Food for Thought

These entrepreneurs proved successful in their culinary endeavors.

Thomas DeGeest

Do you remember the childhood excitement of chasing down the ice cream man? Thomas DeGeest is looking to rekindle that feeling with his unique mobile business, Wafels and Dinges. The name of his company is taken from the Belgian spelling for waffles and toppings. DeGeest felt there was a need to bring back the original Belgian waffle to America, as he believes it somehow got off track. He travels the streets of New York in his bright yellow food truck selling these indulgent treats. DeGeest grew up in a small village just outside of Brussels and believes everyone should experience Belgium’s tasty treat that is such a large part of their culture. Some people thought he was crazy for leaving a job making six-figures at IBM for the entrepreneurial world, but DeGeest knew he had something special. He was able to take a leave of absence from his position, but after a month, decided to take the plunge and go all the way. “I’m very passionate about waffles,” DeGeest said. “I love seeing the smiles that my waffles bring to my customers. This is probably the most wonderful business to be in.” His business has taken a different direction than DeGeest originally thought it would. They now do catering for corporate events and parties, private parties and have a partnership program with coffee houses, restaurants and hotels to sell his waffles. On a good day, DeGeest said he sells over 300 waffles, which are made with authentic ingredients imported from Belgium. Much of DeGeest’s success is due to his unique marketing campaign. DeGeest built up the buzz about his company before his truck ever hit the street by starting a blog and writing an imaginary tale about being the “Special Envoy of Waffles” from the Belgian Ministry of Culinary Affairs. “I’m very proud of the brand and the name that we have here,” he said. “When people see us they smile and shout, ‘Look, the Wafels and Dinges truck is here.’”

Debbie Meyer

Looks really can be deceiving, especially when it comes to Debbie Meyer’s unique culinary creations. The mother of two left a career in the legal field a year and half ago to pursue her lifelong passion of baking, starting her own business, My Pizza Cake. Customers are wowed by Meyer’s cakes, which put an unusual twist on the traditional confections seen at birthday parties. She put a tremendous amount of time into perfecting her technique for creating both the toppings and the crust, which are made from ingredients like chocolate, caramel and toffee. Her best-selling cake is the Must Have Meat Cake, followed closely by Look Mom, I’m Eating My Veggies. Meyer even put a lot of thought into her packaging; she uses white pizza boxes with her logo imprinted on them and can even include a special message on the inside. A chance encounter with TV personality Mark Summers landed her on an episode of the Food Network show Unwrapped, featuring Twisted Treats. Searching to find her own niche to set her apart from all the other bakers out there, her husband suggested making a cake that looks like a pizza. Meyer said parents often tell her that they think it’s humorous when their children tell them they ate their veggies, meaning the veggies on the pizza cake. Meyer’s advice for fellow entrepreneurs is to think about how committed they’re going to be and make that commitment up front. “Owning a business is a lot of hard work and requires a huge financial commitment, but if you feel like you’ve been called to do it, take that first step,” she said. “You never know unless you try. It would be horrible to look back on your life and know that you let that opportunity pass you by.”

Brian Taylor

Brian Taylor is hoping to ban naked popcorn forever. Taylor came up with the idea for his business, Kernel Season’s, while studying at the University of Michigan. Growing tired of plain popcorn, he experimented by tossing a variety of spices in with it to create his own signature blend. As a philosophy major, Taylor hadn’t really studied business, so he decided to enroll in some courses. Using money he saved from selling Cutco knives and teaching tennis, Taylor hired a team of flavor experts to create the full line of 14 all-natural popcorn toppings that his company now offers. Once he had that developed, he gave away samples at some local movie theaters. “I wanted to put it into movie theaters first,” Taylor said. “I thought it would be a good source of trial and awareness.” Today, Taylor’s 20-person company sells Kernel Season’s in three-quarters of the movie theaters and 70 percent of the grocery stores around the country. Taylor is looking to expand beyond the popcorn seasoning realm and is building a new production facility in Chicago. While he could stand to make a lot of money selling his business, Taylor is extremely passionate about his company and is dedicated to keeping it a close-knit family of employees. “I think that we have a really good opportunity for growth,” he said. “I love the people here and everyone shares the same vision for what we could potentially grow to become. I believe the best investment I could make is in myself.”

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