By Djenaba Johnson-Jones, Hudson Kitchen Founder & CEO
I like lists. OK, I LOVE lists. I enjoy writing them. I love the feeling I get when I check off each completed item. So naturally when I started to reflect on the the past few years and plan for 2019, I decided to make …. You guessed it …. A LIST. It’s been three and a half years since I started Hudson Kitchen, and the experience has been both rewarding and challenging. There have been small victories, monumental successes, little bumps and lots of laughs along the way that have taught me valuable lessons that I will carry into 2019. I hope you can learn, laugh and succeed along with me.
Lesson #1. When You Can’t Find What You Need, Build it Yourself. I started Hudson Kitchen because I was frustrated. I was in the process of launching a fitness business. My goal was to be a full-service, high end fitness concierge service for busy corporate executives. The company included a healthy meal delivery service, so I contacted a chef, started to test recipes and began to search for a place to cook where we could work overnight so that our meals could be delivered in the morning before our target market went to work. I quickly discovered that there were no local options and that most food entrepreneurs used church kitchens and restaurants after hours or drove an hour or more (and sometimes into New York City) to use a licensed facility. I had no idea this would be the main roadblock to realizing this dream business. And on top of that there was not a lot of information readily available about how to actually start a food business. So I decided to change this roadblock into an opportunity. After surveying the local food community online and at farmers markets, I decided that I was going to be the one to open a commercial kitchen in Hudson County. Plans of a fitness and meal delivery business were abandoned, and I went full steam ahead on Hudson Kitchen.
Lesson #2. Learn to Practice Patience. My entrepreneurial spirit has propelled me to where I am today. But the flipside of that spirit is that I tend to want to do everything at one time, and I want everything to happen on my timeline. Of course, this is not realistic so I have had to learn how to slow down, pace myself, work my plan and embrace the timelines--and other people’s schedules. Nothing will slow you down more than searching for commercial real estate in North Jersey on a regular man’s budget (vs. that of a big corporation)! I had so many questions. What type of space did I need to build out the commercial kitchen? Surely I could make an old florist shop on JFK Boulevard work, right? How important is parking? There were so many false starts. So much education for the real estate agents to even understand WHAT I was trying to find. Enter Kearny Point. Patience paid off, and after more than three years, I’ve found the perfect home.
Lesson #3. Community is the Key to Success. While searching for real estate, I got restless (again, with the patience) and wanted to do something to bring the local food community together. When I was planning for the meal delivery service, I attended a food business networking event in New York City, and I loved it. I made connections and left there inspired to move my business forward. I started to think about how I could bring that type of event and energy to Jersey City and the surrounding area. Then I connected with Anita Belle of AJB Events at an entrepreneurship event at Hudson County Community College. We sat next to each other at the event, and I started talking with her about my idea. We met the following week, and three months later Table Talk Live networking events were born. Event planning can be nerve racking, especially when you are launching something new but the night was a success! We had more than 75 attendees, 15 food businesses sampling their culinary creations as well as a panel discussion with the founders of Me Casa, Om Sweet Home Specialty Bakery, Baonanas and Chilltown Supper Club. I realized it was exactly what this market needed — an opportunity to come together as a community to learn together, grow together, and celebrate food and beverage entrepreneurship. After that night, I was hooked. Events like Table Talk Live have become the foundation of my business, and I’m proud to connect with so many people who all have similar dreams of growing their culinary ventures. The community has provided organic inspiration and energized the members. When a competitor, PilotWorks went out of business, I found out just how valuable the community we have created has become. I was able to help those displaced from their cooking locations, offering leads and information, while also providing support and guidance. The people, our community, make Hudson Kitchen a success. And for that I am thankful.
Lesson #4. Practicing Gratitude is More Important than Ever. I am a podcast junkie. I love them, especially the ones about entrepreneurship. When I need to get fired up, I listen to The GaryVee Audio Experience. When I want hear successful entrepreneurs talk about their experiences, I listen to NPR’s How I Build This or The Tim Ferriss Show. And when I want to know how to do something, I listen to Amy Porterfield. One thing that these shows have in common is they always include some message about gratitude. I’ve always known that being thankful is important, but I did not realize how important it would be to my daily life as an entrepreneur. Starting and growing a business is not easy. In fact, at times it’s downright scary. I’ll admit that I have cried a few times (actually, more than a few times). When times are tough, I learned to reflect on all of the people who have helped me and offered words of encouragement along with way. And I am grateful. Friends and family (who also happen to be experts in their fields) have read my business plan, reviewed the architects’ drawings, and provided emotional and financial support. Organizations like the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, Rising Tide Capital, Union County Economic Development Corporation and Greater Newark Enterprises Corporation have provided a platform to showcase my vision--and some have helped provide connections to financial opportunities so I can fund the dream. Strangers have found Hudson Kitchen on Facebook. Others have recommended our Food Business Bootcamp course to a friend. The list of supporters is big. My heartfelt thanks is bigger.
Lesson #5. Dream Big. This experience has taught me to dream big. And when I do, I win big. In the beginning, Hudson Kitchen was supposed to be a small place that I used for my own meal delivery business and rented out to other entrepreneurs when I was not using it. As time has gone on, the vision for Hudson Kitchen and the support behind the project has grown exponentially. Thanks to the Hudson Kitchen community, my food business incubator will open in Spring 2019. It will be the largest and first of its kind in northern New Jersey. The 8,000 square foot space will be complete with commercial-grade kitchen equipment, individual food prep stations and extensive dry, cold and freezer storage. Hudson Kitchen members also will have access to on-site food truck parking, co-working space and a test kitchen specifically designed for cooking demonstrations, photoshoots and filming live cooking shows. Our new space also will be the primary location for our monthly events, classes and workshops.
2018 provided lots of lessons and growth opportunities for me. As the year comes to a close and I reflect on all of the experiences along the way, I am encouraged. I have big plans for Hudson Kitchen in 2019. I look forward to continuing with you along the journey.