San Francisco Chef Creates Business that Offers Interactive Culinary Events that Educate and Entertain
Founded on the concept that nothing brings people together better than cooking, Parties That Cook offers classic hands on cooking parties for private celebrations as well as specialized events designed for corporate team building, client entertainment and employee appreciation.
Parties That Cook Founder and CEO Bibby Gignilliat left a successful career in marketing for Williams Sonoma, to follow her culinary dream and founded her first hands-on cooking party company Gourmet Gatherings in 1999. With the company's portfolio of Fortune 500 clients growing in leaps and bounds, Gignilliat decided to refine her initial concept. In 2006 Gignilliat created her new company Parties That Cook to better serve her expanding corporate base.
A group cooking class hosted by Parties That Cook encourages teamwork and collaboration. “Our events inspire guests to connect with each other, build camaraderie and gain confidence in the kitchen,” the award winning Gignilliat observed. Parties That Cook Team Building events are customized with eight event ideas ranging from Cupcake Wars to Iron Chef-style cooking challenges. All Parties That Cook menus highlight seasonal and local ingredients and can accommodate dietary restrictions.
Gignilliat and her chefs celebrate the seasons with a selection of fresh produce and the highest quality meats for their events. Their pantry is stocked with quality ingredients – herbs, spices and staples and tasty accoutrements. The permutations are endless. The model was so successful in San Francisco that Parties That Cook has expanded to Chicago, Seattle and Portland.
Parties That Cook is the second borrower to receive a loan through San Francisco-based Pacific Community Ventures’ (PCV) Small Business Advising Integrated Lending Loan Fund (SAIL Fund). The PCV SAIL Fund is offered as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Intermediary Lending Pilot Program (ILPP). The Fund provides debt capital and resources to high growth Bay Area businesses that create jobs and opportunities in lower income communities. The PCV SAIL loans can be made for a minimum of $50,000 and a maximum of $150,000.
PCV launched the SAIL Fund in 2012 as one of twenty organizations selected nationally to participate in the SBA’s ILPP. PCV builds responsible small businesses to create jobs and opportunities in lower income communities. Authorized under the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, the ILPP provides direct loans of up to $1 million to community organizations or intermediaries, which in turn have been used to help finance small businesses.
Parties That Cook and Gignilliat are no strangers to sharing their success with their community. Parties That Cook donates annually to over 50 non-profit and charitable organizations. Gignilliat is a board member at Women’s Initiative, which she actively supports by hosting an annual fundraiser, which raised over $17,500 in 2012, enough to put 18 women through Women’s Initiative’s class for low-income female entrepreneurs.
Parties That Cook made its largest charitable contribution to date by donating a hands-on cooking event - Cooking for a Cause benefiting Room to Read. In total, they raised $25,813 to support girls' education in the developing world, providing scholarships for 103 girls to attend school for an entire year.
With plans to expand throughout California, Oregon, and Washington, Natural Decadence is poised to take advantage of the high demand for delicious, artisan pies that are gluten-free and allergy friendly.
Undaunted but realistic, Lando offered the following observation and encouragement to other aspiring entrepreneurs: “It takes ten times as much money, ten times as much time, ten times as many people than you would have ever imagined. But if you have the passion – starting and running your own business is the greatest reward imaginable!” It all started with two lifelong friends who were touched by food allergies at the same time. Rosa May Dixon's personal story of having a young child with celiac disease is similar to the countless moms she meets running a gluten-free business. Her young daughter, Solea, was constantly sick, vomiting on average 17 times a day and measuring in the 1 percentile for her age and weight. After several misdiagnoses, a doctor confirmed that the true culprit was celiac disease. Celiac disease is treatable with a controlled diet, eliminating gluten.
Around the same time, Rosa's friend and Natural Decadence co-owner, Milia Lando, discovered it was her food sensitivities that had left her exhausted and virtually unable to work. In addition to gluten, Milia had to cut dairy and egg out of her diet.
With Rosa’s background in catering and making pastries, Milia encouraged her to create artisan products that were dairy, egg, nut, and gluten-free. They started Natural Decadence with one flavor pie in a few local stores in their hometown, Humboldt.
Their pie caught the attention of a Whole Foods' food forager, and a year later their signature pies - Lemon, Pumpkin and Chocolate - are in natural grocers throughout Northern California, including 25 Whole Foods Markets.
Natural Decadence soon found itself facing the dilemma every small business owner hopes to have, how to scale up effectively. “We were not only facing launching the business, but we were growing at a rate we never anticipated, which is great but can be overwhelming,” Dixon explained.
In the process of navigating the many challenges of expansion, Dixon and Lando were referred their local SBDC. “We have been amazed at the amount of support we’ve received. We can honestly say we would not be where we are today without their support!” Lando exclaimed.
They attended most of the classes offered by the SBA and SBDC, and they met frequently with counselor Sandy Neal, Catherine DeSanchez, and Kathryn Ebowitz. Neal helped support Dixon and Lando on almost every aspect of their business: introducing them to key people, prepping them for meetings, writing a business plan and reviewing financials. Neal was also of great help in securing a grant that allowed Natural Decadence to move to the industrial kitchen they use today. Getting a kitchen that could support the increased demand for their product was a crucial part of their growth. In addition, DeSanchez helped them address their marketing needs, and Ebowitz worked with them on understanding QuickBooks.
Dixon and Lando are mindful of their rapid growth. “Managing and meeting major demand when you’re small can be tough. There is cash flow and money management, we’ve had to relocate our kitchen twice in a year, and manage a full staff (5 bakery employees, 2 owners, and 3 independent contractors) in the meantime. We want to meet the demand, but we also want to have smart and sustainable growth,” said Dixon.
Jennifer Johnson and Serafina Palandech created Hip Chick Farms as a natural extension of their love of food, family and their desire to provide family-friendly solutions for lunch and dinner.
Johnson is the Chef and Chief Operations Officer for Hip Chick Farms. She has a real passion for cooking and is a perfectionist in the kitchen. Johnson has worked with great chefs, such as Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. For the last ten years, Johnson has served as the Executive Private Chef for Ann and Gordon Getty. When Mrs. Getty started a Montessori school in her home, Johnson’s role expanded to cooking a family style lunch for 25 children every day. The kids in the school loved her food, and when they went home at night, they would ask their moms for Chef Jen’s chicken fingers. The moms in turn started asking Jen for her products.
Palandech, the President for Hip Chick Farms works closely with Sonoma County farmers to support the local economy and ensure their ingredients are the best the county has to offer.
Johnson and Palandech had the passion for local, sustainable food systems, but they found the learning curve steep for other aspects of running a small business, such as choosing a corporate structure and marketing. “We have learned the importance of strategic planning, hard work, gathering assistance from experts in the industry, as well as the in-and-outs of the food industry,” Palandech recalls.
Palandech took classes at the SBA in San Francisco, and found them very helpful. When they started Hip Chick Farms, Palandech and Johnson participated in a class offered by the local Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) chapter and received mentoring from SCORE counselor, Richard Adler. SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground and grow. They also attended classes at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Santa Rosa. SBDCs provide a wide array of training and counseling assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs.
When seeking start-up financing, they applied for and received a Community Advantage 7(a) SBA-guaranteed loan through Bay Area Small Business Finance. Community Advantage is a pilot initiative aimed at increasing the number of SBA 7(a) lenders who reach underserved communities, targeting community-based, mission-focused financial institutions which were previously not able to offer SBA loans. The maximum loan size for Community Advantage is $250,000.
“The SBA provided us with much-needed financing for our start-up company, when most financial institutions would not help us.” Johnson said matter-of-factly. “The SBA supported classes gave us the necessary information we needed on important decisions in the formation of our company – what legal structure to take, how to create a business plan, how to create financial forecasting and how to seek investors.” Hip Chick Farms not only benefited from one-on-one mentoring, they became part of a community of new entrepreneurs, able to support one another.
Hip Chick Farms has begun selling their products in stores, and now their challenge is keeping up with demand. Johnson and Palendech are well aware that even as their production increases rapidly, they must maintain the impeccable quality and strong relationships with their customers, which brought them to this point. Hip Chick Farms has launched their products on the West Coast, with plans to expand to the Southwest and Rockies, and eventually nationally.
When asked for advice for other would-be business owners, Palandech exclaimed, “Don’t let anyone tell you that it cannot be done, or that the economic downturn will hinder your progress. There is a world of opportunity available, with lots of resources to help you – such as the SBA!”