Business: Passion to Portfolio

Raw or gourmet, how to take a bite out of the food business

Daisy Carrington and Milena Veselinovic, for CNNUpdated 10th September 2015
(CNN) — Sometimes it seems trends in food change faster than fashion.
Restaurateurs constantly innovate to grab the attention of consumers who are now more sophisticated and knowledgeable about food than ever before. In a saturated market where businesses can thrive or fail in the blink of an eye, making a success out of food is tough. But if you do it right, the rewards can be rich.

Jump on the trend

It goes without saying that any restaurateur worth their salt serves food that is fresh, but the current culinary fashionable movement goes a step further -- serving their fare raw. It follows the philosophy that if you eat most of your food uncooked, you get the maximum benefit out of each nutrient.
A sleuth of cookbooks and raw food eateries have popped up in recent years, among them London's Wild Food Café, which includes foraged food in all their recipes.
"The truth is the most delicious food in the world is also the most nutritious food in the world they don't have to be mutually exclusive," says Joel Gazdar, owner of Wild Food Café. "Food that's grown in paradise tastes like it's from paradise and we want people to have the most orgasmic experience when they're eating."
Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the United States' National Restaurant Association agrees that at a time when consumers have more choice than ever, the funkier your cooking is the better resonance it will have. But he also warns: "Your cuisine needs to really innovate and have a different take -- that's what works."

Make a plan

Whether you're dishing out fresh produce in a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, or flipping burgers in gourmet food truck, an exhaustive business plan is a must.
"For a restaurant operator to ensure long-term success, it's very important for them to have clearly thought-out their concept, and, more importantly, who the target demographic is for that concept," says Riehle.

Test your market

Even if you're debating opening up a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, food trucks can be the most efficient way to test what works.
"They've become a very important testing ground, not only for different products, but also for established brands to decide where to extend, by putting mobile food units into new locations," Riehle notes.
"They're also good for testing new products in new locations, and getting a read on if a 'limited-time offering' should become a permanent menu item."

Budget for failure

Restaurants are expensive to launch, and getting regular customers can take time. Operational costs, however, aren't going to wait for the uptick. Riehle advises budgeting in the first one to three years of operational costs, so that if anything goes wrong, you're not left struggling to get by.
Trucks are less expensive, but unlike with restaurants, it's tricky to secure funding.
"Cash in your 401Ks [retirement plan], beg families, save up. That's one big issue in the food truck industry, because we haven't seen a lot of financiers come in to say, 'we want to help you guys get started,'" says Matt Geller, CEO and co-founder of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association.
Geller says that it is also still vital to bank on slow times.
"If I was being careful, I'd say budget for $50,000, and that's with down payments, and giving yourself time to fail, time to launch your truck and have bad months," advises Geller.