Podcast Episode 20

Pastry Arts Magazine Owner Shawn Wenner Talks Food Entrepreneurship and Team Building

Shawn Wenner | 47 Minutes | November 9, 2021

In today’s episode, we speak with Shawn Wenner, a food entrepreneur and owner of the acclaimed Pastry Arts Magazine, a full-blown multi-media platform for the pastry community.

Shawn is also the owner of Entrepreneurial Chef, a digital platform and online community that unites all types of food entrepreneurs to share real life lessons and practical advice with one another.

Listen as we chat with Shawn about how to think big and anticipate trends, evaluating risk as an entrepreneur, and his journey to becoming a global media powerhouse in the foodservice industry.

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Notes & Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone. My name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Shawn Wenner, owner of Pastry Arts Magazine and Entrepreneurial Chef. Shawn is a dynamic entrepreneur and owner of Entrepreneurial Chef, a digital platform and online community that unites all types of food entrepreneurs to share real lessons and practical advice with one another. he’s also the owner of Pastry Arts magazine, a full-blown multi-media platform for the pastry community.

Join us today as we chat with Shawn about his journey from an institutional culinary arts professional to a global media powerhouse in the food service industry.

Shawn, welcome buddy! Thank you so much!

Shawn Wenner You’re making me blush, Kirk!

Kirk Bachmann: I love that part. Man, it’s so good, first, to see you. I think the last time we ran into each other was at the National Restaurant Association show when you could still come together in downtown Chicago and meet without masks and all that.

Shawn Wenner That’s right. That’s right. That’s when we could give each other a bro-hug.

Kirk Bachmann: There you go! So how’s Florida? How’s the family? It’s been a long 20 months, holed up.

Pandemic Pivoting

Shawn Wenner It has. It has. It’s been a crazy ride. What was very interesting is in 2019, my wife and I set out to move. We put both of our houses up on the market. We had a rental property as well as our primary. We sold them October and January. We got into a contract for a new house in February. We closed March 16, and by March 24 we went into lockdown. It was a crazy, crazy ride, doing this with two kids. It was about nine months of intense movement, and BOOM! We hit this lockdown and global pandemic. Kids were out of school, we were juggling – like everybody’s story. It is absolutely been a wild ride, but a lot of things to be blessed for, for sure.

Kirk Bachmann: Nothing like getting used to your brand-new house by having to be in it for a year. Now, when you said that, it brought chills to my spine because it was March 19 when we sent our students home for a bit. It all got kind of real.

First, I’m so appreciative that you’re here today. I have to say, first, congratulations! Thank you for your amazing support, not only of Escoffier, but our industry. I remember chatting with you not only about the National Restaurant Association show, but at the show. Again, 80,000 people pouring into Chicago every single year. It was completely derailed because of the pandemic.

And you – brilliant! – you immediately pivoted and created the coolest thing in the world, this virtual pastry summit to keep people inspired, keep them motivated. It was all virtual. It was really, really cool. Escoffier was honored and super-proud to be a part of it. Where did the inspiration come to pull that together literally in weeks? You didn’t know the pandemic was coming.

Shawn Wenner It’s a great question. In response to your lead in: super big fan of what you all do, obviously. Having Chef Frank Vollcammer a part of it, everything that you all do. I think [Anna Lanoue [00:03:50] that was part of the first one, and Frank in the second one. Appreciation goes both ways.

It’s actually funny. About a month before the pandemic hit and things were getting to be locked down, we were moving out of our house, and I caught a news story about this virus or flu, whatever they were calling it, somewhere around February. It was early February. Over the course of about three weeks, I started stocking up on some supplies. My wife started looking at me like I was crazy. I said, “You know, I just feel like something is going to happen here. I just feel like something’s brewing.” Sure enough, that happened.

When that happened, I really had a bit of a head start. What I mean by that is that when people started going into the lockdown, things were closing down, I kind of had a head start with eyeing this thing coming. Because of that, I kind of saw things unfolding because I was very in tune with it. I saw what it started doing to the restaurant industry. I saw what it started doing to professionals. For the pastry platform, we had a Facebook group. I just could see what was happening. Because of that, I just had this overwhelming urge to create something that was going to keep people inspired, that was going to be encouraging and inspirational and educational. I saw all of these live shows get cancelled.

I told our team, “Look, I’ve never done a virtual summit before. I can’t tell you exactly what to do. I’m going to research it, and let’s just pull it together. We reached out to places like you and other schools and our brand partners. We did this free thing, and we did it for our brand partners, too. We didn’t ask for sponsors, nothing. We knew everybody was hurting. We said, “Let’s just do something that’s going to keep the industry alive.” When I say the industry, I mean pastry industry specifically, because this was with the pastry platform.

In a matter of eight weeks, we pulled together. Everybody shot videos during lockdown. Some people were in their home kitchens. Some people had access to their restaurants to be able to shoot some things. People shot some things. We pulled it all together. We did this virtual summit. It went so well over the course of about nine months that we left the first one open. About 21- to 22,000 people attend this thing!

Kirk Bachmann: Look at that!

Shawn Wenner So we ended up doing it again, and now it’s going to be a staple. That was where it was born. It was born out of just wanting to keep the inspiration, education going at a time when everybody was hurting.

Kirk Bachmann: I know that this year’s summit, there were well over 50 demonstration. I reviewed Frank’s again this morning as I was preparing. So well done. How about that first year? How many people did you have that jumped on board?

Shawn Wenner It was almost identical. I think the first one we had around 60 to 65 videos about 25 to 27 hours of content. The second one, I think we were trying to cap it around 50 because we realized that we just threw so much in there. We had about 50 to 55 videos in the second one. We opened it in June, and it will stay open through the remainder of the year, probably a little bit of the beginning of the next year before we do the next one in 2022. It was about 24 to 25 hours of content again, overall.

Falling in Love with Food, Identity Crisis, and the Birth of a Career

Kirk Bachmann: It’s just amazing. It really speaks to the empathy and also the motivation of the industry that people just jumped on board. The quality is unbelievable. Kudos to you again. It is just so neat.

Let’s dive in a little bit. When we think “culinary,” we often think “chef” or someone who prepares food. You’ve worked for many years behind the scenes, helping to manage the administrative or the operational aspects of culinary institutions and businesses. How and when did you discover your passion for helping aspiring cooks, aspiring chefs, food entrepreneurs? What perspective has that provided for your career path, Shawn? That was a big change! You were at Le Cordon Bleu, an administrative person for a decade. This is a big change, a risk, jumping into this entrepreneurial career path. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Shawn Wenner Absolutely. Number one, my background: I was always a very creative person. Musician, artist – I was very big into the arts. Very creative. I’ll put a pin in that because that’s going to come into play later.

I took a couple of different career paths early on. I went to school for a couple of different things. I was just one of those who just didn’t see anything that really resonated with me. And then I saw an advertisement to work at a culinary school in the admissions side. I went, looked at it, and just after starting there, I just fell in love. I fell in love with the people, the personalities, the food. I started recognizing in chefs and culinarians a piece that resided in me, and that’s that creative artist type of individual. I just felt very at home. I just felt very at home. That led me to stay there for many, many years. I just was fascinated, and I learned a lot.

After some time, the colleges closed down in the United States. They kept Le Cordon Bleu globally, but they closed all of them in the United States. So I sat back and I was laid off. I was about 32, 33, maybe 34, and was laid off here. I had never experienced that. I’ll tell you, I had a complete identity crisis. Complete identity crisis. It was one of those moments where, if you’ve ever seen a movie where the hero of the story has the lowest part – they put their back up against the wall and they start crying, and they slide down and they put their head into their knees – that probably could encapsulate how I felt. Every single week after week after week, because working there for so many years is all I knew at that point. It became my identity, working with culinarians and seeing the students and the education industry, and the inspiration, and the food. It was my identity. To have that completely stripped away, it was a very big shock to me, a very big shock.

So I sat back and I had to make some decisions. The decision was, “Do I just apply to a lot of different places? Do I try and build something of my own?” Speaking candidly, I did both. I applied to some schools and culinary schools in the area. I started sketching out what would later be the beginnings of Entrepreneurial Chef platform. What happened was I realized that I wanted to do something meaningful. I wanted to do something based upon my expe5rience. I wanted to do something based upon my interest and my curiosity. I had to find that center point. Eventually, I did. It took me about 12 to 14 months, and I eventually found that. That is where I said, “I understand culinarians. I understand the world of food. I understand food business. I love education. I love educating people. I love business in general. Why don’t I help all of these culinarians that come out of culinary school with hopes of owning their own place and help them become successful food entrepreneurs?” That interested me. That was something that I could see myself being very passionate about.

Long story short, that was the beginning of Entrepreneurial Chef. It was a platform for food entrepreneurs. The idea was to interview the most successful people in the industry. We’re talking Michelin Star chefs, things of that nature, and not ask them about their techniques or their recipes, but to ask them about their marketing plans. Ask them about their operational structures. Ask them about what they do to drive customer loyalty. All of these things that I know it takes to become very successful in the field, but I’ve seen culinarians in culinary school. A lot of times they focus on the techniques and the proficiencies, and that is great because that’s the foundation, but that doesn’t equate to a successful business.

All of that led me to building that platform. To be honest, I wake up every day – and I have since I started on my own – and I just start conceptualizing what I want to do, what I want to focus on. What new thing do I want to build? How do I want to help people in this industry? That leads me to these ideas, that led me to Pastry Arts Magazine, the summit, and all the different things in between. That’s the journey that I took.

Filling the White Space

Kirk Bachmann: It’s really respectful, too. We have an entrepreneurial component to the Escoffier curriculum, and I just have to applaud you for making that connection. Identifying as a successful restaurateur, a chef, a cook, is also a successful business person. Do you think you were a little ahead of your time with that concept?

Shawn Wenner I would say there were definitely conferences that had workshops as it relates to that. There were some business magazines that had some chefs right around the time when I was really in the thick of building Entrepreneurial Chef. I would say not the absolute early adopter, but definitely early in the sense of getting Michelin Star chefs to really break down the economics of their business. And not even just Michelin Star chefs, but really successful people, people with multi-million dollar businesses and brands and big personalities. I was not asking about the recipes and things, as I had mentioned, but getting them to talk about those things, that was the white space that I identified that there wasn’t a unified place.

There wasn’t a very heavy-handed focus to bring these big personalities that people look up to and have them talk about the economics of their business and how they build it. And the struggles, too! That was one of the biggest things, and we’ll talk about it later, but the struggles that they experienced. I feel as though, especially with the birth of social media, people see the tip of the iceberg, and they don’t see the struggle that went behind the building of a chef’s personal brand, or a chef’s business if you will. All of that.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s such a powerful presentation, too. I remember the first time I saw Darryl Shuler larger than life. It’s really about the chef. It’s not a lot of sidebar articles and such. it’s really a focus on that chef.

It’s pretty clear, Shawn, that you have this keen eye for discovering gaps in the industry, and you create solutions. I love that. Hopefully profitable solutions. When you’re scanning the industry – and it’s changed a lot over the last 20 months – for areas of opportunity, what do you look for and how do you analyze the validity of your ideas? It seems like there’s a lot of risk.

Scanning for Opportunity

Shawn Wenner Absolutely. It’s such a great question because when you’re in the building phase of a business or an idea – at least for me – early on, all I was focused on was that. All I was focused on was how to make it successful. Now, with some experience, I then start scanning for what’s going to put me out of business. What’s going to completely change the dynamic of the industry that I’m playing in? That’s something that took some experience and learning and a whole lot of reading. Now, it’s to the point where if I’m scanning for an opportunity, there’s a couple of different things.

You have to question, is there a market for it? You have to then understand what industry are you playing in. Some people think – and especially me, early on – I thought I was building that was one of one. No! I was in the publishing business. I didn’t realize that until later on. You have to understand what industry you’re in. Now, I do research on the industry as a whole. So for me, we’ll talk publishing for a minute, publishing and media. If I were thinking about doing another media or publishing entity, I’d look at the publishing space. Is it going up year over year? Is it going down? What are the things that are coming into existence that are disrupting the publishing industry? Anybody that’s creating an idea, that is something that is so powerful that I would recommend you do it. Understand the industry that you’re in. Where is the industry trending? Is it trending up? Is it trending down? If it’s trending down, do you have such a brilliant idea that you’re going to break that cycle, or not?

For me, I scan the industry. I look at the market opportunity. Now my thresholds have changed. As you had said, hopefully successful in the things that I’ve done, and they were. I had an initial threshold and I hit it. I had another threshold, and I hit it. That brought about some confidence, so now I have higher thresholds as you grow and get more successful. So now I look at that, too. I look at what is going to be a revenue number that I would like to hit.

And one of the biggest things I do is that I reverse engineer it. I literally take a piece of paper and a pen and say, “If I want to have x amount of dollars in revenue, what I guesstimate, really guesstimation, but what is the cost going to be? What’s the profit margin that I think it is going to be?” If I’m playing in x industry, is that a profit margin that is typical for these types of businesses. Then I back in even further and say, “How many customers do I want to serve? What’s going to be the average order for each customer? How am I going to get there?” So I do a little math. You may have this idea, but it’s just so good to play out those economics, even if it is just a wild guess, because it is so eye-opening to do that.

One of the ventures within one of the business that I have, that’s what we did. We said, “We’re going to do this thing, and we want to serve a thousand customers. To get to x number of revenue with x number of profit, we need to charge x number of dollars. Is this a dollar amount that we think those thousand people would pay? Yes! Great. Let’s move forward.” If the answer is no, we need to work out the economics. Now we back into that.

When I’m scanning an opportunity, I look at the economics of it. I look at the market, and I look at the industry.

The last thing is I have to be passionate about it. it’s got to be something that I’m either so curious about, interested in, or absolutely passionate about. Those are three points on a linear spectrum, because curiosity is what begins an interest, and interest is what feeds into a passion. I hear some people say, “Do what you’re passionate about. Do what you’re passionate about.” For years, I said, “I don’t know what I’m passionate about!” But, what am I curious about? What am I curious about? Because that curiosity could lead to an interest. That interest could lead to a passion. So that’s one big thing that I have to have when I’m looking at an opportunity and scanning for things. It’s got to be something that I can wake up every morning, even if my kids are sick – my two and four year old, and I’m up with them two nights ago at 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. – even on a day like that, I still wake up at 7, 8, 9 o’clock, ready to go, ready to dive in. Those are some of the things.

Consulting for Curiosity

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. When I hear you speaking, it’s not terribly different from our business as well, right? You’ve got to set goals for yourself, and you’ve got to listen to each other. Has some of this incredible work parlayed into some unexpected consulting opportunities as well? I imagine people want to talk to Shawn, right?

Shawn Wenner it has. About two or three years in, I think maybe about four years in, it led to some of that. I then had to back it down. I will still do it a little bit, but it depends on the project. I had to back it down because ultimately, one of my goals is that I don’t want to be time dependent. I don’t want my income to be dependent on my time. I want that to have a complete divergence. It’s very hard when you are doing some of that consulting. Now, I value my time so highly that it just has to be a special something. But yes, there are opportunities that pop up from time to time.

And some times they pop up and I’m so vastly curious and interested and I see a challenge, that I’ll say yes. I’ll open up here and say that I’ve actually consulted several companies over the past year completely for free because I said, “Look, I don’t want to have the scenario where you’re paying for my time when we get into this contract. What I’m going to do is I’m going to help you one day out of a month. If I miss that day because I’m insanely busy, I’m sorry. This is why I don’t want you to pay me. But I’m so interested in helping you and this is such a challenge to me, that I want to help you.” So I’ve done that from time to time as well.

Pandemic Creativity

Kirk Bachmann: Bravo! Let’s talk about the last several months. Clearly, the industry we love and are passionate about was decimated. Thousands and thousands of restaurants were forced to close either temporarily or permanently. Those that have remained open have had to be really, really creative and change the way they do things. I know some of this might be private, but are there some super creative or ingenious ways you’ve seen business pivot during this time? How has your product evolved along side what has gone on in the industry over the last 20 months?

Shawn Wenner It’s a great question. I’ve seen a lot of different things over the course of the last year and half or two years. With Pastry Arts Magazine, and more specifically in the pastry summit, one of the focuses this year was around the topic of business and dessert entrepreneurship, as we say with the Pastry magazine. We talk to people who did things like pop-ups, who created a virtual bakery, who partnered with some sort of company that was still thriving even during the pandemic to then provide meals or food or bonuses, cookies, cakes, all of that stuff.

One of the ones recently – and I’ll speak a little big more to that one because I thought it was fascinating; I haven’t done a lot of research on it – but I did see where there was a very successful YouTuber. A very successful YouTuber who I believe, as the story goes – again, I did not do a whole bunch of research on this, but a trusted individual told me about this, so I’ve got to research it. Anybody listening, do your own research. DYOR. That said, I believe an entity or a person who ran a ghost kitchen connected with that successful YouTuber for the YouTuber to create a food brand that then would be sold out of these ghost kitchens.

Kirk Bachmann: Brilliant.

Shawn Wenner Then I saw it again, and I saw it again. I thought that’s a very interesting thought for people who know culinarians or chefs to then potentially proposition some famous person that’s in their area and say, “Look. You are the brand, the personality, it’s your brand. But I can be the chef to this and help bring it to life.” It’s a totally different way to think about continuing on your craft as a chef and producing food. One of the reasons why food businesses thrive is traffic. What happens if you don’t have foot traffic? Okay, then that is going to start going down. You have to get online traffic. Why is partnering with a – I don’t want to say quasi-celebrity – but someone that has a presence like that. It could work because they have traffic.

The other things I mentioned was definitely virtual bakeries or virtual kitchens. I saw and talked to a lot of people who did that successfully. They very simply went to Shopify. They signed up for Shopify. They took pictures of their stuff. They started telling their neighborhood about it. They started doing drops, porch drops as some people refer to it. Someone submits an order on Shopify on their website, and from there they have a certain day where then they deliver the food. People were continuing their craft. They were either supplementing their income or replacing their income by doing something like that.

The ghost kitchen model is definitely very interesting. Partnering with companies that are being successful. That’s kind of hit or miss, and it can take a lot to reach out to reach out to them. I didn’t have too many stories of that, but definitely transitioning to that virtual space or partnering up with places that seemed to be doing very well.

The Bumpy Road of Entrepreneurship

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great. Let’s talk a little bit about the magazines. I love on the landing page of Entrepreneurial Chef – and I hope I get this right – the quote is something like, “Food entrepreneurs are made, not born.” I had to read that a couple of times. Is that backwards? I absolutely love it. I know you’ve talked a lot about your journey and how you’ve got here. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about key choices – whether they were good or bad – that you made along the way to get where you are today. Pandemic aside, were there some really pivotal moments? Especially for the students that are listening. We talk a lot about entrepreneurship, and we try to talk about bumps in the road, but we can never really simulate that. We can talk about. Were there some good bumps? Were there some tough bumps in the road?

Shawn Wenner Speaking very candidly, and I’ve said this on other shows before. I believe it took me sixteen months roughly, and I think at that point I made $150. I was already in the negative because it took time and energy and money to build this thing. Initially, it was just a complete solo venture. The funny thing is that the $150 check that I got, I lost it!

Kirk Bachmann: You can’t even make that up!

Shawn Wenner I can’t make it up. I know I lost it because I found it a year later stuck in some journal or book. I never cashed it. Now, this is my right of passage that I went through that now is framed.

When you’re working on something of your own, there are so many twists and turns. I think me being such an optimistic person, I looked at thing through rose-colored glasses. I always see the upside. I don’t want to say always, but 90 percent. I see the glass is half full. I see the opportunity in all these different things. That was a blessing and a curse because when things didn’t evolve or things didn’t happen, I felt like my enthusiasm and my motivation went completely down flat.

Early on, it’s really hard to manage your expectations of things. I’d say that, in hindsight, that was one of the biggest lessons for me as I moved forward. After I’ve reached a certain level of success and I continue to go on as, I’ve learned to manage those expectations better. Maybe it was a bumper sticker where I read this, but your happiness or sadness is the difference between expectation and reality. Your difference between expectation and reality could be a massive driver of your level of motivation, your happiness or your sadness. Once I realized that, then I started managing my expectations better. I didn’t get so caught up in the highs, I didn’t get sucked down into the lows. I tried to remain a little more even-keeled.

It is a very winding road when you start out. I’ll fast forward and say one of the reasons why it took so long is because I was doing it alone. I had that Superman syndrome, put the cape on, thinking that I can do it. Now, I did it, but my cost was stress. People who are listening can’t see this, but you can go on YouTube, you can see my gray hair at 39 years old. This really started coming in when I ventured out. My mental energy just kept getting dumped on and dumped on. There was a big cost to doing something alone.

Once we started Pastry – that was with a core team – things went exponentially faster. Exponentially faster. Then I started to realize, if you want to go far, go alone, you want to go fast, go together. I’m probably botching the saying, but just reverse it if you google it and it’s wrong.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s the key to scaling any business.

Shawn Wenner That’s exactly right. That was the other big lesson that I had. Find someone that’s trusted. Protect yourself from risk standpoint and from a legal standpoint, but find people that are trusted and try and work together, potentially. Or have people you can just bounce ideas off of and collaborate. Just don’t do things in a vacuum. Those are some of the big things that helped me get past.

Tools and Armor from Those Who’ve Been There

Kirk Bachmann: Speaking about the magazines, there’s knowledge, there’s tools, lots of resources that you share through the magazine in many ways. I would venture to guess that those tools, those resources, are universal to entrepreneurs in any industry. Some of this stuff goes across businesses.

In your opinion, especially for the students that will listen, how should entrepreneurs leverage your platform, Entrepreneurial Chefs platform, to help them better start at the beginning and run their own businesses? What is the best way to use the tools?

Shawn Wenner Appreciate the question. I’m going to actually flip it. This is going to sound a little strange, but I would say first, if you have not read some of the staple books as it relates to business or entrepreneurship, or branding, or even personal development, first you start there. Forget about Entrepreneurial Chef. I have nothing against someone against Napoleon Hill who wrote “The Laws of Success.” I have nothing against Ryan Holiday, one of my favorite books, “The Obstacle is the Way.” I say “I,” but Entrepreneurial Chef has nothing against Michael Gerber, who wrote “The E Myth.” Or even a more recent one, “Building a Brand Story” by Donald Miller.

You’ll see there’s a pattern to these. “Building a Brand Story,” your branding is so vital to your business. It’s so, so vital. He breaks it down. “The E Myth.” Michael Gerber is someone that can teach you how to work on your business and not in your business with great stories. “The Obstacle is the Way.” I’m not lying when I say I’ve probably read this eight or nine times in the past seven or eight years. The reason is because he does a fantastic job at getting you to manage your mind. His little tagline is “The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs.” His stories, they’re quick.

I was never a reader. What I know about culinarians sometimes is that – and some people might be mad [to hear this] – but typically the savory chefs were not big readers in the culinary school, and the pastry ones were! It just kind of comes with the territory. As an artist growing up, I was not a big reader. I forced myself to read some of these books. I tell you, my success started doing a hockey stick once I started not only reading these books but really understanding the principles they were trying to teach. What you are going to learn is that success leaves clues. Success leaves clues. When you get exposed to highly successful people, it’s at that point you can start seeing the commonality between them. What is there that is a part of their core makeup?

That being said, because I read those books and I understand some of the core principles that it takes to be successful in business and entrepreneurship, I asked questions relating to that in those topics of our guests. Daniel Boulud amazing top-level chef. I asked him about his customer acquisition plan and strategy. What did he do to foster loyalty? What were the financials like? What was the struggle he went through to ultimately become such a prominent figure in the world of culinary?

So, to answer your question: embedded in either the website or the legacy magazine issues we have in the app are interviews with individuals where we have them speak to some of the core principles and strategies that they did to become successful. That’s number one.

Number two: I always ask them about their struggle. What was their struggle like? What did they have to go through? Because this is something that I didn’t see when I was trying to build something. That’s something. When I see new entrepreneurs, they don’t really see that struggle. You have to really live through that struggle. The more people you look up to, admire and respect who inform you in very specific ways of the struggle they went through, you then have a little bit of armor that’s built so when you go through it personally, it bounces off you. It’s still going to hurt. Trust me. It’s still going to hurt. But it’s going to bounce off you a little bit, and eventually it just gets thicker and thicker.

Kirk Bachmann: I just love this, Shawn. Am I the only one with chills listening to you speak? So powerful. Manage your mind. Success leaves clues. Totally stealing those both from you.

Shawn Wenner I stole them somewhere. Nope. Maybe I said it right here, right now, but I am not the first to say it ever, I promise you that.

Kirk Bachmann: I just love it. Funny story, somewhat related. You brought up Daniel Boulud I was at an event in New York City years ago. Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert are up on the stage talking about the industry, talking about their restaurants. Someone raises their hand and says, “Who cooks in your restaurants when you’re not there?” Ripert almost sheepishly says, “The same people that cook when I am there.” And I absolutely loved it! I love the fact that you ask Daniel those tough questions because they’re probably going to expect the easy questions, right? How many covers did you do last night, or what’s your favorite technique?

Shawn Wenner Or who would you love to have dinner with? What would you have for your last meal? I’ve seen those so many times. Big name magazines will get these big chefs and ask them those questions. I can’t help to scoff and roll my eyes. I feel like a teenager again.

Kirk Bachmann: You’ve got to push them a little bit.

You started down this path a little bit. The magazines capture these great stories and experiences of these various superstar professional chefs, food entrepreneurs. You’ve interviewed all types of culinary experts over the years, including some very, very prominent chefs: Daniel Boulud, unbelievable. Are there one or two stories that you could share, favorites maybe? It’s all published, right?

Future Changes on the Way

Shawn Wenner Completely. I will say, Entrepreneurial Chef, talking about pivoting. We’re in the midst of another pivot. We’re doing an evolution. I can’t say exactly what it is. All of the issues of Entrepreneurial Chef we call it Legacy now. We stopped actively publishing new issues. Right now we have 30 or 40 issues that are in the app. They are legacy issues. People, if you subscribe to that, you can have access to every single one. It’s just open. Until we official pivot and we’re doing something new. In relation to how I said I always look for ways to put myself out of business and I see some things that are coming that I’m now going to be pivoting. So more to come in the coming year or so, as it relates to that. That’s number one.

Number two, with the Pastry Magazine we have some of the same types of individuals and we still, even though it’s Pastry Arts magazine, because I’m such a fan of helping people become better as professionals and I know it’s not just techniques, Pastry Arts Magazine has columns like Business Bites, where all we talk about is the business side. We ask experts about things like driving loyalty. How did they create a virtual bakery? How do they do cost control?

A Favorite Interview

That said, favorite story: I will use one from Entrepreneurial Chef. I’m going to use Daniel Boulud. I forge the question that I asked him, quite frankly, but we were talking about him in the very early stages. What he did, and how did he become successful and all of that. One of the things he did, he had an actual newsletter, a printed newsletter that he would do in his area and send out his newsletter.

Kirk Bachmann: To his customers.

Shawn Wenner Yeah, to customers, if you will. It was a very early form of content marketing that we know of today. One of the funny things is – and I’m probably going to butcher this, but it’s very close – I think he didn’t have a lot of money. He would reuse some stamps. He said this! He would reuse some of them, and he laughed and chuckled about it. Another thing that was captured in the magazine: he may have had political asylum, or something, he was a status that wasn’t a U.S. resident, and he started creating desserts, truffles or something. He got in trouble with the embassy because he wasn’t supposed to be selling things. He was engaged in our capitalism, if you will. Very, very, very funny.

He was by far one of my – I hate to say favorite, but I’ve already said it, the cat’s out of the bag – but he was by far one of my favorites. I just really liked him. I liked his personality. Hearing someone like that who’s just at the pinnacle of culinary success just dial it all the way back to talk about some of the struggles he went through and the uncertainty, and working hundred-hour-plus weeks, just hearing that made me smile. Nobody has an overnight success. There’s years and years in the making.

Shawn Wenner’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: And he’s done it in a way that he continues to be so well liked and so respected. Great story. What a great opportunity.

Shawn, we’re getting toward the end of our show today. As you know, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish, so before I let you go, talk a little bit about your own personal food love. What is the ultimate dish in your household?

Shawn Wenner So this is really funny. I’m not a huge, huge foodie in the sense that I need to have extravagant mayos and things of that nature. I’m really simple. For years now, I eat for fuel, and I don’t eat for pleasure. I have a pretty strict routine, a dietary routine where I’m looking at micro and macro nutrients and vitamins and things.

Anyway, that said, as it relates to eating though, something that is incredibly important to me is family dinner. I’ve got a two-year-old – I’m sorry, he just turned three. I’ve got a three-year-old and my four-year-old turns five tomorrow actually.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s awesome.

Shawn Wenner When I started on my path, one of my big motivating factors was that I did not want to be an absent father. I wanted to be there. I grew up in a household that was very toxic. I grew up in a family that was very toxic. It then turned to be fractured. Then it turned to me being in complete isolation, and I just yearned for the day when I could change that. I can change that pattern. That ends with me, my generation, me as a generational offspring.

That being said, I have maybe missed 20 to 25 meals, no kidding, over the past six years with my kids. It’s very important to me that we sit down as a family, we have dinner, whatever it is that we’re going to eat. My wife and I love sushi, so if you’re asking for a food, we are fanatics about sushi. We will absolutely go ballistic on some sushi. The kids 100 percent love pizza. We will something do a split, and sometimes everybody has pizza, but the biggest thing to me is just to be there with my family. That’s my last piece of motivation for people who are listening to this. If you do aspire to have a successful business, or you do aspire to make your business even that much more successful if you already have one, just keep in mind what are you doing it for. If you’re doing it for family, and you’re doing it for independence and to be able to control your time, I can tell you that it’s so worth it. But don’t forget them as your building. You’ve got to have that balance while your building, or you’re going to miss some things. I was very fortunate that I could build a life now that I can be there for my kids every single day. Food is so important to us as we sit down and eat together every single night.

Kirk Bachmann: So beautifully said. Thank you, Shawn. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Shawn Wenner Absolutely.

Kirk Bachmann: There’s so much going on, I want you to come back. We’ll reach out again in a few months and we’ll talk more. I have a ton more questions, but we ran out of time. Thank you again for being here buddy.

Shawn Wenner Sounds good. It was a pleasure. Thank you so much. Honored to speak to you all and anyone listening. We will be in touch.

Kirk Bachmann: Awesome. Thanks, Shawn.

And thank you for listening to The Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit Escoffier.edu/podcast where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links, and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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