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For many chefs, starting a chef business in the midst of a global economic crisis is the last thing on their lockdown-to-do-list. But history proves it’s not such a bad idea. Most successful businesses do one thing for their customers: solve problems. Right now, people around the world are coming up with solutions to some of the problems and challenges we’ve faced in the last couple months of our coronavirus pandemic. Most business owners have literally experienced a crash-course in creative problem solving. Look how quickly restaurants pivoted. Even America’s famed Linea restaurant in New York is doing what it never considered possible: take-out.
A lot of people, including chefs, have an unusual amount of time on their hands to think, and re-think, their jobs, their futures, and their purpose. It turns out, this viral outbreak is opening the doors for chefs who want to call their own shots and pave the way for new, purpose-driven businesses.
What is a purpose-driven business?
The basic premise of a purpose-driven business is one that stands for and is taking action on something bigger than its products and services. For a chef this means deriving a sense of meaning not just from the type of food they cook but who they cook it for and why. A great example is a chef who creates delicious, daily celiac-safe meals for families who are all shifting their eating habits because of one family member’s recent diagnosis. Purpose-driven businesses draw the loyalty of customers and provide a sense of meaning for the business owners.
Why now is a good time to saying goodbye to your old chef job.
I understand and can identify with the fear that now is not the time to quit a job, but many chefs haven’t been given the luxury of that choice. Far more chefs report their work lacked a purpose or a sense that they were having a meaningful impact. If your job ended or you’re ready to cut ties, take comfort in the fact that 35% of the U.S. workforce – or 57 million people – are freelancers, according to a report by Upwork. The pandemic is radically shifting the work environment for every industry, not just restaurants. It’s an exciting chapter for chefs who want to be independent, and who understand how their cooking solves problems for their ideal customers.
Here are a few reasons starting your own independent chef business now is perfectly timed.
Uber and Groupon are so much a part of our everyday lives it’s hard to recall they were established as a solution to problems experienced during or shortly after the Great Recession. In fact, during times of economic crisis there are plenty of businesses positioning themselves for a bright recovery. A workforce of talented, creative individuals is emerging from these challenges. Ad space is cheaper and project-based work that business owners need, e.g. website work, design, and copy writing, is competitively priced.
Where once a new business venture was a dream, building your start-up from a home-based office is now realistic and commonplace. That includes starting a chef business.
The coronavirus pandemic is to chefs what a catalyst is to creation.
History is on the side of entrepreneurs building businesses in times of adversity. Right now, start-ups with a focus on things like health care, medicine, and food are answering the call by purpose-driven people who want to make a difference. The restaurant industry has been so disrupted, chefs are looking into a giant breach:
- Front and back of house workers are disproportionately out of work and will not, at least initially, be rehired in as great a number as before.
- Many diners are reluctant to re-enter restaurants because of health concerns or because the experience of dining has been altered.
- A record number of dietary restrictions, allergies and sensitivities makes it difficult for people to safely dine out compared to how frequently they’d prefer to have someone else do the cooking.
All of this is a catalyst for creating a new path that uses your culinary skills and your passion to make people happy with your food and service.
What types of businesses can chefs start?
Chefs are pairing their cooking skills to branch out online.
If you like teaching, you can teach wine tasting classes, cooking classes for children, baking classes for budget-conscious households, and BBQ grill-master courses for dads. You can do this online.
If you like performing, you can organize and offer mise en place services with accompanying instructional videos. Dinner packages with live or recorded tutorials are on the rise and can be executed in a chef’s home kitchen. Also, a “week-in-a-bag” menu/shopping subscriptions have great appeal. These services modernize dinner preparation into a fun family activity. You’ve done all the thinking and shopping for them. You’ve included videos to make it a breeze for busy families to bond over food.
Try a combination of services while you identify and hone your niche.
The modern chef who calls his/her own shots is a true entrepreneur. The gigs they work and the brand they create blend the very best of the worlds once held by traditional private chefs and personal chef roles. (Read about the differences in my previous blog post). Gone are the days of reporting to work every day doing prep while standing on the same 12×12 inch tile you’ve occupied for the last eight months. Instead, imagine having a dynamic and creative work week: shop for some clients, record a YouTube video for your featured dish, prepare meals for some other clients, and cap off the week with another client who’s throwing an intimate dinner party.
What are ten signs I’m ready to start my own chef business?
There’s no time like the present. Chefs can have a greater sense of confidence about starting their independent chef business if they read the signs. Here’s a quick list to help measure your readiness:
- When you have an idea about what you can cook and who you can serve.
- When people have asked you for something specific.
- When you’ve made some early sales and success.
- When you are confident (despite fear) you have skills and you can deliver.
- When you set a date (hint: if that date already passed, get started fast!).
- When you have a plan or someone to help you create one.
- When you have a passion for the work of the business.
- When you really, really want to be your own boss.
- When you have the support from important people in your life.
- When you’ve seen other chefs jump first and show you the water’s just fine.
It might not be such a crazy idea to start a chef business right now.
Perhaps you’ve spent the last few weeks with time on your hands. Maybe you’ve quietly held onto a dream that’s never been hatched and your spirit is suffering the erosion of enduring a life of unlived potential. Successful independent chefs describe having a moment when they knew it was time to move from thinking about a business to actually launching one. Sometimes these moments are a long-time coming, and other times they are foisted upon us. The problems we’ve faced over the last few months have provided the catalyst to create a beautiful solution.