Course Aims To Help Chefs Become Successful Business Owners

By Richard Thompson
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new pilot program is getting underway in Louisiana to help sharpen the financial know-how of budding food entrepreneurs. The ultimate goal is to help small businesses (whether it is a food truck or a restaurant) navigate the ins and out of the managing credit and debit, cash flow and retaining customers. For women in business in La. listen up! Individuals who are accepted into the program and complete the course, could receive up to $75,000 in grant money.

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Coming up with ideas for new dishes usually isn’t the hardest part of the job for startup entrepreneurs trying to gain a foothold in New Orleans’ bustling dining scene.

The real challenge often is outside the kitchen: mastering the business side of running a restaurant or other food venture.

A new, four-month pilot program is being unrolled to help sharpen the financial know-how of local restaurant owners, as well as chefs, caterers, food truck operators and professionals in charge of culinary schools and food markets.

The initiative, called the Catapult Fund, plans to offer extensive training and grant funding to a dozen applicants.

The 16-lesson program is being offered by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, in partnership with Capital One bank, the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation, the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and the Louisiana Small Business Development Center.

It’s the second phase of a pilot program that began in 2014 and initially served arts entrepreneurs.

To reflect its new direction, the curriculum includes a range of speakers and topics addressing issues central to starting and running a new food business, from developing menus and business pitches to managing credit and debt, preparing food outdoors, handling cash flow and retaining customers.

By the end of the four months, participants will have learned how to craft a business-growth plan and hone their pitch. They’ll also be eligible for some of $75,000 in available grant money; foundation officials are still deliberating over how to divvy it up, whether on a merit-based scale or giving an equal share to everyone who completes the program.

The weekly, 3 1/2 -hour sessions are scheduled for June through October at the Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s headquarters on North Rampart Street.

The foundation — which already doles out nearly $1 million a year to artists and other nonprofits — was looking for a way to support the growing group of entrepreneurs bolstering the city’s so-called cultural economy, according to Scott Aiges, the foundation’s director of programs, marketing and communications.

In many ways, the initiative is an extension of an economic development program that provided microloans to local small businesses, an initiative that the foundation ran for years until Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Aiges described the new program as “a venture fund for entrepreneurs in the arts.”

To receive the grant funding, participants must clear several hurdles, such as completing 90 percent of the training sessions, taking eight hours of ServSafe training in food safety and passing a certification exam in it, developing a growth plan and presenting a business pitch.

“It’s going to be very, very hard work,” said Dianne Sclafani, a business development consultant for the area Small Business Development Center who specializes in the food industry and helped coordinate the lessons.

“This is not for somebody who’s just trying to see what the world’s about,” she said. “This is about people who are very, very serious and are ready to bring their business to the next level.”

Sclafani said the new effort is designed to review “the real nuts and bolts of what holds a food business together.”

“We’re very, very good at producing a beautiful, flavorful product,” Sclafani said about local culinary entrepreneurs, “but understanding the business side and how to make money at it is usually not the strongest part.”

As a result, she said, banks are sometimes hesitant about lending restaurateurs money — a trend she’s hoping to reverse locally.

A dozen Louisiana arts-related businesses were accepted into the fund’s inaugural class, and all but one completed the six-week training course. The foundation received more than 90 applications for that class; they were whittled down to 12 by a group of arts and business leaders.

Among those chosen was Tamika Jett, 29, who opened Passion Dance Center in Gentilly in 2010.

Jett had wanted to own a dance studio since she was a young girl, and she started laying the framework for it while studying at LSU.

“I didn’t want to be a Tiger Girl or a Golden Girl that was just pretty and dancing with the band,” she said. “I just wanted my own kind of hip-hop entertainment dance crew.”

Though she had a dream, Jett didn’t have much experience managing a business, she said. The training gave her new insight into areas like filing taxes and marketing.

“I didn’t have the exposure to it,” she said. “I think a lot of businesses could benefit from actually knowing the resources out there that can help because it’s stressful trying to really start up.”

The food program, which is geared toward burgeoning culinary professionals with less than $500,000 in gross annual revenues, is accepting applications through May 27.

For more details, contact the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation at (504) 558-6108.


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