Top Chef Judge Tom Colicchio Provides Advice to Central Ohio’s Food-based Entrepreneurs

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It’s not every day that one of the most recognizable chefs in the world comes to Columbus. Tom Colicchio, producer and judge on Bravo’s hit TV show, Top Chef, was in Columbus this week to present the Plate of the Union Campus Challenge Award to The Ohio State University for its recent win in the competition.

While taking in the local food scene, Colicchio made sure to schedule a visit to The Economic & Community Development Institute and their Food Fort to receive an insider’s glimpse into the lives of local small business owners. Discussions centered around both the struggles and successes they’ve experienced while running their own businesses, as well as the services available to them to enhance their respective food-based enterprises.

“I still see myself as a small business owner,” Colicchio informed the entrepreneurs in attendance. “We have six or seven hundred employees across all of our businesses now, and we have made a huge effort to make each one feel small. Regardless of growth, it’s important to not lose sight of your original vision”

Chef Colicchio met directly with a handful of Columbus’ newest and most promising food-based businesses. Omar D’Angelo, a native of Argentina and owner of Barroluco Food Truck, discussed the challenges he has faced getting his mobile concept launched.

“Having all of the troubles we had with building out our custom truck, resources like ECDI were extremely important in getting us out on the road,” D’Angelo told the Chef. “Without having the support of organizations like this, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

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Growing your business the right way was the topic of the day during Colicchio’s visit. Michelle Allen of MMELO, one of Columbus’ hottest new dessert-makers, had a chance to discuss her rise from a holiday seasonal pop-up at Easton Towne Center, to opening her own permanent location in the Short North.

“Sometimes, it is important to slow yourself down to make sure you are doing things right, and operating the business that you want to run,” Colicchio expressed to Allen. “Don’t let growth make you lose sight of what, and who, you are.”

Brad Hobbs, co-owner of The Walrus, Olde Towne Tavern and Corner Stone Craft Beer & Wine, was also worried about losing a part of their culture while still trying to grow their restaurant group. With a fourth restaurant on the way — Pecan Penny’s, a traditional BBQ concept that will be going into the old Ray Johnson’s Seafood Market — Brad was thrilled to be given the opportunity to pick Chef Colicchio’s brain.

“It was great to have Tom validate some of things we’ve been doing as we continue to grow our restaurant group,” Hobbs said. “Moving from two restaurants to four is no easy task and we’ve worried about maintaining that same personal touch and culture in each restaurant without losing touch with both our staff and guests. Tom took his time and showed an honest interest in our business. I understand his persona on Top Chef or in the kitchen might be different, but he couldn’t have been more helpful to us.”

After touring ECDI’s campus and The Food Fort, a commercial kitchen and commissary space attached to the non-profit business services organization, the celebrity chef’s overall impression of his trip to Columbus was overwhelmingly positive.

“This visit makes me really happy – to see all the amazing small businesses that you have helped, from the food trucks, to the gourmet foods you are producing is just really amazing,” Chef Colicchio said before closing with this advice to all small business owners, “No matter how big or small your business is, remember to make people happy! That’s why we are in this industry. As long as you keep doing that… you will continue to succeed.”

For more information on the robust services ECDI and the Food Fort provide small businesses and budding entrepreneurs, visit ecdi.org

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