By Jules Lavallee
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 3/23/2021 – When the Pandemic hit nearly one year ago, Jennifer Earnest and Jamey Evnoiuk, co-owners and a husband-and-wife team, nearly lost one of the South’s most renowned and events business and their restaurant. With a highly skilled and curated team of 30, the company, Chef’s Garden Catering and Events lost thousands of dollars in days and nearly 2 million in revenue in 2020 due to canceled events. Their restaurant located in Northeast Florida’s Largest Art Museums also temporarily closed. Out of sheer desperation and panic inspired by COVID, the drive to keep their team intact and business afloat, combined with the need to bring joy and togetherness into people’s lives, this husband-and-wife team and introduced Jen & Jamey’s Virtual Cooking Classes.
Tell us about Chef’s Garden Catering and Events and how did the pandemic change your vision for the future and why you started the new business Jen & Jamey Virtual Cooking Classes?
Chef’s Garden is a full-service, off-premise catering and event planning company. We specialize in high-end, in-person, food-centric events. Because everything was in-person when the pandemic hit, our business went from incredibly busy to zilch in a matter of days—we watched all of the spring cancels or reschedule in a week’s time. At that moment, we had a choice. We could go lean and just hang-on or we could pivot and find a way to keep serving our community and stay connected to what we love. We decided to pivot and this is how we started a new business, Jen & Jamey Virtual Cooking Classes www.jenandjamey.com
Share your emotions then.
We wavered between being in an absolute panic and totally freaked out and having this sense of calm that we would figure it out, which I know sounds strange. The panic and desperation were our natural reactions, but we really worked hard to trust that we would figure things out. Jamey says it was like the Bon Jovi song, Livin on a Prayer. We believed that there had to be some way we could take our talents and our team and find a way to keep serving our community, we just needed to figure out what that was. Chef’s Garden Events and Catering is our family’s livelihood—my mom founded the company in 2001, I joined in 2005, and my husband, Jamey, in 2012– plus that of over 30 other people, so we felt an overwhelming responsibility to figure out how to keep going. So, this was an important life change for us and our employees.
When did you have an Aha! Moment to start your new business Jen & Jamey Virtual Cooking Classes?
It started early on, the second week of March. Events had just started to cancel that Wednesday or Thursday. We also have a café in a large Florida Museum, and they announced that they were (temporarily) closing, so it was the height of the panic and the uncertainty. We canceled our weekend trip and decided to stay home, take a deep breath, and make sense of what was going on. I spent some time doing research and scrolling on Facebook when someone asked “who is meeting me for a virtual happy hour” when the idea clicked. AHA! We could deliver ingredient kits to people and meet them virtually to cook and connect. Delivering the full set of ingredients was important, especially, at that time because going to the grocery store was not only scary, but it was also limited, so we were able to use our wholesale accounts to make it easy for people. Today we deliver the most beautiful fully equipped boxes with all you need to participate and cook for two. All that is needed is your sense of enthusiasm and your kitchen.
Jen & Jamey’s Virtual Cooking Classes has been hugely successful and has become the silver lining today. Tell us about the classes.
Jamey and I love cooking and entertaining—it is where our passion lies. We love using food and drink to connect and inspire people. These classes have become this awesome outlet to do just that. We have a wide range of class offerings that really represent our love of all cuisine (from paella to pasta, from roti to risotto and chicken to cioppino). Our classes are also about showing people what they can actually cook in their own kitchen. While we want people to join us regularly, we really want to help people rediscover the joy of cooking fun and make sure they can recreate the experience! In a class, we prepare a complete dish, start to finish, and we are there each step of the way helping troubleshoot and checking in on people’s progress. And, we make sure it is fun, –we may dance a little, or mix in some food trivia or conversation starters or talk about the perfect wine pairing—it is really meant to be more than just a cooking class. Our goal is to bring people together, so they feel like they are cooking with their friends and having a good time while learning something new.
Take us through the process.
You can register for a class right on our website www.jenandjamey.com. The ingredient kits are shipped out 48 hours in advance of class, so you get them the day prior to class. We then meet virtually through Zoom and we cook the dish in its entirety together. During class, we are spot-checking dishes, helping troubleshoot, and offer lots of encouragement—it is like you are having a dinner party with your neighbors who just happen to be great culinary guides! You can also contact us to set up a private class as a party or special event or for a corporate team building.
What are your favorite dishes coming up on the show?
I really love them all! We like to mix things up and Jamey loves to cook a wide breadth of food, so we really prepare all types of cuisine. To give you an idea of the variety we offer, we have a Sushi class on 4/2, a Havana night’s themed class where we are using super grains on 4/8, have a delicious risotto and scallops class on 4/14, a cheeseboard class on 4/22, and then we are celebrating Cinco de Mayo on 5/5 with Enchiladas and Mother’s Day on 5/14 with our signature Shrimp & Grits dish with fried green tomatoes! All classes are online and registering for them is the simple click of a button.
Have the Jen & Jamey Virtual Cooking classes increased your bond?
For sure. We have worked together for years, but we always joked that we barely saw each other at work. However, in these classes, we are literally working side by side and relying on each other differently than before. We really have to be in sync for them to be a success. Jamey can be a little stiff and serious at times, so I love how these classes bring out his fun side.
I would think that the virtual cooking classes would be a family affair, can the show be recorded to share memories?
Yes, we love seeing families cooking together—whether it be in their own home or using our classes to connect with family from afar! And, yes, our classes can be recorded.
You offer classes for individuals, couples, groups as well as private classes. Tell us more.
We have lots of options. We have our public classes that anyone can register for. Families and friend groups will often join our public classes, but get a “private party room”, so they can spend time before and after class together.
Would Jen & Jamey’s Virtual Cooking Classes be good for team building?
Yes! We do LOTS of corporate team building. The coolest part is that we do lots of repeat events, so we know the company loves it. In fact, the law firm that first asked us to ship ingredients nationally last June and was the impetus for that step just booked again for this June!
What lessons have you learned during this time?
We have learned two big lessons. First, this has been a true-life lesson on how our greatest obstacles can become our greatest opportunity if we approach them with the right mindset. We were super panicked when this all started to unfold, but we knew we could not operate from that initial place of panic, so we worked on trusting that we would figure out a way to keep doing what we love and connecting with our community. We approached our situation from what we could do instead of what we couldn’t do. We have also learned the benefit of just giving an idea a go and not overthinking it. Had we thought about this idea too much, we would have talked ourselves out of it. Luckily, we just went for it. And, the beautiful end result is that our reach has grown exponentially.
How excited are you for the future?
We are so excited to see what 2021 brings. While the catering side of our business is returning, we love these classes and being able to cook with people all over the country, so the classes are here to stay. We are just staying open to opportunities to grow them and cook with more people!