Gone are the days of needing a table, a seat or even flatware when eating out. We live in a time when restaurateurs can spend less on frivolity like fine china and more time on food. Today, gourmet dining is wheeled around in carts or prepared to order in trucks. Local food vendor Jamie Williams jumped on the bandwagon and launched Cincy Bag Ladies in the spring of 2012 with one mission: Let people eat without plates.
After a childhood spent playing restaurant, Williams is finding her niche as an adult in the Cincinnati food world by selling street food in pouches for table-free dining. The inspiration for her concept came from struggling to find seats at Findlay Market to enjoy her waffle. In response, she recreated dishes that mimic the structure of the walking taco, a longtime favorite of Williams at fairs and festivals.
“The idea is everything in a bag that we can eat on the go and that’s easy to eat,” Williams says.
On a whim, she found out about a program that helps creative people put their ideas into action. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Indiana University, Williams enrolled in an eight-week class from Springboard to help kick start her idea.
“Springboard walks you through how to put a business plan together,” Williams says, “things like branding, registering to become an LLC and all the paper work.”
Williams was prepared to realize her concept by the end of the program, and she introduced her company to the world via the Strauss Troy Market on Fountain Square every Tuesday for three hours during lunch.
“I wasn’t planning on launching my business so soon,” Williams says, “but Market days at Fountain Square were a good start, like a good way to get your feet wet and try.”
She turned her business plan into a family affair by joining forces with her mom.
“I have more of a business background,” says Williams, crediting her mom with the cooking skills.
“Most of the recipes are things my mom, my aunt and friends have worked on.”
All the recipes are made from scratch and include some of Williams’ favorites from her mother’s repertoire like their popular chicken salad sandwich made with grapes, cranberries and bite-size pieces of croissant. The produce and seasonings come from Findlay Market. Other walking lunches include meatballs and even egg salad.
“It was better that I just jumped right into it rather than just plan it all out because I’ve just learned so much this summer,” Williams says.
Tuesdays at the market turned into a stepping stone for Cincy Bag Ladies and a great atmosphere for learning important lessons about the food business. They’ve battled bad weather with strong winds and have seen beautiful days when they sold out of their entire inventory.
“Since we’re mobile, we depend a lot on the weather,” Williams says. “And that’s the hard part: getting the demand right.”
Williams has been surrounded by a wealth of helpful and supportive food community members. Her neighbor vendors at the events were more than happy to offer their advice and expertise.
The best part for Williams this summer was meeting new people and establishing regulars at her booth. That’s the one thing she says she’ll miss the most, the people who come visit her every week.
Now that her time at Fountain Square is over, Williams is ready to branch out to different venues. She plans on working at Findlay Market for a few weeks and trying out new recipes. Her ideas include breakfast-style dishes like breakfast burritos, but she wants to maintain the same comfort foods she loves.
“Originally, when I started all of this I thought I wanted a food truck, that was my goal, but now I’ve changed and I really want a restaurant,” Williams says.
Williams wants to expand the Cincy Bag Ladies concept into a breakfast and lunch style family restaurant in Over-the-Rhine.
Working downtown and living in OTR made picking a location for her future business easy. While taking her business in for the winter, Williams wants to focus on the future of her company and figure out how to come back in the spring of 2013.
“My hope, dream, pie in the sky, is to have a storefront or a little restaurant in OTR or Findlay,” Williams says.
Look for CINCY BAG LADIES at Findlay Market this fall or online at facebook.com/CincyBagLadies.