Between coming home from College and going off to my summer job, I had three weeks at home in the Bay area. It was hard to get hired because I was only there for such as short time, and I had no plans. Nothing to do, no routine, no time constraints or deadlines, no commitments. So I decided to continue something I had started about three years prior. That was a healthy, gourmet, catering business for family friends.
My company motto is “good food that just happens to be healthy”. You may be surprised when you see items such as clam chowder, alfredo linguini, chocolate-citrus cake, and shepherd’s pie on a “health food” menu. But those are all there, and yes, are indeed, healthy. It became my goal to spread the idea that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or limited.
When I started the Paleo diet 3 years ago, I didn’t want to “cut out” any of my favorite foods, and I soon discovered that there was a healthy way to adapt practically any dish. Doing this business has not only taught me more about cooking, but about business.
I learned that you’re never too young to go ahead and start something. My business started as a way to raise a few hundred dollars for a missions trip in 2013 when I was 16. In a few months, I had raised enough money, but I didn’t want to stop there. I continued it on and off and saved the money for my snowboarding pursuit. When I started, I had no idea about business or accounting. All I knew was that I had to price the menu items more than the cost of the ingredients, and boom! Profit. I learned that other people are willing to pay more than I am willing to pay for something. I guess if you’re used to eating out at restaurants, my menu was pretty cheap, and probably healthier.
I learned about target markets. It would be great to be that cool, hip new startup serving the twenty-somethings. I wanted to cook for my friends, and people like myself. However, when I first began selling my meals, 100% of my customers were my parents’ age. It made a lot of sense. Who makes the decisions about what the family eats for dinner? Probably not the children. I hadn’t set a target market at the beginning, but I soon figured it out.
I realized how hard it must be to start a “real” business. For me, it was easy. There was no risk, since I only bought the ingredients after receiving an order. Working out of home, I had no extra rent to pay, no overhead, and I didn’t have to pay any employees. My only cost was the ingredients and electricity. Getting customers was hard, but at least my life was not dependent on turning profit – it just was a way for me to get some extra money. Seriously, if this was a real business where I had to get a separate building, hire employees, and pay for permits and insurance, I would have to get a lot more orders – which wasn’t easy. I learned that most of your money comes from repeat customers rather than new ones, and that putting people over profit is important for keeping those customers. If someone didn’t like my food, I would re-do their order for free. I gave out free samples and free gifts for repeat customers. I took “off menu” orders if that’s what my customers wanted, even roaming around the city in search of goats meat to fulfill one of those orders.
Am I going to make this more official and continue it in the future? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure if I will still love cooking if I do it for many hours a day, day in day out. All I know is that I’m very grateful I’ve had people willing to put their trust in me and buy food from a 16-19-year old. Without this experience, I would not have learned so much, and those three weeks at home would have been a drag. Honestly, I would have done it for free. It means the world to a chef when people enjoy and praise their creations.