Karen Davison is a professional chef and food blogger based out of Plano, Texas. When she is not cooking or designing special recipes, she is sharing ideas via her online blog. Karen is interested in virtually anything to do with food, so she is always looking for the latest ideas and flavors to feature in her recipes. She also enjoys exploring new kitchen gadgets and technologies that can make home cooking easier and more fun for everyone.
After working as a head chef for a number of different restaurants in the Plano/Dallas area of Texas, Karen has turned her attention to the online food community. She regularly posts new updates and is always excited about the prospect of learning from others.
How did you get started in this business?
I have always loved to cook. Since I was young I have helped my mom and grandmother in the kitchen, and I always knew that someday I wanted to cook and create recipes as a career. As I grew older, I tried to take as many opportunities as possible to learn from more experienced chefs. Eventually, I learned enough in the kitchen and in the classroom to be able to run my own kitchen and design my own menus for some of the nicest restaurants in the Dallas/Plano area.
How do you make money?
The restaurant business can be highly competitive, so the way to maintain steady profits is always going to come down to a number of factors. In the past, I’ve worked at restaurants that try to cater to as many patrons as possible with a wide selection of food and drink options. I find that this can be beneficial in the short term, but eventually you can spread yourself thin trying to please everyone. The most successful and profitable restaurants I’ve been a part of find a good niche and focus on being the very best in a certain category.
How long did it take for you to become profitable When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
As I said, the restaurant business is tough sometimes. For as many successful spots there are out there, you’ll find a dozen other failed ventures. I have certainly felt doubt, especially when I was getting my first head chef jobs. The key is to stay the course and commit entirely to your vision. It may not always work out, but with hard work and perseverance, you can start to turn a profit in the first year or so of operations.
How did you get your first customer?
That is a great question. As a chef, you don’t always get to see the people who are enjoying the meal you crafted for them, but when I was starting out as a chef, I can remember the first time someone wanted to pay me a compliment in person. I will never forget the smile on the gentleman’s face when he told me the meal I cooked for him was one of the best he’d tasted. He wasn’t my first customer, but that was the first time someone wanted to give their compliments in person. I will never forget how accomplished that made me feel.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
It may seem obvious for the restaurant industry, but offering unique and creative specials is an excellent way to attract new customers to your spot. There are so many options out there for people to choose from, I think the best way to stand out is to present people with something they just have to try. Even running specials for an extended period can draw more attention to you and your food. Not only will people enjoy trying your latest culinary creation, you can often entice them with future specials if they already like what you have done so far.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Making the transition from the restaurant kitchen to writing about and creating new recipes to share online was a major decision that I definitely couldn’t take lightly. Working in restaurant kitchens was my career for more than a decade, and I believe someday I will get back into it. I just felt I needed a shift away from the stress of working in a restaurant. I am happy about the decision I made, because I can still cook and create, even more so than before, but I also get to spend more time sharing my creations with friends and family, and my fellow foodies!
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My father always said there is no substitution for hard work. I took that to heart at a young age, and I think it is a big reason for my success in the restaurant business at a young age. While I’ve never owned a restaurant on my own, I have managed kitchens and created menus and always tried to go above and beyond in my work. I think people have recognized that about me, which is why there were so many opportunities for me to learn and grow as a chef. Taking what I learned and applying it according to my work ethic has led to plenty of success so far in my career.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A couple of years ago one of the menus I designed was critiqued by a major influencer in the Dallas area. I was nervous, as this reviewer was notorious for his negative take on other chef’s work. When I got a (nearly) perfect score on the menu items I presented, I was on cloud nine! I think of that accomplishment as one of my greatest in my career so far.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Becoming a food blogger has been a great experience so far. It isn’t nearly as demanding as restaurant work, and I am enjoying the extra free time I have to create and try new foods myself. I am excited about taking this time to learn and grow as a chef, while I figure out how I want to proceed with my career. Maybe I’ll start a YouTube channel. I just love the feeling of having so many opportunities in front of me.
What business books have inspired you?
If you want to get a really insightful look at what it takes to make it as a professional chef, the book Becoming a Chef by Andrew Dornenburg is one of my absolute favorites. He explains the ins and outs of the business from a chefs perspective, and looks at what makes successful chefs around the world so successful. It is a great resource for any aspiring chef who wants a frank, open look at the challenges and the rewards this business has to offer.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Take your time. I am still relatively young in this business, and I started out at a young age. Back then, I was always looking for the next big thing, rather than focusing on the success and opportunities I had already achieved. I wouldn’t want my younger self to lose any of my ambition or drive to work hard, but I do wish I enjoyed a little bit more of the success I achieved while I was achieving it, rather than trying to downplay what those achievements truly meant to me back then.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
My online food blog is full of insight and advice for foodies and home chefs everywhere. I think if anyone wants to take a look at what I’ve learned over the years and apply it in their own cooking, they can always check out the latest info on my website.