What is your full name, title, and business name?
Jeremy Fox, Owner, Fox’s Food LLC
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Foxs Food LLC is the parent company that owns Short North Bagel Deli and Blocks Bagels Bexley. Short North Bagel Deli is a mobile food business selling steamed deli sandwiches on bagels from food carts, food trucks and concession stands inside Ohio Stadium, the Schottenstein Center and inside office buildings managed by Aramark. Blocks Bagels Bexley is the newest Blocks Bagels in Columbus and formed by entering into a licensing agreement with the Block Family.
How did the idea for your business come about?
It all started with a food cart in 2011. I went to Butler University in Indianapolis and there is a bagel deli there called Ripple Bagel Deli that was extremely popular in the area. After college, I moved back to Columbus and saw a lot of similarities between Broad Ripple (the part of Indy that the bagel deli was located in) and the Short North–the only thing that was missing was a bagel deli. The first plan was to open a brick and mortar bagel deli in the Short North called Short North Bagel Deli, but after drafting a business plan and meeting with some financial institutions and ECDI it was clear that a brick and mortar would be too risky considering I had no experience (was doing internet marketing at the time) and no money. So I decided to start with a food cart instead to mitigate risk, learn the industry, and build a following. I kept the name Short North Bagel Deli because the plan was to use the cart to start and open a brick and mortar in the Short North down the road (which was still the plan until the Blocks Bagels opportunity presented itself). The cart led to operations inside Aramark managed office buildings (Nationwide Insurance, Grange, IGS, etc), that led to concession stands inside the Schottenstein and the ‘Shoe, that led to a food truck and most recently the license agreement with Blocks Bagels to own and operate my own independent location.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
I think the real turning point was when I added the food truck to the mix; this meant I could double my bookings and events but also meant I had to hire employees–as many entrepreneurs will attest, as hard as we might try, it is impossible to be in two places at once. We added the truck to meet demand, I was turning down gigs because I was booked solid with the food cart, growing demand meant I had a product people wanted and would have to expand to meet the demand.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
Sounds corny but to me it means everything. I don’t delineate between me and my business; I am my business and my business is me, its my identity. I tried working for someone else before going out on my own and realized quickly it wasn’t for me. Although I work harder than I’ve ever worked before, I truly feel like I haven’t worked a day since opening the cart in 2011. It just feels like I have a lot of stuff to do all the time but doesn’t feel like work.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus was integral in the success of the business. Since I started out in the mobile food industry which was just taking off in 2011, I relied heavily on the early adapters who flocked to mobile food and embraced it.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Picture the hardest you’ve ever worked before, then multiply that by 10. If you think you can handle that while making no money then you should be okay.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I wish I knew that my plan and vision would be constantly changing. It’s vital to have a business plan, but starting out I figured I’d just continue down the path I set out on in the beginning. It’s fun looking back on my original business plan to see what came true and where I deviated completely.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
If you ask anyone that owns a restaurant, they will all tell you the same thing: the biggest challenge is staffing. While I’ve been lucky and have been able to retain majority of my staff, it’s still a constant challenge and something that requires daily attention. In the beginning, it was only me and there was comfort in knowing that it was all up to me. However, with growth you have to delegate and learn to trust in your staff, which leads us to my greatest flaw.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I have a hard time delegating. It might be because in the beginning it was only me and I got used to that, or it might just be the way I am wired. But the hardest and most unnatural thing I’ve had to deal with is relying on other people to get work done.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
I think most business owners that fail have an idealized view of owning a business; they see success and accolades but don’t see the hard work involved. I think my sports background makes me different, I’ve played sports my whole life and soccer at the collegiate level. When things gets tough, I call upon my memories of conditioning and the long hours and work put in to succeeding in athletics–compared to that the physical work I used to do, business is easy!
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
Honestly, I feel like my biggest mistake was over-paying for my food cart when I first started. If I opened another food cart tomorrow, I would be able to do it for 75% less then I paid when I first opened. Now one of my mottos is you don’t know what you don’t know until you know you don’t know it. At the time I didn’t think I was over-paying, but in hindsight, it did cost me a considerable amount of money and made starting up that much more stressful.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
The backbone and foundation of any business is accounting and record keeping; I knew this from the beginning and have kept excellent records for any information I determined useful. I start every day with entering in data in to the spreadsheets I’ve built and they have become a tool we use to make decisions on a daily basis.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
Already touched on this above, but when I had just the cart and had to turn down gigs because I was already booked I knew I had to make my first hire.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
To me it was a no brainer, but the decision to use Blocks Bagels for Short North Bagel Deli set things in motion to get me to where I am at today. Aside from them just being the best bagels in Columbus, I also had a personal relationship with the Blocks and grew up with them.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on Catering for Blocks. I still think it’s a good idea, but finding it hard to increase our catering business. I created a LinkedIn campaign trying to connect with pharmaceutical sales reps who call on offices and bring them food in an attempt to have them use Blocks for their catering. Unfortunately, that campaign proved less then fruitful but I will continue to work on it.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Labor, other than product labor, makes up the biggest portion of our expenses. The restaurant industry is a very personal face-to-face interaction business, even if you have the best product in the world people won’t eat if you don’t have friendly people serving it.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Continued expansion of the Blocks brand. The plan is to open more Blocks Bagels locations around Columbus.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Word of mouth. I have been hesitant to spend money on traditional print or online advertising, I believe that word of mouth is the truest form of marketing there is. One, it’s free, which is great, but also is consistent with our core values, providing the best possible food while having the best possible customer service. If we do our job, our customers will tell their friends and network about our business, which in turn will create more customers, and opportunity to gain repeat customers who will tell their friends and network about us.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
Hands down, my wife. As stated before, I am my business, which means its constantly on the forefront of my mind. Unfortunately for my wife, that means she gets to hear about everything going on and luckily for me, she’s a great shoulder to lean on.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I see multiple Blocks locations around Columbus, expansion of Blocks Bagels in the wholesale market and the merging of Short North Bagel Deli in to Blocks Bagels Mobile.
Who is an entrepreneur that you look up to?
Ryan Vessler of Homage, he is a regular at our Blocks location and we talk weekly about business and different ideas. I’m very impressed by what he’s been able to build by staying true to himself and his business’ core values.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
Mikey from Mikey’s Late Night Slice because he started in the mobile food like I did and made his way into the brick and mortar is something I can relate too and trying to do as well. I also follow what the guys at Fusian Sushi are doing and I am extremely impressed at how they’ve been able to grow in seemingly a short amount of time.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
I would say the obvious thing to do is go to an Ohio State Football game. If you’ve never been to one it’s a must see. While you’re there, grab a steamed deli sandwich on a Blocks bagel from our concession stand.