4: Interview with Zac Caldwell from Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery

Today’s interview is with Zac from Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery who runs a brand new food company which produces preserves and jellies. If you are tired of mass-produced jellies and instead want to try hand-made jelly which the chef makes while dancing to Katy Perry then this is for you!


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Zac Caldwell, I’m the owner and CEO of Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery. It’s a small food brand that has been operating for only a few months and is currently in the very last stages of fulfilling our $12,000 kickstarter. My background is varied – professionally, I worked in teen programs and summer camps for several years after college. I had a full-time job with benefits in Florida, but I had to dress like an adult and show up to the office every day and play office politics. I took a vacation to my hometown of Louisville, KY, and after a few days of visiting with friends and getting back into the scene, I declared to the universe that I was moving home and starting a food company. The original plan was to wait a few months and save up some money, but when the exit door is open, it’s awful tempting to jump out. I quit my job with no notice after a really annoying phone call with my boss on a random Wednesday. So I guess my background is being a really bad employee and hating working for other people. I refuse to go back to any job where I can’t fully express myself.

What kind of business do you run? When did you start it?

Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery is a small food company that is currently selling gourmet and off-kilter preserves and jellies. My passion is for pepper jellies, like our Ghost Pepper Blackberry, but we have more mild flavors like Spiced Orange (Cinnamon and Cloves, like the Christmas potpourri), and Cranberry Ginger Lime. I’m planning on expanding into weird pickles soon, and I’m always playing in the kitchen to come up with the next crazy idea. I started operations in October with a 30-day kickstarter and have been pushing to start the company, meet regulations, and ship the 1,400 jars that were ordered. I only recently hired my first employee part time, so almost all of those jars have been cooked by me. Fulfillment has been a much bigger challenge than I expected, especially paired with the amount of regulation that comes with operating in retail food.

What inspired you to start this business?

The phrases “dress code”, “no visible tattoos”, and “only natural hair color”. Specifically, my undying hatred for limitations on those things. I just got a new tattoo for my business- you can see the photo but I’m not going to tell the secret of what it means- and made a pitch for retail space in the tattoo parlor. I got both, and I think it’s going to be very rewarding. I much prefer working with artists.

Hard at work!

What is your daily routine of running your business?

I wish I had one. Routines are a luxury for people who have settled into a groove, which sounds pretty boring to me. I do have a part-time job tutoring a kid through the eighth grade, so weekdays I’m there in the afternoons. Besides that, my only daily tradition is getting as much caffeine as I can get before noon.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The best part is the collaboration with other cooks and entrepreneurs. Hanging out in the kitchen, meeting other people, swapping ideas and working together gets me jazzed. A good idea can keep me up like a kid at christmas. The worst part is having to do EVERYTHING and having to estimate deadlines. My company is small, which means I can’t delegate to anyone. This afternoon, for example, I was packing boxes for shipping and realized I needed more labels of a jar. I had to stop packing, handle the printing, label the jars, and the get back into packing. Everything stops every time I have to fix something, and nothing goes when I’m not moving. It’s high-stress and low-rest. I have to work hard and intentionally to get time to rest and refresh. I’m writing this at midnight because I didn’t get home until 11:15.

What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

That my name is on the logo. If I’m not killing it, the company isn’t going anywhere.

Do you read any discussion forums about business?

I follow r/entrepreneur (on reddit) pretty closely.

What would you recommend a new entrepreneur? How to get started?

Have triple the money you think you need, even if you think you’re being conservative. Even when you think you know what you’re doing, unless you’ve already done it once, you don’t know anything. If you think you’re the first person to think of your idea, you’re wrong. You might be the first person to bring the work and knowledge necessary to be successful, but a good idea isn’t worth anything until you put in the work and expertise.

How important do you think is talent when starting a business?

Right now, the fashion is to produce purely mastubatory social media and virtual presences with no value. Having a talent has become almost avant garde – we see now that craftspeople, barbers, tailors, and artists are getting higher value for their work because the vapid and industrial has become so apparently heartless. My brand motto is “Honesty through Oddity, Greatness through Weirdness.” Talent is the means to excellent self-expression that produces value and a passion for work. Factory work is death of a soul.

How much time do you spend running your business per day/week?

Between my tutoring gig and the Cookery, I work 10-12 hour days every day. For my business, I’d say I’m putting in at least 40 hours.

You know you’re an entrepreneur when …

… you struggle to say no to a new good idea, but learn how because time is finite and humans must sleep.

What would you say is the hardest part about running a business?

Learning the ropes. The reason companies are valuable is because not everyone has the wherewithal to start them and see it through. The time and money invested getting started, especially in a new field, is the biggest asset a company can have.

What is your single best non-obvious tip for running a business?

Play music, all the time. It keeps the brain awake and energy high.

What was your experience setting up your company website?

That you get what you pay for, and if your host/provider/whatever is advertising for your business, then you’re paying for their marketing budget and not for quality design or features.

Do you have a Unique Selling Point?

Jelly has gotten boring, and I refuse to let that continue.

What are your future plans for the company?

Expanding retail and pursuing even spicier jellies, as well as other food products. Getting a brick and mortar location is in the 5 years plan.

Do you think that anybody could start a business?

Absolutely. I’m probably the worst case scenario and I’m still managing to pull it off.

Do you think that Social Media such as Twitter or Facebook are good marketing tools?


Twitter and Facebook are the worst social media platforms for organic reach. Instagram will probably be useless within 18 months. Snapchat might have 3 years. Social media is necessary, and valuable, but by the time you know about it, the clock is ticking before the users are tired of it and looking for something that isn’t so corporate and monetized.

Do you think making decisions on a gut feeling is a good idea?

Absolutely. The subconscious isn’t as prone to user error as the conscious.

Do you think it is a good idea to start a business with a friend?

Probably a better idea than starting one alone or with an enemy. It’s like living with friends, though – boundaries must exist and respect must remain.

What are the pros and cons of running your own business?

Pro – no idiot boss telling you to do stupid things because they like doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Con – no one to blame but yourself when your new idea is way worse than the proven method.

Outside of business what do you enjoy doing? How do you recharge your batteries?

Karaoke. Mountain biking. Tattoos. Rock concerts. Improv and stand-up comedy.

If you want to buy one of Zac’s yummy products here’s the website: Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery.


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get notified of new interviews: