialized grocery stores. I would look into these if I couldn't find a restaurant that would buy from me. They would probably order enough to make it worthwhile, and might be willing to mix your produce with their regular supply. Again, don't try to meet all their needs, or you will be in trouble. Let them order, then grow more of everything to insure that you can fill that order. To do this every week, all season long, takes a lot of planning, skill, and good luck.

What about prices at the health food stores? They pay wholesale prices, but they only want organically grown, so that automatically commands a 30 to 40 percent premium over standard prices. For example, if farm stand bibb lettuce is 69c per head, that same lettuce, organically grown, is 40 percent higher or 99c per head retail. Wholesale is 50 percent of retail, soyou would get 50 percent times 99c or 49c per head for organic lettuce at the health food store. That's a lot below the restaurant giving you 69c per head. In fact, if you figure that it costs you about 29c per head for your time, material, land use, equipment, and non-saleable harvest, then your profit amounts to 40c from the restaurant, but only 20c for the store. This is why it's so important to get retail prices rather than settle for wholesale.

Organic or health food restaurants are another great possibility, but again they are usually small and limited in the number of meals they serve. However, they will usually pay top dollar. Now we're looking at farm stand plus organic premium prices of 99c with a resulting profit of 70c. Since they're small in comparison with regular restaurants, they will probably want to place orders and have you fill all their needs if possible. Some special arrangements can always be made —just ask.

I had one who paid top dollar and took everything I had to supplement his regular supply, but this turned out to be a disaster. One day when I arrived with a particularly nice, large harvest, he said, without any warning or advance notice, "I can't use that. Business is bad, and I don't need anything." He almost ruined my business! I had a whole truckload of fresh lettuce and it was a boiling hot summer's day. If the lettuce wasn't refrigerated within an hour I'd be out $75 of hard-earned money. Not only that, think of all the produce in the garden that I had planted for him that would be ready during the next few weeks.

I quickly went to one organic food store who didn't handle fresh produce but was willing to try some, and an organic co-op grocery who took the rest to try it. Neither of those places worked out; they were too small and wanted to order a case of this and a case of that once a week. You can't make a profit that way, selling whatever you can from your garden at whatever price you can get. Luckily, my main restaurant customer could absorb all of our harvest, and for the rest of the year I settled into an easy one-customer routine. What if I lost that one? I had talked to another large restaurant who said it might be interested, so I had one in reserve.

Pitfalls, Too

So you can see there are pitfalls in this business, too. But the rewards are so far above any other part-time business I've ever tried or even read about. You're outdoors, in your own backyard, doing something you love, and earning several thousand dollars a year in extra income. You can't ask for much more than that. To be really successful, you must be willing to spend a little extra time investigating the best restaurant prospects and selling them on your new business idea.

One last point, for those of you that think there are no good restaurants nearby. I've had some people say, "Oh, sure, you live in a prosperous suburban area with lots of fancy restaurants, but we live out in the sticks with few, if any, good restaurants." Let me tell you I've been out in the sticks, too, and if you open your eyes and look around you can find a good customer.

We were in a very small town in South Carolina filming our TV show and stayed at the local Holiday Inn. For dinner, I picked the special of the day, the Chefs Boston Bibb Salad. But the waitress said, "We're all out of the bibb lettuce." The next day we were filming at one of the seed companies' test gardens and were doing harvest scenes. I filled a huge plastic bag with all kinds of lettuce, including Boston bibb and Chinese cabbage, and took it into the kitchen that night, dumped the lettuce on the counter in front of the head chef, and said, "Now will you make me a Chefs Special Boston Bibb Salad?"

He said, "Where did you get your beautiful lettuce and can I buy some from you?"

Well, the upshot was that I did an interview with him the next day, and he told me that most Holiday Inns around the country were independently owned and the head chef had the authority to buy produce from whomever he wanted.

This chef was willing to pay a premium, even more than farm stand prices for my lettuce, and was talking about advertising in the local papers about his special home-grown produce. Of course, I had to tell him I didn't live in the area. But he and many other chefs arestill there waiting for you to come in. Incidentally, I gave him the lettuce, and he made me the most wonderful salad I've ever had.

I got thinking of how many new buyers this experience could mean. There must be a Holiday Inn in every small town in the country (as well as several in every metropolitan area) and where there isn't one, there must be a Ramada, or Quality Court or some motel with a restaurant. The number of outlets is unlimited around the country, so find one that fits your needs.

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