Monthly Archives: November 2007

Machining like a Soup Stand

I recently made a trip to downtown San Francisco and discovered a new approach to fast food that seems to be prospering — the soup and oatmeal take-out restaurant.

Take-out Soup Restaurant Review

This is limited menu to the extreme. One location was an eight foot wide hole in the wall. Oatmeal was served until 10:00 a.m. and then replaced by soup. The soups rotated daily. When they run out of one, that particular variety was finished for the day.

The other soup outlet had a dozen tables, more staff, longer hours, but also stuck to the oatmeal and soup theme. I think the approach will spread to other cities that have a lot of walking traffic. Today, the number of people who leave home in a rush without eating breakfast is huge. The oatmeal fix trumps the Egg McMuffin for the nutrition oriented Generation X and Y’ers who are the bulk of the clientele. Soup is time consuming to make but cheap per serving. For a low rent spot, the margins could be stunning for an owner operator.

An interesting analogy in the machining realm is taking shape at Tim Timson’s shop in Willetts, California. Tim is a 60-year-old screw machine junkie. For several years he has been bargain picking older National Acme screw machines. He sets each machine up for a specific job in a big old building in an old lumber mill town, a two and a half hour drive from the Bay Area. He has 30 multis now which he keeps running with four people including him and his wife.

With this kind of cheap overhead operation he can compete successfully on price. With the machines constantly set up he has extremely fast turnaround time, especially if he keeps several bars of metal in stock.

It’s not exactly soup and oatmeal out of a nook in San Fran, but it has the same elements for success. Tim’s shop’s production is cheap, accessible, and high quality. The formula is as old as porridge and broth.

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