By Carly DeFilippo
When we hear the word “start-up”, typically what comes to mind is a small, forward-thinking, creative company in the technology sector. But in the food world, start-up ventures are equally exciting, innovative…and risky. That’s why ICE instructors Kathryn Gordon, Jeff Yoskowitz, Jessie Riley and Alan Someck created Food Start Up Help, a consulting service for food entrepreneurs looking to launch a new business.
Where did the idea for Food Start Up Help come from?
Jessie: I got the idea from watching Chef Jeff and Chef Kathryn repeatedly help students with various projects; alumni would also come back for their help. I thought they should formalize their knowledge into a consulting service, since there is a clear demand for bakery-related, start-up guidance.
What is each of your experience with starting a small food business?
Jeff: I have started a pizza restaurant, a wholesale bakery, a line of boxed petits fours and am currently a minority partner in a start-up frozen muffin batter company. I’ve also benefited from the experience of managing a start-up kiosk, restaurant and catering company. In addition, I was the Pastry Chef of a bakery that expanded into a second retail location, and through that experience learned what not to do in that circumstance.
Kathryn: I’ve worked for some “mom & pop” food service operations, which were underfunded. That’s a very painful situation to be in. I’ve also worked for the three highest grossing restaurants in the US and trained at two 4-star restaurants, which is about as different as you can get from start ups. Previous to working in Pastry, I received an MBA in Finance from NYU, so I’m also able to bring a business perspective to clients’ challenges.
Jessie: I grew up in a family that loved to cook, and early food exposure allowed me to develop a good palette. Combining that with training in a 3-star restaurant, work as a private chef and time working with two bakeries in France, I learned to create unique and delicious recipes for clients. I have also spearheaded food industry events, and am able to share those organizational skills with clients.
Alan: I’ve had over 25 years experience operating restaurants and starting a variety of related businesses. This has helped me understand some of the key factors that make an entrepreneur successful in this very tough industry. My strengths lie in my ability to assess the viability of a concept and assess the strengths an individual has and the areas in which he/she may need some help. I can also offer entrepreneurs a strong network of reliable, talented hospitality professionals who can help support a project and help them develop a comprehensive, practical business plan.
Are there any particular projects you are currently working on that you are particularly excited about?
Jeff: There’s one project in particular that Alan and I have been working on for several months. It’s an energy bar that is going to be distributed nationally. It’s really exciting to see how all of the components are coming together.
What are key concepts any new food entrepreneur needs to grasp?
Alan: Have a clear vision of your concept, or you cannot differentiate yourself from the competition or write a viable business plan.
Jeff: A realistic budget and adequate funding are key for a start up to survive. Also get the advice of experienced professionals (and listen to them), especially if you don’t have years of experience behind you.
Kathryn: You won’t generate profits if you don’t know and control your food costs; it’s pointless to sell great tasting food at a loss.
Jessie: Know how you’re going to produce your food product, because otherwise your operating costs may eat up your profits.
What are some surprising things you’ve learned since starting FSUH?
Kathryn: I love working on our free weekly blog magazine and visiting a wide range of businesses. It’s evolved into a handbook for how-to-start-a-food-business. Some of the people we’ve interviewed have been brutally honest – about their own failures, lessons learned. An entrepreneur can save a lot of time and money by reading the blog.
Jeff: I agree with Kathryn. Working on the blog and visiting all of the different types of food businesses – and discovering people’s varying approaches to them – has been incredibly interesting. I believe it is keeping me current on equipment, packaging, methods and sales trends that are very important to my profession.
How has your involvement with ICE influenced or supported this new project?
Kathryn: We have access to a diverse group of alumni, and everyone we’ve asked has contributed to our blog magazine. I think that’s great. There’s a vibrant community of food entrepreneurs out there. We think we can help them, and they’re helping us – and others – by sharing their secrets of success.