If you’ve ever watched Chopped on Food Network, you know how fun, creative (and perhaps terrifying) it is to open a basket of mystery ingredients and create a delicious dish on the spot — all while competing with other chefs.

Fyood Kitchen founder Maddie Purcell is a long-time fan of Chopped. Her business allows anyone to have that Chopped experience. Fyood Kitchen, explains Purcell, “puts on outrageously fun, amateur, social cooking competitions. We believe you don't have to be a master chef to cook creatively and have fun doing it.”

But, she adds, “Fyood isn’t just a cooking competition business. We’re a connection company that happens to be in a professional kitchen and includes a delicious meal. In our increasingly digital age, people are searching for a social experience that fully immerses them in the present and creates lasting memories. Fyood produces uniquely engaging events designed for collaboration, creativity, and laughter.”

The Path to Success

Purcell was stuck in what she describes as an unfulfilling administrative job when she realized she wanted to run her own company. “I made lists of potential problems I could solve and areas of expertise, looking for the right fit,” says Purcell.  

After working for six months on another startup idea, Purcell participated in an informal Chopped-style competition in her friend’s professional kitchen. “It was the most fun night I’d ever had and knew I would pay to do that regularly. I wanted to give other people the opportunity to have this experience, too!” says Purcell.

“The best moment of all,” she says, “was the very first test event in my apartment in September 2016. I didn’t know how to start so I decided to host a couple of cooking competitions between friends to figure out some details, such as should there be judging? Could amateurs tackle real mystery baskets? What did a stocked pantry really need to include for maximum creativity?”

Fyood’s competitions take place in a professional kitchen. It’s an ideal cooking experience, Purcell says, “No rules, no chores, and tons of imagination.” Each team gets a basket of mystery ingredients, with four “must-use” foods and access to a fully stocked pantry. They have to create dishes (one sweet, one savory) without instructions. Purcell says, “Over 90 percent of cooks make something they'd never attempted before, permanently expanding their culinary comfort zone.”

Purcell adds, “Fyood's mystery baskets provide an innovative platform for ingredient producers (salsa, kombucha, veggies, sauces, chocolate, etc.) and consumers to meet each other, enabling us to promote our amazing local food ecosystem.”

How SCORE Helped

Purcell had help from several SCORE mentors. Mentor Jamieson Webking helped Purcell launch her Kickstarter campaign. Purcell recalls, “I launched Fyood with a crowdfunding campaign, and there are dozens of aspects to [having] a successful one I simply wouldn’t have learned prior to hitting ‘go’ without Jamieson’s strategic advice.” Ultimately, Purcell says she surpassed her original financial goals, “while creating a group of staunch supporters and generating marketing opportunities that proved crucial to Fyood's early success.”

Purcell’s primary mentor is Nancy Strojny, who she’s been working with for two years. She credits Strojny with helping her learn to sell. Purcell says, “Nancy helped me feel comfortable getting to know the other person’s perspective and needs rather than marketing my services. We’ve increased our per event profits almost 30 percent since that conversation, and I’ve become much more comfortable accepting full payment for the worth of our services rather than underselling myself or feeling guilty.”

Purcell says, “Nancy is really a genius — she gets to the heart of problems and opportunities very quickly and helps me see them in a new light. She prepares me to take immediate and decisive action to move my business forward. Nancy also knows everyone in Portland, so she can make connections and suggest conversations I wouldn’t yet be able to access on my own. She accelerates and focuses every area of my business that we discuss.” Purcell adds she leaves meetings with Nancy with “two and a half pages of notes, 18 action items, and a renewed sense of energy.” For her part, Strojny says Purcell “exemplifies drive, hustle and excitement to build a business.”

Purcell also worked with SCORE mentor Jewel Church on her marketing strategy, including social media. According to Purcell, Church also offered “welcome encouragement to help weather the challenging entrepreneurial moments.”

Fyood Kitchen Today

Fyood Kitchen ended 2017 by securing its first trademark. Plus, Purcell says, “We've expanded the team, gone through an accelerator program, and developed the operational systems that will allow us to multiply our events, grow our market position, and increase our profits in the year to come.”

While working with SCORE, Fyood Kitchen has expanded its reach and, says Purcell, “hosted Valentine's gala dinners, small business team buildings, cafe pop-ups, family reunions, sports league post games, birthday parties, and hundreds of date nights in between. We’ve also built partnerships with other local food businesses, paving the way for joint success and further enabling Fyood to fulfill its mission to create outstanding cooking experiences.” And she says, “Over the last six months, Fyood has essentially doubled.” 

Fyood Kitchen is also the 2018 SCORE Award winner for Outstanding Young Entrepreneur, presented by Deluxe Corporation. 

Strojny foresees a strong future for Fyood, saying, “I see a national extension of what they’re doing now.” 

Paying it Forward

Purcell is proud, among other things, that she’s been able to “give my customers an incredible connection and creative opportunity — empowering and inspiring them” while also giving her employees the “opportunity to create something awesome and do something that feels great for them.”

Purcell adds, “to see folks come in unsure of their abilities to cook without a recipe and leave feeling like they’ve conquered [the experience] is pretty magical.”