Being a #GirlBoss for Halloween could be fun, but being one IRL is arguably cooler. Jenny Dorsey is a self-made entrepreneur who left a corporate career path to pursue her culinary dreams. Hers is a story that we creative types often seek to emulate. While some of us may get into entrepreneurship in order to travel the world, others just want to live a creative life that’s reflective of our values and passions. Jenny strayed from the beaten path to pursue her passion, creating a lifestyle and career that fosters her creativity while paying the bills.
These days, Jenny runs a restaurant consulting business, as well as the NYC-based supper club, I Forgot It’s Wednesday. We sat down with her to hear her story and draw inspiration from her totally enviable career as a freelance consultant, chef and business owner.
How Did You Get Here?
I’m a business person turned culinary person. After college, I moved to New York to work with fashion and luxury brands. I thought that was very glamorous, but I realized a year or so in that I wasn’t really happy.
So I asked myself, what do I really enjoy? Cooking! I’ve always loved cooking, always taken recreational cooking classes. So I decided to go to culinary school in New York before starting at Columbia Business School.
I kind of had to start from zero. I didn’t know anyone in the food industry, and didn’t know anything about the food industry besides cooking. I had worked in restaurants both in New York and San Francisco, but I didn’t want to work in restaurants forever. I took internships, did unpaid work. It was hard for me, but I had to put my ego aside and remind myself that this was a learning period.
I started learning all kinds of random things. I had to brainstorm things like, what about food style? What about blogging? I settled on menu research and development, and I got a job at Le Pain Quotidien, a Brussels-based pastry restaurant with stores all over the US.
After that job ended, I started taking on all these freelance clients. My husband was like “If you really like this, this should be what you do full-time.” So I set up my LLC and started my freelance business doing menu research and business strategy for a number of clients. I’ve worked really hard to be able to walk into a restaurant and say “I can make your menu better,” or “I can save you money here, and here, and here, and here.” Now I’m doing some photography and styling too, which is fun and creative.
I also own and run I Forgot It’s Wednesday. It’s essentially a supper club that aims to bring people together and inspire conversation. I Forgot It’s Wednesday is the creative arm of my business. My husband and I thought about it while we were at Columbia. The point was that we wanted to get to know our peers on a deeper level. How do we get people to break out of their molds and deeply and intellectually connect with each other?
We decided we could do that through food. We started having people over for dinner and drinks, threw up a website, and suddenly, friends of friends started coming. Then complete strangers. Word was spreading! So we posted a Meetup and started to meet new people.
I realized it was a dinner for introverts. People were meeting each other and having a good time, laughing and having great conversations. These people were all ages, from college students to retirees. And everyone got along really well.
We have a live-work loft, and we do some events there, but we also do pop-ups. Once we had 100 attendees and had to hire cooks and staff. It’s a lot of work, but when you look out into this sea of people, you see that everyone is hanging out and having a good time.
We try to get people to interact. We serve seven courses of food and four cocktails. It’s great food, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. People walk around the room and enjoy their food and drinks, and there’s plenty of creative cuisine. You can add bugs to your food, there are glorified jello shots — once, I even included Doritos on a dessert for extra crunch.
On Finding Your Voice
I’m often asked to give advice for other entrepreneurs trying to find their voice. The thing is, when you’re just starting out, you have so many new ideas and you’re tempted to ask people for opinions and advice. I think that’s great, but don’t take anyone’s advice too seriously.
If you have 10 people giving you different direction, you’re bound to overthink things. If you try to please everyone, it feels like you’re doing a lot, but not really getting anywhere. I call that “wasted movement.” You have only one person to please: yourself. Your best shot at success will be in doing something authentic.
What’s Your Daily Routine?
Another thing I’ve learned along the way is that it’s okay to set your own schedule. For a long time, even though I didn’t have a nine-to-five, I always felt like I still had to follow a nine-to-five schedule. I’d try to get up really early, work out and answer emails, always sticking to a typical workplace schedule. I hated it. I was miserable, and frankly, I wasn’t being very creative.
Now what I do is, one day a week, I look at my calendar and divide things by days. So one day I’ll be in the kitchen all day testing recipes and photographing.
Other days, my schedule is more varied. This morning, I woke up, had a networking coffee, bought some ingredients from the farmers’ market, did some cooking, had a call and then did some more cooking and took some photos.
Twice a week, I spend the day in a ceramics studio. I think everyone can start feeling bogged down on certain days — for me, it’s Tuesday or Friday. So on those days, I spend the day being creative and unwinding. It helps me decompress.
I try to give myself two to three hours in the morning to answer emails, do work for clients and spend time prospecting. I also have client meetings from time to time and have to call suppliers. So there’s always a component of maintenance involved in each day.
Really, my days are very variable.
What isn’t variable, though, is my routine when I first wake up and before I go to bed. In the mornings, I spend time with my dog, and in the evenings, I take the time to wash my face with nice soaps and treat myself to time alone. I totally recommend the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It helped me realize that a solid morning and bedtime routine are so important for energy.
Any Final Advice?
I stress the importance of having a solid support system. I definitely leaned heavily on my now-husband and couldn’t have done this without him. If you try to do it yourself, you’ll find that you really can’t. You really, really, really need a support network, and you need to know early on what that network looks like.
There was a point where I realized I needed to cut certain influences from my life. Now, I surround myself with people who are like “Yeah, just go do it!” rather than people who are terrified of risk.
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(Photos via Robin Lam/Make Things Well)