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Family Recipe Entrepreneur

Part of what makes a great family recipe great is that it stands out. It is "above and beyond" anyone else's recipe for the same thing. It tastes that much better!

Take the story of Dusty and Gloria Van Gilder. They are food recipe entrepreneurs.

This husband and wife team has put a new spin on a traditional Ukrainian food item: perogies. And their customers are hungry for more.

Perogies are a dough pocket typically filled with ingredients like potatoes, onions and cheese. The Van Gilders' perogies, however, come 16 different ways. They make everything from pizza perogies to chicken stir-fry perogies to pineapple perogies.

This creativity is part of what draws interest to their product.

"They're different," says Gloria of her perogies. "We've got a good variety of perogies. Plus, they're home-made and hand-pinched. We've got some new ones -- bacon and eggers. They are very popular."

The Van Gilders have been selling their perogies to a handful of grocery stores in their area for about a year. Experts will tell you that it takes more than a year to know if your business is going to succeed in the long term.

This first year has served as an appetizer to the appetite of the Van Gilders. They have more than perogies up their sleeves. They also operate the Ukrainian Station Diner. It's a restaurant plus a retail operation for their perogies and some other home-made Ukrainian food products like borscht soup and cabbage rolls.

Since opening their restaurant, they have added a retail operation in another small town about two hours away from their home base. They plan to tap into markets for their Ukrainian food products by opening retail operations in nearby cities.

"We do most of the work. I do the fillings. It's very busy," says Gloria.

The Van Gilders hire help on a casual basis, mainly when there is dough pinching to be done to securely close the perogies.

Both husband and wife play important roles in the story of how they got started as entrepreneurs.

"My husband thought it would be a good idea, because everyone loves home-made perogies," explains Gloria. "It was his idea to do it, and it's doing well. The basic perogy recipe is Dusty's mom's recipe, but I changed a few things in the dough a little."

Dusty's mom did not seem to mind tasting her perogies made from a tampered-with recipe. "In fact, she makes the dough that way too now," chuckles Gloria.

Although the Van Gilders are off to a great start, many food entrepreneurs and other experts warn that selling a family recipe can be very challenging.

There is a long, uphill road from having a great recipe to making that recipe into a product that can successfully sell commercially.

"I agree that those who wish to enter the specialty food business should do their homework and lay the groundwork before embarking on the venture," says Dorothy Smith. She is the president of a company that is famous for its award-winning cake. "Unfortunately, lessons are usually learned the hard way and are often costly."

Researching state regulations on whether you can manufacture food products for commercial use in a home is an important early step in planning to become a family recipe entrepreneur. Some health department standards require a dedicated kitchen for making commercial food products, says Smith.

"Other government agencies may inspect your facility and you may be required to take FDA [Food and Drug Administration]-sponsored courses before you can market certain types of food," says Smith. "We are inspected by four government agencies. There are also stringent requirements for labels."

Getting started will require some start-up fees. "Depending on your ingredients, your packaging, whether you lease a commercial kitchen and so on, costs can run from $10,000 to more than $24,000," says Huff.

Smith also advises that if you are thinking about getting into this business, it would be wise to have start-up money arranged before you get going.

"Prepare a plan for the initial three years of the business before you start," Smith suggests. "Small businesses are usually undercapitalized. It is virtually impossible to build your business from funds generated from sales."

So, what recipe do you have up your sleeve?


Food and Drug Administration
Check out this site for U.S. information on labeling laws

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