When Deb Johnson of De Pere was planning a birthday party for her sons, ages 4 and 7, she wanted to do something unique and fun. Taking a clue from the youngest who had been obsessed with cooking since age 2, she decided on a chef-themed party.
The party was more than just a great success. Friends also encouraged her to turn it into a business by offering parties and cooking classes.
“After the boys’ birthday party (their birthdays are only a few days apart) and talking with my friends, I began searching the internet for children’s cooking classes,” Johnson said. “The ideas just started coming to me.”
She did an online search for similar businesses, and didn’t find any that were nearby. The closest was in Chicago, where a Pampered Chef consultant was teaching children’s cooking classes as part of her business. Since Johnson was also selling for that company, she considered doing something similar.
“The consultant I talked with used all Pampered Chef tools in her classes, and offered the catalog and a discount to the parents," Johnson said. "I thought about doing that, but decided I really wanted to focus on teaching, not selling products.”
She also wanted to focus on preschoolers because of her son’s interest and the ability to hold classes during the day when parents were looking for fun things to do. As the business model was developing, Johnson felt the first snag when she couldn’t come up with a name for the business.
“The name was tripping me up, because I needed that before I could move forward,” she said. “I had a legal pad with me all of the time — night and day — and one night, the name just came to me. I visualized budding chefs and kids coming out of a flower pot. I saw that as my logo.”
Budding Chefs, LLC, was created. Johnson, who holds a master’s degree in education and has worked as a nutrition educator, moved on to the next steps. She met with a Green Bay SCORE volunteer to discuss pricing, location and liability issues, and did a practice run by teaching a class at a local community center. She paged through information on business plans to determine next steps.
One of those steps was finding a place where she could hold classes and parties. After searching the area, she decided on using a combination of her home and rental space at Trinity Lutheran Church in Green Bay.
Although she started with younger kids, it wasn’t long before those kids told their siblings and the demand increased. She now focuses on ages 3 and older with classes throughout the Green Bay and Fox Valley area. The benefits at any age are increased self-confidence, independence and a sense of accomplishment. It is a skill that helps children read, do math and organize their work logically. It also encourages children to try different types of foods.
Since starting the business in 2006, the amount of time spent has varied depending on other jobs and family responsibilities. The one thing that hasn’t changed is her love for the business.
“My strength as an entrepreneur is that my passion for what I do won’t let me quit, no matter the challenges. I love what I’m doing and can’t imagine not doing it. I’m always looking for new niches to reach into,” Johnson said.
Social media allows her to post photos and videos of classes, and her new website (www.buddingchefsinfo.com) includes detailed information. Johnson remains as excited and committed as she was when starting the business over a decade ago.
One of her favorite quotes amplifies this. Featured on her website, it is from Francis Bacon. “You cannot teach a child to take care of himself unless you let him try to take care of himself. He will make mistakes, and out of these mistakes will come wisdom.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.