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Small Business Spotlight: The Kitchen Elves

Call him a new-age chef.

Charles Terhune, founder and chief executive officer of the Encinitas-based meal delivery service the Kitchen Elves, is all about healthy eating and living.

Terhune takes pride in offering his clients healthy meal choices based on the latest scientific findings.

Clients choose on the company’s Web site five entrees from four styles of preparation, then place an order online.

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The minimum order is five single-portion meals, which runs $67.50. Delivery is Mondays. Pick-up is also available.

Clients refrigerate the meals, then pop them in the microwave, Terhune said.

The majority of his clients, he said, are single professionals or busy couples who like the idea of coming home to a ready-made healthy meal or taking it to work.

Knowing that it would be unrealistic to ask people to “eat healthy” all the time, Terhune recommends being on the Kitchen Elves plan three or four days a week and give in to pizza, chicken wings, and other fast-food choices the other days.

He actually discourages people from ordering too many meals at once.

“I don’t want you to come in for one week or two weeks; we want you to stay with us for two or three years,” Terhune said.

He’s looking for corporate partners to make Kitchen Elves meals available to more San Diegans and eventually hopes to expand into Orange and Los Angeles counties.


RESUME

Name: Charles R. Terhune.

Title: Chief executive officer.

Company: Charvin Endeavors, dba the Kitchen Elves.

Address: 272 N. El Camino Real, Suite E, Encinitas 92024.

Phone: (760) 943-8207.

Founded: 1996.

Prior experience: I owned and ran Coast Carbo Station, a deli cafe in Solana Beach, from 1986 to 1992. Before that, I was the director of catering at California Faire Catering in Mountain View for two years. From 1981 to 1984, I owned Food Jazz by Chaz, a catering company in Los Altos Hills.

Average hours worked weekly: 50 to 60.

Source of startup capital: A $50,000 line of credit from Bank of America.

2005 anticipated revenue: $580,000.

2004 revenue: $480,000.

2003 revenue: $306,000.

Number of employees: 8.

Web site: www.TheKitchenElves.com


BACKGROUND

Born: Dec. 5, 1952, in Passaic, N.J.

Education: Bachelor of Arts in special education from Kean University, Union, N.J., and a teacher’s certificate in special education and elementary education in 1974.

Residence: Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

Family: Kevin Dodson, co-owner of the Kitchen Elves, who is my partner of 30 years.

Hobbies: I am an exercise aficionado: gym, Rollerblading, swimming, cooking, movies, reading, quiet time with my English bulldog.


JUDGMENT CALLS

Reason for getting into the business: I saw a niche and filled it. If I weren’t doing this, I would still be in business for myself.

How I plan to grow the business: We are currently seeking additional contract food services with local corporations to provide meals at the fingertips of busy executives, to open up more pick-up locations and to go outside the San Diego area.

Biggest plus of business ownership: There are no limits to what you can achieve and where you can go with the business.

Biggest drawback of business ownership: There is no basking in any glory of success, because as a business owner you know you are only as good as what you do tomorrow, not what you did yesterday.

Biggest business strength: Solid foundation in nutrition, cooking, organizing and executing.

Biggest business weakness: I would say that being good in what you do doesn’t always make you a good businessman. There is a lot more to doing business than executing your product.

Biggest risk: Opening up a business with no market research or business plan and very little capital.

Smartest business decision: To open the business in a shopping center rather than in an industrial space. One-third of our sales come from clients who pick up their meals. I believe that’s the future for the Kitchen Elves.

Biggest business mistake: Certain decisions lead you down different paths and you need to constantly look at where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Toughest career decision: Giving up teaching special education to become an entrepreneur.

Biggest ongoing challenge: Overcoming the disconnect between eating “what’s right” and eating what “I feel like” through education is our biggest challenge.

Our food is a great alternative to unhealthy fast food and costly restaurant meals.

The most important part of our business: Is the client, product and service.

My business works best when: Sales are up and we can move forward with research and development.

My business has changed throughout the years: With groundbreaking scientific findings in health and nutrition. I think the public is often confused by what they hear in the media about what to do and what to eat.

Best way to stay competitive: Keep up with research, avoid the daily hype of what’s hot.

How do you measure success: My clients’ responses.


GOALS

Goals yet to be achieved: My five-year business plan includes attracting investors or a major corporation to help us bring the Kitchen Elves to the next level and expand our territory to other major metropolitan areas.

I would sell my business only: If that were the only way to bring the kind of growth to the business I envision quickly.

Guiding principles: Provide the same kind of meals and customer service that I would want my own mother to experience.

Most admired entrepreneur: As corny as it sounds, Martha Stewart, hands down.

Important lessons learned: Be true to yourself and everything else will follow. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

Advice: Do your homework, write your business plan, get the financing you need. It helps you think out the unknowns. Don’t underestimate the bureaucracy, red tape and costs involved in doing business. They are all much greater than you can anticipate. Surround yourself with great people and delegate.

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