Our team at Franchising USA had a chance to sit down with Julie Burleson, founder and CEO of Young Chefs Academy, a national children’s cooking school franchise.
As a fellow woman in franchising, we were excited to learn more about Julie’s journey to Young Chefs Academy and her advice to women looking to open their own franchises.
What is your professional background?
Before Young Chefs Academy, I was running a small catering business. Before that, I was a scholarship program officer at Baylor University. My background is in business and personnel administration. I think every job you have can prepare you for running a business, as long as that job helps you develop the skills needed to build strong, healthy relationships through effective communication.
How did you start Young Chefs Academy?
I’ve loved cooking since I was a little girl cooking with my mom. One day, in 2003, it all came around full-circle. I was in the kitchen preparing a meal when my son asked me if he could help. That’s when I had my “light bulb” moment. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas, and decided at that moment that I could launch a children’s cooking school.
Did you have a partner/co-founder when you started? Why? How important was that in building your company?
In the beginning, I brought on a close friend to be my partner and co-founder. It was nice to have somebody to take this big leap with. She has since moved on to other things, but she played a key role in the beginning stages and we went through a lot together, a lot of challenges and good times.
How does Young Chefs Academy differentiate itself from other children’s cooking schools?
We describe Young Chefs Academy as one part culinary adventure, one part culinary education. We strive to help children learn the invaluable life lessons that often occur through a cooking curriculum, kitchen safety lesson or fun cooking competition. We nourish personal discovery and creativity by empowering students through culinary education.
Where do you see Young Chefs Academy in the next five years?
Today, Young Chefs Academy is spread across 35 locations internationally, including 20 in the United States, and we only see that number growing. I would also like to see 100 percent of our franchisees meet their profitability goals.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to make myself easily approachable. I like to be available to my staff and franchisees. I also know when to delegate tasks that are not the best fit for me. This way, I can let my team have a chance to shine and do what they’re good at. We’re a team, and nothing makes me happier than when my franchisees are succeeding and happy. My franchisees are savvy business owners – they understand the “power in numbers” mentality and their own accountability when it comes to keeping the YCA team solid.
I grew up as a middle child in a family of five kids and supported all of my siblings. I decided one of my sisters should be on the gymnastics team, so I taught her how to do back handsprings. I didn’t know how to do them, but I made sure she did. Then I decided another sister needed to be student council president and I was her campaign manager. Like my siblings, I’m here to make sure my franchisees (who I also look at as family) are successful.
What’s the best and worst advice you got when starting out?
The best advice I ever got came from my dad, which is “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” You have to trust your gut when it comes to important decisions. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all of the excitement and we are more prone to push that gut feeling aside.
Do you have any advice for our readers who are exploring franchise opportunities?
Surround yourself with as many mentors as you can. I can’t emphasize how important it is to get in front of people in the industry who will give you their time and share their experiences.
Where can we keep up with Young Chefs Academy on social media?