Family and Chocolate: Sweet Success
By Bruce Freeman
Chef Hilly Blondheim of Atlanta, GA, had just started Chef Hilly’s Kitchen when the nation was rocked by September 11 th. It was an additional blow to a family that was already dealing with their own personal crisis. A classically trained, culinary school graduate, Hilly had always been an independent who never fit the mold in a traditional restaurant kitchen. In the late 90’s, rather than continuing work as a pastry chef (a job he disliked) he started a kids’ cooking program for 26 local YMCA’s. Parents began asking him to do birthdays and other events, a profitable business, which attracted a buyer in 2001 and allowed him to gain a little working capital. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but fate intervened when Hilly’s mom, Joy, was diagnosed with breast cancer and the family reeled. To fight back against the disease, the Blondheim family created a foundation, called Joy to Life, to raise money for women unable to afford mammograms. Their first event was scheduled for a Festival in September of 2001, a play illustrating the experiences women go through during three stages of breast cancer. Inspired by his parents’ courage and determined to help fight for the cure, Hilly found 10 cases of jars on the Internet, prepared and packaged a family chocolate blend recipe he had perfected while still at school. The outpouring of care and concern he saw at the festival, which raised $60,000 for the Joy to Life Foundation, the popularity of his chocolate blend, and the spirit of all Americans now facing a different world encouraged him to begin selling the gourmet chocolate blend commercially, donating a portion of the proceeds to the foundation.
Testing the market with the product he had handmade for Joy to Life, Hilly went around to boutiques, gift shops and gourmet food stores and asked people to try a few jars. He officially became an entrepreneur when one of his jars was purchased by a buyer from Neiman Marcus. When the buyer called, Hilly thought it was a joke being pulled by one of his friends. Quickly he found that placement into Neiman’s Atlanta store and soon after into 10 more, meant a manufacturer, a business license he didn’t even know he needed, nutrition labels and a whole lot more! Fortunately, the Georgia Department of Agriculture helped him through the process, a service state governments provide free of charge. Doing personal appearances for Neiman Marcus, Hilly was introduced to food industry trade shows, which allowed him to expand even more. Within 2 years, he won the Top Beverage Award at the Atlanta Gourmet Food Show and is currently shipping in excess of 80,000 units annually.
Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom
Chef Hilly Blondheim’s experience illustrates how fast success can come in a non-traditional setting. When asked how he handles a growing business at such a young age, Hilly gives insight helpful to many. Hilly believes that he has a core group of people that have his best interests at heart. He asks his parents and uncles for the truth, no matter what. If they don’t know an answer, they direct him to someone who does know. He realizes that he doesn’t know everything, so he asks questions and then takes the advice from people who care about him. He believes in hiring people he knows whenever possible. As a business owner, his philosophy is to be the first one in and the last to leave. Keeping employees happy, he believes is the key to productivity. He believes in rewarding good people immediately even if it means reaching into his own pocket. Recently, Hilly purchased new computers for his employees and kept the old model for himself. His competitive attitude is classic, he plays to win. Looks like chocolate lovers are going to benefit.
Chef Hilly’s Kitchen LLC
Family functions as inspiration, mentor and distribution channel
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