Wednesday, December 22, 2010

started up married

We finally started! A little over a month ago, on November 11th, we officially sold our first cup of yogurt! I cannot even begin to explain the craziness that ensued those first few days, but I can certainly try....

The whole day and night before we opened we worked on getting everything ready. We had gone to Costco a couple days before and bought A TON of stuff thinking that we would be really busy. We also had no idea what to expect with how many customers we would have, how much product those customers would use, etc. There were so many unanswered questions. The night before we opened we had to get all the toppings together. I think we went to bed around 3 am. We were prepping strawberries, cutting pineapple, washing raspberries, chopping nuts, shaving chocolate, peeling kiwi, removing pomegranate seeds (which I got the juice of all over my white curtains), and making sauces. We planned way too many toppings and ended up using hardly any of them. It was definitely a learning experience to say the least. At least there's no more 3 am bedtimes!

The morning we opened was sheer madness. We still had to get the seating down to the location, which involved putting two large bright pink picnic tables on Alex's truck. We had our helper for the day, Jax, who lives upstairs, help out. One thing you should know, though, is that he's only in seventh grade and he's not big for his age. The poor little guy had to lift those tables onto the truck and back off them once we got there. I was in charge of packing the tubs full of toppings and our Greek yogurt to bring down to the truck. I was exhausted! I just kept wondering what I was thinking getting involved in this craziness when I was also teaching, working for the state on curriculum, and doing online teaching. We were running around trying to get everything ready on time. We had many of Alex's Brazilian friends helping us out. It was a little bit like a circus, but it was so great to see so many people helping us get started. The amount of support we had was amazing!

With all those things to do last minute, we opened late and missed some customers who had come right at eleven for the opening, but two of my students stayed until we actually opened (note photo). One of them even bought a shirt and wore it the next day at school (where he promptly got spaghetti sauce on it at lunch). The rest of the day went well, but it was definitely crazy! It was fun seeing people enjoy the yogurt we had worked so hard to create!

Since the opening we've made many changes. We streamlined our process, cut out some of the toppings, and simplified our opening and closing procedures. Most recently we moved to the other side of the field where we were located, added flower pots, and painted the hub caps, bumper, and fenders the Ono Yo pink. It really stands out now! We already had more tourists today by being closer to the shrimp truck they all go visit.

We've met some really nice people and have had an interesting experience so far. There's been a lot of great feedback on how delicious our yogurt is. Our yogurt really is unique and very different from other frozen yogurts out there. We use real strawberries in our strawberry yogurt, real mango, watermelon, honeydew melon, etc. Healthy, simple food is what I eat in my diet because I know how much better it makes me feel and I love knowing that I'm giving people the very best frozen yogurt product they can get because it is healthy and simple!

I'll continue to write as new things happen. It's all so exciting and there's always changes! Thank you to everyone for your support. We can't do it without you! Enjoy the photos!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

where there's a will, there's a way

Well, naturally we ran into more problems....

When opening a business in Hawaii, it's important to understand the concept of "Hawaiian Time." Hawaiian Time means that things will get done when they get done. It means, "Take it easy, brah!" and "Eh, try wait!" Moving at a snail's pace is something to honor and respect while trying to get things done in a New York minute, well, that's for New Yorkers. This is Hawaii. Surf, sun, and just general laziness (is it in the water?) take precedence. Making money, not so much.

So we're waiting for the electrician who always seems to have something "come up" whenever we're scheduled to get our electricity hooked up. In the meantime, we're painting tables, getting shirts printed, setting up accounts with banks and vendors, deciding on our first month's flavors, and trying to carve out some peaceful time before the madness of seven day work weeks begins.

While we were driving to Costco to do yet more price research, I suddenly had a moment of realization. I realized that it's actually quite incredible that Alex and I started a really cool business on our own as young we are. Alex and I have been together for four years this month. Those four years have given us a lot of learning experiences in how to communicate, how to celebrate and compromise our differences, and how to be successful together. I guess I just had this moment where I thought, "I can't believe we pulled this off." It started from such a small idea, "What if we started our own frozen yogurt business?" It's grown into a real business with a logo, website, fans, and eager customers.

I've always been one to believe that anything is possible. If I dream something, I make it happen. It doesn't matter if I don't have the money, experience, or other means to get it. I organize myself and push through any obstacles that come. I learn and research. Even if we're not born into privilege and have things come easily to us, we can still create a beautiful and successful life for ourselves. Alex and I are young, have no money, and no experience in owning a business, but we put our talents together and created a business that we believe in, that we're proud of. We can't wait for opening day, which will happen as soon as Time can meet us somewhere in the middle of Hawaii and New York....

Monday, October 18, 2010

mad rush to the grand opening

We finally got a location! It's unbelievable that we spent about a year and a half planning, thinking, dreaming, working, and stressing, but now all of it is going to pay off! We'll be in the exact place we wanted to be with our truck right across the street from the school. The location will even have electricity so we don't have to worry about the generator (even though its little house is really adorable). All my students are excited and can't wait. They've been posting to my Facebook asking about Ono Yo. It's great to know that so many people are excited. It makes me believe we'll be successful and that all this work is going to bring good results!

We spent the day Sunday getting the seating for customers. Since we'll be outdoors, we bought umbrellas, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, kids' chairs and tables, and a cute retro gliding bench. They're all in our logo colors and it's all super cute! Now we can visualize Ono Yo as an actual place of business and it seems more "real." So much of this so far has seemed like we're just "playing business" like one would "play house" as a child.

I really can't wait to see it all come together in the next week or two. We have to get ready for 7 day work weeks, and little time off. I'll be juggling four jobs, but, hey, who's counting? Owning our own business comes with sacrifices, but the pride we have in what we've created as partners and as a couple is huge! I'm sure we're in for more trials and learning experiences, but we've gone through so much already that we feel prepared to take on the challenges of business ownership.

Now we just have to put the seating together, test the machines again, buy the flavors, yogurt, and toppings, set up the electricity, get our shirts printed, meet with a CPA, sign our lease agreement, print the coupons, fix the water pump, sell the generator, and solve world hunger in the next week. I'm not worried....

I'll be posting again as soon as we have our opening day or if something else happens before then that's worth another post. Who knows what the mad rush to the grand opening will bring? Of course I'll post photos and hopefully a video of our grand opening day, too!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

more photos of sample day

first cup of yogurt

This last Sunday we made our first cup of yogurt! We called it our sample day and hoped it would be the day that led to us being able to officially start our business. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out as planned.

We're kind of getting used to the little problems, but it's no less disappointing. However, we're really learning how to find the positive in all situations. The positive here is that we made yogurt and had fun!

We spent the whole day cleaning the truck and fixing the muffler on the generator. The truck was sparkling! We planned to start around 4:00, but just as we were going to start, the generator decided to start acting up. It took four hours and thirteen guys to get it going again (check out the photos!)! I just kept thinking of the joke, "How many guys does it take to fix a generator?" Apparently, lucky number 13! All the girls were just standing around laughing as the guys scratched their heads.

We were finally ready to go! We mixed the yogurt and started serving. It was so exciting to finally see frozen yogurt come out of the machines. I was in charge of toppings while Alex swirled. We pumped out beautiful cups of yogurt topped with champagne grapes, fresh strawberries, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and honey drizzle. Yum! Everyone said it was delicious and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Then the generator went out again. The light in the truck went black and I was left to finish topping the yogurt in the dark while Alex fixed it again. We got it going and kept dispensing. Then the side of the machine with the plain yogurt quit. We finished with the pomegranate flavor and transferred the plain to the other side. Then that side quit (are we not meant to serve plain yogurt?!). We had finally had enough and called it a night. We spent the next hour cleaning the huge mess.

Despite all the issues, it was a lot of fun and we are so excited that we were able to make frozen yogurt at last. We still have to work on dealing with the loud and fickle generator, broken machines, and getting a place to sell, but it will all come together. All the problems are just getting us closer to a smooth grand opening! We can't wait!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

i brake for ono yo!

I can't believe it! After months of our truck's brakes not working, they finally got fixed. That really is what was holding us up, preventing us from starting. Now there's nothing that can keep us from sharing the gift of healthy frozen yogurt with the North Shore and beyond!

When Alex told me they were finally fixed, I just felt this huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn't realize quite how negatively it had been affecting me in my regular life. I think it was just the stress of not knowing if our business was really going to ever happen. We had put so much time, effort, and money into it and to think it may not happen was just too much.

The brakes went out the day we were getting our logo and advertising stickers put on the truck. It was the best day; a major milestone for us!. We even heard a lady stopped at a stop light at the busy intersection where our truck was getting stickered-up say, "Oh! Ono Yo, frozen yogurt! How cool!" That made our year because it was like validation for everything we'd worked for.

As we were driving the truck back to the North Shore, the brakes suddenly went out. Luckily Alex was right by a turn-off into the Home Depot parking lot and he was able to safely stop the truck. I'm so glad he wasn't on the freeway (he was just about to get on) when it happened or it would have been disastrous (always look at the bright side of things when starting a business or you'll get bogged down in the problems that inevitably come up). The pin that pushes the brake fluid into the truck popped out and was completely unfixable at that time. We tried to fix it with some McGyver-esque technique, but we ended up only getting as far as Walmart up the road. We had to leave the truck overnight.

What ensued was months of replacing rusted out parts, changing and re-changing other parts, bleeding the brakes, and just general head-scratching. Finally our mobile mechanic thought about the new power booster that had been sent and the push rod (that's the same part that broke in the first place). He wondered if maybe the push rod was too short for our particular truck, so he sent for a new one.

While we waited for the new part, I really had time to think about all this. It has been a long journey to get to this point. There were times I wanted to give up and just throw in the towel. It seemed like it wasn't worth the effort anymore. However, at the root of it, I believed in our idea. I believed in us and our ability to be successful entrepreneurs.

Finally I got the call that the brakes were fixed. Now it's time to actually make yogurt in our machines and test it out. Tomorrow we're having a "samples day" when we will fire up the machines and test out our recipes. We're not sure exactly how we want to make the yogurt so we need to test the various ways out and ask our friends for their opinions. We hope to open for business next weekend at the North Shore Country Market.

I'll blog tomorrow with photos of our big day. I can't wait!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

my generator's dream house

When starting a business on such a small budget, you have to cut corners and buy things you know will need replacing later when you have more money. As a frozen yogurt truck, we needed electricity to run our two machines. We did a lot of research about how much power we would need and what we could get for the amount of money we had. The guy we bought the machines from said we would need enough power to power what someone later told us would be enough to power a hospital. Really?! We went to look at ones that have that much power and they are the size of a small house. There had to be something better.

There is a guy on the North Shore who sells soft serve ice cream out of a truck, but we didn't know how he powered his machine. We looked at Honda generators, which are very expensive, but great. Without boring you with the finer details of generator power capabilities and prices, we were left with one option. We had to buy a behemoth that would cost us $2,400 and could be shipped for free (this is unheard of) to the Lowe's on the island.

One of the themes you will see running through most of the posts is the inconvenience of living on a island and trying to start a business. They either won't ship to you because they think you live in a foreign country, or they will charge you the same price they would charge to ship to say, Egypt, which actually is a foreign country. Not cool.

Anyways, our truck has been expertly wired by our electrician friend from Long Island who works on the farm with my husband so he can surf for the winter. We get the generator, plug the machines in, and start 'er up. Let's just say that our customers wouldn't be relaxing enjoying their Ono Yo with that monster growling behind the truck. It basically sounded like we had hooked up an airplane to the back to give us maximum wattage and would take off any minute. We now had to build a house to insulate the noise.

Thus began what would be become our second biggest mistake so far (the first was the buying a truck that was new the year I was born). We decided the generator needed a trailer with a noise-insulated house. Sounds easy, right? So wrong. Remember, if it sounds too easy to be true, it probably is. We researched again. We found a trailer on Craigslist for $250 that would just need the house and insulation. We should have bought that. This is where the mistake comes in....

Since we were tight on time and trying to start up ASAP (this is when we still thought the brakes would be fixed "any day now"), Alex wanted to see if he could find someone who could build it out for us. He found a guy who builds trailers and said he could noise insulate it "no problem" for $700. What a deal! What we got was a custom-built base with a shabby looking plywood box. That's not going to cut the noise of the Boeing 747 we have to tow around. $700 spent and we still have to build the house and insulate it ourselves.

Another $1,000 or so later and it's still not done. We were priming the wood on Thursday so we can paint it and before we left for the day, we started it up to see how well the fancy and expensive boating insulation worked. It worked pretty well, but then I saw smoke coming out of the box. By the way, just a tip, egg crates work really well for noise insulation (covered with heat resistant padding if needed). This works great for generator houses or for your kid's room to keep the noise at bay. Turns out, the titanium tape we bought for the muffler extension needs to be thicker and regular metal tape is flammable (note to self). I'm glad we started it up when we did so we could see what else needs to be done so we don't catch on fire.

We decided that we're going to finish the trailer and then sell it to buy something better (and certainly more expensive). I'm excited, as I would be, about how cute what we're building is going to be. We're painting it sunshine yellow and adding white trim. Just like my dream house. Too bad it's for the generator.

To summarize: trust your gut instincts. If a guy tells you he can do something "no problem" for way cheaper than it probably should be and tells you he noise insulates generators "all the time" and you live on an island, he's probably full of it and ripping you off.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

a long road made longer

I wish I could go back to retell all the stories of chaos and craziness that have occurred over the last year since we first got the idea to open a frozen yogurt store on the North Shore of Oahu where we live. It started on a trip to California, where I'm from, last summer.

I grew up eating frozen yogurt at TCBY, but in Hawaii, they had yet to discover its goodness. We noticed how many self-serve frozen yogurt stores have opened there and thought Hawaii would fall in love with them. While we hatched our initial ideas, stores began opening all over the island and Yelp was full of people proclaiming their love for this frozen treat. The market still had yet to reach the North Shore and we knew we had something good.

When anyone starts a venture, she often has no idea exactly what she's getting herself into until she's so far in she has no choice but to see it to the end. That's about how it went with simply "starting a business." No one just "starts a business." I knew it would be complicated, but my husband really was under the impression that you just rent a store, build it out, open your doors, and watch the money start a flowin' (he is Brazilian; maybe that has something to do with it?). As I said, I'm from California, and I get that anything you try to do that involves money will always be a bureaucratic nightmare. Granted, the laws and restrictions in Hawaii aren't as strict as they are in California (it was scarily easy), but there are certainly issues that come up one doesn't expect. I have a new one- never assume it's too easy to be true, because it probably is.

This blog will go back to recall the many challenges we faced including writing a business plan and having to totally rethink our original business idea. It's over a year later and we still haven't sold our first cup of yogurt. Why? I'll tell you all about here. I'll also dive into how it has affected our first years of marriage, the good and bad aspects of that added pressure. Hopefully you'll find some advice or at least another sympathetic soul to the many setbacks life throws at us whether we're trying to start a business or just journeying through life. Come join me-it's quite a ride!