Young Entrepreneurs: Lifelong Friends Look to Kickstart Their Food Truck Business
In 2001, Shari Griffith and Katrina Kelly were seniors in high school when Kelly suggested that they enter their school’s annual business plan competition. They both loved to cook and would often prepare meals together with each of them making a signature dish: Griffith always made her infamous chicken wings and Kelly mastered the desert course with her cake baking skills. It was during one of these dinners that the girls jokingly decided to combine their skills in the kitchen into a business plan for a catering company that combined their best recipes.
And although it all started out as a joke, they won the business plan competition and soon realized that they their idea might be a food pairing made in heaven. Soon after, they used their winnings from the competition to launch their home-based catering company, Cake N Wings.
A few false starts caused them to put their business dreams on hold, but in March of 2009, they re-launched Cake N Wings and have been going full steam ahead ever since. Now, with clients across the Tri-State area, Griffith and Kelly are looking to take things to the next level by expanding the Cake N Wings business into the fast lane with a food truck. Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of launching the truck on their own, the ladies turned to popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, to give them a boost.
Madame Noire recently caught up with the girls to discuss their goal of owning a food truck and how they came up with their business idea during a slumber party.
How would you describe Cake N Wings?
SG: Cake N Wings is a catering company that specializes in delicious wings and one of a kind cake tots that come with our “Do it Yourself Frosting.”
We came up with the concept of ‘Cake Tots’ with another friend to play off the idea of chicken wings with tater-tots (or fries). We never thought that the two would actually taste good together. But now, we can’t have one without the other.
You just launched a kickstarter campaign to raise money for the business. How much money are you looking to raise and what will it be used for?
SG: Our goal is to raise $10,000, but we’re hoping to exceed that. We know we’ll need a lot more money, but we wanted to start out with a realistic number. We plan on using the funds to purchase a food truck. We really believe that having one would take our business to the next level.
What led you to the crowdfunding model and why did you think it would be a good idea for your type of business?
KK: Our biggest strength has always been our creativity and the Kickstarter platform allows us to use this strength to raise funds. With banks and other traditional capital sources its based on your credit, assets, tax returns, business experience, etc. Crowdfunding platforms take away all the red tape and focus on passionate people with great ideas.
We always knew our business was a great idea but couldn’t get funding because we didn’t have enough collateral, or we were too young, or our business plan needed more work. With Kickstarter, it was all about the idea working for us and not the other way around.
Did you have funding when you launched Cake N Wings?
KK: When we re-launched in 2009, we received funding from someone that we met on our first catering job. The event was for a party for a well-known philanthropist who was making a donation to the school that hired us (our old high school). And two weeks after the event, he ended up writing us a check for $1,000 to help us with our business. We saw that as a blessing and confirmation that we were headed in the right direction.
What was your biggest obstacle when you launched Cake N Wings?
SG: Capital, and convincing our families that it was a good idea. We come from families that believe that getting a ‘good job’ and working for someone else is the best thing you can do. But we felt we could never reach our full potential if our worth was determined by someone else. Our families didn’t get that and they didn’t believe in the idea. Some family members were supportive and we thank those that were, but many were not. It’s still an obstacle.
KK: Also because we were starting from the ground up and we do not come from families with money, so the lack of resources slowed down the process of us reaching some of our goals. We basically have to raise ALL the capital on our own and when you have bills to pay, this can be a major setback.
In your opinion, has Cake N Wings business been successful? If not, how do you define success?
SG: We consider our business to be a success, because we’re still here. However, we do believe that there’s much more in store for us. There are so many different things we want to do with this brand. And I’d say our definition of success is constantly changing and expanding as we grow.
What business moment are you most proud of?
SG: Besides, finally pulling the trigger on this KickStarter project, I would say working with Hot 97 in New York was a highlight. Through our partnership with Hot 97, we were able to cater an event for Nicki Minaj. Seeing such a big star enjoy our food was more confirmation that we have a good business. It took us about a year and a half from the time we re-launched in 2009 to land that gig.
What business moment are you least proud of?
SG: I recently forgot an order. I was mortified! I felt so bad and immediately apologized to the client and offered them some extra wings for the inconvenience. When our customers order from us they rely on us to come through with delicious food in a timely manner and we did neither. I was disappointed but we all make mistakes. The important thing is that we learn and recover from them.
KK: Shari and I planned a networking/tasting event in Harlem last year and because of the rain the turn out was not a good one. We didn’t make any money from the event and so much food had to come home with us, so of course we took it home and ate it.
Has the increased popularity of food and cooking shows restored or increased the faith you have in the future success of Cake N Wings?
KK: Yes and no. We had faith in our business way before this food craze existed on television. But, when I see these cooking shows and food competitions, I do get excited because I think we would be able to compete with a lot of the chefs that go on these types of shows. Especially when it comes to food pairing and restaurant concepts. I really believe that Shari and I have the ability to take things to another level in terms of creativity (and taste).
What are your goals for Cake N Wings?
SG: My goal is to take Cake N Wings global! I won’t be satisfied until we have products in major retail stores and a Cake N Wings storefront in Japan.
KK: I agree. I also want Cake N Wings to branch into television; I think it would be cool to see us on TV or producing shows related to food because we are such a fun brand.
What are your growth plans for 2012?
SG: Getting the truck is the biggest priority right now. It will allow us to produce more and reach a larger group of people. I’d also like to put more time and effort into branding. We’re currently working on a blog that focuses on food and travel and we’re also working on new videos for our Youtube channel. We’d like to give people more insight into our personalities.
Lastly, what advice would you have for someone looking to start a catering business?
SG: Know your product and be able to sell it. Believe in it and others will believe in it too. Don’t be afraid of what other people think. If you think that you have a great product then go for it. Never quit. The only time you fail, is when you quit. Also, have a plan and always be planning. You should also remember that catering is in the hospitality industry therefore you should know your client and always go above and beyond for them. If you’ve done something to make their job a little easier they’ll remember that and they’ll hire you again.
KK: Love what you do, and put your all into your food and your business. People can tell when they eat our that we make our food with love. When your clients see that you love what you do they will have no choice but to support you. and whatever you do, DO NOT QUIT!
To help Shari Griffith and Katrina Kelly reach their funding goal by January 13, 2012 and further their dream, click here.
Sakita Holley is the founder and CEO of House of Success, where she advises lifestyle brands on social media best practices, branding and traditional public relations strategies. Follow her on Twitter @MissSuccess.