Jenny Dorsey: From Columbia Dropout to Culinary Connoisseur


Jenny Dorsey was accepted as an early admissions student to the prestigious Columbia's Business School's Class of 2014 when she decided to take an abrupt turn on her career path. Dorsey ditched Columbia to pursue a Diploma in Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, also located in New York City. Jenny, who was working at Accenture at the time, recalls this "overnight decision" as a pivotal moment in her career.

Fast forward a few years and Jenny now runs her own culinary consulting firm Jenny Dorsey Consulting. Dorsey's business is centralized on all tenants a restaurant entrepreneur should know; including business strategy, menu research & development, and concept development for culinary businesses. She is also the Co-Founder & Executive Chef of an underground supper club I Forgot It's Wednesday based in New York and San Francisco.

Dorsey is certainly a go-getter. Before rolling out her own busienss, Jenny led international menu R&D for Le Pain Quotidien. She has also been awarded grants from Bocuse d'Or and James Beard Foundation to further her culinary consulting practice.

Her recent achievements read like a lifetime worth of work. Among them; launching Pop & Pour, an upscale wine bar in the up-and-coming neighborhood around Dyckman Street, helping start Noodelove, a new Asian noodle concept akin to Sweetgreen here in NYC. She is currently revamping a Nineties-era Thai chain restaurant in NYC called Spice to give them a refreshed menu for the new generation of eaters; ; writing the first cookbook for a well-known chef and his restaurant in West Village.

Regardless of how impressive Dorsey's resume may seem now, she explains that the beginning of her journey in the male dominated culinary industry wasn't always so admirable.

"The consulting business has been tough because I am 1. young 2. female 3. have limited cooking-only experience 4. seen as an 'elite outsider' given my background. Breaking down a lot of pre-conceived notions takes time, patience, and the strength of goodwill. I can't tell you how many times I came home crying because I was dismissed or condescended."

test kitchen and incubator focused on food, beverage, hospitality and business-minded professionals. Eat up entrepreneurs.

Even IFIW, the supper club which offers a uniquely stimulating dining experience faced scrutiny of it's own. Dorsey started the self-funded IFIW three years ago with her husband Matt and she explains, "At the beginning, everyone laughed at us. No one would come to our dinners, no matter what price point, because we were "nobody" on the NYC scene.

The press ignored us. But we hit the pavement, hustling hard to get people to give us a chance and dine at our establishment so they could fall in love. We believe in our concept and that we are addressing a real, emotional need in the people of New York City.

Dorsey is prime example of combining passion and work ethic to beat the odds and break into a new industry. These days, she uses her experience combined with her business background to help others do the same.

"Many owners and operators are willing to listen to your ideas if you approach them the right way," she says. "No one likes being told what to do, which is the traditional 'consultant' approach. Instead, I try to spend time within the organization itself, listening to the people who are working from the ground-up, and taking in their suggestions to my final suggestions so we can implement changes together, the right way."

An unconventional start to what has become a successful culinary career can be accredited to Dorsey's raw passion for food, and not just in the "my whole newsfeed is foodporn" way. Real, raw, passion for food and the dining experience.

"It's funny, because when I look back all the signs were there," she recalls, "I studied abroad in Rome and all I did was buy food at the markets and make (crappy) pasta dishes and eat them. I spent hundreds of dollars on recreational cooking classes and random specialty food."

"I think one day I woke up and realized I spend more than 80 percent of my life thinking about 1 topic, maybe I should work in that industry."

It goes without saying that Dorsey's career revolves around sharing her passion for the entire culinary experience, and helping to lift up other budding chefs. When asked about the future, Dorsey explains she is working on starting a new business called 10X (coming soon work10x.com), is a co-working space,



1. What app do you most use?

Probably Instagram, just to look at #foodporn.

2. Name a business mogul you admire.

JK Rowling. She's always been a hero of mine.

3. What product do you wish you had invented?

Freaking Pill Pockets!

4. What is your life motto?

It's your life. Own up.

5. Desert Island. Three things, go.

Water filter in large bottle. Tazer with rechargeable batteries. One of those laser shooters to denote asking for help.

3 Min Read

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.