How Chef Gigi Gaggero Multi-Tasked Her Way to Culinary Entrepreneurship (& You Can Too)
Introducing Gigi Gaggero
Imagine teaching your kids about business and suddenly turning the idea into a full-fledged operation employing around 20 people and serving over 15,000 families. Well, that’s exactly what Chef Gigi Gaggero did (among many other things)!
Chef Gigi is recognized nationally as an expert in culinary education. She specializes in children and families to help increase nutritional awareness and help take some of the stress out of being a busy-aware parent.
Having coached thousands of children and adults through her hands-on classes, private events, public speaking, websites, writing, professional culinary demonstrations, television and radio engagements, she’s had an incredibly impactful career.
With her experience as an entrepreneur, our questions were targeted to find out lessons she’s learned along the way in building the school “Kid’s Culinary Adventures,” overcoming challenges, and advice on entrepreneurship and business to help those striving for success in the industry today.
Gigi has a great story and lessons to share, so let’s see what she has to say!
Gigi’s Story & Best Advice
Beginning of Culinary Career
My culinary career began when was 15 years old. I was able to land a job as a pot scrubber advancing to a dishwasher in a small restaurant.
I had it all planned. I sought the job out because the dish room in this particular restaurant faced the back of the cook’s line — I would have a front row seat and be in eyes and ears range of the chef and the cooks. I was able to watch everything from prep cooking to firing final entrees, and all while I was working to complete my duties.
I knew my job was dignified and important because without the pot scrubber and dishwasher the restaurant could not produce to its finest potential. I remember feeling important.
Now, when I dine out during busy times, I always ask the waiter to tag on the cost a pitcher of drink or desserts (for the dish room) to my final bill.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
I believe entrepreneurs are born, not made. When the time is right to become a small business owner, it will present itself. However, acting on an opening is a completely different set of circumstances. One must be prepared.
To do so, I think people that have the entrepreneurial spirit are always emotionally ready. Inside their heads. The map is there. They think about it day after day, after day. This might go on for years.
The hard truth is — the other side of the brain will need to join the party. And for most creative people, that is a very boring task.
Most of us in the beginning, are only thinking about the product outputs like our menus and how our food service operation will look, and where it’s located.
This is why it is important to build a business plan and find a mentor or a specialized business consultant. Someone who you can call, who can guide you until you understand the full circle.
Advice for Entrepreneurs (Before Leaping)
I think it is important for people to identify their weaknesses and hire someone to support that area of growth until you have it solid.
Example: Most culinary people are creative, and we want them to be. Without that creativity, the food industry would be grey, tasteless and boring. However, to run a successful business of any kind, one must also concentrate on working on the business and not just working in the business.
Designing a start-up, and keeping it sustained is not so creative. It is cut and dry business formula containing many departments going to work for the greater good — which all fall under the umbrella of Small Business Management.
This can include departments such as design and construction, financial fees, negotiation of loans, fees to city planner’s department, insurance, legal, marketing, advertising, bookkeeping, design and study of your demographics, financials to included profit and loss statements, managing labor, relationship management, examining cost of goods sold etc. And depending on your first few years, redesign of goals and exit plans are all things to think about. Then, there are taxes.
Certainly, many line items we are not necessarily prepared to handle when we are so immersed in the creative side of our brains. These are all things that need to be mastered just as good, if not better than our knife skills.
Rules for Success (Business Ownership)
Operating with a short and long term plan with a contingency helped. We drew a business plan as a roadmap to follow, forecasting our financial snapshot down to the penny.
We enlisted the market via market surveys; what the market wanted to buy, and designed our sales around that. We never tried to force the market to purchase something they were not willing to purchase.
Marketing and advertising are two different departments. Knowing who your consumer is, and what they are willing to spend — and how to get it, is all very valuable information. This is a function of marketing (the collection of data), and most business owners confuse the two. Advertising is what comes AFTER you know the consumer data.
We also had opening and closing procedures and trained the staff on our expectations. People want to know what’s expected of them. And it always helps to have an employee handbook, so they know what to do.
We also train and had everyone sign off on the completion of training. If someone wasn’t getting it, we provided more coaching. If it wasn’t working out, we provided a personal improvements plan. And if that didn’t work, we provided an exit strategy for the employee. We ran like a corporation. This is all function of the Human Resources Department.
Lessons from Mentors
My mentor’s name was “Mistake.” You will make a few – it’s ok. They are teaching points. Some can be costly – this is why I suggest hiring a consultant to get through the first two to three years.
Business is business and it doesn’t matter if you are selling a screwdriver or a bagel. The “numbers” don’t know WHAT your selling – they only know IF you’re selling.
Kid’s Culinary Adventures Story
One day going through the drive through ATM at my local bank, (my two kids 8 and 10 years old, in the back seat of the car) my youngest daughter asked me as we drove away, “Mom is that where money comes from? Out of the wall?”
Needless to say, I was mortified. A corporate woman raising kids and not teaching them about corporate life. WOW. I felt horribly irresponsible at that moment.
The following day, I decided to begin a living-learning project with them both. To make a long story short, they began the process of designing a small business.
They started out writing a business plan. Setting appointments with me as if I was their business consultant — I even made them call to schedule me. We would meet for working meetings over dinner (single mom multi-tasking).
The first brainstorming meeting revealed the obvious — a Lemonade Stand — however, after crunching numbers and examining the cost of goods sold, the actuals on the labor dollars’ percentages were just too high. The kids realized there would be low profit with a high price point — it was too risky of an investment.
Over the next several months, it went on to an ice cream truck, and on and on until they found the niche. To help other children anchor academics through the medium of cooking. Because there was added value to a typical cooking class, they decided to poll the surrounding market (other parents) and find out that there was enough disposable income to make a profit — and also have fun doing it.
The idea seemed to spring from dinner time at our home — I was so surprised.
When regularly preparing evening meals at home, I would naturally just talk about the food I was preparing. For instance, if we were making pasta, I’d discuss the history or anthropology of the noodle.
So the kids decided to build teaching points around food class that taught kids about every day Math, Science, Reading, Nutrition and Art. They began teaching to their former preschool, then after school classes at their elementary school and then the rest is history.
Kids Culinary Adventures was born, and classes like “Have you lost your Noodle” became an instant success. It was a joint venture, but I took the burden as Managing Member. The kids were too young to file an LLC.
We grew into a small brick and mortar business and had up to 20 employees and have serviced over 15,000 families.
Marketing the School
We aligned with other stores that shared in our demographic and would often co-market. We also created many advertising programs that would turn heads. Crazy stuff.
For instance, we had giant mascot heads made of chefs – girls and boys. Cartoon-type heads you would find walking around at a fun amusement park. And we would wear them with regular chef clothes and our logo on the chef jackets and aprons while handing out call-to-action coupons.
People would stop and take photos with us. It was definitely something that the consumer remembered. It’s how we set ourselves apart and how we made them remember us.
We could never afford to give a complete coupon with a percentage off cause we were a startup and needed paying customers, so we designed a “bring a friend for 50% off” program. It was a small setback, but we would end up gaining a second customer, so we sometimes took two steps back to gain three steps forward.
Everything is a calculated risk in business.
The best call to action you can give a consumer is the word “FREE,” but without giving yourself away. The word “FREE” grabs people to stop and listen to what you have to say. You then design your price break based on the current situation happening in your bookkeeping data.
Hey, if rent’s coming up and you need to sell 3000 more to meet your month’s budget —you are going to create a call to action to get the consumer to purchase.
It works over time, but you must be creative because the consumer’s disposable income might be spent with your competition if you don’t reach them first.
Social Media Marketing
We had a social media expert on board who created enough social media presence. It added to our qualifiers.
To be effective on social media, it needs to be a full-time job – depending on the size of your business, and your goals.
Definitely a game changer and an important tool. BUT – you also must understand how to use these tools effectively. For example, you don’t just write a website home page based on your description of what your business is about. It needs to be written to include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so you can be found when people search keyword phrases. If you don’t, that could be a missed opportunity, and you can end up on the 20th page of a google search.
Hire a professional. I certainly wouldn’t want the marketing manager to cook me a four-course meal. Don’t expect you can do everything.
Surround yourself with people that are experts in specific areas where you are weak. Do what you do best you do best and hire where you can. And once you find an expert for social media, human resourcing, or whatever – let them do their jobs.
Tips for Creating a Similar Business
Short answer – I would hire a consultant.
Build a business plan, watch your books every day and surround yourself with people that know what they are doing. Don’t be afraid to learn from someone else.
Get yourself a good accountant too.
Find a mentor or someone that you can meet with monthly to gain and understanding you are on the right path. Your financial heath will tell you that – the numbers speak volumes.
Design budgets and goals to meet your budgets and rework if the numbers tell you to. Follow through with this person for the first two years at least. Meet quarterly if you can’t afford a monthly with a consultant.
Personally, I’ve never heard of a teaching moment for children turning into a full-fledged business, but I think it’s absolutely incredible.
For so many people who can’t find the time to think about – let alone build – a business, Gigi gave a great example that it can be done in our ever-so-hectic lives.
If you’re wanting to become an entrepreneur, or just starting out, I’d encourage you to grab a copy of the “10 Rules of Entrepreneurship” below.
It touches on a few items Gigi mentioned in her story!