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Jan. 1, 2022

Become a Personal Chef and Call Your Own Shots with Holly Verbeck


Happy New Year and welcome to 2022. Today we celebrate a new year with Voice4Chefs. Thanks to you we're now in 17 countries and cities across the US. Celebrating and honoring the chef's struggle and story. We begin this year with a special guest, Holly Verbeck. She is truly a Voice4Chefs and you’ll learn why. Most chefs dream of owning their own business. But know more about cooking than how to start. Holly specializes in helping chefs start their own personal and private chef business. 

Connect with Holly: https://makeyourbusinesscook.com/

Our website: https://www.voice4chefs.com/

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/MichaelDugan)

Transcript

Michael Dugan:

Happy New Year and welcome to 2022. Today we celebrate a new year with Voice4Chefs. Thanks to you we're now in 17 countries and cities across the US. Celebrating and honoring the chef's struggle and story. We begin this year with a special guest, Holly Verbeck. She is truly a Voice4Chefs and youll learn why. Most chefs dream of owning their own business. But know more about cooking than how to start. Holly specializes in helping chefs start their own personal and private chef business. Holly, welcome to the show.

Holly Verbeck:

Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.

Michael Dugan:

Why don't we start with a journey back to your childhood? What was it? What was it like growing up and did you have any connection to food?

Holly Verbeck:

Well, I've been eating since I was born. I grew up in Los Angeles, where my mother had a garden in the backyard and she was very accomplished at reading recipe cookbooks and giving us a variety of menus. To eat from each night. We were healthy. But we there wasn't a focus one way or another on the culinary arts.

Michael Dugan:

I know you have a really strong business sense. What about a lemonade stand? Did you ever run a lemonade stand?

Holly Verbeck:

I think probably all of us did. But you know my first business that I ran, my brother and I use scrap wood from the construction that was going on around us and we use that scrap wood to build planters and holders and macrome hangers and and so we just used all the stuff around us. It didn't have anything to do with cooking.

Michael Dugan:

But definitely you're a young entrepreneur.

Holly Verbeck:

Yeah, I've had my first business I started in college, and that interestingly enough was cooking it because so many college students would go home empty handed and I always took woodshop so I routed boards that I oiled and made cutting boards. And then I made a trio of holiday breads, pumpkin, banana and cranberry and sent kids home with little loaves of bread on cutting boards. And I couldn't believe in college. I had no idea that I'd be up for five days, making 150 loaves of bread so that kids could go home for the holidays. That was my first effort at any kind of cooking business.

Michael Dugan:

Did you sell them?

Holly Verbeck:

Yeah, I got those orders and there it was finals week and I had to make 150 loaves of bread out of my little apartment off campus. It was an insane proposition. So I didn't do it a second year.

Michael Dugan:

Oh my gosh, that's, that's amazing. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up kind of take us a little bit through your childhood?

Holly Verbeck:

Sure. Well, I guess what I would want so many chefs to know by sharing this part of me is that most of us aren't any different. And every single one of us walks through challenges of a unique form. You many of us are ill taught and wounded either by you know adults that influenced us as children or through institutions or religions. And it just to make it short, you know, between my two parents there are seven marriages. I went to six high schools. I now clean and sober, molestation was a part of my past for more than a decade and I'm just so much more of my of my future now than I am of my past. And I just don't think that our past needs to define us as much as many of us allow it to end that I allowed it to for a good portion of my life.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, I have to agree with you. There's some things in my past that I just move past and look to the future. What about your schooling, where did you go to school and how do you think that led you to what you do?

Holly Verbeck:

Well, everything that I'll give you the answer to that. But everything that led to what I'm doing now, literally has to do with the fact that I married a chef. Yes. Yeah. But my background, I've got a degree in teaching human resources, risk management. And when when I met my husband, who's a chef, I was in corporate and I was in charge of training, and I worked for a large company that is now owned by a ski company called Vail ski resorts and the property that I helped manage had 11 Food and Beverage establishments on it and so I did training for corporate for a lot of different industries from hotel to lodging, hospitality, spa, retail, and food and beverage. And then I met this chef.

Michael Dugan:

And tell us more about how you met him. What would happen there?

Holly Verbeck:

Well, it was with my boyfriend

Michael Dugan:

I haven't heard that story.

Holly Verbeck:

Yeah, my boyfriend and I took a 21 day kayak solo tour the two of us paddle 120 miles in Alaska, solo and didn't see another human being until in the middle of the ocean and Alaska. This other solo kayaker came up and we met and it was just fireworks from the very beginning. And so we started a pen pal relationship. And then we ended up getting married and he's from New York. I'm from LA and now we live in Truckee, California.

Michael Dugan:

I love that and tell us more about what it's like to be married to a chef.

Holly Verbeck:

Well, it's it's as magical for me as it is for him. I assure you

Michael Dugan:

My wife would my wife would say the same thing.

Holly Verbeck:

Yeah, it's, you know, it's both a blessing and a curse. You know, in the early years of our marriage, he would make appetizers before we had dinner. And then pretty soon I said honey, we've just got to narrow it down and at this point 25 years in baked potatoes good enough, right. But yeah, it comes with the extra pounds and the blessings and everyone wants to come to our house. I think the biggest complaint that we have as a couple is that we don't get invited to other people's houses as much as we have people coming to our house because people are intimidated that he's a chef.

Michael Dugan:

I studied to be a chef and I have friends. It's the same. It's like, when are you going to cook? Where are you going to cook? Like, there's definitely a stigma and in some frustration around that.

Holly Verbeck:

Well, there's also the fact that most chefs find that the way they can be most comfortable in a social environment is when they're sort of behind the scenes. And they're the ones giving. And so as much as I might say, Oh, we don't get invited to other people's houses. I think that in large part chefs want people to come to their house, and they're pleased to be able to give that's part of the way that they are in silence service to to others. We love having people over and he loves cooking for them.

Michael Dugan:

It's also you know, it's also your domain. You're you're familiar with it and, I love to entertain I love to help people over and with the pandemic. It's been really tough. I feel like that just connects friends and family and people that that we know. So thinking about the pandemic, how are you dealing with it your business and your life?

Holly Verbeck:

Well, you don't have to I have two areas of focus. I've got a local business Hey, Chef in Lake Tahoe, and the business really dropped off it went off a cliff, quite frankly, and we had the option to make some changes with a chef and chose not to. I can come back to that but then the other thing that I do is help chefs around the nation to build and grow their businesses as an independent chef. And that side has done very well. So it seemed to be good timing, to have both of those operations. I continue to work and I've worked from my home studio for 25 years. So for me, it wasn't a big change. So we just we rolled with it, but it really did affect our local business and our local business is really our bread and butter.

Michael Dugan:

So tell us a little bit more about Hey Chef and some of the research I was doing you. You've hired quite a few chefs to work in that piece of your business.

Holly Verbeck:

Sure. Well, hey chef helps clients be a guest at their own party and we provide in home entertaining, that's personal, distinctive and effortless. And I do that by placing private chefs, bartenders, baristas, servers and shoppers in people's homes. So, you know, some people call me a chef pimp. And that's one way of looking at it. But essentially I run a staffing agency and I don't cook and I help people throw exceptional events and because of my background in human resources and training, and I've also got a certificate in household and estate management from the Starkey International Agency. I happen to be really good at providing the best talent into people's homes and coordinating things so that we can hold exceptional events for people.

Michael Dugan:

And you know, in some of the research I was doing preparing for this interview, I noticed that on yelp and other places, Hey, Chef gets five stars almost every time. And that's really significant. And I'd love to get your perspective about why.

Holly Verbeck:

Thanks. Well, I think it has something to do with the fact that people trust us to make a one phone call and know that we'll take care of everything. And it takes some time, I think to curate that reputation and a lot of dedication and remember, I don't cook so there's a lot of chefs who are trying to run their own business and trying to do the cooking as well. And that's quite a balance, where I've got, you know, dozens of people on my staff. I think I've got 30 active, talented culinary professionals now, and I've got an event that's going out this evening as we're recording this. But I'm focused on everything that needs to be done to make the event go smoothly. So the chef can show up and do what it is they love and what they do best. And so it's those systems that I've built, that other chefs are now coming to me for and saying how can I make my job easier, right? I'm trying to run my business and do the cooking. How can I do this in a way that I'm not running around with my head cut off that I can be profitable and set my prices wisely and systematically go about serving my clients in a way that allows me to exceed their expectations every time. And that's what I've cultivated in my business. And that's what I share with chefs across the nation.

Michael Dugan:

And so that's the Hey Chef part, but you set the example for chefs and you also have a business coaching chefs. I understand with Hey Chef, that you run this really successful business but you also have another business that's very successful because you coach chefs. Tell us more about

Holly Verbeck:

That's true and thank you for asking. The truth this? is that there are a number of coaches out there that can help you with a business or more specifically, with a private chef business. I'm certainly not the only person out there. But what I know is the way that I teach chefs how to start and build their business works. And that I happen to be really good at the way that I teach that. I want to be really clear. First of all, I don't teach anybody how to cook. Any chef that comes to me already knows how to make great food. I don't I don't address that. But one of the things I think that separates the way I coach and help chefs with their business is that everything that I've tested and everything that I've done in my business, Hey Chef in like Tahoe is what I'm giving them for their business so they don't have to go through the learning curves, the growing pains, the expensive mistakes, the spinning your wheels, that you know heading off in 18 directions to determine which one's the most profitable. And so I'm able to really help chefs hit the ground running and do the essential things that will elevate their food and their presentation in a way that does one thing really well. And that's helping them get paid, what they're worth working for ideal clients. And that's really important, because there's so many chefs out there Michael, who just say well, I just want to cook my cook my food is really good. I've really heard it, but the truth is, nobody's really hiring you for their chicken chef. I mean, there are 16 places in my town and I live in a really small town where I can get chicken. The question isn't, you know why do they want chicken because they don't what they want is something else. They either want a special environment for celebrating a birthday, which is why they go to a certain restaurant that serves chicken or they want to feed their kid really fast because it's a weeknight and they just finished sports and so they get chicken from a drive thru. It's because they want time and convenience. So there's all these different reasons why people want chicken and therein lies the secret of making your services so appealing that you attract ideal clients who you can serve.

Michael Dugan:

That's amazing. I have to say, I've listened to a lot of your YouTube videos and I was really captivated by what you have to say because you're providing this incredible insight into how to be successful as a personal chef or a private chef, and a couple of examples that I listened to. And I felt really like I wanted to connect to Chef Rashida see that I just could not believe I can I can imagine that you had helped her transform. And I can just imagine you sitting down with her or doing a zoom call with her and and helping you gain the confidence to become this amazing chef and then I went out and I looked on her website and I'll be really honest, before this interview, I wanted to call her and just talk to her about the experience with you. Because I could just tell what the conversation would be like. That she felt empowered and inspired and and ready to do anything. And she did. I mean, I've looked at her photos on our site. I've looked at it I'll clean it is. I know that that's a direct result from your coaching but can you share a few experiences with your clients?

Holly Verbeck:

Thank you and calling out Rashida is wonderful. She's on the East Coast, she's in the DMV area. And you know, when she came to me she'd been running her business. And she said I was thinking about closing it down getting a job and just doing this cooking as a sort of hobby and then she said, you know, why didn't Why didn't I come to you five years earlier? And you know, I've been struggling all this time and it's because she built this website and she was trying to sell her food. And so when we started talking we went through the attract your ideal clients exercise. It's a five day exercise super easy that it gets chefs really thinking about what it is they do? Why they do it? Who they do it for and what transformation they want to achieve? So for Rashida for instance, she helps busy professionals reclaim their time with their families on weeknights, and be a guest at their own party. But Chef Shawn for instance, he's in Texas, and he helps people who don't have the time or interest in cooking, but are recovering from a health crisis. So both of them could cook chicken, right. Also, I have another chef who helps athletes reach peak performance through nutrition. And if you listen to these phrases, what you're hearing is every one of these chefs cook chicken, but none of that mentioned chicken. Rashida helps on busy weeknights. Shawn helps with people recovering from a health crisis. And, you know, this other chef is with athletic performance. But if you go into the story of each chef, you one thing that's really amazing is that Chef Shawn at age 38, had a stroke. And that's really rare at that age. And since that time, he's remade his life through his cooking and he's lost 75 pounds and of course, the exercises now and his passion is to be able to use his talent as a chef serving other people who've gone through what he has. And so when a chef talks about their chicken, they're competing with Chick-fil-A and McDonald's and their nearby restaurants and Thomas Keller, you know, from A to Z, you're competing with everybody. But if you're talking with somebody about the fact that they're busy on weeknights, and they feel guilty, you're bringing their kids through the drive thru one more time and knowing that they're not building family time at the table like they did with their parents who had maybe a stay at home mom who cook or if you're a chef, and you're talking to this athlete, about the balance of what they eat in terms of carbs and proteins and when they eat and how much because you're also an athlete and that's what you're passionate about. And you help that client with your cooking. Then it's a whole different conversation and clients seek you out. I work with a chef who's in Florida. He is the sought out chef and his calendar is booked months in advance by people who want Him to help them start and stick to a diet and it can be whole 30 it can be Paleo. He's the diet specialist. He makes chicken. It's true, but that's not what he talks about. And so each of us has a unique history that has informed us. And that allows us to really make a choice and I'm asking chefs to make a choice. Who do you want to serve? And so many chefs come to me and they say well, I just want to cook I just want to cook chicken that's not enough. I want to know about you. Where do you come from? What's your background? What have you gone through? It's interesting Michael, you asked me about my history and I was forthright about the troubles that I've gone through and I think one of the things that you connected with when we started talking and became friends was this passion that I have for helping chefs because I've watched so many chefs suffer and this internal belief that they have that they've got to suffer and tattoo the pride of their suffering on them and and work so hard for somebody else to earn their worth. It just It breaks my heart. That's not entirely accurate. It doesn't break my heart. It makes me speak up even more loudly about the fact that you have a talent. You're a professional. You deserve to be paid what you're worth, and if you could step forward with the dream that you have, and start working as hard for yourself chef as you do for other people's profits. You can remake your life and walk through this life taller and have a different future.

Michael Dugan:

You know, Holly, I have to tell you I agree. And I've heard it when you're talking to your chefs. I've watched some of these videos and some of what you do and it's it's amazing how you can lift them from out of the ashes. I mean, I was in the business for 10 years, and I had this vision that I wanted to be a chef and it was so difficult. Because you're just so focused on cooking, not the business and you help them understand the business and you help them understand how to speak up for themselves. And that's what's so amazing to me about what you do.

Holly Verbeck:

Thank you and I can appreciate it. You use the words lift them. And I also use the word artist. What we know is that chefs are artists, they're creatives, and they're artists, but they're also scientists. I mean there's there's real science behind cooking especially baking, and it's a true craft. And I want chefs to hold themselves up as more than just laborers who are being chewed up and spit out by every job that they walk into that's overusing them and and coincidentally that that they're allowing themselves to be used in and elevate themselves for the artist and the professional that they are. One of the things is that there are some chefs who need a pat on the back. And there are other chefs who need a kick in the butt. There are other chefs who really need a hug and it can be any of those things. It's often all of those things at different times. But as much as I want to be encouraging. One of the things that I know is that when I work with chefs one on one, very direct and I'm very forthcoming, not only about my past, as I've shared with you but about the situation that thier in. And what I find is that if I had to worry about what others would think about me or about hurting their feelings. I wouldn't be able to coach them and give them what they need right now. What I hear is and what I've seen is that there are more chefs who are overworked and underpaid, who have a dream of starting their business, who don't know what steps to start first, and are overwhelmed about how to take the right action because they don't want to fail. But what I can tell your chef is that what you're doing right now probably isn't working. Most of you are allowing yourself to work in a labor intensive job that will break your body. Again, I told you I'd be direct will break your body before you've made enough money to retire. 80% of all chefs have left the industry by the time they're 45. And most chefs if you're 30 Now, let me let me do the math. You're going to retire in the year 2055. Put that in perspective. Most all of you. Chefs are working in a way that you're living month to month. You're not saving for catastrophe, you know, it just if the car breaks down, you're not saving for an emergency. You're not saving for a vacation and you're not saving for your future. And if you're living month to month now, you can get as many tattoos as you want. I'm not knocking them I'm just saying I got to be direct and tell you what I think chefs really need to hear. Most chefs are working at slightly above the poverty level. And it's not getting any better in that segment of the industry. But the industry has changed.

Michael Dugan:

And you know, you you've told me and I've I've heard this before, but 2021 is the year of the chef. And why do you say that? Why do you feel strongly about that?

Holly Verbeck:

Yeah. 2021 is the year of the independent chef and I really have been working in our industry to coin this term. Because, you know, the freelancing that has come out of, you the day and age that we live in now and the fact that there's technology and all of us can work from home, this is absent COVID. The number of things that are happening right now where people can be independent. You can work for Uber or Lyft. For instance, the corporation's don't want employees anymore, and they're off. They're outsourcing that to the extent that they can and yet the restaurant industr. The food and beverage industry is still living with this old paradigm that I need people dedicated to these walls to this kitchen doing this work and and that's breaking individual chefs who if they were to put themselves first and put their dream first and reach out to their ideal clients, they could easily start their own business the same way any bookkeeper does any housekeeper does any dog walker does. Any daycare provider does and start their own business. And so being independent now allows you to do work as a personal chef, as a private chef doing small catering. You can take that on the reason I think that being an independent chef is the best answer is that the dream of many chefs is to run a restaurant but the barrier and the cost of entry and the risk is so high. It's almost suicide to take that step without really having established your niche a following and the business acumen needed to be successful. And so the best step I believe, is to go independent and start learning how to be in control of your life and your finances and your business. And it's the fastest growing segment of work for chefs since 2014. The demand for private chefs in households is off the charts right now since 2020. And the ability with technology and the demands of consumers. For chefs to be independent and start calling their own shots is huge. And it's not as big and scary a step as many chefs think.

Michael Dugan:

That's amazing. So we're gonna lighten the load a little bit because this has been a really intense conversation. And the advice that you've provided though, is really incredible. If you are thinking about becoming a private or independent chef. I would look to Holly and we're going to talk a little bit more about that. Were gonna take a sidestep and get into a section that I call let's get cooking. Now, you can easily pull from from your husband, but I have a couple questions for you. So what are your signature dishes or your husband's signature?

Holly Verbeck:

Well, my signature dishes. I make excellent sandwiches. I'm really good at sandwiches and salads. Okay, you know in my life, he makes the entree. I always do the sides. You know? I'm really good at sandwiches. My friends and family know that. But I married my husband for his his fish tacos his Bolognese and his French toast. And there was probably some others.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, you know, and it's funny because my wife doesn't cook and our listeners if, if they're interested. their very first episode that we launched was about my wife called Stay Hungry. And it's all about why she hates to cook. She always jokes with me and says her favorite thing to cook his reservations. And to me, I think you would you would get along so well, you know? Because you would see things so similar. I mean, it's just she's super passionate and creative like you and and I just feel like there would really be a great connection. So one of these days. We'll have to have you over for dinner.

Holly Verbeck:

I love it. Love it. I'll make reservations at your place. There we go. I feel the same as her. If I have to peel an orange that's cooking. It's just too much work.

Michael Dugan:

So the next question real quick is. I always talk about this and it's really kind of throws a curveball on things for the chefs that I talked to but can you remember in your business, where you had a kitchen disaster?

Holly Verbeck:

Yeah, I bought a restaurant. It's very interesting. Wow, we started our business in 97 staffing private chefs and we grew and grew and grew. And I thought well, the next the next natural thing is for us to get our own commercial kitchen and then run a restaurant. And we had a great opportunity and it was really a great plan. And there were so many great things about it and there were so many mistakes that I also made truly there's no guarantee it would have succeeded have these things not happened but in separate cars. My husband and I on the first day of snow on December 13 2008. And I remember what happened at the end of 2008 beginning of 2009. In separate cars we met we cut down our Christmas tree and we were driving home and my daughter and I watched as my son and husband who were in the car in front of us got hit head on by an oncoming vehicle. And in the two and a half years that followed my husband was in the hospital eight times. Many times in in ICU and the emergency room and multiple surgeries and it was the period of time that you know, brought us to our knees. It brought our family to our knees we were on the verge of ... we lost the restaurant. Yeah, there was about a month and a half there that I was in the kitchen myself cooking and crying and running the register and just trying to do everything and we realized and that was a week that I took both my son and my husband to 11 doctor's appointments we just we we nearly lost all of it. We were on the verge of bankruptcy and divorce. We were drinking too much and everything had to change. And then who would have known that at that point December 2008. We were all about to go over a big wave and just endo big time. It was the whole world shifted them too. So it was a rough period of time. Wow. You meant to lighten it a bit, didn't you?

Michael Dugan:

We're gonna lighten it one more time. What is your desert island dish?

Holly Verbeck:

Oh, it's pretty clear because I asked for this on my birthday every year. I think people don't even come from my birthday. They come for the food because they know it's going to be the same menu every year. It's my husband's Bolognese homemade pasta Caesar Salad, Garlic Bread. And then he makes an incredible Carrot Cake. It's just rich. It's got pecans and walnuts and parsnip. Oh, it's just the most wonderful, hearty carrot cake you just can't get anywhere else.

Michael Dugan:

Wow, that sounds amazing. I'm coming for dinner. We're gonna wrap up but do you have any advice that you can offer our listeners about becoming an independent chef? Any final words?

Holly Verbeck:

Well, yeah, I could speak for years about that, but I wanted what I want to tell every chef is that most of the ways people tell you to start your business or that you think are are necessary for you to start your business are wrong. They're backward because most chefs think I need to build a website then they will come I need to build a logo I need to get a business card. You know, all these things I need to do I need a business license. I need to form an LLC. And already I'm screaming No, no, no, no, no, you don't need to do any of that. So I want to come back to what Michael you were saying lemonade stand. Lemonade stand. You know that. My kids. They went out and babysat and none of them built a website. They they became babysitters. We held a garage sale and we didn't report that income to the IRS. And we didn't get a Seller's Permit first either. A you know the number of things that chefs put in their way and believe have to be done before they can start a business is really what's stopping them. And, and we often think well, if I have all these things in order, then I won't have as much fear. When the truth is we really just need to get started. You need to identify who your ideal clients are, what problem you solve for them with the food that you cook, and you need to start cooking. And I help people do that.

Michael Dugan:

And I understand that you have an amazing gift called the complete roadmap for becoming independent chef.

Holly Verbeck:

Thanks for offering that. Yeah, I'd love for anybody that's listening. To get my free assessment. It's the complete roadmap for becoming an independent chef. And you can find out if you've got what it takes to start your business. And you can find that on my website. Make your business cook.com/launchers. And then you can also get bite sized tips hacks and training on my Facebook group, which is called chefs who call their own shots. And I also have a YouTube channel. So I welcome you to just get information and get started and reach out to me. I'm happy to meet with any of you to talk about how we can get you started in your business without spending money and getting clients immediately.

Michael Dugan:

You'll be able to find Holly on our website and her links and I'll also be posting that information in the show notes. So I encourage you if you're thinking about becoming a personal, independent chef, reach out to Holly. Holly I just want to thank you for really truly being a Voice for Chefs. I've gotten to know you recently. And I've also watched a lot of your videos and learned a lot about what you do. You really look out for chefs and it's really incredible. And thank you for coming on the show.

Holly Verbeck:

Thank you for having me. I'm here to support chefs, and reshape the industry by helping you get paid what your worth and doing what you love.

Michael Dugan:

Thanks for joining us today. Follow us on Facebook. Find our website in the show notes, subscribe on Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you listen. Leave a comment with five stars and stay tuned for the next episode of Voice for Chefs.

Holly Verbeck

CEO Hey Chef

Most chefs dream of owning their own business but know more about cooking than how to start. Holly specializes in helping chefs start their own personal and private chef businesses. No one's more passionate or committed to chefs who want to call their own shots, get paid what they're worth, and change people's lives with the food they cook.

Today she still runs HeyChef! Lake Tahoe's premiere culinary staffing company she and her husband, Chef Grog, founded in 1997. Over the years she's developed the back-office systems and strategies to operate their multiple six figure company which boasts a talent pool of over 50 talented culinary professionals. And she doesn't cook. With credentials and accolades in corporate training, human resources, risk management, household & estate management, and her gift for teaching chefs the profitable methods she's tested in her own company, Holly is the go-to Queen of Office Mise en Place for chef entrepreneurs across the nation.