The Chopping Block is Chicago’s largest recreational cooking school and gourmet retail store, and yet so much more to so many people. From cooking demonstrations for newbies flexing their cooking wings to hands-on cooking classes where good home cooks can advance from their comfort zone, The Chopping Block is out to get everyone cooking confidently.
And for those who love their food with wine, The Chopping Block offers wine classes so that customers can learn about different varietals and how to properly pair food. The company also plays host to corporate team building events and organizes private cooking parties. No one is left out. Whether it’s learning about the basics in cooking, knowing how to cook for kids, mastering the art of healthy living or enrolling in an intensive Boot Camp of cooking, The Chopping Block is as flexible and inspiring as it is innovative and forward-thinking.
“Our mission is to ‘Get this Country Cooking’,” says owner and founder of The Chopping Block, Shelley Young. “We are not a store that teaches cooking classes to improve retail sales. We are a school that sells products that support our customers achieving optimum results in the kitchen as efficiently as possible.”
Celebrity chefs and TV shows revolving around cooking have exploded around the globe over the past decade, and the phenomenon continues to gain momentum. In its wake, it has inspired millions of people around the world into having a go in the kitchen and turned others into enthusiastic home cooks. As more people embrace cooking and become more serious about the ingredients and what they eat, cooking becomes more of a competitive industry by the day. So Shelley knows that she has to keep on her toes to keep The Chopping Block at the forefront of the scene.
“We do a lot of research to keep ahead of the pack,” she says. “We are always looking for new products no matter where we are, including when we travel. The Internet is also a great resource. We don’t do a lot of specific travel for buying, but rather incorporate our research into our personal travel.”
Shelley also makes the point that her business does not have a focus on celebrity chefs as she is more interested in providing her customers with great cooks who know how to pass on their knowledge.
The worldwide boom in cooking, and the subsequent focus on produce and where it comes from, has also led to more products and produce being available to the average person because there is more demand for it. “We don’t need to carry as many exotic ingredients as we once did because they are more readily available to the public now,” explains Shelley. “For instance, you can get Mirin at a nice supermarket these days. And people prefer more hands-on classes now, rather than watching demonstrations.”
Shelley also differentiates The Chopping Block from the rest of her potential competitors by not being another store with a focus on new gadgets. “We don’t carry gadgets,” she says with passion. “We carry tools and products that our customers need and truly make a difference in the kitchen. We carry things that are beautiful as well as functional.”
It’s not just about keeping people cooking that will keep The Chopping Block growing, but about also keeping them inspired and informed, and knowing that they can rely on The Chopping Block to keep them on-trend in a time when there are so many offerings saturating the Internet. “Our cooking classes, private events and retail product mix provide a plethora of new ideas and stories to tell,” she says. “Whether it’s a new ingredient, class or cooking trend that is happening or that we want to happen, we certainly like the idea of starting our own trends in Chicago.”
Being a trendsetter is something that will keep customers coming back to The Chopping Block, but Shelley is also very aware that she and her staff need to stay focused on their mission statement, as it is easy to incorporate many ideas into a business and then the core becomes diluted.
“Being in a company like ours where there are a million new classes to offer, new products to carry, new culinary trends to explore and business ideas to chase, it is very easy to get sidetracked from what your core business is,” she says. “Everybody has ideas for what you should be doing, but the challenge is to keep laser-focused on your core business. There have been many times over the years when I have gotten sidetracked chasing a new idea, and I have learned to be very careful as you can lose valuable time and money chasing cool ideas that haven’t been well thought out.”
In fact, that is the advice that Shelley gives to anyone who is considering starting a business. “If I ever start another business, I would never do it without creating a Mission Statement – a vision for the company – and then spend the time and put in the effort to identify the core values of the company. If I had done that in the beginning, it would have saved me tons of time and money!”
Another crucial facet that continues to help the growth of The Chopping Block is social media, because let’s face it, you only need to look at Facebook, Instagram and blogs these days to see that people like to post photos of the meals they’ve cooked, the cakes they’ve baked or the food they’re eating. “Social media is a wonderful way to engage in meaningful communication with our customers and to learn what they are interested in,” says Shelley.
And although many businesses find negative social media commentary disheartening, Shelley loves it. “I actually love the negative feedback,” she says. “Most of the time you don’t get to hear what your customers are not happy about, and they tend to feel more free when it comes to feedback online. No matter how crazy some of it is, there is usually a thread of truth in it if you are open enough to hear it. If you actually do something about it, it is a golden opportunity. It allows you the chance to offer a response, which helps you to articulate who your target customer is and weed out others who are not.”
The Chopping Block is not just a business – it’s the foundation of a community that has a healthy approach to living as its people are continually learning about good food and where it comes from. “I think the cultural element of the work we are doing is the most rewarding,” says Shelley. “It is also the most misunderstood and perhaps least appreciated. We have been focused on building a healthy organization for years now, instead of focusing on growth and revenue. We think that meaningful, rewarding and lucrative growth can only happen on top of a solid foundation, and the biggest part of that is a healthy organization.”
To learn more about The Chopping Block, visit www.thechoppingblock.com.