Culinary Entrepreneurs: A Recipe for Starting Your Own Business
Written by: Laura Taylor, CPC
I recently was asked to participate in a panel discussion of local entrepreneurs at a networking event with my alumni group, the Seattle Hokies. There were 5 of us on the panel representing a variety of service-oriented businesses. Our moderator asked a great variety of questions to inspire the event attendees. I thought I would share the Q&A here for anyone considering the scary-but-exciting leap into self-employment, particularly any culinary entrepreneurs out there.
What kind of business do you have?
I own and run a personal chef business in Seattle called Honest to Goodness. We are a team of cooking professionals that serves people who are too busy to cook for themselves. Our services include personalized menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cooking classes, and kitchen organization. We also create personalized home entertaining experiences.
How long have you had your own business?
April 2016 will be the 4-year anniversary of our official launch!
What inspired you to build your own business?
I had always wanted to have my own business. After a 10-year career in catering sales and event planning for high-end hotels and restaurants, I felt I had maxed out with professional milestones. That, and I got laid off, which was a blessing in disguise. If you’re going to work so hard in any job, I’d rather do it for myself than for “the man.”
How do you think Virginia Tech prepared you for being a culinary entrepreneur?
My original major was in Nutrition then I switch into and finished my degree in Hospitality & Tourism Management. My coursework was focused on the hotel/restaurant industry and a lot of business classes for management, marketing, finance, and accounting. I’m using all of those skills to run a business that’s about taking care of people by providing nutritious food for a healthier lifestyle.
Why did you choose Seattle as a location to start your business?
I was already living in Seattle with no plans of leaving. It also helped to have a solid network of clients from my previous jobs that I could leverage in announcing my new business.
What do you wish you knew before you opened your business?
Being an entrepreneur can also be an isolated job. You work for yourself and may not necessarily be in an office setting with social opportunities. You don’t know what you don’t know, and have to figure things out sometimes the hard way. You also better be prepared to work 60-80 hour weeks for the first 2 years with bare-bones pay.
What kind of challenges did you face in the building of your business?
Growing pains – being more successful than I could handle at times. That necessitated my company’s growth via hiring independent contractors and then switching to the hiring of employees in 2015.
What are your goals for the next 5 years within your business?
I want us to be a robust company known for the high-quality of care and service we provide. This year, I’m working on shifting my role to one that is more strategic business development versus being heavily involved in the day-to-day cooking. My plan for 2016 is to name a new head chef and support my team in their own career growth. Beyond that, I’m still working on the long-term vision.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Build a network of people who can provide real-world advice and resources to you in supporting and developing your business. When you can afford to, hire out the things you don’t like to do or aren’t good at. And use an accounting software package like Quickbooks as soon as possible!!
Most people who start a business think they’re starting a business and are an entrepreneur, but really they’ve just given themselves a new job. You have a business when it makes money for you while you’re asleep or on vacation or doing something else with your time. It feels great when I’m at home on a weekend night and I have chefs doing dinner parties that puts money in both our pockets.
What is the most rewarding aspect of owning your own business?
The satisfaction of having built a thriving business from literally the ground up. I created something with very little initial investment, turned a profit after 7 months, and struggled through 1.5 years of minimal income. My business hit 6-figures in gross revenue after 2.5 years, and we just closed 2015 with 71% revenue growth over our 2014.
Aside from the financial aspect, it is rewarding to be a top personal chef service in town and to have the opportunity to mentor others in this business. I am proud of the team I’ve built and know we will all continue to do great work together.
Good luck to all the culinary entrepreneurs out there! You’re welcome to contact Laura with additional questions & mentoring.