Jasmin Wooden on Starting Over
Moving clear across the country was not enough for Jasmin Wooden. In addition to starting over in a new city, she also decided to start a new venture and open a food business. While running her own enterprise was not something she had done before, Jasmin was very comfortable in the kitchen, having watched her family of cook since she could sit up and having made meals for friends and family from as early as 8 years old. Looking forward, Jasmin is eager to expand her network in Jacksonville and continue to grow her locally-sourced, scratch-made, organic/natural off-site catering service, Blue Sage Cuisine.
You are running a catering and food-to-go business in Jacksonville. How many years have you been in the business of food and how did you get started?
I come from a family of amazing cooks and chefs and have sat on their countertops since I could sit up on my own. I’ve cooked meals for friends and family from the time I was 8 years old. After we moved to Jax in 2011, I cooked for my new found friends here. I was always encouraged to start a business here and I was honestly a little afraid to jump out there. I’ve always had the passion for great food, but feared that I wouldn’t be able to make my vision for fresh, natural/organic, scratch-made food a reality here in Jax. I didn’t know about the amazing local food scene here and now I’m so honored to be a part of it.
Do you have a culinary background? How did you learn about owning a restaurant?
My passion for this business came from my personal health struggles in college. I began suffering from kidney filtering problems and my body’s toxins were trapped within. I was introduced to a holistic doctor who shared some natural remedies with me. From there began the journey of studying a healing food journey. After finding tons of resources on healing from a Whole Food approach, I coupled my culinary experience with my new found health knowledge and began developing food plans. I was constantly sharing the info with others until eventually developing menus for what would become, Blue Sage Cuisine.
I studied and researched catering businesses for about a year, looking at different models and noting my preferences. I traveled and enjoyed a foodie adventure during that year, sampling regional flavors and learning about the agriculture of the areas I traveled. I then found a mentor who had been running a very successful, local catering business and she gave me a wealth of knowledge.
You are from California. How did you end up in Jacksonville? Where do you see opportunities? What are the challenges?
I spent 8 years as a classroom teacher and Education Director for Inclusion programming in California. After becoming a mom, I knew the season for that had passed. I came to visit my parents here and was presented an opportunity to move closer to them. We jumped on it and moved here in 2 weeks! I found myself having a tough time meeting people here and my safe place was in the kitchen. I would get invited places and I would cook so that I could hide in the kitchen.
Now being involved in a growing business in Jax, I think one of the greatest opportunities is that this city is growing and there is room for everyone. Coming from a huge metropolis like Los Angeles, everything is over saturated. Here, there is so much room for niche concepts. Additionally, my favorite part, is the access to locally sourced food. With all of the land, there is so much room to grow food. I am so pleased that I can drive to dozens of local farms and hand select the ingredients that I want to serve. That doesn’t happen in every city. The biggest challenge was getting started. Finding the kitchen, the clientele, etc. My passion is good food and my purpose is to serve. There was no timeline on making that happen. However, once I got going, I met some of the most amazing, supportive people and began to grow in no time.
You have added Vegan options to your catering menu - what drove this extension of your culinary options?
In 2015, I was presented with an opportunity to prepare Vegan and Gluten Free meals for the former Tea Haus in Jax Beach. That was an amazing opportunity because I had to create 4-6 unique, tasty dishes each week. From doing so, I gained a lovely clientele of people who wanted fresh, vegan food that wasn’t the typical store-bought, soy-laden options. I now have a group of clients who I service in that capacity and a specialty branch of my business.
What's the one thing most people don't know about owning their own food business, but should? From your experience, what's the biggest challenge to being a woman in the food business?
You need to connect with other business owners. As a mobile business, there are only so many people you can service at a time. It’s not like a restaurant where you can just add someone to a waiting list. You will undoubtedly have clients that will want to double book, staff that will not be available at the last minute, etc. Everyone plays an important role in every event and anyone’s misstep can make a big difference. Not only do you need an internal team, you need an external network of food service professionals, event planners and local resources to support your growth. There is room for everyone here and you don’t have to compete to grow in this town. I have found that people truly want to help one another. We have to collaborate.
My experience as a woman in the food business has been nothing short of amazing. When I first started, I had a few people that wanted me to compromise my “why?” to provide them things that better fit their lifestyle. That wasn’t an option for me. I knew my purpose in this business was to share my health and healing journey and compromising on providing locally sourced, all-natural food, scratch-made food would not work. I have been magnetically attracted to so many phenomenal women in business that have supported my journey. One of the greatest connections has been through an organization called Leading Ladies 904. The founder, Toni Hernandez Brown, has a vision to see all the extraordinary, women entrepreneurs in this town connect and collaborate to further grow their businesses. Being in a room with these women is electrifying! When you are surrounded with like-minded people who are madly in love with their vision and deeply rooted in their purpose, you realize that there is no challenge too big to overcome. We all need our purpose, our passion and our squad of Super ladies!
We talk a lot about seasonal ingredients and consumers, chefs, restaurants, artisans and farms working together as a "food system." What are some of the hurdles to catering businesses "buying local" on a consistent basis? What could be done to help bridge this gap?
When everything is local, access to ingredients can be limited depending on various factors. If weather is unseasonable, you may lose or have delays on crops. When you don’t order food to be delivered from a warehouse and you are fully reliant on what is around you, you have to be flexible. I customize every menu for my clients and I always let them know what is seasonal or may can be difficult to access. You just have to be flexible to work within a fully local food system. You also have to be mindful of volume. I may not be able to service 1500 guests because I am not willing to compromise the integrity of my ingredients. But you’d better believe that I am pouring my heart and soul into the 150 guests to ensure they have the best quality, taste and overall experience with Blue Sage Cuisine. The continued growth of local farms and access to them will continue to bridge that gap and allow for more growth of this overall food system.
Finally -- is there something, in particular, that draws you to food? If so, what is it and how has it captured your attention?
Food sustains us. It nourishes and provides for all of our bodily functions. Our body is meant to heal and protect itself - we just have to give it the right fuel to do so. When we really think about the power in that, we all should really lean in to everything we allow to enter our bodies. The healing properties of a Whole Food diet completely changed my life and the lives of so many others around me. I have witnessed first-hand, the healing effects of food and for me, there is nothing more powerful that I can control than the sustainability of my health.