4 Tips for Success from 4 L.A. Food Startups

The food entrepreneurs in this Saturday's Los Angeles Food Startup Bootcamp heard from five successful food entrepreneurs during a panel discussion that ranged in focus from customer experience to the importance of package design. The best thing about these panels is they’re always different, educational and raw. Here are a few gems we learned from our stellar lineup of panelists.

Our Los Angeles panel included Ashleigh Parsons, Creative Director and Founding Owner of Alma: Erik Oberholtzer, Cofounder of Tender Greens; Jennifer Piette, Founder of Out of the Box Collective and Shelby Coffman and Christie Frazier, Founders of The Hood Kitchen Space and Market.

Experience one of our expert panels, network with other entrepreneurs in your town and learn how to plan, launch and grow a successful food startup at a Food Startup Bootcamp near you.

1. Create “The Tour Guide Effect.” — Erik Oberholtzer, Cofounder of Tender Greens

Erik, along with cofounders Matt Lyman and David Dressler, leveraged his experience as a classically-trained chef into the successful fast casual restaurant chain, Tender Greens. His team’s vision was to “bridge the gap between fine dining and fast food.” His challenge was to create a restaurant experience that would keep his customers coming back and bringing their friends.

Erik devised a 10-year plan that focused on building relationships with local farmers, refusing to compromise on quality ingredients and making meals affordable. Oberholtzer recognized that customers already had high expectations for food quality and in order to really stand out he needed to create a unique dining experience. With that in mind, Tender Greens “features custom artwork by local artists who create pieces that capture the feel of their respective communities.” This vision has really resonated with their customers, and now, in their eighth year of operation, they have 17 restaurants with five more on the way.

Oberholtzer’s secret to Tender Greens’ continued success? It’s the “Tour Guide Effect.” “Understand that special connection people feel when they discover something first,” and the loyalty to your brand that can create. Create tour guides out of your customers—help them understand and love your brand so much that they come back and bring their friends.


2. Distributors care about your packaging too. — Jennifer Piette, Founder of Out of the Box Collective

Jennifer is the founder of Out of the Box Collective, a certified B Corp that is L.A.’s first farm-to-table home delivery service. Piette is bringing the food revolution to doorsteps with a sustainable local food distribution system in the greater Los Angeles community. But along with the convenience of delivery and farm fresh products comes the need to satisfy the customers’ desire for brands that reflect their lifestyles.

After 25 years of living abroad, Piette learned a lot about European food culture. She took this knowledge, coupled it with what she learned at local focus groups and launched Out of the Box Collective in 2011. Since then, Piette has built solid relationships with farmers that use sustainable farming methods so she can stand behind all of the food that she delivers to her customers.

When Piette is deciding which artisanal food entrepreneurs to work with, she first makes sure that the products are local and healthful. But, that’s not the only thing she considers. She also looks at the brand. Piette checks the company's Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for a strong social media following. A brand’s great package design will tip the scales in it’s favor every time. It’s not enough to just send a sample to a distributor and hope for the best. It’s equally important to have a brand that resonates with the customer and stands out in a sea of competition.


3. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ashleigh Parsons, Creative Director and Founding Owner of Alma

Ashleigh Parsons teamed up with chef Ari Taymor to open Alma in downtown Los Angeles in 2012. Almost immediately they were recognized as one of L.A.’s most creative and exciting new restaurants. Among the many accolades, Bon Appétit Magazine named Alma the “Best New Restaurant in America” in 2013. Parsons attributes her success to finding and maintaining a well-balanced team.

Alma is not just a foodie's paradise, it’s an experiment in relationships. Parsons explained that she and Ari formed a partnership with urban farmer, Courtney Guerra, right from the beginning. “At this point 10 percent of our ingredients come directly from the farm, however, the goal is to get to a place where we are sourcing the majority of produce directly from our garden.”

Parsons describes forming partnerships as an “ongoing challenge of finding a balance between the creative and the business.” Early on, entrepreneurs have to do most things themselves, but Parsons notes that it’s also important to “identify what you’re good at and have other people do the rest.”


4. Get everything in writing. Shelby Coffman & Christie Frazier, Founders of The Hood Kitchen

A bad commercial kitchen experience was the catalyst for these two chefs-turned-entrepreneurs to open The Hood Kitchen Space and Market. After being locked out of a kitchen they were renting right before a huge 200 person catering job, they decided that there had to be a better way. The Hood is a 5,400 square foot commercial kitchen in Orange County that offers a reliable, clean and community-oriented space where “culinary professionals and food entrepreneurs can network, promote, and develop strong food businesses.”

Coffman and Frazier are passionate about helping food entrepreneurs, however, there came a time when they needed more help. Coffman remembers waking up in the middle of the night filling notebooks with ideas about the perfect commercial kitchen. She says, “If you feel passionate about something you want to do, you are constantly thinking about it.” They began searching for another cofounder who shared their passion and work ethic to compliment their leadership team.

When they brought on a third cofounder they were so excited to be expanding their team that they neglected to get the details in writing. And in the end, they felt they got burned. “Everyone is passionate at the beginning but it’s tough to maintain that passion and dedication throughout,” Coffman said. Their advice for entrepreneurs looking for a cofounder, “get everything in writing, get lawyers.” They feel strongly about finding the right partners and love that they both share an equal stake in the business. “In the beginning you need everyone on the same page.”


Want to hear from experienced food entrepreneurs in your city at one of our intimate panels? Learn more about our Food Startup Bootcamps.