Chef Chad Minton: How to Build a Lifestyle Brand, Get 150k+ Fans & Unite Cooks Around the World (All While Working Full-Time)
Introducing Chad Minton
What if I said you could build a lifestyle brand that unites professional cooks from around the globe while working full-time, having little capital and starting with no official plan? You’d say I’m crazy, but that’s exactly what Chef Chad Minton has done with TrueCooks.
Chad is the current Executive Chef of the Highlands Inn in Carmel, California and has previously been the Executive Chef at the Andaz Fifth Ave in Midtown Manhattan, The Ojai Valley Inn Resort & Spa in Ojai California and The Ritz-Carlton L.A. in Marina Del Rey. And in my opinion, he has the perfect mixture of authenticity, experience, and sheer grit.
Through the years, he’s been hustling on the side to build the brand to what it is today. A brand with over 150k TrueFans on social media alone, and one that unites professional cooks from around the globe.
So how exactly did he accomplish this? Well, that’s exactly what Chad shares in his interview and it’s an incredible story!
Our questions ranged from how the brand started, getting traction, the first dollar made, amassing 150k+ TrueFans, marketing the brand, advice for entrepreneurs and more.
As you read the interview, I assure you his experience cuts through the page and his words will ignite the entrepreneurial ambition you have inside.
Let’s see what Chad and TrueCooks are all about…
Chad’s Story & Best Advice
It occurred to me that every sub-culture in the world was represented by its own lifestyle brand, and obviously professional cooking is not just a job; it’s a lifestyle decision.
There were/are many overseas companies mass producing “Chef” tees that are just so genuinely terrible (Eat more sausage, sleep with a Chef), so my goal with TC was to make things that I love & would wear and create a community around that.
It’s essentially a love letter to this crazy wonderful industry that has given me so much in life.
The Brand & Vision
We are 100% Chef owned and operated. We do this for the love of cooking and all the silly things that only we understand. TC can create merchandise without outside influences that speak directly to us as Chefs.
Our motto “Humility, Dedication, Sacrifice” speaks to lessons I’ve learned in the industry and hopefully serve to unite and inspire others.
I have a few current goals to achieve with TC. One is to continue to grow our social media community. Our fans are very vocal, so when we create something they like, they let us know. On the flip side, when I screw something up they also let us know! This honest feedback is crucial to the success of any business or relationship, and I value it very much.
We will also be introducing hard goods (kitchen tools) and a new line of non-apparel items that we’ve been quietly working on around the clock for the past 13 months.
“Our motto “Humility, Dedication, Sacrifice” speaks to lessons I’ve learned in the industry and hopefully serve to unite and inspire others.”Chad Minton
Building the Brand
TrueCooks has been part of my life for almost ten years now. Back in 2007 (when I was in L.A. with the Ritz) I worked with an artist for 6 months on the TC logo. I also had it copywritten and secured the domain name that would eventually become the website. I then shelved the idea for a few years.
After relocating to New York, I was inspired by the city and encouraged by people around me to try it for real.
I have a number of close friends in the fashion/apparel industry through my growing up in skateboarding. They really motivated me to give the line a shot and guided me on how to get products manufactured.
Originally, I think I had a vision of what success would look like, but that keeps changing with every small win. Running your own brand is very similar to cooking in that regard. Once you get very good at one task, you want to push it as far as you can before moving on to obsess over something else!
Early Brand Challenges
Getting quality goods produced in small quantities domestically was without a doubt the hardest piece for me to learn.
Initially, we were using 5 different garment makers spread out over New York and Brooklyn. We were literally running all over NYC just to get a shirt made. The product was really rough then compared to what we are doing now, so I’d really like to thank everyone that’s stood by us as we’ve learned!
All of our production is centralized in California now, and I work with an amazing production manager, big shout out Jeff!
An Entrepreneurs “Recipe for Success”
Equal parts of the following . . .
Create Original idea. Even if it’s super good and everyone loves it, stay humble. Dedicate yourself to the project and sacrifice everything you have. Treat everyone with integrity.
Be patient but not too patient!
Good things come to those that work their ass off every day, not necessarily those who wait.
Repeat as necessary.
Business Model & First Dollar
We certainly did not go into TC with a business plan. We had our objectives, build a website & create apparel for chefs. Beyond that, everything that has happened has been 100% organic and continues to be so.
First dollar? I’ll never forget!
Our first run of snapback hats was only 16 pieces, and I had to empty my checking account at the time to get them made, so when we sold out in a week, it was pretty magical.
It’s that sense of excitement that we operate with every day. “Treat your first like your last and your last like your first” is a Jay-Z verse but it works really well in regards to ‘what we do.’
My girlfriend & I live very simply and never indulge in anything fancy or take vacations. When the Instagram page hit 500 followers, we were so excited. That really exceeded our expectations – we celebrated at a cheap Indian joint in Murray Hill.
“Work hard, stay passionate about why you got into this in the first place and never give up. If it’s meant to happen it will happen – but you can control that by how much you dedicate yourself to the process.”Chad Minton
Building 150k+ TrueFans
TrueCooks is something every cook or Chef can relate to. A lot of the inspiration comes from expressions we’ve used for years in the kitchen not even thinking.
For instance – If you are a cook and are in a busy public place with lots of people everywhere; you say “Behind you!” out of habit, I mean who does this but us? It’s that kind of universal unsaid language that connects us all as cooks. I think that’s why TC is popular in our industry – people can relate to it, and it comes from a very, very genuine place.
We also cast a wide net. I never wanted to indulge in food snobbery. I really don’t care for prissy, know it all cooks or people that take themselves too seriously in general. We celebrate cooks of all experience levels that work in all capacities of the hospitality/ restaurant industry.
We have a very diverse, inclusive, community. I never wanted TrueCooks to cater to the fine dining set exclusively. TrueCooks is for anyone that cooks and is passionate about what they do.
Tips for Social Media Growth
If it’s important to you, work hard at it.
Content is the most important piece of the social media puzzle. Shoot things that people are trying to look at. Whether it’s a photo of food, a selfie or your booty make damn sure it looks good, is in focus and is well-lit. Pay attention to the details.
Engagement is the second most important piece of the puzzle. You get what you give in life and InstaGram is no different. If you just post a photo, even if it’s a decent dish and just throw a bunch of hashtags on it and no one “likes” it, don’t be surprised.
You generate your own following. Our TrueCooks community is so wonderful in that regard. Everyone is commenting on and supporting each other’s efforts regardless of experience or the capacity they work at.
I made a New Year’s resolution back in 2013 that I was going to do everything in my power to make TC successful. If no one was feeling it and we failed it would not be due to lack of effort on my part.
I wake up 2 hours earlier then I used to and stay up 2 hours later then I used to. That time is solely dedicated to TrueCooks.
I personally like and comment on approximately 200 InstaGram photos a day and have done so every day for the past two years; in doing so, we’ve had tremendous success in growing our social media channels and have made countless friends for life.
“I have a laser focus on our core fans. What resonates with them is most important to us. I couldn’t care less what non-cooks think of TC or the mainstream food media for that matter. It’s not for them, it’s for us, and that will never change.”Chad Minton
Marketing the Brand
We do not have a marketing plan or budget for one. TC is as grass-roots of a company that you will find.
We do “advertise” our editorial blog posts on Facebook, but that is exclusively because it’s the only way people will see your business posts as FB is constantly changing their search analytics and how posts appear in your feed.
TC is not a repost site, we create our own content and pay a pretty penny for our photographer and want as many people as possible to see his hard work.
TrueCooks sponsors a small team of Chefs that have supported the project since its inception. We have slowly added a few here and there, and some have moved on to focus on other things but are still family. These are the guys (and gal – Ore!) that we owe everything to, and they will always get TrueCooks love regardless of their output.
Through the team and their dedication and social media channels, we’ve been able to reach so many cooks worldwide it’s staggering. It’s been really cool to watch these guys grow – they’re all awesome people, and I thank them daily.
Advice for Entrepreneurs
Be original. I cannot stress this enough. If you are simply doing a variation of someone else’s original idea, your idea is not your idea its someone else’s and they will not be impressed. Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.
My strong advice is to find something no one has done before and give it your all. Be original and stay in your lane.
Invest in yourself. When I was a younger cook my Chef at the time told me while handing me my paycheck, “Chad my wife is a financial planner – take $300 of this check and buy this stock, it’s called Amazon.” Well, of course, I never did because I wasn’t thinking about the future; I only thought about the “now“ and how many beers I was going to buy at the bar after service. If I would have done what he said, that $300 investment would be worth $151,772.00 today (based on market close 7/11/16).
One misconception is that you need a tremendous amount of capital to get your idea off the ground. Not true but it helps.
The second misconception is if you are even slightly successful – you’re “about to get paid!” You are not.
Wealth building is a thirty-year process (learn from my mistakes and start young) and we have not taken even $1.00 in TrueCooks profit. Every single dollar that is made from TC is re-invested into TC in the hopes that we can just continue doing this thing.
I, thankfully, have a good job that supports us, allows us to eat and to have a roof over our heads, if I didn’t TrueCooks would not exist as we know it.