Five Reasons to Hyperfocus Your Food Business

As pretentious as it may sound, the seeds for my business, Dale’s Fried Pies, were planted on a trip to Spain with my husband in 2012. Our hostel was a few blocks away from San Ginés, a little spot in Madrid famous for its churros and hot chocolate. As we happily soaked up up our sangria with fried dough and melted chocolate, I thought about what made San Ginés so special and appealing. I realized that it was one of those places that doesn’t offer much in the way of variety, but instead chooses to do one thing, and to do it very well. That idea lodged itself in my mind and traveled back with me to the States.

One day not long after we returned, I was rolling out pie dough in my kitchen when it hit me: fried pies! I love making pies. I love that fried pies are unique to this region that I’ve chosen as my home. I love that I could put virtually anything inside a pie, allowing for endless variations on the fried pie theme. I was sold.

fried-pie-round-metal-dish

Fried pies: one idea, endless possibilities. Photos by Shaun Poynter

I started experimenting with very traditional (apple, peach, cherry) and very non-traditional (mac and cheese, curried sweet potato, chili mango, and cardamom cream cheese) flavors, and after testing countless pies out on family and friends, I felt pretty confident I had something special.

I’d thought of entering the food industry for a long time, but narrowing my focus and allowing myself to perfect one type of product instead of trying to master an entire menu of main courses, sides, and desserts, made the prospect of starting a food business much more manageable. It allowed me to pour my time and passion into one thing, and to make sure that thing—the illustrious fried pies—was the best thing I could offer to customers.

Opening a food stand or truck that offers everything from appetizers to desserts isn’t a bad idea, mind you. Customers like options and variety. Still, focusing on one food item has served me in four key ways I didn’t anticipate when I started, and one that just came to me as I was writing.

1. It makes your business easy to understand.

Often, when I try to describe my favorite food trucks, I’m at a loss for what to say. I find myself mumbling things like, “Um, it’s really good food. They use local stuff. It’s American, but really good.” This could well be my lack of eloquence, but when businesses are clear about the “thing” that they do, they are easier to describe. And as the owner of any restaurant or food truck knows, word of mouth is your very best way of attracting new customers. Some of my most devout clients first came to me saying, “My friend says you have the best fried pies!”

2. It makes your production process easier to streamline.

If you’re like me and love food but don’t have a long history working in the food industry, managing a full menu might be overwhelming. There are people who thrive in the chaotic environment of a full-service kitchen, prepping salads while making sure your salmon isn’t overcooking, whipping mousse with one hand and ladling soup with the other. That’s not me. I’ve always known that while I don’t shy away from hard work, multitasking under pressure isn’t necessarily my skill. Focusing on one menu item means my brain isn’t in a million places when I’m serving at a market or catering event. It also means that over time, I’ve been able to perfect my dough-rolling and filling-making skills in the kitchen. I’ve been able to streamline my kitchen time to one day per week in the kitchen rolling dough, one day making fillings, and one day stuffing the pies. Regardless of what kind of pies I’m making, this generally stays the same. I’m able to stay inventive with different pie flavor offerings, but I’m not constantly changing my routine.

3. It simplifies catering.

Just yesterday I was talking with some friends who own a full-service food truck, and they told me that they spend a ton of time during their busy season preparing quotes for catering clients. Because of the variety of foods they serve, it’s been impossible for them to create a template flexible enough to allow them to create customized quotes without reinventing the wheel each time. Focusing on one item means I can send my event brochure to clients and they can easily see what it will cost to bring me to an event. When they request a custom quote, I can just plug in a few simple numbers and send that along.

4. It’s good for publicity.

Customers like being able to describe you in one sentence. Magazines, blogs and newspapers do, too. Since opening in 2012, I’ve been featured in local publications, as well as regional and national ones like Garden and Gun, Taste of the South, and Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy. While I’d like to think this is entirely due to the quality of my product and packaging, I truly believe that it’s also because media outlets like stories that are easy to tell and easy to understand.

5. “Do It Well” helps even if you do more than one thing

Does it seem like I’m making the case that every food business should just make one product? I promise you that I’m not. Zeroing in on fried pies has helped both my business and my sanity. But even if your business serves a wider variety of foods, the principle of focusing on what you do well can be useful.

People like being able to understand and describe what they’re eating. Media outlets like an easy angle for their stories. And you, as a business owner, will benefit from having a clearer idea of what your business offers. It doesn’t matter if you serve everything from soup to nuts or produce artisanal after-dinner mints. Knowing how your business differs from everyone else’s and being able to articulate that in a clear and concise way will serve you well.

Dale Mackey
Dale Mackey Dale Mackey is a Chicago native who moved to Knoxville in 2007 and has no plans of leaving. She spends most of her time making and selling fried pies, but when she finds a free moment, she enjoys writing, eating, playing with her cats, playing with her husband, and going on adventures. She's named after cowgirl Dale Evans, and hopes she does her namesake justice. Connect with Dale Mackey on Google+