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Welcome to episode 125 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Shawn Wenner and Chris Hill from Entrepreneurial Chef about the common characteristics of chefs, how to diversify your online income, and what it takes to make it as an entrepreneurial chef.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed Katy Keck from Palate Passion Purpose and Ben Myhre from Ramshackle Pantry about pursuing passions and following dreams. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often really really tough. Especially when food is involved.
That’s why Shawn and Chris started Entrepreneurial Chef: to provide tools and resources for food entrepreneurs so that they can grow successful brands and businesses. They’ve built a brand around their own skills to help others in the food space monetize, serve customers, and pursue their dreams.
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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode we talk to Shawn Wenner and chef Chris Hill, about some of the common characteristics of the world’s most renowned chefs. How to diversify your online income in some really unique ways, and what it takes to make it as an entrepreneurial chef.
Hey, it is Bjork Ostrom, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today we are doing one of those double interviews. There’s going to be two people on the podcast today, Shawn Wenner, and chef Chris Hill, and they’re going to be talking about this new business that they’ve launched, it’s one year old, so in the beginning stages, but they’ve gotten past that difficult first year. The business is entrepreneurial chef. It’s people that want to be entrepreneurial, that are excited about building a business, and they’re doing that in the food and recipe niche. They come from a restaurant perspective, but they’re talking a lot about the business aspects of how restaurateurs, and food and recipe business people can be building their business.
The focus for so much of that stuff is on building a personal brand, so they’re going to be talking about why that’s so important, as well as some other unique ways that you can be creating an income if this is the word that you live in, if this is the type of concept that you’re interested in, and if your expertise in food and recipe development and creation. It’s going to be a great podcast interview, and I’m excited to have them both on, after being on their podcast recently, which we’re going to talk about a little bit as well. Let’s go ahead and jump into the interview with Shawn and Chris. We’ll start it off with the double intro, because I need to do a directed intro for double interviews, so we don’t have to talk over each other.
All right, we are kicking off the podcast, and today we have two guests. Whenever we have two guests, I have to be very strategic in directing my questions, or directing any conversation to each individually. One of the hardest parts with two guests is the initial welcome. I’m going to divide up the welcome, and say first, Shawn, welcome to the podcast.
Shawn Wenner: Thank you Bjork. It’s great to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and Chris, welcome to you as well.
Chris Hill: Thank you as well sir, pleasure to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Excited to talk to you guys. The topic of your business is going to be a perfect fit for this podcast. Business is entrepreneurial chef. You produce a lot of content, and have a lot of really focused information for people that want to be entrepreneurs, and they’re also interested in the food industry. Before we get to that point, I want to hear each of your individual stories. That’s one of the things that we love to do on this podcast, is give time for people to tell their story, because I think there are things that people can take away, just from hearing a story, and a person’s story, not just a business story. Chris, I would love to hear from you. You’ve covered a lot of ground in your career, starting out not necessarily in the world of food. Can you take me back to you’re coming out of college, and you’re not heading in the food direction, or the restaurant business, you’re kind of heading in the advertising/marketing direction, is that right?
Chris Hill: That’s right. I got a master’s in marketing from the University of Alabama, and jumped into a consulting work, marketing consulting, strategy consulting, and realized really early on that I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day. I wasn’t happy with the dynamics with my boss, so I looked at kind of where my life had taken me so far. I worked at restaurants in college to make money, beer money for the weekends and things like that, and I said let’s give it a shot. I had a cousin that lived up in Virginia, who still does, and I moved up here to live with him, to work with him. He taught me the kind of behind-the-scenes of the industry, and then I realized how much I really did love it, and how I could maybe apply my business background to that. He and I shortly thereafter opened up a restaurant, and at 28, 29, I was a restaurant owner, and the same point I started to try and use my marketing background to build a brand for myself.
I was doing the restaurant full-time, not making any money in the early days, to then I started building my brand, which in the early days was not making a lot of money. Then 30, 40 hours a week I was also bartending to pay the bills. It was a long couple years, but since then I’ve actually sold my share in the restaurant, and now do a lot of writing and speaking in the industry, and do a little bit of consulting work. Linked up with Shawn, about a year, year and a half ago when he was starting out Entrepreneurial Chefs. It’s been a winding road based in fun, but it’s been a lot of excitement to get here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure, and excited to talk about what that was like when you guys linked up, and started to build Entrepreneurial Chef. One of the things that I’m interested in, so your story, starting a restaurant at a really young age, can you talk maybe kind of a spark notes version of what those early days were like, maybe some of the takeaways that you had with that?
Chris Hill: I think it’s a lot like somebody starting out in … Originally when I was building my brand, I was interested in the blogging space, and creating recipes, on that side. I think it’s very similar if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s kind of where I was. All of a sudden I was a partner in a restaurant, I was the executive chef. I hadn’t had any real culinary formal training. For me it was a lot of learning things very fast along the way, which was good, because we didn’t have a huge restaurant, so the failure that we experienced early on wasn’t catastrophic. It was a lot of learning things here and there that obviously I was able to realize, maybe we shouldn’t do that next time and move forward. That’s really … Learning those things early on allowed me to have a better understanding of the industry, and also now helps me to really have a firm grasp on the industry as a whole, and things that people can maybe figure out earlier on that I wish I would have known through my writing and speaking and such.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, do you have an example of maybe one or two of those things? When you talk about some of the things that you learned through failure in the early stages of the restaurant, what were the most significant things that if you could tell yourself, “Hey, this is something you should know when you get started.” What would that be?
Chris Hill: A very easy example to understand, is we opened up, and most restaurant openings are like we’re going to open on this day, and even if it’s that day, regardless, it’s kind of like with a house. It’s to the very last second, you’re pulling menus together, you’re putting that last coat of paint on. We had our menu and everything set up and we were ready to go that first day, but we didn’t have a lot of recipes for our staff to follow. That first kind of three months we were playing catch up so much that we weren’t able to have a really systematic and standardized way of doing things. For anyone starting out now, I say the most important thing to have is your recipes, to have your systems and processes in place so that things can kind of run on autopilot if you’re not able to be there.
Bjork Ostrom: Man, that is such a huge takeaway. I just got back from a conference, and one of the big, bold, triple underlined takeaways for me was the importance of processes, and they call them SOP’s as well, which sounds kind of business-y, but it really is a standard operating procedure. How important that is for a business. For me, running a business, there’s a lot of things that I just know that are in my head, and I can do, but if I’m away for a month, then nobody else knows how to do those. It’s interesting that you say that’s a really important thing for the restaurant industry as well, because if you’re the executive chef, if you are the main guy or the main girl, and you’re not there, then what do people do, and how important it is to have those procedures and those processes. Even when you’re in the early stages, it’s a great takeaway for people that want to start a restaurant, or that are building their blog.
We use a tool called Process Street P-R-O-C-E-S-S-.-S-T, to do those, but I know people use Google docs, and Google drive for that as well. Great takeaway. Excited to jump into some of the other takeaways that entrepreneurs in the food and recipe world can take away, some of the things that you guys have learned as you’ve built this brand. Before we do that, Shawn, I want to jump over and hear a little bit about your story. I know that you are involved in the food world, the restaurant world, but in a little bit of a different way. Can you talk to me a little bit about your journey, and take me up to the point of entrepreneurial chef?
Shawn Wenner: Yeah, absolutely. First, to go a little further back, I was an entrepreneur in the music industry. I never really broke through, I struggled, and that came into play later. I ended up falling into a position at Le Cordon Bleu college in Orlando, culinary school. When I landed there, I fell in love with culinary arts, the passion, the people. All of a sudden I felt an industry that was very familiar to me. People that were very passionate about their work, and artistic. I stayed with them for almost ten years, and just met a lot of people, watched a lot of students enter school and leave school. There was always a problem that I saw. I always saw a lot of students enter school wanting to be let’s say Gordon Ramsey, or have their restaurant as soon as they graduated, or be an entrepreneur of some kind when they finish. But yet, they struggled when they left.
I reflected back to my time when I was an entrepreneur in the music industry, I focused on the art and not the business. In the process of being at Le Cordon Bleu, I ended up going back to school, and ended up getting a Master’s and MBA. When I left Le Cordon Bleu last year … Le Cordon Bleu is in the United States, Le Cordon Bleu in North America, they closed down. All of them had closed across the country.
Bjork Ostrom: I remember that, yeah.
Shawn Wenner: Yeah, so I sat back, and I kind of had one of these moments where I was like, “What am I going to do?” To understand the gravity, in September of 2015 I was married. We get back from Maui in October, by December I’m notified we’re going to be let go. By January, I don’t have a job. By February, my wife and I become pregnant with our first one. I’m sitting back wondering what am I going to do, and I reflected back onto that massive problem that I saw at Le Cordon Bleu, where students would enter and then exit, and they just could not make their dreams become a reality. That’s where the idea for Entrepreneurial Chef came into play. I started to dig in and look at resources, and in fact that’s where I came across you all with Food Blogger Pro and your platform. I looked at what was out there, and looked at the resources that were specifically targeting food entrepreneurs in general. I saw that there was nobody that was bringing them all together.
There was different little pockets, there was a catering resource, there was a personal chef resource, there was a restaurant resource, and food truck resource, but nobody was taking everyone together and pulling the best insights, business tips, and entrepreneurial tips from all these different niches that were in the food service and our culinary hospitality industry, and pulling them all together. That’s where the idea came from.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Shawn Wenner: Yeah. From there, I essentially watched a ton of tutorials to build a website, and never published before, never did anything like this before, and just started grinding. In June of 2016, officially had launched Entrepreneurial Chef.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. I think people that listen to this podcast will really relate to that idea of I’ve never done this before, I’m going to watch a ton of tutorials, and I’m going to be frustrated as I try and get this to the place where I want it to be. Like you said, the grind of getting in and actually doing it is such an important piece of the puzzle. Before we move too far on, a couple questions. This isn’t necessarily directly related, but I’m just kind of curious, do you have thoughts on Le Cordon Bleu closed? Was that an industry shifting, or maybe a business model that wasn’t working? What do you think was behind that?
Shawn Wenner: I think there was a lot of different things at play, and it’s very hard to put your finger on one particular thing. To be honest, I think it’s just one of those things that happened, that a lot of people try to make sense of. I wasn’t close enough to everything that went down to be able to answer that with any type of certainty. Yeah, it’s hard to say, it’s hard to say without jumping into speculation essentially. I know what I read essentially, that was put out by the company. I do know that they were looking to sell Le Cordon Bleu to another place. I do know that they had somebody that was interested in purchasing, and then next thing you know I know that they were closing it down.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Shawn Wenner: Not too sure in terms of that, other than speculating.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely. The other thing that I think is important to point out that you talked about was how there were these people coming into Le Cordon Bleu, and they had these dreams and aspirations of building a career that was … A career where they are able to do what they love. In a lot of ways, they are the person that is the decision maker in that. Maybe it’s a restaurant owner, or an executive chef somewhere. How difficult it is to make that transition, because it’s not just about the product, it’s also the marketing around the product. One of the things I think about a lot, that also ties into that, and ties into your story with music, is I remember reading some really early interviews with John Mayer, and he obviously is an incredible musician, but there’s hundreds and thousands of incredible musicians that aren’t as popular as he is. He was talking about in the early stages what he would do for marketing, and one of the things that he would do is he said he would go into forums with made up names of teenage girls, like John Mayer lover lvrr or something, and he would post about himself on these music forums.
I just remember being so surprised that somebody would have to do that, but also being so impressed with this grit, and the grind of having to build your own career. That was like early days internet, so social media was a little bit different or nonexistent. It was kind of a version of social media. I think the same can be said for people that are wanting to build a blog, or a website, or a personal brand, or a restaurant. All of those things require you to have an understanding of marketing, and how to promote yourself, and to be entrepreneurial. You start this company, and realize that there’s this huge need for it because you’ve seen that. You get a little bit into it and realize it would maybe make sense to bring somebody else in. Shawn, can you tell me a little bit about kind of the early stages of that, and when you connected up with Chris, and the reason for reaching out to him to bring him in as a partner.
Shawn Wenner: Yeah, absolutely. First I’m going to say along with your John Mayer example, I forget the rap artist’s name, but back in the Napster day, he would title his music incorrectly, and he would title it with Jay-Z’s name, or 50 Cent’s name, or whoever’s name, so that people would download a song and then they realize that this was this other artist, and he would have his name at the very beginning of it. I thought it was brilliant.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a grill tacking.
Shawn Wenner: That’s exactly right. Yeah, it’s a very neat example that I just came across. Starting Entrepreneurial Chef, that was in June of 2016. The first individual that graced the cover of the magazine was Chef Chris Hill. I came across Chris, because of his book Making the Cut. Once I read the description of Making the Cut, did some research, thought he would be a phenomenal guest to have, I had read about his story and his brand, and what he was able to do. He had this post that went viral, Dear Chefs post that went viral, and Chris I’m sure you’ll talk about this. What I read about this individual, this guy, it really resonated with me and I knew that it was going to resonate with the audience, because the people that I was looking to serve, they were looking up to a chef Chris Hill, or some of the other people that I was also looking at to interview.
That’s kind of how I was introduced to Chris, was I reached out. He was gracious enough to take the time and do an interview, and then we put him on the cover of the magazine, and it was the first issue of the magazine.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Shawn Wenner: By the way, the magazine was just a test. I created the website, it was never supposed to be a magazine, it was just kind of a blog if you will. After 30 days, I looked at the analytics and saw that there was a high bounce rate, so I thought what if everybody would have all of the information from the website, the blog, but in a PDF kind of downloadable form. A quote, magazine. I looked at my wife one night and said, “I’m going to do a magazine.” Seven days later, slapped it on a landing page, and that was after I had connected with Chris, and that’s how the magazine was born. It got a few thousand downloads just that firs one, and that kicked off. That’s kind of where it began with Chris. In terms of the evolution, we just connected, and we collaborated. I collaborated with him on his brand, and then from there we just started talking and having in-depth conversations. I would ask his opinion about things, he would do it vice versa, and next thing you know we just kind of formed this alliance together.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. I’m excited to talk about how that partnership came together. Before I do that though, Chris, I’m curious to hear a little bit about Making the Cut available on Amazon. If people want to check that out we’ll link to that as well. 98% five star ratings. People really get a lot of value out of this book. Can you talk for those that are listening, kind of what the premise is and why you felt like it was an important book to write?
Chris Hill: Sure Bjork. For me, I was at the point where I had built this brand for myself. I had recently sold my share in the restaurant, and I was going to try to do kind of what you guys have done with the company, and doing it full time. Obviously to be able to do it full time, ideally you need one or multiple revenue streams coming in. I saw that a book might be a good opportunity to do that, especially following my interest with being a writer, and people kind of knew me as being someone that put their words out there.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Chris Hill: I had this idea of taking really some stories from different chefs that I was able to interview, some folks that are really popular, like Fabio Viviani, and some that aren’t quite as popular, but are doing some great things, who’ve won James Beard awards, and Michelin Stars, and such. Wanted to kind of hone in on what makes a chef, or restaurant successful. Told their stories of success and failure, and really along the way as well, told my story. I tried to make it somewhat personal, but not just about me and my wins and losses, but really about the industry as a whole. I really saw it as an opportunity to connect with people to share more, and really also to kind of keep the brand going in a way that I’d be able to make an income off of.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely. In those interviews with those chefs, those restaurateurs, which is such a fun word to say. What were some of the common traits that you saw, some of the things that if you had to say, “I’m going to pick one or two things, and across the board all of these successful entrepreneurial chefs had these traits.” What would those be?
Chris Hill: I think the one that probably hits closest to home for me, and maybe the audience listing as well, would be they’re not afraid to try new things, meaning that it might not work the first time around, especially when you’re testing a recipe. If it works exactly right the first time, you’re probably just not testing it enough. If you try something and it doesn’t work the first time around, you give it another try, and keep testing, and get closer and closer to what you’re trying to come up with, and then you have a recipe, and then you have a restaurant, and then you have your brand, whatever that might be. The most important thing is this resilience, and this willingness to keep trying things, knowing that the first time around is probably not going to work, but if you keep getting closer … Seth Godin says, “If I fail more you do, then I win.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think about that with the work that we do, especially learning new skills. One of the things I’ve been interested in, two things primarily. One of them is doing split testing for website pages, so getting really good at understanding how to build two different versions of a website, or a webpage, call it AB testing, and then run a test to see which one performs better. Which one do people stay on the longest, or which one do people click on the longest. I don’t really know the tools that well, and I can get kind of frustrated with that. I think back to when I started playing tennis, or when I started playing guitar, and I didn’t have an expectation of really knowing, or being really good at it when I was first starting. With guitar, I remember I would try and move my fingers to a G chord, and it’s like they’d go so slow.
I had an expectation that I wouldn’t be good at it to start, and I think that for some reason, there are different skills, where people expect to be good at it when they start, or they feel bad if they’re not really good at it, and assume that everybody else is. I think that technology can be one of those things, it can feel like everyone else is really good at it when they’re first getting started, so we hear that a lot. It’s interesting to hear you talk about that with recipes, developing a recipe, because I think that can be true as well. For people just to know that, especially if you’re in the early stages, it might take a while. You might need to iterate, don’t give up too early, have patience, and know that as you test and improve, and stick with it, then over a long time you’ll get to a point where you’ll be able to create a recipe and it’ll be really good, or you can move your hands to the G chord a little bit quicker than 30 seconds. I think that’s an awesome, awesome takeaway. Go ahead.
Chris Hill: Yeah, for me and a lot of folks that are just starting personal brands, the opportunity to do speaking. I had never spoken before. I do a lot of TV now too. When I first started doing TV, I had never been on TV before. You do that first one, and it goes horribly wrong, and it’s kind of like starting a website where you get six people show up the first day. If you keep iterating, which I have so much respect for Shawn with him and Entrepreneurial Chef, of taking an idea and saying, “I don’t know how to do this, but I’m going to figure it out.” Over the course of six months, went from having an idea and then really implementing it, and it now has this great following, and a beautiful website, beautiful magazine, and it’s all because of the fact that he just kept going.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, which is such a huge takeaway, and something we talk about often on this podcast, but we could talk about it multiple times every podcast, because it’s so important, so critical. The willingness to stick with it, and continue to build and to iterate, and to not get discouraged, but enjoy the process. Shawn, there’s this point where you say, “Hey, I want to bring Chris into the fold on this.” One of the things that I was interested in, is how partnerships actually work. When you boil it down, the nitty gritty details, you say, “Hey Chris, I would be interested in bringing you in on this.” How do you start that conversation, and do you say, “Hey, at some point we’re going to do, we’ll figure this out in terms of the partnership deal.” Or, do you say right away, “Let’s get this on paper,” and figure out from a business perspective how this is a shared business, and what does that look like?
Shawn Wenner: Yeah, good question. When Chris and I got to the point where we noticed that there was a lot of synergy between what we’re doing, because he already had a massive platform built. He had 140 something thousand people that were following him, he already had the book, and here I was just starting out creating a platform. Once we realized we both thought alike, and we were going after very similar things, as I said had a lot of synergies. We talked about the possibility of linking up for something things, and the podcast was one of them that we now do. Then there’s other ventures that are in the works, that we’re working on right now. At the very beginning, we definitely did have that conversation as it related to money. One of the things that we did with some of the ventures now that we have, we’d just split it right down the middle, so 50%. 50/50.
We did that ahead of time, and I think for anybody that’s engaging in a partnership, I think that it’s smart to do that ahead of time, get some definitions of what each individual will be doing, and the compensation, and kind of the revenue share if you will, because when you’re in the idea stage, the money is intangible. You can’t feel it, it doesn’t seem real. It’s just this dreamy state that you want to get to. What I know about my past life, my experience, this hasn’t happened with Chris, but what I know from my past with partnerships, is that when money starts coming, emotions change very quickly, and people can change very quickly. If you didn’t set some boundaries, if you didn’t put some definitions around things, things can go awry pretty quickly.
A lot of it has to do with the expectations that people have with the project. Individuals will expect different things out of it, and that’s usually where you get that frustration point, one person thinks they’re putting in 50%, and another person thinks that same individual’s only putting in 25%. It can get a little sticky, so we talked about that ahead of time, before we jumped into certain ventures.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and with a partnership, are you guys having a weekly meeting, or do you keep track of time, like how much time you’re working on something? Or is there this kind of mutual trust where you say this is something we’re doing, this is something we’re working on it together, and we know that when it all boils down it’s going to be pretty similar in terms of work, energy, and time put into it?
Shawn Wenner: Yeah, I will say, and then I’ll let Chris chime in, I would say it’s interesting, I joke with Chris early on saying that he’s like a cousin that I never knew that I had, because his thinking in the way that he deals with things is so similar to myself, that I placed trust into Chris early on, and trust is an action. It’s not one of those things where you sit back and you wait for someone to earn your trust, or the person has to prove themselves, it’s an action. You either actively trust somebody or you don’t, and I actively trusted Chris. He’s never done anything that has defied that trust, if you will. I knew early on that I can trust this guy, and it made it very, very easy. Everything has just been very seamless.
There hasn’t been a tally of who’s doing what in terms of the project, or the hours. We identify an end goal, and we essentially work backwards to get there, and we flip back and forth. There might be conversations, Chris I don’t know, like every day for five days, until we figure something out and we make progress on it. We seamlessly and almost effortlessly go back and forth. That’s my vantage point. Chris might say something different, this might be an unveiling here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Chris Hill: I’m completely in sync with what Shawn just said, and I’ve been burned before as well, not by Shawn, but in the past. I think it is important to have certain parameters, and an understanding of what’s the end goal, and who’s going to get what in the big picture. I’ve recently gotten interested in watching Shark Tank online, and one of the things that Mark Cuban says, “It’s better to have 30% of a watermelon than 100% of a grape.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Chris Hill: When I was looking for help growing my brand, and really getting strategic with my brand, about a year ago actually Shawn helped me with relaunching my website on a Word Press platform, and did a great job with that. I knew that there’d be a revenue share involved there, but I knew that the revenue that was coming in was very minute, versus if we were able to take it to another level, it would make up for any sort of having to share revenue, because the fact that there was a bigger audience, there was more money coming through, that kind of thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. I love that idea of 30% of a watermelon. It’s such a truism in the world that we live in with websites, and scalability, and reach. If you bring the right person in and have those right connections, you’re able to grow significantly faster, so that makes sense. Let’s talk a little bit about the restaurant business. I’m so curious to know, because I have really so little experience with that, and people that listen to this podcast, I would assume the majority of them focus on online presence like a blog, and social media. I also know there’s a lot of people that would be potentially interested in other avenues of modernization for their passion. This would probably be one of those areas that they’re not necessarily thinking of first and foremost, but I’m a huge believer in diversifying the type of income that you have, and this could be one avenue for that. Obviously you guys talk about entrepreneurial chefs, and the sub focus underneath that I would assume would be restaurants, but I’m guessing there’s lots of other ways that people can be creating an income from food production.
Chris, can you talk a little bit about outside of just restaurants, what are ways that people that are interested in food, and recipes, and food content that they can leverage the brand that they already have, and create a little slice of income from that in a more physical way, not just a digital way. Are there other ways people can do that other than just restaurants?
Chris Hill: Right. When I was doing the research for my latest book, which is coming out pretty much right now, Crush Your Career, I was researching chefs who had been successful, and not just on the food side of things, but also in being able to build a brand for themselves. I realized really early on that like myself, a lot of their income wasn’t necessarily coming from the restaurants that they were partners or owned, but were from these side avenues. Sometimes it was appearance fees, or lump speaking fees in there. Sometimes it was through licensing their name on a product, and sometimes it would be through the coursework. Maybe it’s teaching someone how to take better photographs of their food, or plating, or there’s so many different ways. Obviously cookbooks is a huge thing, and in realizing that … I know you had Dory Clark on the podcast recently, we did as well on our podcast.
Talking about if you can create three, four, five, six, seven income streams, that aren’t dependent on one another, then you can really control the trajectory of your career and the opportunities that you can create. By getting yourself into more circles where people are making decisions, where people are conversating, then you can become more relevant and create opportunities that way. There’s so many different ways, and I really encourage people that instead of just focusing on being a cook, when you’re making maybe 10 or 15 bucks an hour, what can you do on the side on the weekend, or taking your passions outside of the restaurant world, bringing those into what you’re doing as a brand for yourself, and then creating opportunities that way.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so let’s say that somebody maybe have a website, they’re in the early stages of getting that started. They have experience and feel relatively confident on the food side of things. Let’s say your top three recommendations for here’s three things you could do starting next month, that would be one of those revenue streams. We talk a lot about blogging, sponsored content, creating income from ads, things like that, but what about the non-digital world. What would be … If there would be top three recommendations, here’s one, here’s two, here’s three, for different ways that you could be building out those different revenue streams as you shift into kind of controlling your own career or your own destiny?
Chris Hill: Yeah, I definitely think that taking … So if you have a blog with recipes on there, that’s already a great start. You have people that are interested in what you’re doing. They might be local, they might not be, but if you have local followers, even family and close friends, have them over for a cocktail party and start letting people know that you can take these recipes and apply them to dinner parties, and maybe some sort of catering realms. That can also lead to more content for the blog, or the website that you have. In addition to that, I would take what are some of your popular posts on your blog, and then think is there a way that I could create a product out of this so maybe it’s a jam, or a salsa, or something else along those lines. Then you can find ways to distribute that, either online, or maybe even at the local farmer’s market.
Those are a couple of ways. In addition to that, if you have … Let’s say you have great photos of your food that your wife Lindsey does this for you guys, if you were to take your photography and people really love it, you could do some kind of offline class, where you charge X number of dollars for a five hour session on Friday, and you make a couple hundred bucks that way.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think there’s a blog post I did a while back, where I talk about this egg carton method, where you have a dozen eggs, and you can view each one of those as a potential income source. When it’s full, that would be the equivalent of what your full-time income would be. If you break that down into these different income streams, you can relatively quickly get to a point where you can say, “Okay, if I’m doing the farmer’s market once a month, and I know that if I’m creating my own jam and I can make $500 dollars from that, that’s one egg.” You have your blog and you say, “Okay, I know that from this I can do $500 dollars a month between sponsored content and ads.” Okay, so that’s $1,000 dollars. Slowly over time, that kind of adds up, where you look at all these potential income streams and you can add those up. Obviously that takes a lot of time and energy, and at some point you want to double down on the things that are most successful.
When you’re first starting off, you can piece those things together to help you get started, which I think it’s a really important takeaway for people to think strategically about that. Shawn, one of the things I wanted to hear from you, is let’s say that people that are listening want to go the traditional route, and they want to leverage their online brand, and their identity into a restaurant career. They want to build a restaurant, they want to be a restaurateur, they want to be a brand behind a restaurant. How are they able to do that, and the other thing that I’m interested in hearing because I don’t know much about it, can restaurants be profitable? I feel like it’s such a hard business, and what does that look like, how long does it take for a restaurant to be profitable?
Shawn Wenner: I’m going to have to rely on Chris for a little leverage, because I’m not the restaurateur. I will say from the people that I’ve talked to with Entrepreneurial Chef, number one, restaurants can absolutely be profitable. Hands down, that’s why we have them, that’s why they are in existence, that’s why there’s restaurant groups across the country. Using Chris’ words, it’s those that have the processes, the procedures in place, they take the time to invest in training, they’re investing in their employees. It’s not just somebody that on a whim wanted to open up a restaurant, but somebody that knows the inner workings of it, because it’s not just about the food, it’s about the business aspect as well. Those individuals that have strong partnerships with people that offset their weaknesses, those are the ones that are going to be successful with it, and that’s the individuals that I’ve interviewed with Entrepreneurial Chef, they’re the ones that either they understand the business side and the food world, or they have a partner that balances them.
Additionally, they have bled restaurants for years and years, and they understand the inner workings of it to the point where they’re confident. Another piece that I’ve picked up along the way, some of the most successful individuals, they had a very humble beginning. They had a very … They started small, they grew into something, as opposed to kicking off a five million dollar build out for the first restaurant, which is just insane to do something like that. It is possible for someone to do it, but I would have a lot of questions for them. I would ask them their background, their strengths, their weaknesses, who do they have in partnership, how much capital they have, how much time they have, because everything that I’ve picked up from some of the most successful restaurateurs and chefs that have places that are all the things that I mentioned number one, and there’s a lot of things that go wrong on that first one, and that first build out. You need to have a lot of money to be able to handle that the first time around.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and it seems like that’s one of the most difficult things with this industry, is the startup costs that are associated with it, and how high those are. Especially when you care it to an industry in the world where we’re in, where it’s like starting a digital asset, relatively affordable, right? You have hosting fees, and maybe a couple additional expenses. Instead of five million, it’s maybe $500 dollars to start things off. A little bit more time and buildup, like you might not have your true first customer for a really long time, as opposed to a restaurant you probably would relatively quickly. So much goes into it on those early stages.
Shawn Wenner: I will say, there’s … I look at someone like Tim Ma, who we interviewed in May, so he was in the magazine for May. He took out cash advances on his credit card, and that’s how he started the restaurant. I think they did it for maybe $30,000, or $40,000 or something like that, and they started in a small spot. Now he has several restaurants. It’s definitely about work within your means, and it is okay to start small, it’s okay to start with a ten seats, or 15 seat place. You don’t have to start very big.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. I think of a restaurant that we really like here in St. Paul called Cook St. Paul, and it’s this really small super intimate place, but it’s always booked, and there’s lines out the door. From a business perspective, it seems like a really approachable way to start and build a restaurant, in that it’s not the most expensive place in the neighborhood, it’s a small place, but they’re always busy. I would assume from a cash flow perspective, it makes it a little bit easier because they’re not having to employ a bunch of people, they’re not having to pay a huge lease for the spot, and they’re able to have some predictable income knowing that the seats are almost always going to be full, or at least full. That makes a lot of sense.
Chris, for somebody that’s interested in getting started with it, what would you recommend as the first steps if somebody says, “Hey, this is something I want to do. I want to do it as a profession, I want to use my blog or my brand that I’m building online, not to be the thing, but to be the thing that feeds into a restaurant or a physical location.” What do those first steps look like?
Chris Hill: Yeah, so I think I relate it to you go to the mall, and you walk by the food court, and they always have the Chinese restaurant with the guy handing out samples, right? They want you to try their food, and hopefully you’ll like it, and you’ll actually spend money there. I think that the best thing to do starting out is … The good thing is that you’ve already created a digital platform for yourself. You already have a little bit of interest around what you’re doing, but then you really want to make sure that now I need to make sure that this product that I’m trying to put out there is viable, that it’s going to actually work in the marketplace. I think the best thing to do is to maybe do like I was saying with the dinner parties with your friends and family, and get honest feedback.
Maybe the next step is to try a popup restaurant, where you can spend a couple thousand dollars maybe, to get some space to set up what you think your restaurant would maybe look like, what it would maybe be in terms of the menu, and then invite people to buy tickets for maybe two weekends in a row where you’re offering your product. If it’s a huge hit, and people love it, then maybe that’s a good sign that we can maybe go forward with this, and then figuring out now I can think about what kind of location it would be. How many seats we would need, how big the menu, all that kind of stuff. The bigger questions I think, need to be addressed after the fact that you realize that I can make this a viable business for myself, and for my family without huge risks.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Shawn, maybe a good question to end on would be for those that are looking to sharpen their business skills, to lean into the entrepreneurial part of being a chef, what are the things that they need to make sure that they’re paying attention to and implementing in their business?
Shawn Wenner: That’s a good one. If you’re going to lean into that, I think hands down, number one, is the people that you surround yourself with, the networking that you do, the reaching out into the community that you want to be involved with, not that you’re with at maybe that current state. What I mean is that if you want to be successful in a certain area, find somebody that’s been successful in that area and become a friend, or connect with them. I think to get to where you want to go in that realm, it’s definitely networking and building up that network. That can take some time, and a lot of people are not that patient with doing stuff like that. You can have exponential leaps. The only reason why I was able to take Entrepreneurial Chef from no idea, completely never thought about it prior to April of 2016, and then launched it in June, is that I for ten years had just built a Rolodex of individuals that I knew from the industry, and nurtured and fostered those relationships.
When the time came, when the time was right, when I was now launching my own venture, I reached out to those individuals. Within a matter of a month, I was talking to and connecting with some incredible people. I had some people that were helping me, strategic planning, advisors, it was just amazing. I would say that’s one of my biggest pieces of advice, is reach out to the community that you want to be involved with, connect with them, foster those relationships and that’s going to help you.
Bjork Ostrom: To followup for that, how do people do that? What does that look like in a concrete way, because I know a lot of people know, but it’s hard sometimes to break into those circles when it feels like it’s kind of closed off. What would your advice be for people that want to connect, but maybe don’t know how to do that?
Shawn Wenner: Hire a private investigator and have them follow the person that you want to connect with, and randomly show up at a bar one night.
Bjork Ostrom: Good. That’s been your strategy, I’m sure.
Shawn Wenner: I can speak with something that I’ve done, is I’ve relied heavily on social media on Linkedin, and then also Meetup Groups. Meetup.com. We were talking before this about an individual Chuck Mullins, he gave me incredible advice when I was first starting out, and that’s only because I went to a Meetup group that he was hosting, and then became a friend of his. Now, we’ll do lunches from time-to-time, and just connect and talk. I ask him questions, he gives me answers and feedback. It’s definitely just actively reaching out. I would connect with individuals on Linkedin, go to meet ups in your area, or in your surrounding area. Social media reach out, and it’s just as simple as just requesting to ask them a question, for instance. I would find people … For instance, I found a publisher in the industry, and he looked like he was very successful, had a business for a while, and he accepted my request on Linked in. As soon as he did, I said, “You know what, I see that you’re a publisher in the industry, I see that you have a lot of success. I love what you’re doing. I just have a question for you if you have time.”
He bounced back and said, “Sure.” We jumped on the phone, and for about 60 minutes this guy lined me up with strategic advice before the platform was launched that helped me in the first three months of the platform. It’s little things like that, it’s not being afraid to just put yourself out there, and face a potential rejection of someone saying, “No. I’m not going to answer your question.” Or, “No, I’m not going to help you out.” So what? Big deal, move onto the next person. I would say that’s the actual stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, that’s great. There’s a few different meetups that I do here in the Twin Cities, and do that through Meetup as well. That’s a great little takeaway there. Chris, for somebody that’s just in the early stages, what would your advice be to them as they’re getting started? What would your encouragement or advice be for somebody in the early stages?
Chris Hill: A lot of the same stuff that I think Shawn really just mentioned, but maybe on a bigger scale of just knowing that you’re signing up for a marathon, not a sprint. It’s going to be a long, and often at least the case has been for me, winding road. You think you’re going to a certain place, and you might get there sooner, you might get there longer, but know that it’s going to take a while. You’ll really understand that you have this mountain in the distance that you’re trying to get to, and every day you have opportunities to move closer to, or farther away from the mountain. Sometimes those steps will be very intuitive, and sometimes they won’t. Knowing that if you keep moving forward every day, if you keep really building a brand around yourself to where people know you for something where you are a trusted resource, a trusted cook, trusted chef, whatever it is, then in the long run it’ll pay off for itself.
That’s really what I’ve been able to do, and it’s how I’ve been able to create a sustainable business for myself.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. Shawn, can you talk a little bit about Entrepreneurial Chef, to where people can find out more about it? Maybe sign up to be a subscriber to the magazine, and kind of what they can expect from that. Then maybe your podcast as well.
Shawn Wenner: Yeah, absolutely. Entrepreneurial Chef is just how it sounds. It’s EntreprenurialChef.com. What I’ll do Bjork, is I’ll give you a special link to where people can go and just sign up, and get a free annual subscription to the magazine. The magazine, there’s four distribution channels. It’s got native apps in Apple and Google. We’re also on Amazon’s newsstand for Kindle devices, and then once somebody signs up there’s email distribution as well, so there’s those four channels there. We’ll give you that link so that people can sign up and get a free annual subscription to it. What can they expect? Essentially, with Entrepreneurial Chef we reach out to the most successful chefs or restaurateurs, or general food entrepreneurs. Sometimes the individuals are not chefs, because Bjork, yourself and Lindsey are going to be in the November magazine.
We reach out to individuals that have done great things, to pull insights from them. If you’re looking for marketing, leadership, and operations, and financial, and management, and all this different types of advice from people that are successful in what they’ve been able to do, then that’s what you can get out of Entrepreneurial Chef. With the podcast, Chris and I collaborate on the podcast, and that’s a little bit more of a crossover podcast, so it’s not just for chefs and restaurateurs. We connect with some of the most successful people in various industries. We’ve connected with people like Simon Sinek, and Chris had an interview with Seth Goden, or Patrick Betdavid, or David Burkis, just individuals that have done incredible things, and they talk to us about how they have been able to do those incredible things.
A lot of them position the answers toward the culinary and hospitality industry, which is really neat. We have that, that’s called Making the Cut, after Chris’ first book. That can be found on Itunes and Snitcher.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, that’s great. We’ll make sure to link to those in the show notes as well. Chris and Shawn, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Chris Hill: Bjork it was a pleasure, thanks so much buddy.
Shawn Wenner: Absolutely, it was a pleasure. Appreciate it Bjork.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks.
That’s a wrap for our interview with Shawn and Chris. Make sure to go out and check their podcast out, it’s called Making the Cut. As they mentioned, they talk about some of the same things that we talk about here in the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Also, there’s a little bit of overlap, but there’s some stuff that we don’t talk about here, that they do talk about. If you enjoyed the topics that they shared about, and you think that this would be a good match for you, I’d encourage you to go over and check out their podcast, and subscribe to that. If you haven’t yet, subscribe to the Food Blogger Pro podcast as well. If you’re still checking these off as one off interviews, make sure to hit that subscribe button. That makes a big difference for us, as well as any ratings or reviews. If you leave a rating or a review on the podcast, take a screenshot of that and send me an email, I’d love to connect and say thank you in person.
When somebody leaves a review, I can’t see who the email address is, or where they’re from. I’d love to personally connect with you if that’s something that you do. Thanks so much for tuning into the podcast this week. We will be back here same time, same place. Until then, make it a great week.
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