It’s been a long time coming but we’ve finally purchased a Schnitz van! For over two years we’ve been vending at markets in New York City by renting U-hauls and zipcars. Actually, we started by using passenger vehicles that we borrowed from family. That was a short-lived experiment after a handful of scratches and spills!
There are many considerations when purchasing a van. First I’ll fill you in on Schnitz’s specific requirements and then I’ll talk about general tips and precautions.
Budget/ROI: Before the van, we spent about $120/week on U-haul rentals. Over the course of the season, we would spend close to $4000 for transportation. We decided that our budget would be $5000 or below. While this is more than our annual spend, it’s a huge convenience for us operationally and as long as we can make the van last two seasons then we’ll have a good return on our investment even with repairs. In order to accommodate this budget, we targeted a 10-year old vehicle with about 100,000 miles. The vehicles we were looking at can typically last 200,000 miles. We also won’t be traveling far distances.
Vehicle Type: We searched for a Chevy Astro, a Ford E-150 or a Chevrolet Express 1500. The Ford was our last choice because we were told by our mechanic that Fords are not as reliable as Chevy in this category. He had many personal issues with Ford. The Chevrolet E-150 was our second choice. While it fits our needs, it’s a bit larger and makes parking a challenge. Our first choice was the Chevy Astro. It can handle heavy loads and its quite nimble. It was an ideal size for us.
The Search: It’s not easy to find this type of car in NYC. The surrounding areas and suburbs have more options but they are hard to get to (we don’t have normal cars to get around). We were extremely lucky that Yoni met someone at his day job who was looking to sell a 1998 Chevy Astro with 110,000 miles. A little older than what we wanted but right in our price range: $3250.
Mechanic: We brought the car for a thorough check-up at the mechanic. I highly recommend our mechanic. His name is Adrian. He’s located in Maspeth and can be reached at 718-416-4111. Adrian reviews the brakes, suspension, steering, tires and even test drives the car. It’s a phenomenal sanity check for $50. He assessed the work that needed to be done like taking out the seats and fixing the windshield but other than that it was good to go.
VIN check: We then ran a VIN check with autocheck.com and obtained a complete vehicle history report for $40. Thankfully, there was no history of any major accidents.
Inspection: We renewed the NY State inspection with our mechanic. It cost about $37.
Insurance: Finally, insurance. This probably requires its own post but it was one of the more difficult decisions to research and understand. We had never purchased car insurance before and the policies and coverage limits were a black box to us. Most people recommended we use Geico because its cheap and we have a straightforward policy although I know that sharp brokers are extremely helpful for more complex commercial auto policies. I spoke with a rep at a major auto insurance carrier and he recommended we go with a small policy that gives us the bare minimum coverage due to our low mileage. This will certainly help to keep the commercial insurance costs down. Keep in mind, it’s a lot more expensive that personal auto insurance.
License plate: Last but not least, we took our proof of insurance and a bill of sale that we created by using Rocket Lawyer to the DMV. They gave us a new set of license plates on the spot in exchange for $500 in Uncle Sam’s pocket.
Without further ado, here she is!
We promised everyone at the beginning of the season that we’d introduce new menu items. In April we featured the Grumpy Russian, our first stab at pork schnitzel and its been selling better and better every week.
This month we are featuring the Mediterranean. It’s a chicken schnitzel with a feta herb spread and a Galilee garden salad (grape tomatoes, cucumbers, preserved lemons, Israeli pickles, kalamata olives and peppadew peppers) served on a soft pretzel hero. It’s priced at $9. It’s insanely delicious.
The Mediterranean will be replacing The Yons which was our vegetarian option. This sandwich did not sell as well as the other three. We certainly plan to bring it back in the near future but we want to experiment with some new flavors and the data was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the Bamberg, Sweet Onion and Grumpy Russian on the menu. We have some ideas for how to boost The Yons’ popularity but it will have to wait.
We hope everyone enjoys the new offering!
Perfecting your operation is essential when you’re running a mobile business. There are a million and one small details that can save you and your staff time, energy and money. We’ve made a number of back of house (BOH) changes at Schnitz this season. Due to an uptick in volume and the introduction of new menu items, we have re-organized the stations and sandwich prep process in order to reduce the complexity during service and to make it easier on our staff.
One of our biggest changes came from the direction of our chef, Stephanie Alleyne. Last year we breaded the schnitzel during service which meant we had to bring additional supplies, specifically heavy cartons of buttermilk. It required the operator of the fryer to focus on both breading and frying which is too cumbersome when you’re dealing with a rush. The breading also did not stick particularly well to the meat and the fryer would take an additional 30 minutes to clean at the end of the day because it was full of crumbs.
Now all of the meat is breaded the night before and chilled on ice. Not only is it easier on our staff but the breading sticks to the meat beautifully. The product is better and we saved over an hour of labor during and after service with our cleanup.
The next big change was in the sandwich making process. Last year we would often prepare orders in batches. The issue with this approach is that some customers could wait 3 minutes and others could wait up to 15 minutes. The inconsistency was unacceptable. We now prepare each sandwich individually which not only improves the consistency of the sandwich but also the quality. We’ve also hired an expediter to keep track and push out the orders so the sandwich maker can focus on their position.
Since there is now no need for a breading station, we have one station with a table to hold dozens of pretzel bread boxes. The next station is the sandwich making area and a station for the expediter. The new arrangement has honestly been a huge stress reliever for all of us. As with any restaurant, mobile or storefront, we highly recommend developing techniques that will help smooth your operation. The benefits are astounding.
- Sweet Onion
- The Yons
- Grumpy Russian
It’s been a busy off-season for Schnitz. We began working with a new chef and we recently finalized some exciting new menu items. Every couple weeks, we hope to unveil a new item. In order to do this, we redesigned our menu display so that we can swap items in and out each week. Most vendors display their food options on a chalkboard. We find chalkboards are hard to read, the descriptions are often not exactly the same every week (depending on who writes the menu) and operationally it takes 15-30 minutes to write it nicely during each setup. We printed our menu towards the end of last season and it improved ordering and decreased setup time. This year we have done the same but now we have a base board and separate smaller boards for each menu item so that it can be attached to the main board with velcro. This will give us the flexibility to change items each week as well as help to maintain a consistent look and feel.
In addition to the menu, we’ve made some more changes to our operation that we intend to refine and share as the season progresses. Below you can see a list that we’ll talk more about in the coming weeks:
- van purchase
- new booth setup including a new fryer
- enhancements to our Point of Sale, iPad and speaker system
- staff hiring
As we start our 3rd outdoor market season, we plan to build tremendously on our experience. We hope you’ll be happy with the improvements!
No schnitzel but we’ll take brisket! #happypassover
Woah woah woah. Cooking schnitzel nonstop
We just can’t wait to reveal what we’re working on. Get ready @smorgasburg #gamechanger
Working in the kitchen! Smokey Russian, pickled tomatoes & Onions, and shaved cabbage #schnitzel
@chobani is in the retail game. Brilliant thinking.