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!”