So You Want To Start A Funnel Cake Stand...
Everyone knows the familiar smell of a funnel cake drifting on the air of a crisp fall evening while Tilt-A-Whirls and Ferris wheels spin for the joy of old and young alike. But the allure of this deep fried treat doesn’t have to stop when the neon dims.
No longer are funnel cakes pigeon-holed strictly into the "fair food" category. Today, customers will search high and low for a great funnel cake at virtually any entertainment or sports venue. If there’s a function happening outside, you can expect to generate substantial funnel cake business.
With very little relatively inexpensive equipment, introducing a funnel cake stand is as easy as enjoying one of the fried dough treats. You may prefer the mobility a trailer or food truck can provide, or you may want to rent space at your local flea market or an existing concession stand.
One may have fewer start-up costs, while another may grant more foot traffic. Once you’ve secured the structure that will house your funnel cake stand, you can begin equipping it. The basic package you'll need will consist of a funnel cake fryer, cake molds, funnels, a few utensils, and some mix for a few batches to get your started. Your funnel cake business can be as simple as that, but there are some other options you can choose if you’re going all out.
If you’re looking for a stand-alone funnel cake business, the start-up funds needed are minimal, and the profitability of a funnel cake business can happen quickly. When considering food cost alone, you can expect returns in the 70-80 percent range.
Funnel Cake Equipment
If you’re simply looking to supplement your menu by adding the occasional funnel cake, a simple and cost-effective solution would be to purchase a small, countertop fryer. There are also high-output, gas or electric fryers that can cook 6-8 cakes at a time with quick recovery times to help you eliminate long lines and increase profit potential.
Flat bottom fryers are best for funnel cakes because they have wide, flat bottoms that are heated from below and allow plenty of space for your cakes to float on top of the oil. They also typically don't have heating elements in the oil, which means the plentiful loose batter pieces produced in cooking funnel cakes won't get stuck around one and burn.
There are units available that run on electricity and those that run on gas. LP tanks will probably be your best option as those can go anywhere, but with the increasing popularity of natural gas, you may find places that offer those hookups.
Cooking Details and Tips
One of the most important aspects to serving excellent funnel cakes is the quality of your oil. While peanut oil will turn out a delicious product, so many people are allergic to peanuts and peanut products that you may want to choose another option. Peanut oil tends to be very expensive as well.
Safflower, sunflower, soybean, and canola are also good options thanks to their abilities to handle high heat without smoking and the fact they won’t impart their own flavor on your cakes. General vegetable oil tends to be the least expensive and is a blend of corn, soybean, and sunflower oils.
Funnel cake batter can easily be made from scratch and requires only flour, eggs, sugar, milk, and baking powder or soda. There are even recipes that simply call for pancake mix that mixes with water. To take the guess work out completely, there are several commercial mixes available as well and this may be the best option if you'll have several cooks in the kitchen.
There's a fine line between a delicious, golden, crispy treat and a gloppy mess. That line lies in the technique used to make and pour the batter.
A simple measuring cup will work, but a funnel will help to ensure the right speed for the batter to work. You'll want to start with a batter that is about the same consistency as cake batter. If it's too thin, the batter won't hold together when it hits the hot oil and your cake won't have form. If the batter's too thick, it won't pour properly and you'll end up with an unevenly cooked cake.
The speed with which you pour the batter will also have an effect on the finished product, so take your time to create the classic favorite.
Serving and Options
If you’ll be offering toppings for your cakes, you may need topping dispensers and some way to keep fruit and whipped cream cold or ice cream frozen. You may opt for a reach-in refrigerator or freezer, or you may want a dispenser that keeps whipped cream cold as it's pumped. You may also want to serve hot fudge or caramel sauce, and there are dispensers that will keep those warm as well.
No matter how creative you get with your toppings, you'll need to have a sifter to present the classic cake with a topping of powdered sugar. The typical service for a funnel cake is a paper or Styrofoam plate, but new variations use finger-shaped molds to create smaller versions that are easier to eat and serve up in cones or disposable food trays.
You’ll want to complete your start-up inventory with consumables like batter mix and toppings, such as strawberry and chocolate sauces.
Funnel cake fryers have no distinct sediment zone, so it will be important to clean your fryer regularly to keep sediment from scorching and affecting flavor. This is also important in making sure that your oil is clean and fresh, and can extend the life of your oil, the most expensive part of owning a fryer, significantly. Oil that has begun to break down will result in an undercooked, greasy mess that will have the taste of the turning oil. That will definitely hinder return business.
To prevent that, you'll need to drain the oil, remove the fry baskets, and remove residue build-up on a regular basis. Once a week, you should scrub the machine using dishwashing detergent and warm water. Rinse well, and you'll be ready to fry another week.
Fryer cleaning tools and an oil quality test kit will help you ensure your oil is at the proper consistency to produce this fresh, scrumptious fan favorite all year long.
The Details of Running a Business
If you're taking your business mobile, you'll want to make sure to check with those in charge of the even you hope to set up at well in advance. Often, space is limited, and you'll want to make sure there's space for your cart or truck. Some long-standing fairs and events even have waitlists for vendors, so you'll want to do your homework to there will be a place for you.
Supplement Your Cakes
A virtually fool-proof way to generate additional profits and keep your customers happy is to add beverages to your funnel cake business. As with any starchy food, a drink is a critical follow-up. You can easily add canned or bottled soft drinks or water just by getting some coolers. You can also opt for fountain drinks with drink dispensers and portable ice makers.
Another addition you can make without purchasing too much equipment is corn dogs. They can fry in one side of your fryer while the cakes fry in the other. Add a few packets of mustard and some serving sleeves, and you've got yourself another easy source of income. French fries or fried pies are other options to make your funnel cake stand even more profitable.
Licenses and Permits
Before you can begin serving up your classic treat, you will need to ensure that you have the proper licenses and permits. These vary from state to state and municipality to municipality. A number of fees may be associated with temporary vending and, in most cases, you’ll need a license to peddle food at fairs, festivals, or events. Typically, you’ll also need a health inspection, the thoroughness of which will vary depending on location. You’ll also need to keep track of your sales so you can pay local, state, and federal taxes on any revenue you generate.
As with any business, good help can be hard to come by. You’ll need to make sure you hire dependable people who will help take care of your equipment and your customers. You’ll need insurance that covers them and you in the event of an accident.
If you plan to give high school kids a chance to earn some spending money, you will also need to check the laws in your state regarding hiring minors. In some states, child labor laws put tight restrictions on the number of hours and the time frames teens can work, and concession workers are sometimes not excluded from these situations.