As our kitchen community continues to grow, we are constantly inspired by the unique food made at the kitchen and the people behind these creations. Chef Flo of Eemas Cuisine became a member of Garden State Kitchen earlier this year and we’ve been lucky enough to really get to know him since he’s joined. First, he spoke about his experience running a pop-up shop and provided lunch for Week 5 of the Formula, our six-week workshop series designed to take culinary businesses to the next level. Both his food and the knowledge he shared during that session were incredible. More recently, we had the opportunity to learn more about the Chef and his business, and share it here for our monthly entrepreneur interview.
When and why did you start your business?
After working in the culinary industry for 11 years – restaurants, commercial & kosher catering, corporate grocery retail, and personal chef service – I felt I wanted a change. While hosting a Luau-themed wedding, my client suggested I sell my Hawaiian rice balls at “one of those food festivals, like the one in Brooklyn”. For the past 3 years, I’ve been working for myself with a small team mainly offering catering and chef services. I learned how to provide a unique service that clients were looking for – a personalized and custom chef service centered around the clients’ lifestyle and preferences. I had the opportunity to start selling food that I enjoyed through my travels but could not find anywhere around here. I was scared but I knew my food was delicious or “eemas”. Here I am, in my fifth year of vending at farmers markets & food festivals with the promise of growth.
What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
My favorite thing about being an entrepreneur is being able to share my talents with others directly. My least favorite thing is that in the beginning is can be a bit lonely championing your dreams. Yes, you can make your dreams a reality, but everything falls on you until you grow enough to be able to hire a team and trusted staff.
What makes your business unique?
Eemas Cuisine is unique because we offer a combination of cuisines that you don’t too often see in the pop-up food vendor world. Our Hawaiian & Filipino-Inspired eats are based off of popular small appetizers and bites commonly found in islands of Hawaii & the Philippines via street food. We also try and take classic national dishes and turn them into quick-serve bites to give the traditional a new and modern spin.
How has your business changed over time?
Over time, we have learned from our mistakes and have adapted our operations and procedures to fine tune our service speed without damaging the quality of the dish. Along with our sales and expenses, I like to record the quantity of customers who line up for our food, how much they buy, and even how long they have waited. We make sure we make the necessary changes in order to find the perfect equation for service and quality of food with appropriate increase in sales volume.
What kind of help do you find you need for your business at this time?
The biggest question I find myself trying to answer at this time is, "how can we continue to grow as a business without stretching ourselves too thin and straying away from that ‘Aloha’ spirit?” I want to expand my operations into multiple markets at one time or to move into a turn-key restaurant. However, I keep running into hiring and trust issues with team leadership.
Can you tell us something interesting about you or your business that people might not know?
Eemas Cuisine started out as just a one-weekend project. I wanted to prove to myself as a personal chef that I had what it took to sell food at retail instead of just providing catering or chef services. After a successful weekend, I saw the potential in what we were providing to a starving foodie market.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
The number one and two pieces of advice to any new business owner is to make a plan and ask questions. Make as detailed a plan as possible, as well as an exit strategy. Asking questions may seem redundant or mundane. Make sure your Is are dotted and your Ts are crossed before anything. Then, when you think you are ready, double check everything again. Reach out to those who have been in the business for a long time. If you’re lucky, you can gain a big advantage over your competitors this way.
What does success look like to you?
My success is providing a sustainable business that provides living wage jobs for the community and a source of income for me and my partners - which are currently family.
Who are your culinary inspirations?
My current culinary inspirations are Chefs His Menu & Jay Fai of Singapore & Bangkok, respectively. They are two street food vendors who have received Michelin Stars for their approach to simple but delicious local eats. They remind me you don’t need a multi million-dollar restaurant to be accredited with great skills and food.
Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by?
“Simplicity is key.” I keep this idea close to my heart in everything I do. From my recipes to my operations, I try to keep it as simple and easy to understand as possible.