How to Accelerate Your Food-Related Business

Senior Instructor Chef Carrie Hegnauer teaching at JWU Charlotte

Many JWU students hope to achieve entrepreneurial success, but one faculty member (who’s also an alum) cautions them to be prepared to work.

Chef Carrie Hegnauer '05 has taught at JWU’s Charlotte Campus for more than 20 years. In 2014, she and her husband Dave opened The City Kitch, a commercial kitchen facility and food incubator space where 50+ clients (many of them JWU alumni) can prep, cook, store food and host events.

The concept took more than two years to bring to fruition — a gestation period that included researching the market, writing a 40-page business plan, creating cash flow projections, searching for space and meeting with inspectors.

The business was born out of necessity. One summer, Hegnauer decided to spend her downtime from JWU teaching private cooking classes to small groups. The problem? Every night she taught a class she had to pay rent to the commercial kitchen space. And the amount of profit she was clearing was minimal relative to the sheer amount of set up, prep and break down involved for each class.

Take advantage of the JWU network. Meet with entrepreneurship instructors. Reach out to fellow alums in your industry.”

For Hegnauer, it was a lightbulb moment: “We knew we could do this ourselves.”

The process was not without some major hurdles, including how their shared-use kitchen was to be designated by the Mecklenburg County Health Department: “We are not a restaurant or a food stand or a commissary as is defined by the department. We ended up with ‘deli stand,’ which opened up a whole can of worms.”

Determined to improve the situation, Hegnauer called the department to offer her services as a credentialed culinarian who could assist them in developing parameters for shared-use kitchens. (She and Dave now sit on the board and have contributed significantly to the department’s understanding of such spaces.)

Looking back on that first year, Hegnauer admits it was rough: “We had to learn the ropes. Not only on how to run a business, but now to start and run several types of businesses that would be working in our space.”

She offers advice to future graduates for setting up a solid business plan:

  • Get on the Internet and research other business plans. You can get a general idea of how to create one.
  • Don’t quit your day job. It will be many months before you can really take a paycheck.
  • Start asking questions. Call SCORE, the nation’s largest network of expert business mentors, and get an appointment to talk to a mentor — and take advantage of their coaching, expertise and advice.
  • Refuse to quit.
  • Take advantage of the JWU network. Meet with entrepreneurial instructors. Speak with librarians who specialize in research. Reach out to and network with fellow alumni in your industry.

Hegnauer admits that the bureaucracy of starting your own business can be mind-numbing, but she emphasizes the truth to the old adage: If you can’t beat them, join them. “Show them how you can make their jobs easier. Join a board that oversees your type of organization and experience how they think. Serve the needs of the entity and they will recommend working with you. It really is a small world. Your reputation will precede you.”

Below: City Kitch has mentored and supported a wide range of food-related businesses in Charlotte, many of which are run by JWU alumni. Pictured left-right are 10 alums who regularly work with the organization, including two full-time Kitch staff members:

  • Jamie Barnes + Gregg Williams ’03, What The Fries
  • Samira Golshani '12, A Delicious Alternative Meal Prep & Delivery Service
  • Dana Keith '15, City Kitch director of operations
  • Desiree Finley '19, Good Eats + Things
  • LeRoy Randall '13, Chef LeRoy’s Creations
  • Candace Johnson '09, Smokn’ Aces
  • Hannah Dickerson  '09, Nana’s Porch
  • Camille Terry '17, City Kitch assistant manager
  • Katrina Bearer '07, The Blossoming Kitchen Meal Prep & Delivery Service

City Kitch has mentored and supported a wide range of food-related businesses in Charlotte, many of which are run by JWU alumni.

Topics: Charlotte Entrepreneurship