When Bill entered the office everyone figured he was a delivery man dropping off some heavy shipment. How else could he maintain that linebacker physique? A couple minutes later my assistant, looking puzzled, told me that he was Chef Bill Blackburn.
I am by no means a foodie. In fact, I often prefer non-gourmet food to a more cultured meal. Regardless, I have cable and have a foodie wife so I have spent considerable time watching the Food Network. Something that I’ve noticed on TV over the years is how gourmet cooking has shifted from the domain of the likes of Julia Child and Chef Linguini to men’s men such as Guy Fieri and Robert Irvine. My guess is that cooking has become so competitive that guys that would be traditionally found in some weekend warrior rugby, soccer or basketball league are now feeding their competitive spirit in the kitchen. Chef Bill actually played football for Oregon State University.
I had a great time learning about Chef Bill’s journey from telecommunications sales to gourmet chef. Chef Bill began his cooking journey when he decided to enroll in a culinary school to improve his novice cooking skills. He always enjoyed cooking and how he felt when someone enjoyed his meals. So he figured he would improve his cooking chops by enrolling in a formal program at night. Within a short period of time Chef Bill realized that cooking was something he could see himself doing not only as a hobby, but as a full-time profession. At that point he decided to jump into cooking with both feet, completing culinary school, networking with experienced chefs, and fully immersing himself into the trade of the culinary arts.
Chef Bill studied under Chef Eric Crowley at the Epicurean School of Culinary Arts. At Epicurean he received intense training in creative preparation of meats, fish, fowl, stocks, and sauces. He also acquired a deep understanding around the “art of the presentation.”
After graduation Chef Bill took advantage of his successful background in corporate sales, marketing, and business development to launch Catering by Ashley – a full service catering service. About 10 years ago, after spending some time as a part-time chef and caterer, Chef Bill had developed enough of a customer base to dedicate himself to cooking on a full-time basis.
Chef Bill believes two things must be in place to be a great cook: an absolute love for eating, to the point when you finish one meal you’re already thinking about the next; and, be completely taken by the act and art of feeding others, especially when serving total strangers.
Chef Bill’s catering experience is quite impressive, from fundraising events for Hillary Rodham Clinton and others, to luxury car dealerships, to celebrity VIP parties for TNT’s Kenny Smith and others, to hospital and private medical practice luncheons. Chef Bill has also catered many outdoor and indoor weddings, as well as private dinner parties and other personal events.
Chef Bill credits his success as a chef and caterer to his military and corporate experience. Chef Bill believes that a successful business requires the maintenance of high ethical standards, professionalism, organization and precision, unwavering customer service, strategic outside-the-box thinking, command leadership, and an ability to produce in pressure situations. These are all characteristics he developed and refined in the military and corporate America.
Chef Bill’s current focus is on organic cooking. According to Chef Bill there is a tremendous appetite for foods promote a healthy lifestyle, are free of additive, chemicals, and pesticides, and that contribute to maintaining a glowing and attractive appearance. It is this focus that has led Chef Bill to develop his most recent concept – Blackburn’s Farm to Table, a gourmet organic foods restaurant soon to open in Corona, California.
I asked Chef Bill to provide some advice for up and coming entrepreneurs. He gave me the following bits of advice:
- Have a Business Plan: Any business, no matter how small or large, needs a roadmap to stay the course on the way to success. As the adage goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Business plans can be developed by reading any number of books. Other resources include free business plan consultations with the Small Business Development Corporation and SCORE.
- Work the Plan: There is no point in taking the time and effort to develop a business plan if it is not going to be followed. In order to achieve the goals outlined in the business plan it is important to follow the process outlined in the plan and to frequently make the adjustments necessary to stay the course.. No business plan, no matter how comprehensive, will account for all factors. As such, it is important to continually assess progress against the plan and make appropriate adjustments to get back on track. The more frequent the adjustments the easier and quicker it will be to get back on track.
- Stay Focused: The world is full of noise and distractions. It is important for any business owner to avoid distractions and remain focused. All too often small business owners will stray from the plan or take on other activities that negatively impact the ability to stay on track. It is important to minimize distractions that may adversely affect the ability to achieve the business goals set out in the business plan.
- Do Not Give Up: Running a business is not easy. It is incredibly difficult – especially in the beginning. Success ultimately requires a relentless effort. No matter the ups and downs, the business owner must keep taking a step forward every day and not give up or become disillusioned.
- Be Personal: People do business with people – not companies. As such, it is critical that business owners not hide behind email, social media, or other methods. While technology provides tools that assist in developing business, those tools will not replace a firm handshake, a smile, and the “warm and fuzzies” that a buyer gets from personal interaction.
It was great to meet Chef Bill. He truly has a passion for food and making people happy. It is why Catering by Ashley has been successful and why I am certain Blackburn’s Farm to Table will also succeed.
If you have questions about small business loans and other services contact Pan American Bank at 323.264.3310.