Food business success: More than kitchen, recipes

  • Jim Kendall

    Jim Kendall

Posted11/20/2017 6:00 AM

Grandma's soup? A customer favorite, a great way to start a meal at your new restaurant.

Mom's pies? Terrific finish. Diners are beginning to ask if they can order whole pies to take home. And the entrees between soup and dessert? That's where your specialties shine.


Your startup eatery looks like a hit.

That could be trouble, though. The reason, says Sybil Ege, is that entrepreneurs with a talent in the kitchen "often don't know how to run a business."

Ege, a partner in Dream Kitchen EDU, Elgin, knows startups: A former head of the Small Business Development Center at Elgin Community College, until the state's budget problems forced the Elgin center (and many others) to close, Ege has teamed up with Kevin Echevarria, CEO of Elgin-based Dream Hub/PKE Enterprises, and John Richards, Geneva, a consumer packaged goods veteran, to create Dream Kitchen EDU.

The goal is to help food-focused entrepreneurs -- not just restaurateurs but caterers, manufacturers, food trucks and the like -- be successful. It turns out there's more to a successful food business than an oven, stovetop and recipe.

Consequently, the Dream Kitchen EDU program covers four months of classroom and workshop sessions that focus on business issues, including creation of a business plan; provide shared kitchen facilities; and require a pop-up demonstration that allows participants to give their concept a small scale, but real-life, test; and, ultimately, a pitch by participants to a panel of entrepreneurs who will rate the hopeful entrepreneurs.

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Cash prizes are involved -- a good thing because the Dream Kitchen is not free. The cost for the first cohort, or group, was $2,500 per business.

The pop-up meals for the first group of participants were held the past two weekends.

Dream Kitchen EDU, not much beyond startup itself, has three more four-month incubator-style programs set for next year (late February, May and August), with nearly complete plans for an additional session that, Ege says, "will help food entrepreneurs hone their business growth skills.

"We'll be looking at what an entrepreneur must do to expand," Ege says. What many business owners often fail to realize, she says, is that "You need someone to run the first location so a second place can exist."

Although Dream Kitchen EDU seems to be carving its niche, there are options:

• Traditional business consultants who either deal with startups or have a food specialty -- or both.


• Innovation DuPage, which is starting up at College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, and has backing from DuPage Impact LLC, a Glen Ellyn-based investor group.

• ConVerge, a similar accelerator housed at North Central College, Naperville.

• Next Level Northwest, a suburban group in, yes, the northwest 'burbs.

• The Good Food Accelerator, part of Chicago-headquartered 1871, perhaps the best-known of local innovation centers.

• Co-working facilities, basically shared office spaces, which are less structured but at the right moment are a potentially good option.

• © 2017 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Read Jim's Business Owners' Blog at


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