“If You’re Not Doing Something You Love, Then Stop Right Now”

Roblé Ali has quickly become one of the most recognizable chefs and one of the very few young African Americans in the culinary world with national acclaim. The charismatic chef has provided his services to some of today’s most notable individuals, including President Barack Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Legend, Jack Nicholson, Michael Jackson and Vanessa Williams to name a few.

After working for a number of high-profile chefs in New York City, Chef Roblé realized it was time to go out on his own and launched his own catering business, Roblé & Co. With his unique team of talented chefs and event producers, he creates captivating, one-of-a-kind dining experiences for high-end clientele across the country. The launch of his business was captured in Bravo’s culinary docudrama, "Chef Roblé & Co."

In addition to his catering company, Roblé is currently working on multiple projects, including an upcoming fragrance, wine, restaurant, book and apparel line, in addition to numerous philanthropic efforts. Here, he explains why he doesn’t follow the competition and instead prioritizes his relationships with customers and colleagues.

While you were building your business, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Securing clientele was the main obstacle for me. I tackled this by keeping track of everyone I met and maintaining a thorough database. Don’t just forget people — keep a log, as they could be future clients of yours.

Other than keeping a database, do you have any tips for networking and building professional relationships?

Be consistent: The service you provide to customers should never falter.

Be dependable: Always follow through with your contacts, customers and employees — treat everybody with the same respect.

Be as outgoing as you can: Really push yourself to get out there to check out a new event and meet new people.

How do you define success?

If you are happy with whatever it is that you are doing, then you are a success. If you’re happy delivering seashells, then you’re successful.

What’s helped sustain your company’s success?

Communicating with customers is a key element of success for me. Whetherit’s simply sending a note saying, “Happy New Year” or “Welcome to Spring: Check out the fruits that are now in season,” staying in touch with your customers is essential so your customers don’t forget about the service you provide. Social media is another way to communicate with customers, e.g., snapping pictures of something I’ve cooked and posting it to Instagram. And all of this is free!

What are your tips for dealing with competition in your industry?

You need to make bold moves in order to stay above the competition so you don’t have to compete. I’m a creative person, and I don’t want my creations based off of what other people are doing or saying. I want to be the trendsetter and taste maker. One example I give is that most chefs have a cookbook, but there are other ways to stand out and be successful. I didn’t want to release a cookbook just like everyone else. This year, I’m opening up my own wine company from Napa, CA. It’s really about finding that white space. Tackle something new and different.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to start their own business?

  1. Love what you do. If you’re not doing something you love, then stop right now and do something else. If you don’t love it, it’s not going to work. The motivation has to be love. If money is your motivation, you’re going to lose.
  2. Believe in it. You need to believe. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you? Why should anybody else?
  3. Give back. In order to be successful, you have to give back in some way. No matter what stage you’re at — even if you have a little start-up — you have to give and help others. For example, on Thanksgiving, I visited 1,500 people in all five boroughs for a food drive. I served 300 people per borough all in one day.
  4. Hustle. If you’re in a marathon running together with everyone, you won’t win. To be successful in a competitive field, you can’t work at the same pace as others.

Is there a particular supply you need for your business to succeed?

I always need Sharpies in several colors. You’ll always see several Sharpies sticking out of my chef jacket pocket. I use them mainly for labeling products/dishes. It’s a way for me and my team to distinguish what’s what in our kitchen.

For example, a green-marked item in the refrigerator means that the food/dish is untouched. If someone has opened it, it’s marked with a blue Sharpie. The color coding helps me stay organized and keeps the quality/freshness of our food. I also love the P-touch label maker — we label all our dry foods with the P-touch.

For more insights and inspiration from Roblé Ali, follow him on Twitter at @chefroble

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