In the beginning
Full disclosure, we had no idea what we were doing when we took on this event. Outside of cooking for friends and family, we had never done anything on this scale. This was our chance to introduce our Sweet, Baked Rigatoni to the world and we’d do anything to make it happen.
About four weeks earlier we were approached by a friend who was Vegan and had previously eaten our Sweet Rigatoni. They encouraged us to get into this big Vegan event, we were skeptical at first, but agreed to give it a shot.
We contacted the event organizers, paid a hefty fee and now no looking back. Take in mind, at this point we were clueless about how this would happen. We did zero research, never worked an event before, had no idea if we’d need permits, a business license, had no idea how many trays to make, where we would make them, how much the ingredients would cost, blah, blah, blah. We went in totally blind just assuming we’d work it all out because that’s how the Plant-Based Mafia does things. Go big or go home, dive into the deep end and learn to swim — John Wayne style.
So now we’re set, and the planning begins. First things first, we need a super cool canopy tent, excellent signage and some awesome merchandise. According to all the festival pros, signage is everything. So we went out, spent a ton of loot and got ourselves some super dope signage and bomb ass merchandise. We even used our 96-year-old grandmother in some of our banners. She comes to some of our events and likes to post up in front of the Plant-Based Mafia banner that features her. She gets tons of attention and thinks she’s a celebrity — she kind of is.
Ok, so we got all the cool signage out of the way, our merch and tent. We’re guaranteed to sell a million dollars worth of pasta. Right? No!!!!! Now we have to figure out how much we need to make, how much to charge, what merchant service we’re going to use, where we are going to make it, how we are going to transport it and how we are going to keep all this pasta warm. Have you ever cooked 20-30 trays of Baked Rigatoni? It’s a lot more difficult than you can imagine. We are now fully committed, about $1800 bucks into this and the brainstorming has begun.
At first, we thought we’d just rent a bunch of equipment, ovens, stoves, refrigerators, tables, chairs, warmers and set up a pop-up cafe. Unfortunately, that would’ve cost us about 3K and no chance for profit. This was when the reality of what we got into started to set in. How in the world were we going to cook 20-30 large trays of Baked Rigatoni, drive it an hour to the event, set up our tent, banners, merchandise and serve this pasta hot? The task seemed impossible at this point.
We started thinking about a million different ways to do this. We tried to rent a commissary kitchen for a night, but all of the kitchens required a longterm commitment and wouldn’t allow us to cook for one night. We thought about cooking everything at our houses, but where in the heck would we store 20-30 trays of Rigatoni. We thought about getting coolers and putting everything on ice; unfortunately, that would’ve required like ten coolers, so that was a no go.
We then thought about baking the Rigatoni, letting them cool and storing them in big garbage bags filled with ice. After careful thought, we determined, that it was a terrible idea. The ice would melt overnight, and the water would most likely ruin the Rigatoni. We were left scratching our heads and felt defeated.
Ok, I am going to start talking for myself at this point. This is Danny, AKA the Plant Father here, founder of Plant Based Mafia. I’m the one that dragged my brother and sister in law into this crazy mess, and I’m going to have to be the one to fix this craziness.
I’ve gotten myself into some crazy projects in my time and never found myself without a solution. Was this going to be the first? I don’t think so.
It took me a night of deep thought and boom; I think I came up with the ultimate solution? In hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea, but it was the only idea under the circumstances. Ok, here’s what I came up with. The event was on a Saturday, so that gave us two days to prep. The Thursday before the festival, we cooked the marinara. We were able to store that in one 5 gallon bucket, food grade of course and that fit perfectly into the spare garage fridge. On Friday, we loaded up my car and my sister in laws parents huge truck with everything we needed for the event, so that was out of the way. We then cooked the pasta, lots and lots of pasta and stored it all in 5-5 gallon buckets. Once all the pasta was prepared, we loaded up the buckets of pasta and sauce and beelined down south. Here’s where things get interesting, which you will see in the video.
I decided to rent an Airbnb one mile from the event. The plan was to arrive at the Airbnb around 10 pm. We’d unload everything we need to cook. We’d buy about ten bags of ice to fill up the bathtub to store the tubs of pasta and sauce and also take everything out of the fridge to store all the cheese. This kind of baked rigatoni takes a lot of cheese. So far the plan was working pretty good. We didn’t get to the Airbnb at 10 pm, but we did arrive around 11:30 pm, no biggie.
We unloaded everything we needed, loaded up the tub, ripped apart the fridge, took some furniture out of the living and stored it in the bedroom and prepped this tiny one bedroom apartment to turn it into a baked rigatoni making factory. The plan from there was to crash out, wake up at 3 am and start cooking. So off the bed we went at about 12:30 am with our clocks set promptly for 3 am. I can’t say any of us got much sleep, but we were up at 3 am, grouchy, tired and perplexed as to whether or not we were going actually to pull this off.
Upon rising, we sprung into action. We bought three portable shelving units to set up against the walls where we would store the trays of baked rigatoni in chafing dish racks with sternos to keep them warm. We also brought a fold-out table to use as a prepping station. We got lucky because the table in the apartment was perfect for what we needed. We combined both tables and used them to create a conveyor belt system.
So far, so good, things are looking like they just might work. By our calculations, if we started prepping by 3 am, we could have the first two trays in the oven by 3:30am, and we should be able to cook 18 trays by 10:30 am. It would take roughly 45 minutes to cook two trays of pasta. We had to be fully set up by 11 am when the festival opened. Which meant we needed to be unloading our last trays of pasta no later than 10:30 am. Since the festival was only 8 minutes away, that would give us plenty of time to make it.
I love it when a plan comes together; unfortunately, this one didn’t — the first big problem. At 350 degrees, you’d think these trays of pasta would cook nicely in 45 minutes, but they weren’t. So we had to call an audible. Crank up the oven to 450 and pray we can bake these trays of pasta in 30 minutes. Ok, that problem seemed to be solved, now onto the next challenge. We had to be at the festival for setup by 6 am, which meant I was going to be left alone doing the cooking. Now don’t get me wrong, I love cooking, it’s a passion of mine, but I’ve never cooked 18 trays of baked rigatoni to serve hundreds of people. I especially have never done that in a tiny little one bedroom apt with an oven meant for basic usage. I was stressing this oven to its limits.
By the time my brother and his wife left for the event to set up, we had six trays finished and keeping warm on the sternos. The apartment felt like a sauna. The AC was cranking at full blast, but the oven and the heat from the sternos were significantly offsetting the AC. It got so hot in the apt, the smoke alarms starting going off. Very few things scare me in life, but I actually started to get nervous. The more trays I completed, the hotter the apartment got, and I began to worry I might start a fire. So now I had to make the tough decision to blow out the sternos and risk the baked rigatoni going cold, but that was a better option than burning down the whole damn apartment complex.
So now the plan was to light and blow out the sternos every 15 minutes. Not ideal, but my only choice. Now I got my groove, the rigatoni is looking great, the system is working, and everything is looking great. 9 am rolls around, and my brother shows back up to the apt to grab the first set of trays to bring to the festival. This doesn’t go over that well. The chafing pans are filled with water, so trying to carry both the pan and the rigatoni tray resulted in a lot of water be spilled all over the apt. Did I mention we’re also on the second floor and all of these trays needed to be carried out of the complex and into the street? What a pain in the ass.
After about 20 minutes, the job was finished. Lots of grunting and cursing, but we pulled it off. My brother got the trays back to the festival and set them up in the sterno racks, and everything was looking good until the wind came. I get a call from my brother wife, and she tells me the sternos won’t stay lit because the wind is terrible. That’s the last thing I wanted to hear. Another 90 minutes pass and my brother shows up for the final trays, this time he brought our helper. We load everything up, and we are off. Upon arriving at the event, I see that they did a fantastic job of setting up the tent, our signage, and our merch, we are going to kill.
One major problem, the wind is still awful, and the pasta is cold. Well, not cold, but you know what I mean. We tried everything, and nothing was working. It was just too windy out, and we didn’t have anything to stop the wind. We were in trouble. We put our heads together and came up with a plan to quickly buy a coal grill to heat the trays of pasta. I bolt out of there, dart to my car and jet to home depot which was luckily around the block. However, when I pulled up, this was the busiest home depot I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It took me 15 minutes just to find a parking spot. I finally get a parking spot, grab one of those huge flat carts and run to the BBQ section. I find the grill I’m looking for, and I’m off.
I load the car, and I’m speeding back to the event. Unfortunately, when I arrive, I can’t drive onto the ground like you can when you’re setting up. Now this grill wasn’t that heavy, but it’s in a massive box and just too bulky to carry. So I needed to improvise and get a little daring. I found a back entrance that led to a horse and bike trail that I could fit my car on that circled the grounds. I took a shot and went for it. I was able to drive my car up along the outskirts of the festival, right along the fence line right behind our tent set up. Let’s say; I got really lucky with that one. I unloaded the grill and snuck back out — no arrests on that day.
We set up the grill, fired up the coals and saved the day. After everything was said and done, we lost a ton of money but had a great time doing it. Little did we know this festival was all about the samples. We must’ve given away ten trays in free samples, but everyone loved our Vegan Sweet Baked Rigatoni. We ran up a bunch of sales, but nothing close to cover our debt, but it was well worth it. By the end of the festival, some of those people who sampled our food came back to buy full trays, so that was cool.
We went for it, dove into the deep end without a clue, busted our asses, spent a ton of money, cursed, yelled, fought and accomplished. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Months after that insane event, we found our footing and Plant Based Mafia is off and running. We are here to stay and ready to make a significant impact in the Plant Based world.