Jenny Dorsey started her career as a management consultant at Accenture before pursuing her passion for the food industry. Jenny worked in facets of the culinary business from cooking at fine dining establishments — most recently at 2-Michelin-starred Atera — to marketing, sales and business development. Before launching her own culinary consulting firm, Jenny led international menu research and development for Le Pain Quotidien. Since then, she has been awarded grants from both the Bocuse d’Or and James Beard Foundation to further her culinary consulting practice. She is co-founder and executive chef of Wednesdays NYC, a popular dinner tasting restaurant in New York City. Wednesdays NYC has been named one of the best NYC dining experiences by Business Insider, Thrillist, and UrbanDaddy, among others.
What inspired you to start Wednesdays NYC and Jenny Dorsey Consulting?
JDC: I graduated with a BA in finance and started my career in management consulting. I was an early admit to Columbia Business School’s Class of 2014 when I decided to “try out” the culinary world by going for a diploma in culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education (NYC). After graduating from that program, I realized I wanted to work in food full-time, left business school, and began freelancing in the food world. I had an extremely difficult time finding a job — any job — that utilized both my culinary and business skillset. I felt I didn’t fit in anywhere. As I explored facets of the industry (I have a few funny stories hear about selling juice), I found a “dream job” as the global food and beverage associate at Le Pain Quotidien, where I was involved with the entire menu development process, from research and development to launch across multiple countries. I had no idea what research and development was or meant for a food business, but I dove in and I loved the work! I realized there was a role out there for me that could marry what I wanted to do in the kitchen (experiment, test, learn, and play) with my critical thinking abilities and business savvy. So I left LPQ to freelance as a consultant and ‘strategist’ (what does that mean? I didn’t know!!) to test the waters before finally incorporating in January 2016. I absolutely love being able to play a foundational and meaningful part in a food business’ life cycle and building a strong platform for the owners to think intelligently about how to navigate the complicated industry. I’m proud of how I’ve been able to grow into a role beyond developing menus to become a trusted advisor to my clients and a thought leader in the space.
Wednesdays NYC: My husband and I started Wednesdays NYC as a passion project to bring people together. We met at Columbia Business School, a brewing pot of awesome and smart people who spent all their time talking about school and work. We wanted to get to know our peers on a deeper level and what better way to do that than food and drink? We had no idea what it meant to run a “restaurant,” nor did we really liken ourselves to one at the time. The most important part of our concept was that we could find ways to have people interact with each other in a meaningful way, and the food, drink, and ambiance needed to elegantly prop up that mission. It’s been a dream that Wednesdays NYC has grown to become so popular, and we’ve had many instances of wondering what to do next. Investors have asked us to open a restaurant or a catering business, but the truth is authenticity is so fragile, and our concept simply does not work as a big business. It was never meant to be that. So we’ve kept it an intimate tasting menu and dinner series so we can focus on what we do best: connecting people. We’ve changed our setup many times and we’ve now incorporated a Tasting Salon to get things started at the beginning. Our prices have increased but it’s not stuffy at all and our guests are people we want to hang out with all night. It’s so special what we’ve built and I get a little teary-eyed thinking about all the support we’ve had from people over the years.
What were the first logistical steps you took to start a business?
JDC: I began building my business as a freelancer and extending my value proposition to my clients beyond my initial project scope. That was scary because I was proposing things I hadn’t done before, but I could see the client’s businesses needed it and I was ready to rise to the challenge. I began to start long-term relationships with clients that turned into more referrals and also helpful learnings. I also began putting together a rigorous prospecting schedule, setting aside approximately 8-hours a week to simply hunt for new business.
Wednesdays NYC: When we first started, it was very casual. We threw up a website and called it a day! We thought it would just be our friends. When we realized friends and strangers were coming to our table, we decided to become more professional. We had no idea what we were really doing, but we did have an idea of what we wanted — the things that we took away from our times dining out and what were the emotional bits of each conversational exchange we wanted to keep the essence of in our supper club. Small, boring steps included putting together an actual payment system, sending out event confirmations, creating a logo, setting our menu in advance, buying new glassware and plates, and essentially redecorating our entire place so it was suitable for an event space. But the big “idea” things were (and still are) in flux — always trying to capture the fleeting, fragile feeling of authenticity and nuanced connection.
What is a day as Jenny like? Please walk me through a day!
It really depends on the day. Generally, I’m a late riser. I like to “wake up” around 9 am and have my morning tea. My husband is amazing and always makes me breakfast so I can continue with my morning in bed checking emails and such. I then set aside a few hours for solid “heads down” work, sometimes punctuated by a workout class. I then come home, make a quick late lunch, and see what my meetings for the day look like. I usually have a bunch of client or prospecting meetings and calls until 7 pm. Then I do an hour or so more work, have dinner, eat some ice cream, do a little bit more work, and head to bed. I set aside certain days of the week for creative things like ceramics. I make my own pottery for food styling and Wednesdays NYC. I usually spend three or four hours in the studio per week or creating new recipes. I also take some time on weekends to do food research and development if I can’t do a full day during the week.
What are your responsibilities as cofounder and chef at Wednesdays NYC and founder of Jenny Dorsey Consulting?
JDCC: Everything from prospecting, landing clients, to doing the account work. (I finally have an assistant to help me with some.)
Wednesdays NYC: I create the menu, prep, cook, and execute the menu and do anything social related. I have one sous chef and two prep cooks to help me out.
What has been your proudest moment from your career so far?
This sounds silly, but when my sister told me I was “killing it” even when I was caught up in my world of insecurity.
Also when HuffPo Women syndicated my video filmed by When to Jump and Huffington Post and it garnered 49K views and a bunch of women saying that they were inspired and wanted to do something similar.
What have you learned about yourself since founding Wednesdays NYC and Jenny Dorsey Consulting?
Surround yourself with the right people. Aggressively weed out those who don’t believe in you. Build it, and they will come.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting Wednesdays NYC and Jenny Dorsey Consulting?
The challenge was gaining traction when we were starting out. At first, no press would cover us and no clients would call me back. The reward has been organic inbounds and referrals for JDCC because of positive word of mouth. Similarly, excited sign-ups and return visitors of Wednesdays NYC because they love the experience so much!
What is the most important characteristic for entrepreneurs to have?
Tenacity. Stuff is not going to go your way for a long, long time. Hang in there. Also: humility. You don’t know everything and you’re going to mess up. But isn’t that the fun part?
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out your career?
Prioritize or you will burn out, fast. I took every coffee meeting, every sales pitch, every “connect” and I was so tired with leads that led nowhere. I emailed so many people trying to get them to write about Wednesdays NYC and I felt run down and demoralized. You have to pick your battles so you can dedicate the proper resources to fighting them and giving yourself a better chance of success. Plus, some people simply don’t deserve your time.
What is on your desk right now?
One large monitor (my husband can’t work at home unless he’s got his ungodly large monitor). A bottle of Fred water (so fancy looking!). My Tespo vitamin dispenser Tespo Dispenser. A cup of earl gray tea. A bunch of pens, my food photography camera (I’m a Nikon person), a few business cards, my laptop, and my trusty Moleskine.
What are your three favorite books?
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
There is never a good time, so just do it now. It is so relevant to basically anything and everything. There’s always going to be a promotion you could wait for, or maybe some client you can land right around the corner. That’s the problem. If you want to take the leap it’s not going to present itself to you one sunny Saturday. You’re going to have to say “today” and do it.
What are you reading right now?
I just started Fantastic Beasts Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, because I need a break from our insane political climate as well as the stresses from work. I also just finished Einstein’s Dreams Einstein’s Dreams which is trippy as heck and amazing.
What is your career advice for other young professional women?
There is no “right” way to do things. There’s a whole industry making money off making us feel insecure about our looks, our clothes, our beauty choices, what we eat, and how we work. It’s hard to be bombarded by all this negative energy, but it’s important to be able to stop comparing yourself to what “some” person has set as a standard. Sometimes I use “just” in my emails, or even end sentences with exclamation points! I don’t like to take phone calls, but I’ll text. I prefer to work at home with no humans but two dogs, wake up early, work late, and drink smoothies and take naps. I still get a sh*t load of work done. Find your own way and stop listening to others dictate what’s best for you and your business.
(Image courtesy of Jenny Dorsey/Robin Lam of Make Things Well)