The Funky Brunch Recipe for Success – Interview with Alumna Jacqueline Chelliah ‘05
Who would have thought a graduate from Glion’s Sport and Event Management School would go on to produce up-scale F&B events? Jacqueline Chelliah ’05, aka Jackie Wonder, co-founded the Funky Brunch company in 2013. As the popularity of the Funky Brunch events grows, Jackie is looking at taking it to a global level. Here’s a little look at her journey from Glion to entrepreneurship and her plans for what’s next.
We caught up with Jackie just days after the November 2015 edition of Funky Brunch at the Richemond Hotel in Geneva. For those of you who don’t know what a Funky Brunch is, here’s a short video clip which summarizes perfectly what they do do, it was filmed at of the first event in Paris in October 2015 with Michelin star Chef Thierry Marx. Since the first Funky Brunch in December 2013, Jacqueline and her partners have created 28 Funky Brunch events held in Geneva and Paris and attracted more than 3000 “brunchers”, with an ever-growing faithful following.
When I called her, Jackie was back in Switzerland, recuperating from the excitement of the last event and working on some other projects to fill the gap before the brunches continue in 2016.
Hi Jackie, tell us, what are you up to now?
“Actually, I’m working with another business right now. Cuppin’s Teahouse & Cupcakes in Lausanne, they sell mainly cupcakes and cakes and organize private events, and they have a tea room and concept store. I’m working with them right now because they have a space that they were under-using and so we created a second tea room around the concept of madeleines. Already, they have so much demand for people to just sit down and have a coffee and some cake. They also have so much stock, different things from Europe, like “art de vivre” articles, teas, and jewellery. So I’m trying to help them focus on moving their products.
“The owners and I actually met through Funky Brunch and they were looking for someone to help them, so I stepped up. The clients are very similar to mine and I like that human aspect, and it’s great to be working with two young entrepreneurs like me, and of course, to have a second income. Aside from Funky Brunch, I also have a consultancy company and I’m trying to develop that. The idea is that we go and look at F&B related businesses and step in to help out and do trouble shooting.”
That’s a far cry from the degree that you earned at Glion. You studied sports and event management. How did you get from there into your current role?
“It’s true, I would never have imagined myself working in F&B. I did the sports management program at Glion in order to work at the Olympic Games, after having watched on TV the Atlanta Games in 1996. I knew that was what I wanted to do, but my parents wanted me to study law. I received the Glion brochure at home and I saw that it was exactly what I wanted to do: in addition to being located here in Switzerland, Glion’s event and sport management program had a practical learning aspect and the theoretical side. It was a perfect fit.
My first internship was in Athens in 2004, and I came back and finished my 3rd semester, and I tried to get into the IOC and I got an internship at the Olympic museum. At the time, I intended to go back to Glion for my bachelor degree in event and sport management, but they offered me a full-time job and I stayed for over a year at the IOC. Then I got a great opportunity to work at the International Basketball Federation, and then finally I worked with UEFA for the Euro cup that took place in Switzerland and Austria in 2008.”
So, what triggered the transition from working for sports federations and events, to being an entrepreneur?
“I started a company by developing a product, a personal diary with an agenda, integrated with a life-coach concept and I managed to sell it in some large Swiss stores. I got a designer to help me out and I won an award from the Chamber of Commerce in Geneva, but I didn’t manage to sell enough of them to live off of that business.
“So I decided to stop, and it felt like a failure, so I moved to London in 2011 thinking I might work for the Olympic Games there, but instead I got a job for Net-a-porter, a fashion retailer that operates via a webzine type site, launched by Natalie Massenet and. I did marketing and managed a team, in a company where things were going so fast and creative.
“I really enjoyed life in London. In terms of entrepreneurship, London is really the place to be. What I like there most of all is that you feel like everyone is trying to be an “employee preneur” and the people I worked with were all doing many things. They were all striving to rise above their roles, to be stylists, to set up their own brands. In London, like New York, you are going to be seeing and meeting these people who are self-starters.”
But how did you get the idea to start the Funky Brunch concept?
“The idea came because my former associate wanted to quit her job and open a restaurant, but the costs are so high. We thought maybe together we could do some sort of events. We remembered going to a brunch at Sarabeth’s in New York where we’d queued up for an hour to get in. It was the best brunch we’d ever had and the atmosphere of the place was great, the design was Bostonian and we thought that if brunch is something that people are ready to queue up to do on a Sunday or Saturday, with their entire family, then its a concept that works. That’s how we got the idea.
“So we decided to create a brunch concept with a DJ, with the music we love and activities for the kids, so families would have something for the kids to do. When we organized the first brunch, we expected 60 people, in the end we had 120 people and our family ended up cooking in the kitchen. Very quickly, we had so many requests, the second event was 200 people in two services (10-12 for the families with kids, and 13-15 for the adult crowd) we had to hire a team and the costs got so high. Then we got approached by a hotel, they offered to host the brunch in the hotel, but said they would take care of the food. From that day onwards it was clear that the business model had to change.
You aren’t the first Glion alumna that I’ve spoken to who decided to become an entrepreneur, in fact, it seems like a lot of our graduates become entrepreneurs. Why do you think that is? How does the Glion experience push students towards this desire to create new businesses?
“Mostly, I think it has to do with the people at school with me, Glion has such an international crowd. I learned a lot from that global environment, to be able to sit with Chinese, Saudi Arabians, French, South Americans etc. was a huge experience that I still keep in mind today. With that multicultural experience, it’s really easy to connect with people from around the world and that’s a huge advantage for any business. So when we have a brunch, I’m at the entrance, and I can easily adapt when I see where the person is from. And of course the event side of it, I learned so much about event management, and there are really so many details that one has to learn about the practical way of organizing events.
So what’s next for Funky Brunch?
“We’ll be celebrating our 3 year anniversary in 2016, and I really hope we will celebrate it in New York City. Thanks to the event in Paris, we now have a serious business card and recommendation and it should lead us to that by the end of the year. The rest of the year, we’re going to Zurich for the first time. In Lausanne, we are trying to organize something with some very prestigious chefs, and Milano and London are on the map as well.
“In Paris, I can’t imagine promoting the brunch there right now, we had one already set up but we may postpone it until I don’t know when. Whenever I’m ready to launch it again, I know people will come, so what we said with Remy is that we’ll take as much time as we need, and when we re-launch it we’ll do it in one go with several dates. We may have an opportunity to join a hotel chain and do an exclusive partnership with that group to travel around their hotels. I have a meeting in two weeks, so we’ll see how that goes and take it from there. It’s all on the table. Since 2015 showed us that we were able to export the concept to Paris, then 2016 we hope to take it even further.
To learn more about Funky Brunch and receive the 2016 schedule as soon as it’s announced, sign up for the newsletter on Jackie’s website or like the Facebook page.