Kendra Peterson on Running a Gluten-Free Business

As a personal chef in Chicago, Kendra Peterson serves her clients gluten-free fare with a focus on fresh produce and clean ingredients. As an entrepreneur, she manages dozens of clients, three chefs and the marketing to grow her business, Drizzle Kitchen. I got in touch with Kendra to have her share her business and culinary philosophies.

What inspired you to create Drizzle Kitchen?

Kendra Peterson: I had just moved back to Chicago [after] a stint in Ohio and would spend a lot of time with my sisters and their families. After preparing the food for many of my nieces and nephews’ birthday parties, my sister’s friends began asking if I cooked professionally. Being of the attitude of, “Say yes and then figure it out,” my sisters said, "Yes! She can prepare healthy meals for families that you simply reheat. No mess, no grocery shopping and healthy, delicious meals!"

For a very long time I had been trying to figure out how to marry the ideas of nutrition with the taste of really good cuisine, and here it was landing in my lap! So, after I cooked for a few lovely families that helped me work out my kinks, word started spreading and more and more people began looking for healthy meals that I would prepare in their homes and leave for them to reheat for dinner.

I found there was a real need for well-produced food that was easy. I was able to create more "time" in the lives of mothers, whether they worked or stayed home. As the business grew and a few years passed, I found that many of my new clients approached me because of food allergies, so I placed a big emphasis on focusing on allergy-free cuisine. With a recent discovery of my own gluten allergy, Drizzle Kitchen is now dedicated to being a fully gluten-free private-chef service.

In such a food-centric city how have you carved out your own niche?

Kendra Peterson: I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people. My clients range from professional athletes to families to actors to busy singles. The common denominator between them all is they wanted innovative healthy cuisine, with the biggest emphasis on allergies. So that is what we focus on. We do not provide private chef services; we provide nutritionally balanced, gluten free private chef services. With my background in nutrition and food science, combined with years of experience in gluten-free cuisine, my clients feel confident in my meals.

What resources did you tap into to create your own business?

Kendra Peterson: Because the business is not brick and mortar yet, I did not have to raise any money initially. Rather, where I focused my energy was in networking and really meeting people in the industry and learning from anyone I could. I began volunteering with Imerman Angels and with Step Up Women's Network, both urban-based organizations that held philosophies aligned with my own. Also, organizations that were made up of the right age demographic of like-minded people I wanted to meet. I did a lot of research online as far as private chefs in other cities, what their rates were, how they organized their businesses and such. I also just talked a lot about what I did to anyone and everyone. When you are speak passionately about your career, people will be interested in what you do!

What is the most important lesson you've learned as a business owner?

Kendra Peterson: You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe you can do it, nobody will. I guarantee there are going to be times in which people will doubt you and people will criticize you. But you have to continue pushing forward. Use your passion and drive to push you past the negativity and accomplish everything you hope to.

What marketing tools have you found the most effective in growing your business?

Kendra Peterson: Social media is beyond important. It is necessary. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare and websites are all things that people use to do their research for businesses. They are also things people come back to for constant information. Facebook and Twitter are great platforms for me to share food and nutrition news that I think people need to have. In regards to advertising, I have been fortunate enough to have amazing clients who spread my business by word of mouth! I have also been featured in publications and in a handful of TV spots that always provide marketing. Really, for me, finding the right people to surround myself with, both industry and non-industry, who encompass the same food and nutrition beliefs as me has been the most important. I have a community of people I believe in and who believe in me, we feed off each other and the marketing is a beautiful by-product of that.

What's your five-year plan?

Kendra Peterson: I am currently writing a cookbook, so the hope is to have that finished and ready to go as soon as possible! I am also planning on moving operations to a brick and mortar space in Chicago within the year. I would love to eventually have a small space with just enough room for a big, beautiful, wood table where people can come for private cooking lessons, intimate cooking parties and the like. The next two summers I am working on spreading Drizzle Kitchen to the Hamptons, to work with talented friends in the yoga world for combined retreats and intimate cooking/yoga weekend escapes. I want to be able to reach as many people as possible and teach them about the beauty of eating gluten-free foods that are just naturally gluten-free and delicious.

Rachel Gillman has an insatiable appetite for dining out and an obsession with the restaurant industry. She's also fascinated by entrepreneurs and enjoys uncovering the story behind building a business from scratch. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelGillman.

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