This week we did an Instagram poll to see if our loyal followers had any questions about the business we could answer. Anything was on the table! We just wanted to hear from our Pure Sweets squad and get a bit of insight into what the community may be wondering about the shop. So each of the below questions we received, was answered by the shop’s proprietor, Andrea.
Do you offer delivery?
We offer Doordash through Toast [which offers a smaller radius, easier for us to execute because it comes through the same POS (point of sale) system as Toast, which poorly manages our pars (number of items available to sell) anyway]. We get penalized as a business if we sell something through Doordash that we have sold out of even though there are factors out of our control. Doordash also frequently botches deliveries, and pick-up times, and does not show up with orders to the correct address...we need an extra person on staff just to manage all of the mishaps and help guests when they want to change their delivery orders, and that's with our limited Doordash orders through Toast. Imagine that times Grubhub, UberEats, Caviar/Doordash, and on a wider scale with a larger delivery radius. These delivery apps may be convenient for guests, but in my personal opinion are a loss to businesses. It's not worth it to us to disappoint more people with lackluster deliveries by opening up on more and larger platforms.
Do you ship meals/meal prep options?
Unfortunately, we don't have the shipping scale to negotiate super affordable delivery rates to ship fresh products overnight. We could do so within the tri-state area but would need to work on custom packaging to do so with our menu items. I hear people really want us to ship cakes. I see how other businesses do it, so that's high on our priority list to nail down.
Being that your ingredients are healthy, are your baked goods typically lower in calories than other places?
I would estimate our baked goods are higher in calories than traditional baked goods because we use lots of organic nuts and organic coconut ingredients. There's more fat, carbs, and protein, which is more macronutrients. But, less sugar, so hopefully, a little bit goes a long way and fuels as food, not just an empty calorie snack.
Do you make small cakes?
We offer two varieties of 4" cakes in-shop daily: a chocolate cake with ganache and chocolate buttercream and a vanilla cake with lemon curd, blueberry cream, and vanilla/cream cheese buttercream. These are made fresh throughout the week and immediately frozen to maintain freshness. All you need to do is thaw overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature for a few hours, and the delicious cake is ready to serve. We only offer these two standard varieties because when we cost the labor and ingredients for the custom 4" cakes, the amount of time it takes our pastry artists to assemble and decorate a custom 4" cake with specific selections, the labor cost is the same as the 10" cake. Therefore, a 4" custom cake would cost something crazy like over $100, due to the labor, while you're receiving less product. We didn't feel right charging such an exorbitant amount for something so small, so our Pastry Chef, Katie, created two standard flavors that our team can knock out consistently at $45 each. We hope it's a happy compromise!
What is something a first-time visitor MUST try?
For a first-time visitor, you must try the Mohinga Noodle Soup or Forbidden Bowl as savory items and any of our Cakes, Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookie, or Black Bean Brownie for a sweet ending.
Will you be extending your hours or adding more dinner items?
We'd like to extend our hours once we're more staffed up or hire seasoned professionals who enjoy the hustle and chaos of a restaurant and do not need as much support staff. I'd like to open from 9am-7 pm if we could have enough experienced help. We could add more dinner items to feed the early dinner crowd. We also would like to do special dinners on Friday and Saturday nights sourcing from local organic farms where the majority of ingredients are picked within 48 hours of being served. Friday and Saturday seem to be the busiest nights to staff up for dinner service to make it worth everyone's while. If there was enough demand for dinner every night, we would love to open back up those hours again.
Are you going to open another location?
Ha! If you find us an investor to take the pressure off another location, I'm all in! The way we do business where we are sourcing the best organic/vegan/gf ingredients and doing our best to offer benefits to salaried employees and offer competitive pay the larger companies do, these factors leave us little room for profit. Our only lifeline is to drive sales and volume so we can cover expenses. There's a prime cost we aim for based on the total cost of goods (COGS) + total labor. You compare this number to your total sales for a prime cost ratio aiming for 60% or lower. Our COGS are surprisingly on industry trend, but our labor has always absorbed our profits. I'm stubborn and hoping we can continue growing our sales so we can employ great talent, instead of running a lower prime cost with less dedicated employees. We did it once before COVID, and working hard to make it happen again.
Do you have any advice on growing herbs and greens at home?
It's such a learning curve becoming familiar with growing herbs/vegetables at home because it depends on your home, how much light you receive, and where. Each year has been better because we learned what works and what failed from the year before. The amount of sunlight and exposure to the south/west facing sun has a huge impact on whether a plant thrives or dies. Our house has many windows and faces both south and west, so it's easy for us to grow veggies! Tommy has become the expert in our household. He grows our heirloom seeds in growing trays/"peat trays", also known as a seed starter kit by Jiffy. He starts this in March by placing them in direct sunlight. (If you wait until April or May like we did our first year, you're losing prime growing months outside, so start early in March.)
Place 2 seeds in each tray slot, and hope one of the seeds is strong enough to be replanted. You're supposed to only plant the stronger of the two. We've been finding that both seedlings look strong. We plant both. The seedlings both take to the soil!
The amount of light and moisture that develops under the plastic tray top helps the seedlings grow. Once they are large enough to be repotted into small pots, Tommy transfers them into mini pots by April. How do you know the plants are large enough to be repotted? Tommy says he just followed the directions on the seed starter kit, but it's also more by eye. Once they start outgrowing the peat tray, that's a trusty indicator that the plantings are ready for the small pots. He places them in direct sunlight on our floor along with sunny windows. Line the window sills or flooring with plastic wrap to prevent water staining/dirt staining. Each little pot should have a drainage plate.
Check on the plantings daily, and water them as needed - which is when the top of the soil is dry or if the leaves look wilted. Depending on the plant, some plants won't be happy until the nighttime temps stay above 50F - such as basil. Tracking for the last frost doesn't fully work. Also depends on the herb/green, and its tolerance for cold. Once the seedlings are nearing growing out of the mini pots, Tommy starts "toughening" them up to the elements by letting them be outside every day for a few hours (not in direct sunlight at first) and increasing the outdoor exposure each day by a few hours - remember in direct sunlight only during the hardening process. Do this for about 1 week. While you're hardening the plants outside, bring them inside at night to sleep. It's the cutest thing. These plants become like pets! This hardening process is us being extra cautious that they can handle the wild so to speak! You may not need to do this, but it certainly fairs for stronger and happier plants in our limited experience. Once the stems of the plants are hearty and strong enough to handle gusts of wind, Tommy plants them in our outdoor planters on the roof by late May.
When planting in outdoor planters, make sure you leave the plants PLENTY of room to spread. What started as 3 tiny tomato plants grew into these gigantic monsters within 2 weeks. The more room you leave for plants to grow, the happier they are and the more fruit/vegetable they will yield. No matter how spindly or weak they appear, if you water and feed them consistently, plant babies will grow into strong, thriving grown-up vegetables!
Now, we're in the fun phase when you witness the fruits of your labor all summer long. Tommy maintains their health and wellbeing by pruning (overgrown leaves create a comfy nest for aphids or parasites), removing any dead leaves, and watering them consistently. Be careful not to over-water. Let Mother Nature water them when she does, and you just fill in the gaps during the dry spells. Organic fertilizer is also very helpful and made by Jobe! Now you have a culinary garden to eat freshly picked herbs and vegetables through early fall. It's amazing how much yields in our planters, on our roof, smack dab in the city. We don't need acres of land to feed ourselves - yay!
How does the company retain its customers?
We do our best to retain guests by aiming for consistency and reliability - and when we mess up, we hope to take care of it quickly and to your satisfaction. I also love giving holiday cards and handwritten notes with our special holiday orders. Every guest who walks into our shop to spend their hard-earned money and valuable time with us evokes a feeling of deep gratitude in me. It makes me want to do better and more for our guests and staff.
How did you get started? I’d love to own my own place but that seems like the scariest part!
How I got started was baking out of Tommy's old house and selling online (really not much sales online, it was more testing the waters), then baking out of small a commercial kitchen (to sell to WF and local coffee shops I needed to be out of the licensed kitchen), and finally landing at our current retail spot (with the help of capital from my parents who gave me the money set aside for medical school to open Locust Street). None of those transitions warranted growth to the next level if based on numbers/sales. Each was based on a leap of faith and idealism that was going to work. I truly believe if you want something badly enough, you will figure out a way. If you have the determination, have no problem working at least 16 hours/day, and thrive on chaos as well as the unexpected, you have the personality to own your own business and thrive. After almost 15 years of this, I'm ready to step away because I don't think that's my personality anymore. I want to enjoy life while I'm still young enough to do so, instead of waiting until I'm retirement age!
Our Questions to YOU
Dreaming of owning a health-focused restaurant/cafe/bakery?
Yes, or working at P.S. & Co. and moving to Philly someday!
I will happily hand over the reins of P.S. & Co.! I'm so ready to retire from this business. I love what we do, but since COVID my days are more filled with staying ahead of problems than working on the creative end or growing the business. I'm ready to sign off and work on other passion projects. It sounds like an alternate universe to wake up and not have to deal with constant equipment breakdowns, supply chain shortages, or covering for multiple staff being away (for very valid reasons, it's just the nature of the business that when someone is away, it's more work for everyone else). I have a daily to-do list that is usually hovers around 50 tasks. I'm lucky if I can cross out 5 of those tasks in a given day because as soon as I wake up, there are text messages reporting unforeseen surprises or other matters that need attention. As soon as I walk into the shop, our amazing employees will come to me with things that need to be fixed or aren't working. I'd rather know than not know, so I'm glad they keep me in the loop. My first reaction when there are problems is that I look to delegate those tasks to other management/trusty staff to help troubleshoot and also to empower them to make decisions and solve problems. All of this is with wonderful management and employees in place, and one can imagine they are working just as hard and feeling similar pressures in different ways.
Want to open your own P.S. & Co.?
Yes, Yes, Yes!
I like seeing all the NJ responses. That's close enough and maybe we can make it happen with a farmette?! Does anyone want to help us find a location?!