Wednesday, Oct 26, 2016
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Cooking gains ground as new career for entrepreneurs


Pegg and Dick Bisher watch as Chef Paul Kendall, right, demonstrates cooking techniques during a class at the Learning Kitchen in West Chester, Ohio. A pair of suburban Cincinnati mothers who have a love of food founded the company three years ago. The National Restaurant Association predicts growth for chefs and head cooks over the next decade.

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CiNCINNATI -- So you love to cook, and people say you're pretty good at it. But can you make a living from culinary passion?

Jennifer Vogel believed she could. As she and Doreen Grontkowski became friendly at a Mom's Club in suburban Cincinnati, they realized they were ready for something new after several stay-at-home years. Both were in their early 30s, and both had marketing experience.

"And we both had the same love for food," said Ms. Vogel, who was an avid Food Network viewer and received chef's training at the Midwest Culinary Institute in Cincinnati.

After a year of planning, they opened the Learning Kitchen. Cooking-class bookings piled up.

Nearly three years later, they plan to expand their business, which quickly sells out classes, including couples' "date-night" cooking for $150 to $160 a session. Even in a sour economy, some people have been able to turn the joy of cooking into a career, whether a successful small business or a restaurant kitchen.

Altough many people enjoy the creativity and satisfaction of cooking, "the industry is truly a bastion of entrepreneurship," said Hudson Riehle, vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association.

Surveys show that nearly half of restaurant employees aspire to run their own restaurant and the association projects double-digit percentage growth for chef and head cook jobs over the next decade.

Still, small-business failure rates can be daunting, with fewer than half of new businesses expected to survive five years. Restaurants and cooking businesses often face even longer odds.

New businesses can benefit from low-cost marketing online and digitally. The Learning Kitchen got a jump-start from online bookings and has expanded to include a Facebook site and use of Groupon and Foursquare for mobile marketing.

Another successful local cooking business launched about four years ago has been heavily dependent on the Internet. Cooking with Caitlin began in Cincinnati with catering and now includes online cooking classes, a "Foodies Night In" interactive cooking class via Twitter, a Facebook page, a radio show, and live demonstrations.

Caitlin Steininger received classic training at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago; when she returned to Cincinnati, she formed the business with her sister Kelly Trush and a friend, Molly Sandquist. They started with catering, but soon focused on marketing partnerships and the Internet. Now they're working on a cable TV cooking show.

"If you're interested in starting your own business," Ms. Sandquist said, "make sure you, love, love, love it!"

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