The Day The Sky Almost Fell
A building burns down. A crane might fall. The power goes out. Packages can’t get delivered. We get evacuated with minutes notice while mid-production. 200 pounds of cookie dough lies in wait to be finished and taken to a giant food festival the next day.
A few weeks ago, I attended a summit called FOOD FUNDED. One of the sessions was for entrepreneurs to share their mishaps — those times when shit literally hit the fan. The stories were unreal — turmeric kombucha explosions in a home kitchen, homemade hot sauce filling a warehouse floor an inch thick. These stories were rough. I remember sitting back and thinking, “DAMN…I don’t have a story like this.”
It had all gone pretty well since starting DOUGHP. My first time using my commercial kitchen, Kitchener Oakland, I remember the owner looking at me like I was crazy — I was moving from only having ever made the recipe at home in a 5 quart mixer…to making an enormous batch in a 60 quart mixer. Those were big leaps. I flipped the mixer on, took a deep breath, and voila! Perfect cookie dough. She couldn’t believe it and said it usually takes 2–3 years for someone to jump a recipe up to that size batch.
So as I sat amidst all these other entrepreneurs, chuckling at their missteps, I couldn’t help but feel this ominous sense that a story like theirs was coming for me.
The story came last Saturday.
DOUGHP’s been picking up steam lately and my production schedule has tripled since I first started. (The people want their DOUGHP!) So I made arrangements to do another large prep day on Saturday, July 8th — one day before the Ice Cream Sunday Showdown — a food festival expecting 1–2k attendees! I ordered my heat-treated flour in advance and was all set to knock out a huge batch of cookie dough with 4 different flavors (including the inaugural round of our Cold Brew Is Bae!) almost 30% more than I usually do in a day at the kitchen.
Then the sky started to fall. On Friday, I caught wind of the Oakland fire and slowly but surely realized it was only 2 blocks from Kitchener. Insanely huge loss for the building owners who had spent millions erecting the apartment building that now sat smoldering — but also so upsetting to the hundreds of people displaced in the immediate area, unable to return to their homes. Luckily, no one was injured, and I figured by the time I got to the kitchen the next day it would be nothing more than some rubble and caution tape surrounding the former construction site.
Turned out the Kitchener was behind that caution tape, too. I manage to make it to the kitchen, carting my wagon of ingredients under the yellow tape and past a cop who looked pretty confused as to what I was doing but let me go on nonetheless. I found out the 100 pounds of heat-treated flour that I order had not been delivered as expected due to the emergency situation and UPS said there would be NO way to get the package until Monday. The kitchen owner, Sophia, came to my rescue and had begun heat-treating 100 pounds of flour herself to give me a head start on the production day.
The next blow was the power. PG&E turned off the power in the area to avoid risk of the construction crane (slightly singed from the fire and ominously swaying in the wind) falling and striking a power line. Sophia’s magic came on again and she managed to get a generator for the kitchen — you can imagine the financial nightmare if all the food in our walk in fridge and freezer was lost. Yay for power…but not enough power.
Homemade cookie dough needs a mixer. A shit ton (scientific term) of cookie dough needs a big ass mixer. The ‘big ass mixer’ in discussion requires a lot of power to get moving and it was too risky to try it on the generator — blow that and we lose all hope of power to anything! So we downgraded and managed to scale my recipe to do three simultaneous 5-quart mixers (like you have at home) + one 20-quart mixer.
After a few adjustments, we had a recipe down and were cranking away rounds of the dough. I was feeling like we were really in the groove; my boyfriend sifting the 100 pounds of flour, my employee Raymond working the three baby mixers at hyperspeed, and me working through the Cold Brew is Bae recipe in the 20-quart….Then came another blow and another, much larger, piece of the sky fell.
Sophia had run out to get gas for the generator and I let my boyfriend go home and get some rest — Raymond and I had it under control! Then the cops came into the Kitchener and tell me some of the most ridiculous news of all time…”You have 2 minutes to evacuate, we’re going to be removing the crane and we have to clear out this area while they remove it.” WHAT?! Leave…mid-production…just walk away? I was so bummed because we were just getting things going and now we’ll have to leave for what, 30 minutes? No. The cops estimate, “Could be anywhere from 5–8 hours.”
In absolute shock, Raymond and I pack up what we can, throw everything in the fridge and leave the Kitchener after ~4 hours of production with another 3 or so of work remaining…The rest of the day was a mix of insanity that can only be described as comical in hindsight. We sat on the curb in Downtown Oakland for another 5.5 hours until we were let back in. There was an electrical fire in Sophia’s car when we were going to throw in the towel and head out for a bit. Raymond got roped into walking a lost older woman home for an hour-long escapade. Sophia and I got harassed by an insane man on the street who started yelling nonsense at us, saying we look like we’re 10 years old and that I have bad acne (it’s not even that bad — sheesh!) Ha. At the end of it all, we couldn’t help but laugh.
When shit hits the fan, all of the shit has to hit the fan at the same exact time. I was so grateful to have Sophia’s help through it all and we joked that it was actually forcing us to have some downtime in our wildly busy lives while we waiting to return to the kitchen. I got through all of the dough production and made it home just past midnight. At the food festival the next day, DOUGHP was a huge hit and we made lots and lots of happy customers with our cookie dough — even if I nearly died making it!
After a few minor breakdowns, I came to realize you can only control so much and at some point you have to let go of expectations and just roll with what you’ve got. MOST importantly, everyone is safe. Yes, I was inconvenienced but we’re lucky no one was seriously injured from this fire. I love cookie dough, but it does come second to human life. So, while this may be my first “Holy shit. Will I make it through this?” story, it sure as hell won’t be the last! Stay tuned… :)