Work seems like play to Lisa Brisch

Personal Chef Magazine

July 1, 2006
by Carol Anderson

That's not to say that Lisa Brisch hasn't had some struggles along the way. "This is not an easy career," she acknowledges. "It is physically and mentally challenging. But I'm proud to do something as important and loving as feeding people — and getting paid to do it!"

Lisa had extra challenges. She joined USPCA in 1999 while living in Phoenix, Arizona, and took a nine-month culinary program at the Art Institute of Phoenix. She officially started her personal chef service in February 2000. She named it Dinner Thyme Personal Chef Service.

Before she could get a full client load, Prince Charming came into her life and whisked her across the country to Delaware. It was 2001 and she was back at square one, working to build a personal chef business.

She had one major advantage: between closing down in Phoenix and starting up in her new town, Lisa attended her first personal chef conference. Connecting with other personal chefs while soaking up information at the classes and workshops, Lisa was fired up and eager to work smart and hard.

Among the chefs she met at conference were two from the Delaware area. The three of them decided to start a Chapter when they got back. Lisa had been president of the Phoenix Chapter, and volunteered to head up the new one.

Out of a desk job and into a cooking job
Prior to 1999 Lisa had been coasting along in the career world — working as a billing analyst for an aerospace company's information technology department.

"I was comfortable — but bored — just going along wherever my career took me," Lisa said. "I kept feeling like I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up."

Then the USPCA ad in Cooking Light Magazine caught her eye. Should she take the risk — going from a secure career into something she had never done? Which road would she take?

Her family and friends were supportive and encouraging. "If I never tried being a personal chef," she said to herself, "I would always be wondering 'What if.'" After gathering information, Lisa started working towards a personal chef career.

Lisa worked a dream deal with her boss. She could work part-time at the office and then be on call from home — still getting paid as a full-time employee! This gave her time to work on her business without giving up her regular paycheck.

All went well until the generous boss was transferred and Lisa's new boss wasn't keen on the work arrangement. So she quit.

"I had given them almost a year's notice to replace me," Lisa said. "I think they thought that I really wouldn't quit. They were scrambling at the last minute to hire my replacement."

Fortunately, Lisa — her sole support because she was single at the time — had wisely saved a lot of money, so being suddenly unemployed while still trying to build up clients was not a hardship.

Those first marketing/sales efforts
"I had a hard time promoting myself," she admitted. "I felt like a used car salesman." Fortunately, clients were coming to her from the Hire-A-Chef website so they were already interested.

Lisa could see the advantage of diversifying her personal chef business and signed up with Inspired Chef, teaching home cooking classes.

"Even though the company shut down, I'm glad I had it for a while," Lisa said, and then explained, "This experience gave me the confidence to teach — and now that is part of my business."

When asked about her early clients in Phoenix, Lisa said, "I mostly had crazy clients and one-timers."

For instance, she had a woman who wanted a "private chef" to cook all her meals and snacks because she was on some special diet and needed nutritional breakdown for everything.

"I took the job, charging an hourly rate, because I was hurting for clients," Lisa said. The woman balked at the cost, deciding to do the shopping herself to save money. But when it took her more than two hours and three grocery stores to get everything on the list, she turned the shopping back to Lisa.

"This client was driving me crazy. She called me several times a day with menu changes. All of the sudden, she was 'disappointed with the service' and quit. I learned a lot from this experience," Lisa said.

A new city; still plagued by one-timers
Hire-A-Chef continued to be a source of referrals. Good thing, too, because Lisa didn't know anyone in Delaware.

"This turned out to be a good thing because it forced me to talk to people. Now I am comfortable telling any and all that I help busy professionals who love healthy gourmet but only have time for fast food. Also I'm not imposing on friends to market my business for me," Lisa said.

She put together a website, offered discounts to clients for referrals, taught cooking classes, and had business information lettered on her vehicle.

She had disappointing results with paid advertising and employee health fairs.

Lisa got her first client in her new location in January 2002. Others came along, but many continued to have one service and then stop.

"I heard there were benefits from business coaching, and found a coach that offered a six-week teleconference class that focused on the needs of personal chefs," Lisa said. "From this I learned to be more confident and expect the client would want me back. That was a turning point for me; I rarely lose a client."

Amazing what a different attitude and expectations can do!

In 2005 Lisa had clients in three states — Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Once she developed a full client load, she started cutting back on long distance clients. "I'm at the point where I won't travel as far for a client. I won't go to Pennsylvania," she explained. "I've also eliminated Wilmington (Delaware), unless it is a client referral; and I won't go there at all on Fridays between late spring and early fall because my route home takes me through grid-locked beach traffic."

Finally a full client load
Now in her fourth year in Delaware, Lisa has a full client load: 2, 3 or 4 clients a week. "I prefer three a week, and really don't like to do four because sometimes I have migraines by the end of the week," Lisa explained, and then added, "I don't like to cook on Mondays because the stores haven't stocked from the weekend sales."

Lisa's typical cook day starts the night before when she packs pantry items and gets all paperwork done. Her PC-mobile — a Subaru Forester — stays packed with pots, pans and equipment most of the time.

"I'm out the door by 9 or 9:30 in the morning. Shopping, cooking, and cleaning up takes five to six hours," she added. Most of my clients opt for a 6x4 with no sides; one family is a 6x5.

Lisa serves mostly professional couples along with a few families. And one of them does all the shopping for her service because they require all organic. She charges $250 to plan the menus and cook for this client.

"Before agreeing to this, we did a trial service and it worked out just fine," Lisa said.

The reason for her success
"My business has evolved because of ideas from other personal chefs. I cannot take full credit," Lisa explained. "I always get good ideas from the message board."

Personal chefs who are regular message board readers notice that Lisa is generous with her time and experience by responding to others' questions.

In fact, when asked about helpful advice she got from the USPCA training materials, she responds: "I learned to read the message board and go to conference. Even though I'm considered a senior chef, I still learn so many new things at conference."