Archives For RhonniRocks

Looking at the schedule of amazing festivals happening this week, we thought we’d return to this RhonniRocks about the Clearwater Festival Food Court in 2010 …

The weather for The Great Hudson River Revival, also known as Clearwater Festival was perfect, if a little hot for folks who live all year in this area. We’d staffed our shop with Texans, all of whom were thankful to be anywhere where evening temperatures might get below 85. Heck, here in NY, it got below 70 every evening … what could be wrong with that?

Our street show gig is basically a fresh dessert shop. We dip Fresh Strawberries, Frozen Bananas, and Frozen Cheesecake in molten Ghirardelli chocolate right in front of the customer. We also make a 100% Fruit Sorbet out of ripe bananas and mixed berries. It seems that the dessert button gets pushed later in the day. We won’t have a noon rush, but about 2pm it can really start hopping. If the weather is hot, it’s a banana show; if it’s cold they seem to want the richness of the frozen cheesecake. The strawberries are … well … there are just so many things right about strawberries dipped in good chocolate … they are a steady item.

The Clearwater Festival has one of the best food line-ups of any show we do. The “Real Falafel” shop is there, roasting his eggplant on Friday for his handmade Babaghanoush, and grinding chickpeas for his Falafel and Hummus.

Vegetarian Oasis serves one of the most beautiful Jamaican Curries I’ve ever enjoyed. It was sweet potato, butternut squash, kale, and cabbage in a coconut milk curry, served over brown rice. Exquisite. There were a couple of stir-fry shops, and a shop serving standard hamburgers and hot dogs for the non-adventurous diners.

Breezy Hill Orchard had a shop there too. Festivals aren’t normally Elizabeth Ryan’s venue, but she believes in the purpose of the Clearwater Festival, and she can translate her Farmer’s Market experience into a festival booth fairly easily. She had her beautiful giant Ginger Snap Cookies, Chocolate Chip (of course), several pies, and Vegan Carrot Cake Cookies as big as my face. Her savory menu was a variety of tamales both meat and veggie. All of this could be washed down with her trademark cider.

For dinner Saturday we traded with Traveler’s Kitchen, aka The Potatoheads. They do fresh potato pancakes, as well as designer quesadillas, and a beautiful Tempeh Reuben on marbled rye bread.

This show is a great example of what festival food can be when everyone involved thinks of the audience as connoisseurs of food as well as entertainment. The food vendor coordinator does a great job of keeping the duplication of items to a minimum, while encouraging vendors to be creative with their offerings. The clientele at the festival has come to expect healthier, gourmet options, and happily spends money on food, knowing they’re getting excellent products. I’m not trying to imply that there were not lines for french fries, but those lines were not any longer than the lines for handmade healthier foods.

My recollections of this show involved me having a lot of extra time. The past two years we’ve experienced terrible weather on that weekend, so I really expected to get more pictures this year. However, the crowds this year were epic, so I was busy doing the chocolate thing. I’m really not complaining so much as explaining … a girl’s gotta pay the mortgage somehow.

Why is the term “Lifestyle Business” spoken with derision? Is it because “real businesspeople” discount the value of them, or is it because the Lifestyle business owners themselves belittle the amount of income generated by their businesses?

One of my favorite office spaces.

In a world so full of people that *don’t * like the things they do to make a living, it seems counter-intuitive to be belittling a situation that allows people to make a living doing exactly what they want to do. Admittedly, I’m in a strange place to be hosting this conversation. I live amongst artists and entertainers who make their livings in “Lifestyle Businesses” whether or not they use that moniker. Folks who make a living on their own creativity, who get to spend more hours of the day with their children, who get to travel and manage to make their businesses pay for it … these people surely have Lifestyle Businesses, even if the term is more often used for expat importers who can happily justify their second home in Bali; or folks who create automated business via the internet.

Believe me when I tell you that there were “Lifestyle Businesses” before there was an internet.

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Don’t think for a second that I am dissing the opportunity to have a second home in another country. Quite the opposite … I’m wondering why this ability to craft a business that allows someone the life they want most to be living, is dismissed as “less than” the person whose business makes an initial public offering on Wall Street.

It takes more than dollar signs to establish the value something has for our lives. I think we need to remember this when comparing ourselves to the lives of the people we see in the media.  The real goal, the brass ring, is living an abundant life. Living an abundant life has more to do with the intangibles than with the financial balance sheet.

If you want to live your best life; make a balance sheet that includes things like time with your kids, creative outlets, travel, self-determination … and see just how valuable that Lifestyle Business is against the cubicle job that allows more stability and less risk. I know which one I choose.

For the last 5 summers I’ve booked a show near here, simply to give myself a week with this as my office & contemplative space.

 

Every industry has rules. The trick is in knowing how to get what you want while meeting the rules. Venues with a historical theme have tons of several restrictions that help create the environment that fools the public into the fantasy that they are visiting a 16th century village. I won’t get into the finer points on costume rules and building design here, but I will talk about one control that shows up in both those departments. Color restrictions.

There are real reasons for having color restrictions in a historical venue. The technology wasn’t yet invented that could create a hot pink piece of fabric, or a vibrantly purple stucco wall. At least, there was no “affordable” technology that did so. Renaissance Festival costume rules almost universally prevent anyone other than royal characters wearing purple. Apparently in the 16th century, the only source for a purple dye was found in a type of muscle shell found in the Mediterranean Sea, and you needed a lot of them. All of the colors used during the Renaissance Period were from natural sources. Vegetable dyes faded fairly quickly, so the palette of the working class was soft and earthy. I’m not a professional costumer, although I have good friends that are. The end of the color issue that I know better is the one where color restrictions are applied to buildings.

Much like a mall lease contract, contracts for the vendors at a Renaissance Festival or Faire require they do their own “build-out”. They build, or pay to have built, the shops that they will be vending from at that particular festival. Designs have to be approved by the Vendor Coordinator, and perhaps the Site Director and General Manager as well. Each show is an independently owned company with only a few exceptions in the industry, so they’ll each have their own set of hoops for one to jump through. In the best cases, the proposed building design also has to meet with the approval of a Building Inspector.

Because buildings are each designed by an individual, with rare consideration of their neighbors’ designs, the color rules protect us all from garishness. If the color choices were not controlled, each vendor’s desire to be more readily seen than their competitors would quickly spiral upward into a visual cacophony. It happens sometimes even with the color safeguards in place. I myself am guilty of renaming a color when making my building design proposal to management, because it sounded far too purple otherwise.  (Smart building coordinators require paint chips with the proposal.) Fortunately, Park Management has final design control, and can easily tell a vendor to repaint if the color choice was a bad one. In most cases management is considerate to time restraints and may even let someone get a season’s use with the bad color before having to change it for the following season.

I designed and built shops for vendor clients for many years. (Actually, I designed, my husband built, and I painted and trimmed the buildings.) In conversations with my clients, I’d coach them on how to be creative within the color restrictions. I was not telling them how to bend the rule; I like the rules. But, I found that the best explanation was to tell them to “Put some dirt into the color that they most like, and it will probably qualify as an acceptable color.” It was a simplification, but one that communicated well. This is because, while vegetable dyes were used in fabrics, almost all colors used in the building trades came from mineral sources. So I’d ask a client for 3 colors, help them make choices that worked well together, and then if one of those colors was something that would have been more difficult, it became the smallest of the accent colors. In other words, no dark green walls, but perhaps some dark green trim.

It isn’t that any of this is rocket science. But the builder has to care about the illusion that she is helping to create. Renaissance Faire builders are amongst the luckiest designer/builders in the country. They get to design whimsical structures that actually come to fruition. More often than not, they are building inside a private park, and they rarely, if ever, have to build the same thing twice. Caring about the “whys” of the color rules just makes them better at their jobs.

 

Mid-construction, Jaime’s Coffee Shoppe at the New York Renaissance Faire. The bottom floor finished out with the same warm beige stucco you see on the dormer.

Just because it makes me happy …

One of my favorite photos from the fall show:

We call him Vandal.

 

Vandal works for me during the Texas Renaissance Festival. I snapped this photo one morning while he was ‘bumping’ the mixer, in order to incorporate all of the flour for the Cinnamon Squealers without making a huge mess. I had been trying for weeks to get a photo of these tattoos, but he always seemed to be wearing gloves.

It was obviously cold that morning, because in this photo he’s wearing pajama pants under his customary cargo shorts and chef jacket.

 

I’m really into food. Most especially, food that is both delicious and healthy. I derive great joy from preparing a meal for friends, knowing it is healthier and (quite possibly) more delicious than anything we’d find at a restaurant.

I make my living in food, but it is not the same food that I want to be making in my home kitchens. My restaurants are in seasonal theme parks, and while I wish it were different, the majority of visitors to outdoor events and amusement parks want to buy the food that they associate with these events. I slip healthier items in here and there, but the truth of the matter is that I pay my mortgages with French Fries, Funnel Cakes, and Scotch Eggs.

Steak-cut sweet potato fries

There are some regional differences in festival foods. We spend summers in New York, and are involved in a couple of well-juried food courts at The Clearwater Festival and The Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. The food courts at these shows are curated to give the best possible mix, while eliminating product overlap. Consequently, there are some very creative menus to be found. We spend our fall season at the largest Renaissance Festival in America, the Texas Renaissance Festival. We have 4 shops there. Mine is the bakery and breakfast shop, and my husband has 3 fruit and chocolate shops. TRF is another venue that is rich with food selections. I’m pretty sure there are over 600 different food items to be enjoyed there, and that doesn’t take into account the ever-changing bakery case selections at my shop.

While my own food preferences do not supply me with inspiration for the next great festival food, they do inspire me to sneak healthier items in where I can. During festivals, the crews work long hours in less-than-ideal climates. Healthy food has a solid smaller audience amongst festival workers. I also garner personal satisfaction from the idea that I am caring for my community members by providing these options.

My kitchen crew at the bakery is made up of about 20 souls, most of whom travel as I do. Some of us have dietary restrictions, some of us do not, but we are definitely not automatically tuned to the desires of the local palate. In fact, often sometimes we can be a little too “Dean and Deluca” for the Houston festival audience.  Take the Cinnamon Roll Situation this past fall. I knew I wanted to serve a hand-rolled cinnamon roll. I thought my audience would rather have something we made from scratch than something made in a factory and frozen/warmed/served. Wrong! Folks wanted something they recognized, and these folks were not happy when they had to choose from 25 other fresh baked items on days we didn’t have the cinnamon rolls. It took almost half of the show for us to figure out how to make enough money on cinnamon rolls to have them be an everyday item instead of a special. (Hint: size matters)

It’s not always easy to get into the minds of the audience; especially when the thing that they want is so drastically different from the things that I want. But it is a creative challenge … and I do love a creative challenge. One that pays the bills ?… even better.

 

The Cinnamon Roll Situation

RhonniRocks —  January 7, 2013 — 3 Comments

This past fall, at my biggest show, I made a menu mistake. We were able to salvage it and turn it into a giant win, but not before customer feedback stirred us to action.

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Making the market

RhonniRocks —  January 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

As an outsider businessperson, I’ve learned that creating a business outside normal parameters requires the constant thought “there might be a good idea here”. Do not expect there to be a trade show tailored to your new genre, just because you are making a living at it. Go to every event that seems to have the slightest relation to your business. Go to any trade show that might have one booth of interest to you. There are vast opportunities in between the norms.

Mexican metal sculptures, made from oil barrels and car parts. Canton, TX.

This weekend we are visiting the First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas. We have friends that vend there, and while December is a slow month, the venue can easily get over 100,000 people per day in busy months. The event is loosely themed toward Texas antiques and reproductions, but Commerce actually drives the market. The place is a mix of folks who have the best price, and wholesale to the other vendors who have fancier presentations. It’s rather a microcosm of the antique and fine junk industry. The large numbers of visitors, both shop owners and homeowners, allow a quick reality check as to whether or not an idea will sell.

However, there are work-arounds. Let’s say you locate a great source for antique doors; a great enough source that allows you to wholesale them. The masses of people coming to the event already have a basic shopping list in their minds, and there may not be room in the truck for the new find you’ve brought to the market.

 

 

Smart vendors are networkers. The door source goes to his friend who builds reproduction furniture and gives him a deal on doors. Antique doors start showing up as headboards, hall trees and sofa tables. Interior Designers and Pinterest users carry the idea further, and now there is a solid business wholesaling antique doors. That smart door wholesaler might also sell reproduction cast iron coat hooks and hand forged nails for the reproduction furniture builders.

 

 

 

The Husband and I are not in the furniture, interior design, or antique business. However we do like to talk shop with other vendors who, like us, function best with a series of deadlines and concrete up / downtimes. We might find a new scheduling tool that makes the lifestyle easier. We may find a new food idea to steal from one of the many food vendors that are scattered amongst the 7000 vendors in town for the weekend. Or, we may just buy some antique doors for a project at our house.

 

Addendum: no antique doors on this trip, but I *did* get this awesome @ symbol.

The mug is for scale …

Planting the seeds for future roundtables about the Pinball Metaphor for park design and guest movement management …

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There is some discussion in the industry about whether or not it is beneficial to have building inspectors involved when trying to mimic a 400 year old village. We are designing retail spaces that look like they belong in an English village in the 1600s. Levels and plumb-lines can make a structure look a bit “too crisp”.

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My friend Kenny Klein explains the Renaissance festival circuit from a working minstrel’s point of view: Here.