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Ready Meals for Home Business

  • There is no single recipe for success – doing things differently in your business model or actually can help you stand out from the competition
  • While the food industry is known for its strict culture in the workplace, as a business owner, you have the power to stop the cycle
  • Consider Vanarin’s idea to advance his team: Instead of popups, display “popups” that showcase the organizations and other passions of your employees.

Pastry chef Fanarin Koch grew up surrounded by a small business that covered multiple purposes—starting with his grandmother’s washing machine in Houston. Southern term used mostly in Texas, wash It is believed to be a fusion of “laundry” and “cafeteria”: a place where you can eat between wash cycles.

The term was on Fanarin’s mind when he opened his own business, a cross between a coffee shop and a restaurant, in East Downtown Houston. Combine coffee and cafeteria, and what do you get? Koffeteria, a café with fine dining standards in a space that feels like your grandmother’s living room. (Coffee mugs are stored in a chest of drawers, and dry goods are registered at Vanarin warehouses from a property sale.)

Koffeteria, with the same name, combines different flavors, textures and concepts with ease. The menu blends the flavors of Fanarin’s childhood — spent in his family’s seafood and donut shops — and his training as a chef at high-end restaurants in New York City and Chicago.

For example, take Tom Yum Yum Chicken Roll, a chicken salad flavored with Tom Yum soup; The classic Kouign-Amann, which gets an update with pandan sugar, made from a plant in Southeast Asia; and the café’s infamous Hot Cheeto Croissant, which Vanarin launched as a marketing ploy and in honor of Houston’s favorite snack. “He’s by no means our best seller, but we knew that’s how people associate Koffeteria with unique pastries,” he said. “It’s a strange idea that is also very Houston.”

Yelp spoke with Vanarin about his journey from gymnastics instructor to pastry chef, the philosophy behind Koffeteria’s creative and relaxed atmosphere, and how his work empowers his employees to pursue their own interests.

Growing up, what sparked your interest in food?

My parents are Cambodian immigrants, they came here as refugees during the war. They lived in concentration camps all over Cambodia. I think my mom was in those camps for eight years, working mainly in the rice fields.

Being Cambodians, the Vietnamese nail salon equivalent was a donut shop. We used to have a lot of donut shops – I think we still have one or two donut shops in my family. I always tell people, if you see Sprinkles or Daylight Donuts, they are 110% owned by a Cambodian person. This is like our go-to donut franchise brand. (Note: According to Washington PostOver 90% of Houston’s donut shops are owned and operated by Cambodians.)

It’s all-American, “This is how you’re going to work,” which is kind of amazing because it has helped so many of my family now go to the things they wanted to do later in life. It’s one of the reasons I stayed away from pastries, to be perfectly honest, because I was afraid I’d become a glorified donut maker. [At the same time,] People have been telling me you can’t escape your name – Koch is actually a German nickname for a pastry chef.

How did you start working in the restaurant and pastry business?

I was actually coaching gymnastics for 12 years before I changed my career. I was trying to apply as a prep chef for Lupe Tortilla and Chili’s, and I couldn’t put my foot in the door. [Culinary school] It was my way in. I had actually been working in kitchens before then, and then during school I was working full time as well.

It was really a tough time in my life. I was homeless for about two years. I was kind of angry at the world – angry at all the circumstances that were happening to me – and I was really surprised that I finished school at all. But I think what really intrigued me was just working in the field and working for better chefs.

[While working as an assistant pastry chef at Hotel ZaZa, I would ask the] Pastry Chef: “What are you doing? How are you doing that? Why are you doing this?” Then she said, “Come here, shut up and watch.” And so I did it – I just jumped.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from that time?

It is not about success or failure. It is about the process. It was always about the process for me. This is why a lot of our croissants have number one, number two, number three because I keep adjusting it myself.

[As pastry chef at Tiny Boxwoods,] I had five to six items on the menu. I would change it, literally, every day for a year and a half. I hand-wrapped about 500 croissants each week in front of the wood-burning oven. I was 25, so I was hungry to learn. I was hungry for the experience.

I think that was one of the driving forces that pushed me to move to NYC after doing so top chefJust seeing the flicker of other possibilities of this world and what could open up. It helped me, especially being associated with star chefs and having that connection, take a more comfortable step to the next level where I needed to go in my career, which is New York City.

What prompted you to open Koffeteria upon your return to Houston?

When I first left Houston [12 years ago]I had no idea who to be a chef, as a person, as a brand. [So opening Koffeteria in Houston,] It was like relive that moment, and take it back, and say, ‘Look, I’m ready now. I left and learned all these things from all these wonderful people. Now I’m ready to do what [my city has] You’ve been waiting for me to do that for 12 years.”

when we did it, [we received] Tremendous support. We did not sell or sell anything. The beginnings were the most humble. We were, literally, getting paid $200 a day in that coffee shop for several months…the first year and a half, we ran Koffeteria, it was just me, [my husband] Andreas and Simon, [my sous chef]. There were only three employees doing everything—trying to stay creative and keep it alive. It wasn’t easy, but it was very fun. Now we have over 22 employees, which is ridiculous.

How did you turn Koffeteria from those humble beginnings into a successful business today?

Koffeteria is like a fantasy. It has changed and evolved from a bakery and coffee shop to a coffee shop now. We are a coffee shop all day. We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’re about to serve wine and beer too. Yesterday, we worked on a new beer drink for the beer and wine list while we were eating Thai food. We took some papaya salad liquid and put it in some beer with some chili oil. It tastes like a Thai michelada. This is how our brains work. All of our new items started with just a conversation: “What do you think? Do you think this tastes good?” Obviously, the answer is, “Only one way to find out.”

Everything is seasonal and local. [Our pastries are] Now in about 22 other coffee shops around Houston. It has been done so well that we have branched out into our second business, CR, which supplies all of our wholesale customers.

Koffeteria is also known for its home decor. What goes into creating this atmosphere?

I often feel, when I walk into a coffee shop, that it’s too sterile or a cookie cutter – or vice versa. It doesn’t take anything to the next level. Everyone tends to find one recipe and think that this is the way to success.

I decided to supply Koffeteria with a mid-century collection of things I had found from estate sales, resale shops, and charitable guilds. First, I just really like beauty. I really got into the middle of the century a lot when I was living in New York City.

[But I also love] Bring nostalgia to [the cafe] Because I think it adds a whole other layer to your branding. Just the idea of ​​finding paintings of other people with stories with, or furniture of other people with stories in, or seeing a guest come in like, “Oh my God, my grandmother used to have those glasses” or “My grandmother used to have those glasses.” We get that all the time.

Even when it comes to just our pastries – at the end of the day, when we’re not selling pastries, we collect them and donate them for second servings. So even our pastries get a second life. It is the idea that nothing has a single purpose in life. Everything has multiple purposes. It should fit into that groove, at that moment.

We do little things on our part to stand out on our own platform. We’ve supported quite a few charities like Jane’s Due Process, which helps women in Texas, specifically, find abortion clinics if they need one.

I lived in Texas when I was not allowed to get married. I totally understand the feeling of being a second-class citizen and being denied a right that anyone else around you could do. It doesn’t make you feel legal. It doesn’t make you feel at home, even though it’s your hometown. So I’m very determined to advocate for things like that.

We also help our employees. We do this thing called pop-ins. Like popups—where other companies come in and take over your space and sell food—the spotlight on the employees who make Koffeteria, Koffeteria. My Chef, Simon, also bakes cakes on the side. She’s taken over the pastry box multiple times, and 100% of all of that proceeds go to her. You get to experiment and see if their business model is working or not. It’s great to be able to give our employees this kind of platform to convey their brand.

I’ve also started this mentorship program with a local community college, where if my chefs want to go back to school, there’s a scholarship set up for them to pay for the school. It’s really cool to have a workplace where I can now help people [get] grades. It’s about guidance because I never understood it. I had no one looking for me at all – I went through a rough kitchen phase.

Otherwise, how do you empower your employees in the workplace?

My greatest strength is seeing people for their potential. This is something I’ve always wanted when I was cooking [in fine-dining restaurants]: To have a chef who says, “You’re really cool, but I want you to work on this stuff.” I’ve been through all those horrible old school style kitchens – hot pots thrown in my face, such nonsense – to know how to treat someone better. you pass [abuse in the food industry]And if you’re a stronger person, you know you can stop the cycle.

I wanted to open Koffeteria so it would be a different work environment. You are praised. You have steps and programs to make things happen. Izzy started out as a level one pastry chef, never working in a pastry kitchen before, and moved in three months and six months. Now, she’s managing this entire commissioner herself. It adds to another layer of what Koffeteria has to offer, not just for me, but for the community as well.

What is the future of cafeteria?

In the end, to enrich the space. I don’t know how long we will be in Houston. I don’t see myself staying here for the rest of my life. But while I’m here, I definitely want to leave this space and the scenery better than it was. And I think that’s the ultimate goal for Cafeteria because Houston needs it. The food scene has just jumped astronomically, even on the national stage. Texas has its own category at the James Beard Awards. It’s that dangerous now for the culinary scene. But with the pastry scene, it’s just in the back. They just need a better perspective.

We have introduced a lot of Cambodian ingredients as well. It’s already over with a Cambodian dinner [April 16]. My mom and aunt cook. April 15th and 16th was Cambodian New Year, and so we kind of turned around and relaunch our delicious menu. It was great to see people eating purely authentic food made by my mom or aunt.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity; Koffeteria photos on Yelp

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