It’s thyme to turnip the beet on what kids eat.
Corny food pun? Check. Except hold the corn this time, obviously.
Ambitious business objective? Check yes.
Successful business strategy? Check hell yes.
That just-right-spiced, vegetable-forward imperative belongs to Sticky Fingers Cooking (SFC), which currently offers cooking classes for kids in three states. And through franchising, just launched in 2022, that number will only grow.
SFC meticulously plans its cooking classes to:
- Meet kids where they are (literally, figuratively, physically);
- Get kids excited about cooking;
- Celebrate kids’ diverse cultures and traditions;
- Accommodate kids’ allergies; and
- Expose kids to new foods and make it fun.
Let’s lean in for a bit on that last bullet. One of SFC’s goals is to convert picky eaters into food explorers and adventurers. You might be wondering how, and not so secretly wishing RIGHT NOW, for the kids you know.
“It’s simple.” And, Fletter wisely adds, “It takes a lot to keep things simple.”
After purchasing the name and logo in 2011, simple was a guiding principle for many years. The early days were gritty and scrappy, and needfully so. The team, primarily Fletter and her father Joe Hall, with help from her restaurateur husband Ryan Fletter, used the time to cement the brand purpose and implement logistics to support it to scale for the long term.
Of note, they chose to:
Build a 100% mobile business model.
When Fletter started as an instructor at Sticky Fingers Cooking, the company was offering classes in a church basement. Parents would attend with their children and take prepared meals home. In 2011, Fletter left the one physical location behind, instead pitching the classes as an on-location offering to schools, initially, and expanded out from there. Today SFC instructors lead classes in a variety of locations where kids are naturally: schools, recreation centers, libraries, community centers, summer camps and private homes.
Develop original and infinitely tweakable recipes.
The original owners of SFC would “print recipes off the internet, and that was the curriculum,” Fletter says. “I started writing original recipes and adding jokes, fun food facts and food history. I was very interested in bringing in global cuisine. I wanted to incorporate all of those other factors that influence the food we prepare and ultimately eat.”
Fletter also wanted to make the curriculum maximally accessible for kids with allergies, as well as inclusive of socio-economically, racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse communities. Her oldest daughter, who is diabetic, was the original inspiration for making sure that all of the recipes (browse a sample of the recipe box) allowed every child to be safe, happy and fully participatory in SFC classes.
Wrangle the data and use it as fuel for growth.
Fletter and Hall spent many hours with their eyes drilling into spreadsheets. All of the data—class locations and times, instructors, recipes, food allergies, and more—needed an organized home. They also saw that it could be used to power the brand forward.
So they partnered with a software developer to create the first iteration of Sticky Fingers Cooking Dash™, a proprietary technology platform. This system now houses SFC’s thousands of proprietary recipes with additional cultural, geographic and historical information on featured fruit, vegetable or grain ingredients.
And some iterations later, SFC’s proprietary logistics software streamlines operations by:
- Standardizing and scheduling messaging with host sites and parents;
- Centralizing and organizing resources for instructors;
- Collecting timesheets and receipts, and processing payroll for hundreds of chefs; and
- Enabling branded virtual cooking classes.
That last feature proved very useful during 2020 and 2021 when SFC’s business was completely upended by COVID precautions and regulations. Even with in-person classes canceled, SFC innovated and cooked with kids all over the world, and in hundreds of libraries in 18 states. The team still uses the platform for virtual sessions and internal meetings today.
SFC’s values of work and build (in addition to play, exude, connect and show up) equipped the brand to begin rebounding in late 2021 and run strong in 2022. The company used PPP funds to pay the team and keep operations running while revenue was down. They also designed and published three cookbooks, with the fourth coming out early in 2023.
And while the SFC operations team continues to concentrate on supporting existing programs in Colorado, Illinois and Texas, its new focus is attracting and launching franchisees. Fletter predicts that the first five will be up and running mid-2023.
The vision remains as simple as it ever was. Offering cooking classes for kids can be and is a viable business, and it’s an amazing benefit for all communities. The scalable formula of playful, internationally inspired and always hands-on curriculum is now amply supported with bespoke logistics and technology.
And although franchising with SFC could be a good fit for many, Fletter sees it as an ideal business ownership opportunity for women, whom we know were disproportionately displaced from the workforce by COVID, and who may need or want to work from home.
We love this brand for its creativity and gumption and for cultivating ‘cool’inary curiosity in kids.
(What?! A blog post that starts with a food pun must end with a food pun. Duh.)