Don’t let the title of this blog post scare you, being a food entrepreneur is amazing and I would never trade it for a 9-5 job, but there are some ugly truths about it. Why am I sharing the ugly truths? After all, I am a coach, and aren’t I supposed to motivate and inspire people? Well, yes. But I think a big part about being a coach is being able to help another food entrepreneur see the reality of owning a culinary business. It is not for the faint of heart.
In fact, I have seen chefs completely give up their dreams of owning a business because the road was too hard and they weren’t willing to do what it takes to get there. Of course nothing can ever prepare you for being a food entrepreneur, you are just kind of thrown into it. However, perhaps if I let you know some of the ugly truths, you can get a glimpse into the cut throat world of owning a culinary business.
Ugly Truth #1: Building a team might be your biggest challenge/headache
If you are looking to grow your business, you obviously can’t do that alone which means you need to hire other chefs. Having employees has been the hardest part about owning my own business. I’ve gone through my fair share of sous chefs because their attention to detail was extremely lacking or they were disrespectful. Managing other chefs can be exhausting and finding them is equally difficult. A little word of advice? Try going to local culinary schools to recruit talent or post job listings on Poached Jobs or Good Food Jobs. I tend to find higher-quality applicants there. If you can find a chef who comes highly recommended by a fellow chef, even better!
Even when you think you’ve found “the one” they won’t show up to an interview without warning and you’ll have to go to plan B. One way that I am trying to screen applicants more, is through a company called Profiles International that help you hire the right person the first time.
Ugly Truth #2: You are going to feel lonely
While on the outside being an entrepreneur is seen as glamorous and thrilling, often times you feel incredibly lonely. Lonely in the sense that you are the only one directing your company and you sometimes work alone and are away from your friends and family working on your business. Thankfully, I’ve created a community where chefs across the country can come together to share ideas, ask for feedback and advice, etc. so that helps combat the feelings of loneliness that can occur. It’s important to have support from your family and make time to spend with them so you don’t feel alone on the journey.
Ugly Truth #3: Other Restaurant Chefs Might Not See You As Their Equal
This is a tough pill to swallow, but I have found over the years that some restaurant chefs “shun” non-traditional chefs or those who have started their own business. I am not saying that every restaurant chef is like this, but some are especially in chef chapters and associations. I can be disheartening at times, but then I remind myself that in culinary school that is pretty much the only path you are given (to work in a restaurant) and so that is what is expected.
You have to remind yourself that it’s okay that you’ve carved your own path. My town is very restaurant-driven and so the restaurant chefs seem to get the most attention in the media. Well, it has only encouraged me to try my best to get involved in some of the same events they attend and break that stigma.
Ugly Truth #4: You will probably need a lawyer
In the last 15 years that I’ve been in business, I have had some legal issues come up where I needed a lawyer whether because another business was violating our copyright or an employee was doing something dishonest. Not only will you need a lawyer for “legal emergencies” but also so you can have some look at contracts, help you draft up contracts etc. You might not know all of the legal implications that come from owning a business but they do and that’s why it’s often necessary. It’s never fun having to deal with legal stuff, but sadly it happens more often than you think.
Ugly Truth #5: You will have sleepless nights
Sleep deprivation is definitely a thing. When you first start your business or even when you’re going through rough patches, there will be sleepless nights. Most entrepreneurs are extremely passionate about what they do and so it can become an obsession to try and come up with new ideas or figure out solutions to problems. It can consume you and really eat into your REM sleep.
You’ll have to try to find ways to let go of these thoughts and let yourself relax and think about other things. You might even have to make rules for yourself where you don’t talk about your business on a date with your spouse. A lot of the chefs I coach have found that yoga helps them, going on walk with their dog, or even going on a mini getaway to step away from their problems. Being able to step away will be important so you can bring new fresh ideas and life into your business.
While there are certainly ugly truths about being a food entrepreneur, the flip side is that there are many amazing truths about being a culinary business owner that make it all worthwhile. If you properly handle the hardships and are mentally prepared for what comes with owning your business, then you will be better able to get through the bumps on your road to success.