Tribune, The (San Luis Obispo, CA)
November 23, 2006
Author: Dawn Rapp
HER SAVING GRACE
PAYING IT FORWARD: MENTORSHIP REAPS DIVIDENDS
When personal chef Michele Ward (now Michele Knecht) was badly injured in a horseback riding accident in June, she could have easily lost income from clients who depend on her weekly, home-cooked meals.
With a torn rotator cuff in her right shoulder and a fractured left thumb, the Atascadero woman and owner and sole employee of Seasonal Custom Cuisine, was unable to operate the business she established five years earlier.
However, two other personal chefs Ward had mentored and befriended when they launched their own ventures three years earlier, saw Ward's injury as an opportunity to return the kindness she had shown them.
The day after Ward's accident, Michelle Dougherty, owner of Tailored Meals, and Lisa Lovett, owner of Gotta Love It! Personal Chef Service, rearranged their schedules so the women could fill in for Ward while she recovered. The women took turns grocery shopping for Ward's customers, cooking their meals and cleaning their kitchens.
"It was just the right thing to do," Dougherty said. "It was hard not to do it. We just figured out what days we could cover and made it work."
The pair filled in for Ward all summer, cooking in unfamiliar kitchens and using Ward's recipes. Clients' meals can vary extensively, from the "meat and potatoes" consumer to the dieters who needed to know the Weight Watchers' points in each meal.
Helping them start out
Nearly four years earlier, Dougherty and Lovett -- who did not know each other -- started personal chef businesses. Lovett, a Los Osos resident, and Dougherty, a North County resident, were approached by Ward.
Rather than be threatened by new competition, Ward was a mentor, helping them through the business startup process. She advised them about advertising, building Web sites, finding clients and creating manageable schedules. A friendship quickly evolved, and the women would often meet to sip wine or chat about life, family and the pros and cons of being a personal chef.
The sometimes volatile business can be hard work, the women say, because it's difficult to find and retain clients, and some customers seek only temporary chef services.
It can take two to three years of consistent marketing efforts to build up steady clientele, Ward says, but it can be a profitable business.
Ward declined to disclose annual revenues, but she said she makes enough to pay her bills.
The personal chef business is also a growing industry. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, it's one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States.
The women say it's also rewarding to cook for people who are too busy to prepare home-cooked meals. Prices for the services range from about $180 to $350 per week, depending on the number of meals and servings desired, plus the cost of food. Income varies depending on the number of clients a personal chef serves each week.
For Ward, losing that regular income could have been detrimental to her business and family's future. She's thankful for the guidance she received from Women's Economic Ventures, a program administered through the nonprofit Mission Community Services Corp., and she says she wanted to help others to become self- employed.
"I like to think what you put out comes back to you," Ward said. "I would have had zero income if it hadn't been for them."
Copyright (c) 2006 The Tribune
Record Number: 0611240098
Recipes by Michele Knecht can also be found in the following cook books: