(Part 1) Food is more than just fuel! Cooking is all about community. We are pleased to welcome Navy veteran, chef, educator, and business owner Pam Dennis to the show -- Chef Pam teaches her community how to share the joy of cooking with their family and friends.
Learn more about Chef Pam's Kitchen: https://www.chefpamskitchen.com
Questions? Comments? Continue the discussion by requesting access to our exclusive WVF Facebook Group.
Wisconsin Veterans Forward is brought to you by the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit organization that serves veterans and military families by supporting veteran owned and veteran-friendly businesses throughout the state.
On behalf of our members, we serve as an advocate for Wisconsin’s veteran business community and promote economic opportunity for military veterans, military families, and veteran-friendly businesses.
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Intro & Outro Themes:
Barry Dallas - I’m Gone (https://uppbeat.io/t/barry-dallas/im-gone)
Noise Cake - Light It Up (https://uppbeat.io/t/noise-cake/light-it-up)
Today on Wisconsin veterans forward. Everybody loves food. Am I right? We love food. And food's more than just fuel. I mean, you , you ask a body builder like a competitive fitness, whatever they might say, like food is just fuel. I eat six chicken breasts and a teaspoon of rice every day , just fuel. But for the rest of us, for like, you know, humanity, food is important. Food is about , uh , community food is about sharing with your family and friends and loved ones. It's for, for people who cook, it's an expression of themselves. And, and so like, we are super excited here on this, this, our , our last office hours live of restaurant and retail month to talk to not only a veteran , uh , a Navy veteran, but also a business owner and also someone who works in the culinary arts and in arts education. Holy cow, Pam has such a great chef, Pam, sorry, chef Pam has such a great story and such a unique arc to her career. And what brought her from, and can you imagine being a nurse in the military to being like, I wanna learn how to cook better, and now I'm gonna teach other people how to do it and how to build a community around that and a business around that too. It's the coolest thing. So really for the veterans, Wisconsin veterans chamber of commerce that that's off in case you didn't know that you probably do otherwise, if you're in the wrong place, stick around, you know, like just see what we have to offer we're here. Uh , it takes all the boxes for us, cuz we want to talk to veterans. We wanna talk to veterans who are successful professionally. We want to talk to, to , to veteran business owners who are having success. We wanna talk to veterans who are having a positive impact in their community and who are educating and paying their insights and, and their value and their skills forward. Like this checks all the boxes. So I'm super excited about this. Couldn't have thought of a better guest to have , uh , here on our very last , uh , last show of, of restaurant and retail month. It's gonna be really, really cool. So you know what, we're gonna get into it. Uh, right after I play this four second video, you are listening to Wisconsin veterans forward. Wisconsin's premier audio resource for veterans, military families, veteran owned and veteran friendly businesses. Wisconsin veterans forward is brought to you by the Wisconsin veterans chamber of firstname.lastname@example.org . So , uh, Pam, tell us about chef chef Pam's kitchen.Speaker 2:
It's a, we opened the business three years ago in , uh , February 1st and we were two doors down , um, in a smaller space , uh , is a cooking school , uh , where it's chef assess . So you cook with me. Uh , and then we also rent out our commercial kitchen. So we started out in a 1500 square foot space and , um, it had one commercial kitchen and we started to outgrow it , our , what my classes were selling out. And then we had a lot of artisans that were interested in , uh , renting out our kitchen for whatever food , uh , business they , um, culinary dream. I always call it , uh , something that they wanted to present to the public. And so they need a commercial kitchen in order it to make it , uh , so June Fort of last year, we expanded into this space where I currently am sitting today , uh , to talk to you and , uh, it's 5,000 square feet, four commercial kitchens. Uh, we have , uh , about 20 artisans that rent from us. And then we do private events where you can book the place , uh , and you have it to your site . We design the menu together. Um , so do bridal showers. Uh , we do supper clubs where I will do all the cooking and you just enjoy I've done . Um , but my dream was food and fellowship to bring people together. I always say gathered around the table. We make special memories. And so I, after I went to culinary school, I did work in a restaurant, did some catering, worked on a food truck, but found this is my love being right with the people and cooking with them and seeing them enjoy our fruits of our labor.Speaker 1:
That's amazing now, Y you know, running out of space because you are scaling rapidly is a really good problem to have as a business owner, right? How many years? Uh , I , I couldn't do the math on that quick. So how many years from when you opened that first shop to when you needed to expand to a larger facility?Speaker 2:
Uh , it was about two and a half yearsSpeaker 1:
That quickly.Speaker 2:
Yes. Yes. And, and , and it made it amazed me, but I think people are looking for experiences. Um, we sell a lot of gift cards during November , December for , uh , Christmas gifts. Um, also birthday gifts throughout the year anniversary gifts. Um , peopleSpeaker 1:
I lost you there for a second. We seem to be having a little bit of connectivity issues, but can you imagine scaling your business so rapidly that in two and a half years, you have to move out of a building and into another one. We'll see , we'll see if Pam can get relo. Oh , there she is. She's back. Yeah . We just, we , we got disconnected for a second there and I didn't want you to, it stuck on the , the freeze frame there. So two and a half years, that is, that is like a dream come true for most business owners. And, and so you have, have you continued to scale since then? What did , what did the COVID shutdowns do to your operations? Did you have to kind of shutter for a while? I know we did.Speaker 2:
We, we closed during the initial quarantine and then when we could open and do , um, like , uh , pick up or delivery, we pivoted really quick. And we went from to , um , offering , uh , bread soup. And , um , you could also add on a bottle of wine and we would deliver it curbside or , and pick it up with masks. Uh , and then we were very blessed, a company and , uh , eaten company reached out , uh , they are an essential company. So they reached out asking if we would make , um , meals to go. Um , so it was , uh , a meal for four people in a box. And then the supervisors handed it out to their employees at the end of their shifts and they ordered 450 of those boxes.Speaker 1:
Nice .Speaker 2:
So , um, that kept us going . And then they came back around and asked us if we would provide something for a kickoff of the United way campaign. We did 1200 caramel applicants.Speaker 1:
We didn't sit in COVID , you know, I , I had a lot of people saying I'm at home, I'm not working. And I'm like, I'm working full time .Speaker 1:
<affirmative> wow. So, but, but that took a pretty adventurous pivot and, and a willingness to just be like, okay, we're doing this now. Is that kinda how you've always done business and how you always will, or was it kind of a situational necessity or, or tell me about that?Speaker 2:
Well, I think, I think my military background, for sure. Um, it gave me that , uh , you know, I spent two years with the Marines. I was in medical unit that , um, took care of 350 infantry Marines and the Marines always Sayem Gumby , always flexible mm-hmm <affirmative> to the Navy does creates that same environment. Um , and so I think that's, we, that's what we did. We , we knew we needed to pivot and do something different because if we tried to do what we've always been doing when it worked during,Speaker 1:
And, and let's, let's go back to that then, cuz I'm very interested. So you served as a nurse in , uh , you said the Marines, I'm sorry. I said Navy earlier . I hope I, wellSpeaker 2:
Maybe , maybe , but for two years I was assigned to a , a medical unit that took care of , uh , the Marines.Speaker 1:
Got it. So you were a nurse in the military and at that point when you were serving, were you like when I get out, I'm gonna open chef Pam's kitchen or like how , tell us about that. E because it seems like there's gotta be a lot of steps in between being a military nurse and being a , a , a business owner that teaches folks how to cook, right?Speaker 2:
Yeah. So what happened is I was deployed to lawn stool army medical center in and six . Um, the army was short medical people . So they asked the bureau of surgery and medicine for the Navy. If we could provide nurses, doctors, Navy, corpsmen , um , pharmacist, physical therapist , uh , two long stools. So we were the first group in, and it was 350 of us that deployed. And we were gone for 13 months. So , uh , we backfill long Wyoming medical center . So some of the army nurses docs healthcare , people could go down range . So we, we took care of the wounded warriors within , um , 24 to 36 hours of being wounded. The it get flown into Ramstein air force base , and then fast forward, I come back after that few months, I actually went to the veterans office for something else and discovered that I had , uh , four years of free education at N U w school because I had deployed for longer than 12 months from Wisconsin and support , uh , of operation enduring freedom.Speaker 1:
Now that's the, the sorry to interrupt, but just so people know, is it correct? That that is the Wisconsin state GI bill and not the federal nine 11 post nine 11 GI bill. Yes.Speaker 2:
A lot of people don't know that there is a state GI bill Wisconsinites. There is a state GI bill and it, and it, and it rans to your dependence simultaneously. Like my kids can go to a UW school because of this w sky . It's an incredible benefit. Nobody knows about it. Holy cow, we gotta help spread the words more. So you used the state GI bill. All right . Yes . And did you know when you were a nurse that you were like, I'm gonna go to school for cooking or did it just kind of Dawn on you ? You some or what?Speaker 2:
No. You know what happened is , um , twice I'd gone for a master's degree. Once I was doing recruiting out of Boston and I was part-time at Boston college for family, nurse practitioner using part of the GI bill. And then I got transferred. I chose to get transferred to great lakes because I met my husband and he was from Chicago mm-hmm <affirmative> . And , uh, so I didn't finish that masters . And then I was part-time at Devar university for a little color school of management. That's connected with downtown Milwaukee for a masters in healthcare management when I got deployed to Germany. So I came back from Germany and I thought, okay, I haven't finished two masters . Uh , maybe God doesn't want me to get a master's in healthcare . And I said, I started to think, what else do I like to do with , um , What would I use this education for? And I said, you know what? I love to cook, but when it doesn't turn out, I'm always like, what went wrong? So I thought I'm gonna go to culinary school. So I went to WCTC in OA, absolutely wonderful school. Um, very helpful to an old student because I started at age 50 to go to school , um , from admissions to the information desk, to the actual culinary program. Everybody was so helpful to get me through that program. And , um, and then I graduated and I did work at bery kitchen in , uh , de field for a little bit. I worked on a food truck. I did some catering and I remembered back when I was stationed in Italy, that I used to go to a woman's house. She was an American that married an Italian and never went home. So she decided she'd teach cooking classes to the American military would go to her house. She'd put a bottle of wine, a bottle of water and would cook two things with her. And it was just a fun night out. And I kept thinking of it . Yeah . So that's where , that's where this idea began.Speaker 1:
Wow. And so that, I mean, that is making that transition, doing healthcare your entire career pretty much. And then at 50 you saidSpeaker 2:
I wouldn't have even guessed that you're 50 now, but like at, at 50 you said, I'm going to culinary school. I'm gonna , I'm gonna , and , and at that point, was it just, I wanna learn how to cook or were you scheming like someday chefs, Pam chef Pam's kitchen is gonna be a thing. Did you know, thenSpeaker 2:
I, I knew I wanted to make it a career. And , um, when I graduated, I , I , I , I was trying to figure out what, what I wanted to do with it. Um , I wanted to name it Bella kina because I, my time , my two years in Italy and I loved Italian foods, but , uh, my husband thought, well, who's gonna know what that means translates to. And then up with , he came up with chef Pam's kitchen and there began <laugh> . So, you know , we , we started out where we opened February 1st, but I was approached from , uh , the Milwaukee journal Sentinel in January , uh , of that year. And they asked if I, they could interview me and come <affirmative> , uh , film a class and put it in the , uh , food section , Milwaukee journal Sentinel. So it was gonna be in the Sunday paper, February 10th. And I said to the woman, Nancy stores who now has retired, but I said, I don't have any classes yet. I'm just opening. And she said, well, you have friends and neighbors invite them. And so we did, and I think that just kind of opened up the doors to our business, having that in the newspaper, you know, February 10th after opening February 1st. And again, we were blessed that she reached out and wanted to do that article. And , um, You've been busy since yeah .Speaker 1:
You've been going at it ever since. So, so tell, tell me about, you know, the, a little bit more about the community aspect of this. You said that , uh, you know, thinking back to your time in Italy, that there was the time where your friend was teaching people , uh , how to cook and, and how important is it to you to tie the community aspect of cooking? So versus like a technical, like here's how you make a chicken breast, you know, or here's how you make a veal, whatever, you know, or pasta, how do you , how do you tie that community or does it just kind of happen naturally?Speaker 2:
I , I , I think , uh, I think again, that food and fellowship, because people come two by two to the classes, and now with our new expanded location, we have a total of, of 24 people we can have in a given night , um , with the chef assist classes and people come to two by two, but by the end of the night, they're at the dining room tables, finishing dessert, talking about exchanging emails. And if you come again, let me know. I wanna come when you come, we'll just cook something different. And I I'm standing there thinking you just all met. You just met tonight. <laugh>Speaker 1:
And I think that's what is neat for me to see, and that was my dream and my hope , um , that people would get the love for cooking. Um , but also kind of The fellowship around it as well. And I always kid people, I nurture people with , uh , healthcare as a nurse. Now I'm nurturing them with food.Speaker 1:
You know, it's, it's funny, a lot of people say in the, in the professional networking world, that more deals happen over a meal in a , in a , in a boardroom. And I think that's that , I mean, you're, you're proving it right there. One, one evening at cooking with strangers, you know, and now you have friends. That's so cool. Tell us about your youth serving and youth education initiatives. You mentioned something about , uh , when we were on before the show mentioned something about a summer camp. Uh , tell us about that. And , and how important is it for you to teach kids about how to cook?Speaker 2:
I love teaching adults, but the kids are really, they're like sponges. They just absorb whatever you teach. They're excited to be here. And , uh , so we offer kids camps in the summer for eight to 12 year olds. We also offer teen camps for 13 to 17 year olds. And this summer we actually, we were sold out last summer. So this summer we're offering , uh , double sessions. There'll be kids, camp offered nine to 11, and then again , uh , one to 3:00 PM, and we've got five weeks of the kids, eight to 12 year olds. And then we also have two weeks of the teens and the teens are really fun. Last summer, we had a baking competition. So the camps are , you can come one day, two day days , three days are all four days. We cook wheat and a savor item and two of each, so they eat one here and then they get to take one home and share it with their family. And it's amazing to me. Parents will come and say, I can't believe they're eating that they would never eat it at home, but it's the idea that they need it themselves. And they're so proud of it. Um , and then I recipes so they can try at home and sometimes I'll get , um , emails like the day after the class. Um , a parent will email me and say , um , Mary wants the recipe. She wants to make it for the family this week. And I say, well, give me a week. And then I'll email the recipes from the kids camp. So it's fun for me to see. And , um , and even some of the kids now that are eight to 12 in that range that are now into the teen classes. And , um , last year with the baking competition, we started with Monday with the teens Monday , learning how to make vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes. And why don't they sometimes turn out or why do they look funny and what, what are we doing that causes that? And then we went to the next day of learning how to make buttercream frosting, how to make , um , the Swiss Marine buttercream mm-hmm <affirmative> and how to put flavor profiles. Then day three, we talked about different flavor profiles in the frosting and design wanted to do for a vanilla cupcake and a chocolate. And then day four, they put together their cupcakes and we judged them and picked a winner. And , um , two doors down our whole old space is , um , now mama Duck's bakery and ma uh , Melissa Luga , who owns it, used to rent from us. And then she was ready to open up her own business. So that's really a cool thing for us to see someone, you know, be able to branch out and do that, but she showcased their cupcakes. It was cool . Um , for a couple days, and parents were so proud to tell everyone to come and buy their team's cupcake that won the competition. So really fun , um , exciting things we're doing with kids and teens , hopefully to get them to come back as adults.Speaker 1:
Good stuff. We're gonna continue this dialogue with chef Pam in the very next episode of Wisconsin veterans for it's already been published. It's right there waiting for you . See you over there. Thank you for listening to Wisconsin veterans forward, brought to you by the Wisconsin veterans chamber of commerce. Please visit email@example.com . Don't forget to say , subscribe to this podcast, leave a rating and review in whatever platform you're listening through.