How could RESTAURANT STARTUP be without Joe Bastianich on a night when a food service company named I Got Balls set up a pop-up restaurant?
Ralphie and Chris, New York guys whose business centered on gourmet, stuffed rice balls won over Elizabeth Blau and Chef Tim Love after their presentation.
They were looking to establish a brick and mortar quick-service restaurant, and competed against another duo with the same dream.
That two-man team called their place Rolz, a unique business that is all about food in egg roll wraps, covered in crispy treats, both salty and sweet, then deep fried. If you have the munchies, these guys have what you need.
Tim and Elizabeth drooled over the sweet ones rolled in sugary cereal like Cap’n Crunch and savory items covered in Doritos. The guys asked for $300,000 for a 30% stake in a brick and mortar quick-service eatery. They have a proven track record in the business.
They lost out to I Got Balls for one big reason. Ralphie and Chris already had an income stream selling the product to high-end Italian grocers and supermarkets. Again, where was Bastianich to snap them up for Eataly?
The ask was $200,000 for 15% of the new business.
Their product, typically called arancini in the food service business or lower down the food chain, rice balls were given whimsical names and stuffed with delicious and hearty food, both meat and veggie.
There also was the expected number of jokes made around the word “balls”, which seemed to get Elizabeth a bit uncomfortable, but didn’t deter Ralphie and Chris.
Tim and Elizabeth loved the taste of the product, giving some advice to Ralphie, the man at the center of the business, to make his marinara sauce less acidic.
Their largest issue for opening a quick-service restaurant, which they said would determine whether they invested, was to get more items on the menu.
As for the retail business, the guys would be introduced to Chef Andrew Hunter who specializes in commercializing food products for distribution nationwide.
Antonia LoFaso made the introduction and Hunter took them to a co-packing plant and taught them a lesson. It’s not about recipes when you sell for retail, it’s about formulas.
In that way, Ralphie realized he was underpricing his balls, see, it happens naturally when you write about it, ahem…his rice balls weren’t profitable when they figured out how much he charged by the ounce, not the plate.
When Lofaso insisted they take the investors seriously about expanding the menu, Ralphie went back to the well, which is his grandfather.
The man raised him after the loss of his parents and taught him to cook. They spent Ralphie’s free time together in a garage, and it bonded the two, making Ralphie determined to run a food business and make his grandfather proud.
Grandpa’s face went on the new logo when the guys redesigned the Los Angeles space and they added his own recipe for an orange salad, as well as a classic Italian Wedding Soup to the menu. LoFaso’s one complaint was the lack of ingredient in the rice balls. The ratio was way off.
Ralphie imported his mom to make her famous ambrosia dessert, but it fell flat. Ralphie forgot one step the night before the dinner service and the ambrosia wasn’t the hit it was supposed to be. Nonetheless, they shed tears and hugged a lot as they tried to make Ralphie’s dream come true.
Between meeting with Chef Hunter and getting a new menu up and running Chris and Ralphie lacked a sufficient number of rice balls to serve when the pop-up opened. That wasn’t the only problem.
Quick service means people ordering at a counter, getting a number and seating themselves. Food is brought out to the table and “quick” means 5-6 minutes at the most.
That ballooned to 14-15 minutes due to lack of product and too few people in the kitchen to do the grunt work. Tim Love ended up washing dishes to hand to Ralphie so he could plate meals.
It was a great exchange between the New Yorker who kept screaming for clean dishes, even as Tim was working as fast as he could alongside someone hired to do the job.
Love pulled a Joe Bastianich, getting angry and agitated, yelling back at Ralphie who stood his ground. Damn it, he needed clean dishes for the line of people waiting in the seating area.
Despite it all, the rice balls were terrific, but the orange salad was lacking in taste, while the ambrosia nauseated Tim. Interestingly enough, Elizabeth thought it was fine, but should be in a bowl, not a plate because it was runny.
Investment time came and I Got Balls received two offers.
Tim Love offered $200,000 for 80% of the business, because the guys had no idea how to run a place. He wanted them to concentrate more on the retail side of things, as he himself generated revenue on the quick-service side.
When Ralphie balked, Love informed him that most chefs own about that much of their first restaurants, and only when expansion occurs does the percentage go up.
Elizabeth Blau called a spade, a spade and said she didn’t even want to touch the quick-service business, concentrating on nothing but getting national distribution for the rice balls.
She would take money from her own pocket to set it all up, with Chef Hunter and a co-packer. Only then would a negotiation begin as to what percentage she would take.
She explained to Ralph that if she was able to get his dishes into a Vegas hotel’s buffet, six thousand people a day would be introduced to the product. Her track record in Vegas and beyond, plus her contacts impressed Ralph.
Tim Love was astounded. “Do you know how much $200,000 is?” He continued: you’ll take her introductions over my money? Yep, that’s right.
He did grumble a bit as he poured a celebratory drink, telling Ralphie it was a big mistake. Yet in the follow-up news run during the credits roll, we learned that I Got Balls had done deals with Costco and Whole Foods, among others and the business was up and running.
Good decision? Oh yeah, and how far into the show did you get tired of the jokes about balls?
RESTAURANT STARTUP airs on CNBC Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT Image credit: CNBC, used with permission