Entrepreneurial Dream: Line Cook to Crab Cake KingMay 18, 2009
Smith making the final presentation at the annual Business Plan Competition
He hasn't been crowned yet, but a Rowan University entrepreneurship graduate might be on his way to becoming the next king of crab cakes.
Jeremy Smith, 26, of Clayton, won the University's 2009 Business Plan Competition this spring through the Rohrer College of Business and, with it, $5,000 in seed money for his Shellfish Bastard's Crab Cake Sauce.
Producing the product in 16-ounce bottles from an industrial kitchen in Bridgeton, Smith believes Shellfish Bastard is the missing link to great do-it-yourself crab cakes.
"People in this area love seafood," he said. "I wanted to create a sauce people can use. I thought if consumers could put a crab cake together in two steps or less it might be a good seller."
Smith, who believes the road to riches may be paved with broken crab shells, built his idea on a serious foundation: culinary school followed by cooking experience in a dozen restaurants.
He completed his business degree at Rowan working 70 hours per week as a sous chef, second in command at kitchens in the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.
"Between work and school I think my family thought I was crazy," he said. "You have to be a little kooky to do that job and do it well."
But Smith wasn't crazy, just committed. He sometimes went to class in his white chef's uniform and drove directly to work when it was over.
"It was difficult," Smith said. "One of my professors would make comments but he definitely respected my work ethic."
Just another day at the office
Though Smith clinched the University's third annual Business Plan Competition, a three-phase contest involving some of Rowan's best and brightest business students - it wasn't easy as pie. Or even crab cake.
He submitted an 18-page feasibility study, presented rough and final business plans, defended his plans, and made a final presentation before a panel of judges.
Second place honors and $2,500 in prize money went to George Sampson, a junior finance major from Winslow Township, and his plan for OZone, an organic cocktail bar.
Ruth Mesfun, a junior economics major from West Orange, and Nuria Moreno, a senior marketing major from El Salvador, took third place and $1,000 for their plan for Surviving Successfully, an online store specializing in beauty products for cancer patients.
A modest start
Smith, whose first paid restaurant job was prepping sandwiches at a gas station mini mart, said previous entrepreneurial endeavors included a gourmet meal operation geared toward bachelors seeking to impress dates at home. "A Taste of Romance" didn't pan out, so to speak, but it helped Smith develop business acumen as well as some good, thick skin.
"At around $300 for a five course meal, I thought it was actually reasonable," he said. "Customers would get a music CD, linens and pictures of what the dishes should look like... It didn't fly but I definitely learned a lot of business lessons to apply."
He discontinued "A Taste of Romance" after about six months to pursue the crab sauce business.
Cooking and bottling at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, Smith, a general manager for a Wawa store, hopes to be operational with Shellfish Bastard within six months. His plan is to start small at first, placing bottles on consignment with small, private seafood shops and bars, but his ultimate goal is a supermarket line with as many as a half dozen flavors.
"Obviously, to get a big account takes a lot of time," Smith said. "My plan is to start with the smaller shops and work my way up."