Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Leo Hudson, founder of Chef Leo's Food Lab, located in Mesa, AZ, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Chef Leo's Food Lab is a place for people to cook amazing food with good friends or complete strangers. When you enter, each meal station is arranged with all the ingredients, utensils, and the recipe to set you up for success. This is different from other cooking classes because it's very laid back. I want everyone to feel at home while they're at The Food Lab. I want them to go home with a few new recipes, some new skills, new friends, and some good memories. My customers include anyone who enjoys food. The Food Lab has different themed nights to accommodate whatever taste you may have. We have the Italian Feast, Sushi Night, The Bacon Chronicles, Tailgate All-Stars, Vegan night, and many more! We will also be giving back by making food to take to the local food bank.
Tell us about yourself
My story strangely started in the insurance industry. I got a job with an insurance company when I graduated from college with the intention of "figuring out what I really wanted to do" and switching careers. That didn't work because I ended up staying in insurance for 14 years. However, each night after work, my Zen time came when I got to create something new in the kitchen. 2020 brought about a lot of changes, including being laid off. I took being unemployed for the first time in 14 years as an opportunity and used money from my severance pay, my savings, an investor, plus a Kickstarter campaign to fund a residential kitchen in a commercial building. The overhead for a full-on restaurant was too expensive, so I created plans to build a kitchen that could be used for teaching, team building, and friendly cooking competitions. What keeps me motivated is knowing that I'm doing something I've wanted to do for a long time. No matter what job you have, there will always be stressors, but if you love what you do, then it's like you're not really working. When I'm typing up the menus to provide to my customers, I get excited! That excitement keeps me engaged in making the business the best it possibly can be.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Throughout this whole journey, I've been most proud of the fact that I gained culinary expertise without going to culinary school. The whole concept of my class is that you don't have to go to culinary school to be a chef. You just have to have a curious mind for food. We have to eat every day, so why not have fun with it? I've created recipes for spice and sauce companies, my chili recipe has been featured in a celebrity cookbook, and I've medaled in each cooking competition I've been in. All without going to culinary school. My goal for people who come to my class is, instead of buying a TV dinner, they buy fresh produce and protein and create something delicious while having fun. I want to teach everyone how to transform stressful cooking into stress reduction cooking.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest thing about being a business owner is also the reason that a lot of people don't open their own businesses. Success or failure is all on you. In the corporate world, I wasn't responsible for the success or failure of the entire business. Just my little corner of it. But in my own business, I know I need to be constantly motivated to stay ahead of the curve. To ensure your business survives, you need to know your competition, update your product based on customer feedback, respond to reviews, both good and bad, and generally be on top of everything. Although this can be time-consuming and exhausting, stepping back and realizing this is all being done for the success of MY business makes it worth it.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
If I could give advice to my old self before starting this business, I would say, whatever research you've done is not enough. Call people in the industry and have them walk you through what they did step by step. Have them tell you about all the fees associated with anything from permitting to construction to supplies. Don't assume what you've read online is accurate. Getting it from the horse's mouth will prevent you from having a very difficult time down the road. I would also tell myself to add 30-40% to your budget because you will need it, and it's much easier to have it readily available than to have to move money around. Lastly, I would say be flexible. There are so many people and entities you have to work with, and a lot of the time, they don't understand your vision. You need to be the one who relays everything to everyone, including the city, your architect, your contractor, your commercial realtor, and your supplier. Never assume they will speak to each other without your influence. And whatever happens, be able to adjust on the fly.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
What I've learned from this whole process is luck can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. If you can't see the big picture over the immediate problem, then it's easy to get down on yourself and claim you have "bad luck." As long as you look at every problem as an opportunity, your luck can change.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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