Jordan Hamons’ road to success is a classic tale of life happening while you’re busy making other plans. She didn’t attend the University of Cincinnati’s rigorous Lindner Honors-PLUS business program in order to become a chef... but, well, that’s just how the cookie crumbled. Neither did she set out to found a successful startup, but again, that’s just how her path shifted.
Hamons’ burgeoning local business is Tablespoon Cooking Co., which offers up various cooking classes out of Findlay Market’s Findlay Kitchen, all taught by local chefs and experts in their foodie-focused fields. “I really like incorporating other chefs from around the city,” Hamons says. On tap are classes like bread baking, led by artisan bakers John DiPuccio and Jesse Bonney, and Lunar New Year Dumplings, taught by Sulin Ngo, who will share her own family’s recipe. Additional ideas Hamons is currently cooking up include a series about, say, different types of olive oil, or why using really good chocolate makes all the difference in your chocolate chip cookies.
Cincinnati Refined recently caught up with the 27-year-old Perrysburg native (living the #startuplife as she spoke to us while on vacation with family at Disney) about the twists and turns that led her to the career she never knew she wanted.
Cincinnati Refined: How did Tablespoon Cooking Co. come to be?
Jordan Hamons: Well, it’s a long story, but I promise it all has a point! Originally, I wanted to do something in business or marketing. I was really into fashion merchandising and buying at the time, so I applied for internships with Saks in New York and J.C. Penney in Dallas. I got offers from both and ultimately accepted the offer in Dallas — because New York is New York and New York is expensive! I was all set to move, but then I got a call while sitting in a stats exam where they said, “Sorry, we’ve cut the program.” This was in 2013 when J.C. Penney was going through some transitions. So just when I thought I had everything mapped out, suddenly, I literally had no clue what I was going to do. But it also was the first time since I started college that I had the opportunity to choose my own fate.
CR: So what did you choose?
JH: Well, UC’s college of business gave me an internship — I think to be nice — and so I spent the summer soul searching. I realized I always loved food and cooking so I thought maybe that could be a route I could take. I grew up watching The Food Network and baking with my mom, and when I moved into my own apartment, I would spend the entire weekend cooking these lavish dinners for, like, just me and a friend. So I cold-called a bunch, but everyone told me I needed kitchen experience. My options at that point were to graduate early or do something to fulfill my scholarship, and I didn’t want to graduate early because I didn’t know what I was going to do! So I started culinary and hospitality classes at Cincinnati State through my scholarship, figuring this would give me the experience everyone said I needed.
CR: And then?
JH: I got a call from American Financial Group, and the HR person said they had an open position. I told her I changed paths and I was no longer in the market for business jobs, but she said, “No, I’m calling about a chef job.” I actually thought I was highly under-qualified for it. I was still in culinary school, and at that point, I planned on a marketing role in the food industry. But she urged me to at least come in and talk to their chefs. So I did. I ended up working in their executive kitchen and getting my hands in a little bit of everything. That job really pushed me.
CR: What happened with that job?
JH: I got antsy. I wanted to go and do my own thing. I started teaching some classes at Jungle Jim’s. I started a food blog. I tried many things, but I realized I really enjoyed teaching. Then Findlay Kitchen opened, and I taught a knife skills class there. Then I taught another class, and another class, and then I thought, “I really need to brand this.”
CR: What happened when you branded it?
JH: For my first official Tablespoon class, I basically begged 10 friends to come. I just wanted to get a feel for the kitchen [at Findlay Kitchen] and how the class goes. It went well, so I put another class on the schedule and things grew from there. It’s funny because at this time last year, I was on vacation with family stressing that I had these classes on the schedule and that no one was going to sign up. Now I’m feeling great, but also overwhelmed.
CR: Why overwhelmed?
JH: The growth has been amazing, but it can also be stressful because I realized very quickly I needed other people. We now offer all kinds of classes, plus do events and catering, and there’s no possible way for me to do it all, but it’s hard for me to let go of certain things, especially the marketing responsibilities. But just this week we had a catering job go out and I wasn’t even in town. So, it’s a weird feeling to go from begging people to take my classes to having people do the work for me while I’m a couple states away.
CR: Did you ever think you’d end up an entrepreneur?
JH: Yes and no. My parents own an IT company in Perrysburg, and they’ve had that since I was born. I grew up in their office. I had a cot for naps and my own little desk filled with crayons and coloring books. I didn’t even realize how much that culture was a part of me until I worked at bigger companies where things just operate differently.
CR: Your cookbook club is something different.
JH: That’s really exciting for me because I want Tablespoon to be more than just classes. Each month, I choose a cookbook (January is Made in India, by Meera Sodha), and we have a Facebook group where people interact, so I post the month’s book in there and people pick the dish they want to make. Then they bring it to Revel Winery where we basically host a giant potluck and you get to taste 25-30 dishes; things you may never have had before.
CR: What’s that scene like? Is it a group of regulars?
JH: It’s a mix, but everyone’s always excited to be there. Everyone goes around and talks about the dish they made — if they changed anything, why they chose it. Sometimes people will have a story to tell about why they picked it. It’s just fun. And you get to meet people who enjoy food just as much as you do.
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