To introduce Georgetown students to the intersection between food and entrepreneurship, Students of Georgetown, Inc. hosted Greg Menna and Jesse Konig, respective founders of local businesses District Donut and Swizzler, for the second installment of the Food Entrepreneurship Series on Feb. 28.
The event was co-sponsored by Startup Hoyas, Spoon University Georgetown, the Georgetown University Farmers’ Market and the Georgetown University Eating Society, whose co-founder, Alex Heintze (MSB ’19), also served as moderator.
Heintze said the aim of the series was to present attendees with a side of local entrepreneurship they may have not considered before.
“The goal of this series is to expose the Georgetown student body and The Corp’s customer base to entrepreneurship, specifically food entrepreneurship,” Heintze said. “I hope that the event attendees gleaned knowledge about entrepreneurial endeavors, alternative career paths and local businesses in the D.C. area.”
Speaking on their experiences, both Menna and Konig contended that success in the food industry is hard to come by, requiring not only an original, innovative concept, but also a passion for the craft and a determination to pull through with the business despite challenges that may arise.
Menna, whose artisan doughnut company District Donut holds locations at Capitol Hill, Georgetown and Nationals Park, said his business partners felt compelled to take the doughnut back to basics when they first founded the company.
“We wanted to make a donut the right way — that was our idea. The vast majority of people who make donuts today, they’re simply not making real donuts anymore. We wanted to know if we could make a business and money making donuts the right way,” Menna said.
Konig, whose hotdog food truck Swizzler produces gourmet hotdogs and can be seen at the Georgetown Farmers’ Market, echoed a similar idea, saying the creation of his company was predicated on the idea of making food an experience.
“We are all about creating unbelievable food experiences. We do that through thoughtful sourcing, we use grass-fed beef, a lot of in-house toppings with legendary service, all to give a different experience around food and to grow an awesome tribe of followers in D.C.,” Konig said.
Both Konig and Menna presented entrepreneurial advice to students in attendance, citing self-criticism, gut instincts and trial-and-error as keys to growth.
Menna said constant attentiveness and evaluation of the potential for improvement is critical to the expansion of one’s business.
“Every day I wake up and think ‘what is this thing really and where is it going?’ because if you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Menna said.
According to Konig, starting a food business can be daunting, for there is no defined path to success. Konig said the best way to go about with the process was to trust one’s own judgment and that of one’s colleagues and follow through with any decision.
“Part of this whole experience starting your own business, which is really a huge burden lifted off of you, which is also be really scary, is the fact that there is no right way to do any of this stuff,” Konig said. “You just have to make a decision, follow it through, use your best judgement and trust you and your team to do the best that you can.”
Konig contended that the defining factor in the choice to start a small business was thinking on how one would look back in the future at the opportunity one had been presented with. Koning illustrated his point by citing the beginnings of Swizzler.
“What we really asked ourselves was ‘will we look back on this and regret not doing it?’ And that was the deciding factor for us,” he said.
Joe Deccache (COL ’20), who attended the event, said he felt as if he had gained a keen insight into the competitive aspects of starting a small business.
“I learned that entrepreneurship is incredibly difficult, yet seemingly rewarding. It takes a good novel idea and a work ethic unlike any others, but can work out really well,” Deccache said. “That being said, growing your own business from scratch in your mid-twenties seems petrifying but these two guys really gave me a positive look at the process.”
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