I’m fascinated by how quickly some folks adapt to shifting circumstances and how others fail. There’s nothing like a planet-wide quarantine to wreak havoc on entire segments of the economy and society. Meanwhile, others are directly gaining from the turbulence as new opportunities present themselves.
Back in October I had an old friend over for lunch. He’s a high end building contractor who specializes in mind bendingly expensive projects for some extra special clients. He’s kind and hard working and smarter than the average bear. Over the years I attended his wedding and kept up as his daughters went from infants to high school. In a different era I suspect he’d be building modest homes for the broad middle. But that world is gone for the time being, at least in this part of the country. So he applies his talents to what pays at the present moment.
Like me he witnessed the crash of 1987 as a young person, managed to navigate the Dot Com boom and bust around the turn of the millennium, and survived the 2008 financial crisis. He saw all the same warning signs last autumn and told me he was quietly wrapping up his current projects and not take on any more work for a while. He and his staff would be taking an extended holiday of sorts. He didn’t want to be left holding the bag with a collection of half built over leveraged projects when the bottom fell out. Clever guy. He didn’t predict the pandemic, but he understood the bubble was in search of a pin. He’ll have no debt, cash on hand, and be in the perfect position to ramp up work again once things stabilize. That’s why he’s still in business when others have fallen away.
There’s been a lot of talk about broken supply chains and distribution anomalies lately. I was keen to avoid waiting on long lines at the supermarket in my N95 mask clutching alcohol gel with surgical gloves. So I started to poke around for alternatives. I have a deeper pantry than most people, but I’ve decided circumstances warrant stocking up a bit more to fill in a few gaps. I’m also working with neighbors to expand their household supplies as well.
Lo and behold I stumbled on Cheetah. Their original business model was to “disrupt” (techies love that term) the restaurant supply industry. They filled a 100,000 square foot warehouse in a distant suburb and began wooing mom and pop eateries all around the Bay Area. Then Covid-19 put an end to all that.
Years ago I had identified the suppliers of many of my favorite products and inquired if I, as a household rather than a business, could make direct bulk purchases. That opened a can of worms with tax numbers and various legal procedures. It wasn’t worth it for me or the distributers. But Cheetah, in full tech fashion, either found loopholes or just plain ignored such considerations. “Ask for forgiveness not permission.” I downloaded the app on my cell phone, ordered the bulk items I wanted, and was informed where to meet the delivery truck the next day. Voila! It’s basically the same business model as my old Sicilian uncles…
The question then becomes what to do with restaurant supply size boxes of perishables. I dehydrated a few large cases of crimini and portobello mushrooms in batches. Once the water is removed from produce it shrinks down to a much more manageable volume. Whenever I need mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, sweet peppers, etc. I scoop out a little from my pantry jars, add boiling water, and cook as if they were fresh.
Bulk meat needed to be broken down into more manageable portions before going in to the freezer. I have a vacuum sealer that does the job better than ordinary zip-lock bags. A fifty pound sack of fancy restaurant flour is more than I will use before it goes rancid, but small sealed bags are now in the freezer waiting to be turned into bread and cake.
I prepared a full meal from my Cheetah haul that first night. Sea scallops, snow peas, and fresh mushrooms made a solid one dish wonder for dinner. Will this replace all my shopping moving forward? No. It’s now just part of the mix along with farm-direct purchases, corner shop runs for milk, and the occasional Amazon purchase. Will Cheetah endure or become another flash in the pan startup that eventually fizzles out? I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter much. It works for the moment.
I’m a natural born scavenger. For years I’ve poked at liquidation auctions on the lookout for bargains. There’s currently an explosion of second hand restaurant supply equipment on offer. So much so that the usual clearing houses are having trouble digesting the stuff and prices have dropped spectacularly. If you happen to be in the market for an industrial strength stove, a kitchen mixer large enough to bathe in, or a deluxe juicer this is the time to buy. I’ve wanted a root cellar for forever, but it’s not practical in my situation. But a super insulated modular walk-in refrigerator (with or without the compressor) might do nicely. So I’m keeping an eye out. There are going to be winners and losers as things shift. It’s time to pivot and roll with the times.