Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tillie Kerna, Owner of Chef Tillie, located in Charlotte, NC, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I have owned a personal chef business for almost 17 years. Specializing in 5-20 course dinner parties, gorgeous boutique events, and cooking classes for all ages, I have had the opportunity to cook for celebrities and travel extensively for my clients. I diligently work at bridging a unique culinary experience while collaborating with local artisans and farms, implementing the region’s influence in my menus.

Tell us about yourself

I believe you should truly love what you do and do what you love! I have a sincere passion and insatiable appetite for bringing people together around the table with my plated masterpieces, freshness and sustainability of her ingredients, and unbridled creativity that excites the senses and leaves a lasting impression on the palate. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest definitely had its perks. I was taught at a very young age to value fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and to this day, I implement this belief into my business.I grew up gardening and baking with my mother, as well as hunting and fishing with my father and brothers.

We foraged for mushrooms and picked wild berries while hiking. This instilled the notion of working for your food and appreciating its roots--it became part of my DNA. Now that I have the amazing opportunity to travel for clients all over the United States and abroad, I look for local, fresh ingredients to use for my clients for their dinner parties, meal prep, and events. It's an adventure, and it motivates me to be creative every single day. I experienced the farm-to-table lifestyle before it was ever a trend--it's just a part of my genetic makeup!

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Besides making money, I would say my greatest accomplishment would not only be the longevity of my business but the continual growth. It's not necessarily the expansion of my business with a few more employees but personal growth for me as I continue to put my family first, support other businesses, hone my skills, learn new techniques, and research cultures through their food. The relationships I have built with clients and vendors are invaluable.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

At the beginning of my journey as a business owner, I had a very hard time delegating to others. I was burned several times by people who had ulterior motives. I worked through the trust issues because I knew I needed others in order to succeed. My advice is to find the right people and surround yourself with them--from employees to networking groups. The vetting process may be tedious, but it is vital.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Know your worth--not every client is a good fit, and, for many reasons, you never want to compromise your worth.
  2. Stay humble and hungry and true to yourself: I see so many business owners falling hard from pride and attempting to "fake it until they make it." Allow the stepping stones of success to go to your heart instead of your head--people respond to humility far better than an obnoxious ego. I promise this mindset will continue to open doors to opportunities throughout your career.
  3. Give back to your community--I have a very philanthropic heart and have always believed giving is the best motivation for success. We live in a world with too much greed and pain--to alleviate it, I do my part to share kindness and generosity wherever I can find an opportunity to do so. I encourage others to do the same.
  4. One more tip (if I could be so bold) is to find a mentor in the same field. Mentors are priceless, and I regard both of mine beyond measure! Surround yourself with the right people. Then begin to mentor others so you can pass along your knowledge and experience.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I am in the process of launching a nonprofit that will focus on not just teaching kids how to cook with techniques and skills but different types of cuisines, diving deep into different cultures and the origin of food. It has always been a passion of mine since my own kids were young. I was a Food Revolution Ambassador for Jamie Oliver for the state of SC until the program ended in 2018. I have continued the food fight and am so proud to be creating something that will help children for generations to come! Stay tuned for this journey!

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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