Entrepreneurship was already booming pre-pandemic, but in the wake of the coronavirus, that boom has turned into an explosion. Applications for new employer ID numbers in the U.S. are rising at the fastest rate in nearly 15 years. While the pandemic has certainly been disruptive, many enterprising people are choosing to take advantage of the shake-up to create new opportunities.
Becoming an entrepreneur can look wildly different depending on which path you take. Some iterations involve a physical location and a team of employees, while in others, you may be a company of one working out of your home.
Read on to explore four exciting types of culinary entrepreneurship, and a possible roadmap to each.
The Food Truck Owner Roadmap
Starting a food truck is an amazing way to start a career of food entrepreneurship on a small scale. You’ll create your own menu, cook, interact with guests, and market your business — just like a brick-and-mortar restaurant. But the smaller footprint usually requires a more modest investment of time and money before you can open your service window.
To own a successful food truck, you need to know your way around the kitchen. You may find that even if you already have some kitchen experience, there are gaps in your knowledge that you want to fill by attending culinary school.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts graduate and food truck owner Nahika Hillery said she didn’t feel comfortable with the title of “chef” without also complimenting her industry experience with a culinary education. And she knew there were efficiencies in the kitchen that she was lacking. Attending culinary school helped her to fill those gaps and feel like she had earned that title while working in the industry.
Becoming a Food Truck Owner
1. Research Your Market and Choose Your Niche
If you dream of opening a burger truck in your neighborhood, but there are already three burger trucks within a mile, you may want to consider a different concept or a different neighborhood!
Build your menu and start coming up with marketing and branding ideas. Escoffier’s Culinary Entrepreneurship course may help with this!
2. Build Your Truck
Whether you start from scratch with a brand new truck or refurbish an old school bus, there will be costs and customization involved. Give yourself plenty of time for this because construction— even truck-sized construction—always takes longer than you imagine.
You’ll also need to get local and state permits to make sure you’re allowed to operate.
3. Open Up Shop—You’re a Food Truck Owner!
You can open up with a small menu, a staff of one or two, and your own unique menu pretty quickly!
“Culinary school at Escoffier really put it all together for me, whether it was the financial side of running a business, the prep, or knowing how to train a chef.”
Freida Nicole Davenport, Escoffier Graduate; Owner, Freida’s Sweets & Meats food truck; Food Network “Chopped Grill Masters” & TLC “BBQ Pitmasters” Contestant
The Restaurant Owner Roadmap
Opening a restaurant is a dream for so many cooks and chefs. Being able to call the shots and share your own food vision with your community is truly special. A restaurant has more “moving parts” than many other types of culinary entrepreneurship, so both food and business education will be key ingredients in your success.
Becoming a Restaurant Owner
1. Create a Business Plan
Who are you serving and where? What kind of food will you make? What gap are you filling in your local market? How profitable do you think you can be? You’ll need to answer all of these questions before you can start building out your concept.
Don’t know where to start? Escoffier Associate degree students create a business plan as part of their Culinary Entrepreneurship course.
2. Secure Funding
Most entrepreneurs can’t start a restaurant without any outside funding. Apply for grants like Escoffier graduate Tiffany Moore, or find business loans from a bank or credit union.
3. Find and Outfit Your Space
Once you’ve signed that lease, it all gets real! You’ll need restaurant furniture, kitchen equipment, dishes and glassware, cooking utensils — the works! Make a checklist so you don’t forget anything.
You’ll also need to hire your managers, kitchen team, and service staff in advance, so they can be well trained on the menu and service style.
4. Have a Grand Opening
“Escoffier has helped me to achieve my goals. By the time I graduated, I was so confident to start my own restaurant during COVID.”
Arnold Safari, Online Culinary Arts Graduate & Owner of Eat Zawadi Restaurant
The Ghost Restaurant Owner Roadmap
A ghost restaurant is a virtual restaurant dedicated to delivery and/or takeout food. The menus are only available online, and they may sell through a website or through a third-party delivery app like Uber Eats or GrubHub.
Many entrepreneurs find ghost restaurants a great option because of their low startup costs and increased flexibility when compared to a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Becoming a Ghost Restaurant Owner
1. Find a Commercial Kitchen Space
Ghost restaurant owners can rent space in a larger commercial kitchen, equipped with high-speed WiFi, so you can receive orders online. You will have your own private cooking area and equipment. Some commercial spaces even provide runners to bring finished orders to the drivers outside.
2. Build Your Menu
Do some research on what else is available in your area and try to fill an unmet need. Since your menu will only live online, you have unparalleled flexibility. So don’t be afraid to switch things up!
3. Partner with Delivery Drivers
Whether you hire your own drivers or partner with a third-party delivery service, you’ll need someone to bring the food to your customers.
4. Start Cooking!
Alternative Food Entrepreneur Roadmaps
There are alternative paths to entrepreneurship that you may not think of when considering possible careers in food. How about one of these fun and interesting careers?
If you want to combine an artistic eye with a love for food, a career as an independent food stylist may be a great option.
Food stylists work with food photographers to make food look its best. While the photographer is getting lights set up and considering angles and photo effects, the food stylist is preparing the plate.
“I think Escoffier’s online education makes students very competitive. You’ve got constant interaction with your instructors. In many ways, I think you’re detailing your work more than you might at a ground school. You have to be really thorough in your descriptions and your flavors, and really document what you’re doing, which takes an extra level of thought.”
Laura DeVries, Online Culinary Arts Graduate & Food Stylist
Food photographers do a lot more than point and shoot! They have to master lighting, composition, editing, and more to make the food really shine. If there’s no food stylist on the shoot, the photographer may have to do double duty. For some jobs, they may also have to cook the food themselves, so a culinary foundation can be invaluable!
“If anybody is considering food photography as a career, know that it’s a great career. There’s a lot of flexibility in it. You can specialize in product photography, cookbooks, magazine shoots. I also do stock photography. There’s just a lot of opportunity.”
Rhonda Adkins, Online Culinary Arts Graduate & Food Photographer
A chef consultant is an independent expert that can help with training, kitchen efficiency, designing menus, product development for retailers, and more. Some consultants are specialists in more technical areas like Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs or fermentation.
Chef consultants can help their clients to come up with better plans, and they’re also problem solvers. If you’re good at finding solutions to complex problems, this could be a great career for you.
“I talk with many prospective students who are wondering if it’s worth going to culinary school. And in my position and in my career, it’s absolutely necessary. You have to have a culinary school background in order to enter the R&D field.”
Chris McAdams, Boulder Culinary Arts Graduate & Chef Consultant/Research Chef
A recipe developer gets the fun job of turning raw ingredients into something new. Whether that’s a brand new concept or just a fresh take on a classic dish, developers are creative and inventive.
Recipe developers, more than nearly anyone else in the culinary industry, have to understand why certain ingredients work (or don’t work) together. This makes their education incredibly important.
There’s a lot of trial and error in recipe creation, so the more education you have, the less time and money will be spent on wasted product and recipes that don’t work!
Becoming an Alternative Food Entrepreneur
1. Start With a Culinary Education
The best way to quickly build a foundation in culinary arts is at a culinary school like Escoffier. Look for a program that focuses on the business side of the culinary field as well. As an entrepreneur, business education will be vital to your success.
2. Build a Network
All of these alternative careers are client-based, and personal referrals may be your primary source of new work. As an independent entrepreneur, networking will be crucial to your success. Escoffier students start making connections with their Chef Instructors and fellow classmates during their programs, and then continue in the Escoffier Alumni Association once they graduate. You can also join specialty professional organizations for more networking opportunities.
3. Get Real-World Experience
This may include restaurant work, but it should also include working or doing an externship in your niche. Learn the tricks of the trade from someone who’s been there.
4. Start Your Own Business
These alternative careers don’t require any specific credentials or certifications. So when you’re ready to strike out on your own, go for it!
Are You Seeing a Pattern Here?
While every roadmap to becoming a food entrepreneur requires some specialty knowledge, they also all require that you become educated in the ways of cooking and the kitchen.
Some entrepreneurs get this education over many years of working in restaurants or other foodservice businesses, but many find that a culinary education is a faster and more thorough way to learn about both food and business.
If you want to start working your way through one of these roadmaps, culinary school at Escoffier can be the place to start.
Looking for more information about becoming a food entrepreneur? Explore these resources: