Inspired from his childhood in the Midwest and previous years living in the South, Jack Sorock started his bakery Jack's Chedbred in Brooklyn, NY in 2012.
A former jazz pianist and corporate lawyer, Jack began his path into the food industry with the goal of giving cornbread the "reboot" it deserved. After working with an accomplished cornbread chef, Jack developed his own untraditional cornbread recipes such as jalapeno, maple bacon, honey sea salt and garlic chive cornbread.
Jack, a newfound cornbread baker and devotee, quickly gained popularity in the NYC food scene and joined the ranks of Smorgasburg's weekly food market. Jack has teamed up with another chef this year and plans to continue his goal of "bringing to fruition a new generation of down-home cornbread, with toothsome layers of indulgent moistness, savory cheesiness, and textural contrast."
Why did you leave your job as a corporate lawyer to launch a food startup?
SOROCK: There were a multitude of factors propelling me to jump ship and go headfirst into my bakery dream - complacency at the law firm, an insatiable urge to be an entrepreneur (i.e. to work for myself), and most importantly, the urgency of the cornbread crisis that I knew had to be fixed!
What shocked you about the food startup process?
I got a piece of great advice from an adviser early on in the process of forming the business: everything takes longer and costs more than you think. I thought I had taken it to heart, but I had no idea how true that would really be. After all was said and done, I spent over a year and a half recipe testing and building my brand before I even sold one square of Chedbred. Even now, expanding into new markets has been a deliberate, painstaking and expensive process.
What business tool was the most helpful in launching your startup?
Quickbooks. Full stop. It's great making cornbread and putting smiles on people's faces (my favorite part of all of this), but when you've got a business to build, knowing the numbers will put everything in perspective awfully darn quick. I'd recommend taking a crash course before you do anything else.
Which professional or personal individual(s) were the most crucial as you grew from idea stage to pilot stage?
I can think of two people who really set me straight when I was wavering at the beginning - Adam Wile, an accomplished NYC chef and cornbread aficionado, and Courtney Dougherty, a successful food business owner with a banana dessert concept. Adam took me under his wing and tutelage for months, teaching me the science of baking and in the art of cornbread construction, adding perspective and direction to my goals of changing the cornbread world. Courtney provided me with more doses of reality I could ever imagine—warning me of pitfalls, wrong turns, but also showing me ways to get the word out in a way to best showcase the essence of my cornbread. She had been there, done that, just as I was about to do—a perfect person to help guide you through the maize (pun intended) of options and obstacles.
What did you learn from your customers that surprised you?
My customers are the ultimate arbiters of the truth! Well, at least when it comes to which ideas of mine are winners, and which are, well, better left in the cupboard. They might not outright tell you, but if you pay enough attention (being adept at spotting poker tells has helped here), your customers are all you need to help hone and perfect your product.
Where do you see the future of Jack's Chedbred heading?
Right now we're at a crossroads in terms of our options for expansion. Our online shop is launching soon, catering orders are flowing in, we're making inroads on our baked-fresh-daily wholesale accounts, and I'm getting packaging ready for specialty food stores. We see our popularity as a good thing, but it also makes it harder to see which pathway is going to keep us going in the long run.
What advice do you have for food entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
Get as much free advice as possible—it's a lot easier to come by than you would ever think. Call your competitors, call your suppliers, call your friends, call your family, talk to your pets (for the last one, preferably indoors, so not raise public concern). You might think you're on point with your vision, but learning from others is the only way to avoid repeating the pitfalls of others' mistakes and to capitalize on ideas you never might have thought of.
Follow Jack's Chedbred on Twitter.