This weekend I threw together a little Ponytail Journal ‘Goodness Pop-Up’ stand at Made By Legacy flea market, my favourite bi-annual flea in Bangkok. The star of the show was my Goodness Sandwich, something that I thought was an appropriate candidate to represent Ponytail Journal in food form because it is an incarnation of ‘East-meets-West’, while referencing nostalgic flavours in a kind of hybrid, post-modern sandwich. I like to think that these things personify myself in a sandwich. It is a kind of food-y citation that hints to my new readers my values, history, and experience as a gourmand (i.e. being a ‘little miss piggy’ my whole life). What am I going on about? This weekend I basically set up a made-to-order Char Siu pork / wild rocket / parmesan / balsamic / olive oil / sea salt sandwich stand that was supported by robust foundation of good sourdough bread. The bread itself was made by Frenchman Jean Philippe who prides himself on using locally milled flour (much fresh) with lots of his own time and attention to bring the kind of bread that is superb to eat just plain.
So, wanna know how this game works? You need to be organised, have an eye for detail, a smile on your face, and know how to cut things… because there is a lot of cutting involved. To me, the reward is priceless because not only do you have one of those grand opportunities in life to play art director, but you also get to make face-to-face contact with people via food. This is the coolest part.
- Think about your product (in our case it’s your sandwich) and make sure you consider the quality and cost of your ingredients. This means that you need to think about the cost of the raw ingredients, and how they will translate into sandwich form. You should try to source local ingredients to steer clear of import costs, and always ask how it was produced so that you stay away from unethical farming or Franken-gredients. To me, the most important part of a sandwich is the bread. If it’s too sweet and floury, then it’s most likely made of cheap ingredients and baked with lots of sugar. This isn’t so great for a tasty sandwich that keeps you satisfied. To me, good sandwich bread should have a moist crumb, good crust while not being too chewy (a potential messy disaster), made with fresh flour, and have a good savoury flavour. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to get a bread that ticks all of these boxes, depending on how the bread game in your area is. Make sure you make a sample sandwich using all of your potential ingredients before you place your orders, and make sure you get your bread on each day of sale – so that you never serve dry bread to your customers.
- Stall design is a huge part of it! At a market, everyone has the same space, so think about how your stall is going to best represent what you’re selling… as well as making it stand out from the rest. This doesn’t mean that you have to go spend boatloads of money on custom vinyl signs, it just means rolling up your sleeve, scavenging for a pile of cardboard, and pulling out some poster paint. The world’s your canvas.
- Make allies or position yourself with other market pals. It’s always tonnes more fun to have pals selling their stuff side by side. Not only does it make the day much more enjoyable, it could even add some healthy selling competition to the air, but it also radiates goodness onto your crowd. They have a keen sense of smell for it and usually steer clear of stalls that seem dead and uninspired. It also means that packing up at the end of the day is much easier with plenty more hands, and you can even offer market-goers special collaborative deals. My weekend stall was strategically positioned next to fellow ‘funnest life possible’ friends from Roots coffee, so people could get their breakfast sandwich with a coffee in the one spot. (When two become one.) NB: Don’t be an island, acknowledge that having a sandwich stall is an impossible task for one, and recruit a good pal to be in charge of money while you play lunch lady.
- Got merch? Bring it along! Spread the word of your project by giving out fun things with your sandwich orders. You might like to print interesting things on your napkins, or do what I do and give free stickers out… Because everyone likes stickers. I also had my new PTJ x Yellow Stuff Carry-Alls hanging from my tent to catch the eye of any tote-loving market goer. Don’t go overboard, too much brand stuff can get a little overwhelming.
- Make an obvious and clear menu so that people know EXACTLY what you’re selling. Your customers are more likely to walk away if they are confused by you. This is a worst-case situation. You might like to make a fun slogan so that people remember your stall. Samples are good too, people might take a sample, walk around and decide to come back for the real deal.
- Be neat and tidy in every aspect. A neat and tidy stall represents clean, and uncomplicated food. An untidy sandwich stall could mean a whole world of nastiness. Your personal presentation needs to be clean, long hair should be tamed and pulled back, tables should be orderly, and your food preparation area should always be spotless and hygienic. The more neat and organised you are, the more likely you will be able to cope with a big rush of orders. Stay on top of this.
- Mise en place / Everything in its place. One very valuable thing I learnt as a young cook was that being organised will save you time and mean less stress in the kitchen. Anything that can be done before hand like washing & cutting vegetables, compartmentalising your workspace with prepared ingredients, and making your sauces or dressings before transferring them into handy squeeze bottles should be done in advance. The only thing I don’t advise is to cut your bread beforehand: you don’t want dry bread. Making your sandwiches on site, to order is one billion times tastier than selling pre-made sandwiches that are sad and soggy (eew).
- No one likes a pushy salesman. Ever walked into a store and walked straight out because the salesperson is really annoying? This applies to market stalls too.
Note: It also helps when your front of house helper is really nice and super good looking. This will help with your sales… because people like nice people right?
- Do it because you enjoy it.