Business Inspires with guest Scott Humphreys, owner of 1400 Food Lab
Michelle: Hi I’m Michele Wilson. I’m the executive director of the TriVillage Chamber Partnership. I’m speaking with Scott Humphreys with 1400 Food Lab. So we always start this podcast off with the same question and that question is What did you want to be when you were young what did you want to grow up to be.
Scott: When I was very young I didn’t really know what I wanted to be I don’t think most kids do I think you boys say I want to be a policeman or a fireman or a soldier. At some point and then as they get older they figured out but I actually did want to be a soldier and I wanted to be an aviator want to be a pilot my father was and actually did accomplish that. I flew 864 Apaches in the Army for a 23-year career. I really had a great time and fulfilled that dream and then had to move on to another career. Because all things end. But it worked out very well.
Michelle: That’s an exciting ambition to fulfill.
Scott: Yeah I have never dreamed I was going to get there and I’ve been kind of fell in place through a lot of hard work. And some people looking out for me at the right time and helped me a long way.
Michelle: What were some of the lessons perhaps that you learned along the way that got you to where you are today.
Scott: The lesson I learned is you really you don’t do it alone and somebody’s got to stop and take a moment to show you something or that you’re capable of that you didn’t see yourself or maybe help you go in a direction you didn’t realize was right in front of you and provide that opportunity. So everybody needs help. I think getting that first step toward their dreams whether they know it or not somebody is helping you.
Michelle: And did you receive any tips or advice that one big thing that really stuck with you as you transitioned through careers.
Scott: There’s been a million but some of the earliest ones I always remember is “take the hard right.” Always when you’re given a choice “take the hard right.” Do the right thing no matter what and whether it seems like it will pay off or not. And when it happens it will. You can’t go wrong.
Michelle: Take the hard right and sometimes doing the right thing is the harder route.
Scott: Very much so. And all of his I’ve been involved with and it has always paid off in the end.
Michelle: When I was doing my research on you I did see that you were an adjunct instructor. And what I thought was fascinating was it says you coached, you did leadership and critical life skill coaching. So can you tell me a little bit about that?
Scott: Our university president Kathy Trendall and I were talking about my experiences in the military and also as a founder of Mission Essential, a large government contracting company we started back in 05, and the lessons I learned. She was seeking advice on some other matters and she asked me if I would consider teaching a course in their first-year seminar series, which was designed for freshmen to have a class that they can choose from a myriad of subjects that they’re interested in. And so I thought that leadership and life skills will be a great thing, because I see so many young people that don’t understand what leadership truly is, and the value of it. And then just some life skills that I’ve learned along the way, being 51 and not 18, that I thought were important that helped me, that I didn’t initially have at their age, but sure would have helped. So I put together a curriculum for a semester on the tenants of leadership and characteristics of a leader and values. All those things you use as a leader in how to interact with your people to inspire and motivate them and give them direction. And then peppered in some life skills along the way. It was a very interactive course. And I spent about half the time in the classroom, then half the time I took them out of the classroom to a climbing wall too. There’s a little island in the stream on the south side of Otterbein. I took them out made them do some survival skills. That was a lot of fun. We loved it. And what I found was there were some people that really flourished in the classroom. It took those people that were really timid in the classroom and took them outside and they were in their element. They flourished and they turned into leaders. And so it’s really great to show them that in the end, you know in the circumstances that fit best for you can really become an amazing leader and just achieve what you want to maybe the where you were before wasn’t the right place but once you get to the right place you can do what you want to do.
Michelle: That’s great. And what a testament to alternate learning styles. Some kids really flourish in the classroom and being lectured to and looking at the books and some people really flourish.
Scott: I’m a hands-on guy. Books kill me. I’ve got to see. I got to touch, and break it, and then fix it. I can’t just read a book. It just doesn’t correlate for me. Seeing it, touching it, breaking it, then fixing it.
Michelle: That leads me into where you are today. With the 4200 Food Lab. It used to be The Commissary. And when you came in you had this great opportunity to keep the members that were there and the creators that were there but give them a whole new experience. So what was your vision a year ago versus where it is today?
Scott: It all started when my partner Brad Hayes bought the building that used to be Custom Coach and started refitting it for his businesses. And then the woman who started The Commissary came in these shared kitchens were starting to pop up across the U.S. and she wanted to get one to go here. And she put it together and just didn’t have the business savvy you’re asking me to make it work. It just it just fell on hard times immediately and never recovered. And so Brad asked me to take a look at the model and said hey can we make this thing work. And I went through the books and said Absolutely we can make this work. We just apply some business concepts this thing and some leadership we get this done. But more importantly, I didn’t want to see the 50 or so people who are working out of that kitchen have no place to go tomorrow because they never knew it was going to shut down the next day or not. I mean these are these are small business entrepreneurs starting a food business which is very hard to get into with any kind of solidarity. Most restaurants failure Brunos and they needed a place to work and I didn’t I was an outsider myself who’s who’s had a hand out from people. I didn’t want to see them have any place to go the next day. So we determined to go in and give it a shot. And so I took it over and the goal was really to solidify what was there. Recapitalize the business and make it a place that was really you had some surety going forward that it was going to be there and you could grow business and make it even better than it was. And so that’s what we did. And so we improved the kitchen improve the event space it really just from top to bottom went to the whole space and made it better than it was and gave some reassurance to the clients that hey this is going to be a long-term and we’ve since then doubled the amount of clients we had a year ago just about double.
Michelle: I walked through the other day. I met Karen and Christine Everett. I hadn’t seen it since a year ago when you and I met. And it’s it looks amazing the face is just hands down beautiful and very welcoming and I think versatile. I think that’s what’s really cool about it too as I think you know it has so many options.
Scott: It is a great space because the space, in general, is very industrial but it’s got some areas that are kind of cool industrial and that you wouldn’t expect when you when you’re transitioning from the kitchen over to the hallway to the event space. There are very very different spaces. They’re all fits together very well. People like that it’s a working commercial kitchen and there’s always something going on in your in this space that just feels so real because it is right.
Michelle: And it’s cool too that you’ve built out a couple of spaces that are new from what was offered before. I think there’s a couple of people that are maybe at a different level. And you’ve built out a couple of spaces for them.
Scott: We built some private kitchens out because one of the things we realized is that the expense of building a kitchen a commercial kitchen is is you know a huge barrier to entry for people in the industry. You could have a lot of money to build that or buy or rent a place. And so when a business gets to a certain point it’s got to grow. And so one of our businesses is very constrained. It was Benito’s to go. Should they do mail delivery and they also do some catering. And she was putting a thousand meals a week through our kitchen through the shared use kitchen. Wow. But she needs to grow and could grow but she’s being constrained by the size and the efficiencies in that kitchen. When you get to her point but she never had the confidence in the facility that was going to be there to make any investment to push for a private kitchen or do anything else and so I spent time with her assuring her we were going to be here in this. This was a professional establishment but that this was a risk she couldn’t afford not to take because at some point you got to make that leap and there’s not always going to be a big net there but there’s a little net there and you’ve got to try if you want to grow and so we built out a 1440 square foot kitchen for with her own walk in and her own kitchen. And she is so efficient now growing so well that instead of you know an eight or nine hour day they’re out of there in six. So because everything’s in one place and they and they’ve got the routines down procedures down and they’re doing exceptionally. We’re hopping the other day. They always are. And that was the point. You know you have to given that enemy steps so that my goal is to kick her out in three years.
Michelle: Is there a timeline or a plan for them to then take the next.
Scott: Absolutely, you can’t you can’t stay there forever. Right. Again you’ve got to keep growing kind of grow a pair so you know I want her to get her solid ground get get the growth going get her finances make sure everything is in place that when she’s ready you know three years total she should be able to move into a brick and mortar space that she buys or rents and that supports her business long term. This is an intermediate solution that I think will work well for a lot of people and after she gets it somebody else has got to get their shot.
Michelle: That’s great. And it sounds like having you as a landlord owner is kind of nice. Because this is your expertise too.
Scott: I have a lot of experience in that. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and so my goal is to help people not step on the same landmines I did. So I try to put flags on the ground or walk around and say look you know you don’t want to do this. I can tell you what happened. So you know I went to college is hard way sometimes but it’s worked out very well and I try to make time for those folks that approached me and say hey I’m thinking about doing this I want to want to rent a place and I’ll tell them what I know. I don’t know everything but I can give him some basic concepts and what I believe and then they’re on their own to make that decision. I can’t I can’t make it for them right. But it is great I really do like having the ability to coach and mentor these folks as has been done for me.
Michelle: I think it’s great that you stepped in and turned things around number one and you doubled your tenancy but that it’s a full package.
Scott: And it’s not just the small business incubator piece. It’s also then the ability to use them for the event space. So if people have an event where they have to use our people. And we’ve got many many wonderful chefs to work with and you know the events here are always fantastic but so it also gives us a place to work as well. We work with clients who are having parties or we’ve had abutments for there we’ve had just multi different parties and team building events with corporate corporations like nationwide and safe flight. And it’s a great space so you’ve got multiple revenue streams in the sense that you’ve got the shared commercial kitchen. You’ve got two private kitchens now that are full time operational at the event space which also has a revenue stream and then we have food trucks that work out of there as well as their base camp. So 16 food trucks work out there. They are able to come through the drive through clean their trucks out through their dishes load and unload their trucks in cold storage and dry storage and they pull around back and each one of their spots has got 30 and 50 AMP electoral service and water because are rolling kitchens out when they stop rolling. They need to keep things going to refrigerators and freezing to function. So all of these different things come together to make a really varied experience of what you can do when you’re there and all the interaction of the different people makes it exciting.
Michelle: Now I’ve been through space so where the rolling food truck area is in the back the old bus the custom cut your gas area. It’s huge but is that also available as event space.
Scott: So in the case of a bar mitzvah. We did. We use that whole place as an air for the deejay a dance floor seating along that long drive through which is where they used to pull the Custom Coaches through. And then we use the dining area as a quieter area for the older guests they didn’t want to be around the craziness and a bar set up there and in the library area also functioned as a cocktail area and some place for events so we used the entire facility.
Michelle: In this area we’re so chock full of small businesses that we don’t have a lot of event space in the tribal area that’s large it can hold pretty large parties so that was kind of selfish to ask that question because I feel that we can use the entire space and I can refer that space you know it and use it.
Scott: It works very well. And all that part of it flows very well. It’s like I said when you open all the glass doors that separate the areas and walk through the space it’s got a great flow and a great feeling to it that a lot of special stuff is happening there.
Michelle: It does have a great flow. I do love that. I’m excited too to use it at some point. But tell me about some of the events you guys have a lot of events going on. Who organizes those. How do you decide what events to hold?
Scott: First of all Karen Chester rate is our general manager and then Christine Hawkes has our events coordinator. So those two women really run the show. I just show up and say yes to a date what they need. But so we have classes ongoing all the time. Anything from knife skills to how to make curry. We had a whole hog butchering class where we had a farmer come in and you paid for your hog and you spent the morning butchering his hog goodness you didn’t kill it on sight but you butchers the hog and you package me and you go home with a freezer full of meat that you were actually taught how to butcher. Oh my gosh. Really really interesting stuff. And so we have classes on cooking and any variety you can think of that are always ongoing. And so those those are online and on the counter and you can see what’s going on. You can sign up for the newsletter and get get the entries mailed to you so that those are really programming events. And then when it comes to private events we have pretty much just corporate and private what breaks down to the corporations come to us for unique team building events so we’ll have teams of their employees get together and work with a chef or even a food truck and they’ll have to prepare a meal and then they all sit down and share the meals and then they vote they judge on the meals we have the best meal and oftentimes they’ll make up marketing jingles and try to market their product to each other. And it turns into a really great time. And so we’ve had many corporations come back several times with different different sets of teams to do this because they really enjoy themselves you’re making food it’s good food you’re having fun. You get to have a little wine after you don’t work with knives and after work you have to work. You can have a few drinks and have fun with the marketing. You know schemes and and really go as crazy as you want to go and in the end they really do leave feeling much more close and collaborative than they did when they got there.
Michelle: So it’s fun you do. It sounds like there’s a ton of ideas you could do of that you can do almost anything. I even noticed there was a class you had recently that was how to cook for your dog. Yes and this isn’t just about human stuff.
Scott: There is pet nutrition and how to cook you know property attrition meals for your dogs. We have people that make soaps all natural soaps I’ve heard of our facility evolution experiment. They do simple times mixtures that are all natural cold-pressed juices with fresh ginger and what have you and I will say that my wife and I are pretty addicted. It’s good. It’s very good. It’s all natural and so we go through a little bit of that. But it’s really everything from hot sauce to salsa to peanut brittle to chili. You can’t believe how many things are made in that facility from wonderful local craftsman.
Michelle: So if somebody is having an event where they have a bazillion options.
Scott: If you sit down with Karen or Christine and you tell them what you’re thinking they can give you 100 different directions to go and help you narrow it down very quickly based on you know who’s coming what you really want to achieve the feeling you’re looking for. Is there a theme and they’ll narrow it down very quickly to a bunch of our makers and then give you some options and you can you can put it all together all art.
Michelle: So moving throughout your career. Did you have any idea that you’d end up doing something like this?
Scott: No. Now, I know so it’s really funny because one of these Karen always has me says Oh you wanted to own a food incubator and never want to own a food incubator. I worked in restaurants growing up. I think many people did. But I never imagined I’d get into the business and I owned some other restaurants with some partners but business is business and that’s that’s really what comes down to once you understand business and the business of people and people in business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing food or you’re running a car wash or or or an insurance agency it’s all about people and accomplishing a mission. And so it fit in quite well with what I’ve been doing. I’m just trying to succeed and strive to achieve and they’ve got some some obstacles to overcome and they’ve got a passion and a skill set and it’s helping them leverage that and apply it to be successful and that’s worked very well so far.
Michelle: And so what is Scott’s passion.
Scott: Scott’s passion is helping others. Because somebody was there to help me when I was trying to figure out when I was a young man what I wanted to do and how I was going to get there. And then throughout my career as I look back there’s always been someone that stepped down at the right time. And so as as I progressed and had the opportunity to do so I said you know I can I can I can share my experience and make someone else’s experience a little better make their steps forward a little a little more rapid more deliberate. So I really do enjoy that. And that sounds kind of selfish yourself promoting but it is something that brings me satisfaction to to give back what was given to me whether people realize it or not. So that’s that’s my passion. Just keep getting better and learning new things and doing this. I’ve learned a lot as you might imagine entering the food industry from the back of the House side kitchen side and then also partnering and restaurants with Brad. I’ve learned front of house and back of us all together. And so there’s this there’s this continuity that streams through it all. But the bottom line is people in business.
Michelle: You clearly are not afraid of having a dream or a vision and then going after it and then you get to use and put your passion to play every day.
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