An eventful few weeks have now passed since my last update, which to be honest was a bit of a downer in proceedings. The Falter article (see below) brought more business and offers of help than I would ever have thought, which saw me running and zigzagging across the city delivering to new customers doors (which for the record left me completely shattered, so perhaps will have to think up a new strategy for a collection/delivery situation on that one), as well as restaurants asking to place orders immediately and to start doing Britwurst themed nights. I was also extremely grateful of a few emails offering assistance and help in every shape and form. Business consultancy, production assistance, and legal advice all came my way and all for the price of a bag of sausages (my kind of currency!).
The Facebook page has also had a lot of exposure and the likes, comments, and messages are on the up and increase as well. I can quite happily make a 10kg batch and have them all ready to be sent out a couple of hours later. I feel this is the kind of size I can work with in the kitchen at the moment and it feels more comfortable to work with as well. Unfortunately I have had to let people down as I have literally run out, and this almost breaks my heart to do so as I would love to be able to cater for everyones needs and keep everyone in supply. But alas, time and space take precedence over this, and for people who are not fortunate enough to sample some, go to top of the list to the next batch. After 2 weeks of constant producing, i’ve decided to take a break for a couple of weeks and concentrate on the business side of things and get those up to speed and scratch instead. The last thing I want is for people to get bored of continuously eating sausages and then when I do eventually open have no business as they have had enough of my freebies!
Another positive I can take at the moment is that I have changed my meat supplier. I (embarrassingly) was purchasing supermarket meat before from Merkur, generally because of its cost and location. I was then recommended to use a butcher on the outskirts of Vienna who is one of the last proper butchers in the city. When I say proper I mean that they are preparing the carcasses on site directly from the abattoir, instead of many of the butchers who are just preparing the cuts of meat which have come in ‘pre packed’ from the abattoirs. The difference and quality in the meat was something I had never expected. The sausages keep their colour for 5 or 6 days, instead of the supermarket bought meat which started to lose colour as early as the 2nd day. For meat which is only minced and seasoned the taste is also now of a higher quality. The fat content has dramatically reduced as well, with the supermarket meat sausages generally leaving a small pool of fat in the bottom of the frying pan after cooking, and is now next to nothing.
The most positive thing I have got to update is the meeting this morning with the Master Butcher of Vienna. I arrived in the 20th district to his butchery and was also surprised (and even more pleased) to see that the Lebensmittelgewerbe Minister was in attendance for the meeting as well. I had organised an official interpreter for the meeting too, just to be on the safe side, and who was also present. I’m glad he was there, as eventhough my Deutsch is good, I would of really struggled with todays meeting without the aid of Dr. Lacom. I understood the basics of what they were saying, but there was no way that I would’ve been able to respond to their questions without an aid. Dr Lacom is a retired lawyer as well, so this came in handy too for when I had some legal questions.
Someone last week suggested that I took some cooked samples with me, as well as some fresh samples too so I awoke earlier to prepare these, ummed and arrrred as to whether to wear a tie or not (I went without and wore my barbour jacket instead – make of that what you will) and instantly regretted leaving the tie off when I saw the minister was wearing one. Still, we’re in Austria right – where every single casual businessman walks around dressed like Jeremy Clarkson so I thought I would follow suit.
After introductions we went down into a makeshift office in the cellar of the butchery and admittedly I was fairly nervous of what we were going to discuss. To be honest I had no idea what was going to be talked about. I had a small agenda in my head of what I wanted to ask, mainly about the possibility of me working under a butchers license at the beginning to get me up and running. This would mean a limited partnership with another butcher who would be a silent partner, whilst I would be producing Britwurst under his name. A situation I was not very happy with as I want everything to be 100% my own, whether it be business wise, company wise, and even more important, profit wise as well. This has been my 3 year struggle and i’ve gone this far, I want my name above the door, not someone else’s!
Mr. Fellner, the Master Butcher, started asking me various questions about the sausages, the ingredients, the amount of water used, what is used to bind the sausages and how much, just so he and Dr. Schebesta could get an idea of what the actual sausage and try and compare it to an Austrian/German sausage. It turns out that there is a codex for sausages in which they are registered and have to be made by that registered protocol. It turns out that they couldn’t find one for a British style sausage which isn’t a problem, but I will have to advise on all packaging that they are not made to a specific codex rule. This won’t cause any difficulties at the beginning due to my size of distribution, but could perhaps cause some issues later on if I ever want to expand. There are ways around it though, but this is a bridge which needs to be crossed when the time is right.
All answers to Mr. Fellners questions proved to be correct and he seemed satisfied with what I was telling him. Dr. Schebesta and Mr. Fellner then explained that they would then write a recommendation for me which I could then use again for re-application for the “Feststellung der individuellen Befähigung” für “Fleischer (Handwerk), eingeschränkt auf die Erzeugung von britischer Wurst” (although I was told this time to use the term “Britwurst” instead of “britischer Wurst”). For those who haven’t read below, this basically translates to “an individual qualification for butchery, but limited to the production of British style sausage”. When I applied for it before it was refused (see also below) on more than just factor, not only that they thought I didn’t have enough production experience but also that I didn’t have enough management experience either. I emphasised this with Mr. Fellner and Dr. Schebesta but both said that I had proved my experience by answering the questions correctly and also that they would mention in the recommendation that they both thought that I had enough management/business experience too. I failed to touch on this when I posted about the decline sent through from the MA63, but as just mentioned, another reason for them turning me down is that they thought I didn’t have enough business experience. How this can effect the taste and quality of my produce I am unaware of, but rules are rules. Theres always the argument of “how can I gain experience if i’m a start up business”, but won’t push this one as really don’t want to tread on anyones toes.
The most positive sentence my interpreter translated for me was “Mr Fellner and Dr. Schebesta have never been challenged by the MA63 once they have made a recommendation”. Now not one to get overly excited about things or put all my hopes on something, but I took this as the green light and that the MA63 can say nothing but yes. I will hopefully receive the recommendation within a week and then I will immediately apply for the qualification license again. There is still a part of me which has doubt and I can see someone not liking the idea, but i’ve been let down so many times before that I am expecting it. The most important thing for me is that I have the backing of Mr. Fellner and Dr. Schebesta.
It was also introduced to me that I need to get my sausages analysed by a company called AGES (Österreichische Agentur für Geshundheit und Ernährungssicherheit / Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety) to determine their shelf life. It was mentioned that minced meat produce has to be sold within 24 hours of production, but my argument was that sausages have salt in them which acts as a preservative and generally can last 7 days if kept at the right temperature. There are however exemptions, and AGES will be able to provide me the official shelf life, along with other information and data.
After a couple of other formalities and questions we all left with firm handshakes and polite smiles and I went off skipping down the street with positive news in the air (I didn’t really, I phoned my Mum). It’s now time to play the waiting game on the recommendation, and then a second waiting game with the application to the MA63. But it’s something I have done before, and something I can definitely do again. The most positive point I can take from this meeting was that they are happy with what I am doing, and that they are backing the project. I can not see any negatives from this at the moment (i’m clearly waiting for something to go wrong, but perhaps it is my time for it all to go swimmingly well), but we will see.
Before I forget, I must say a big thank you to you all who have helped, advised, tasted, promoted etc. so far. If I was to name names I would only forget someone, so it’s best that I don’t. You know who you are, so thank you.
I guess it’s now time to dust down the business plan again and get that up to scratch! A break in production means that instead of finding me up to my arms in meat, you’ll probably find me up to my arms in cleaning equipment whilst I clean everything in sight just to avoid even opening the first page, which incidentally says on the front cover “prepared July 2012″. Yep it really has been that long.
Once again, thanks for your support, the fact the website crashed a couple of times due to bandwidth issues is a definite compliment! Hopefully these issues have been resolved now and will not cause any further problems.