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This Franchisee Is Cooking up Some Lessons in Life for Her Young Clientele


Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees.
Nora Wachter-Lerner

Young Chefs Academy offers cooking classes to children in a safe environment that encourages discovery and creativity. But food is only part of the lessons learned. "The kitchen is the pulse of the home . . . where we learn about life and each other," says Julie Burleson, founder of YCA, who notes that Academy classes also teach kitchen safety, etiquette, table-setting, menu planning and more. That multiple focus appealed to Argentina immigrant and Texas-based franchisee Nora Wachter-Lerner, who decided to leave the corporate world and her CPA career following a frightening bout with cancer.

"I have been cooking all my life," Wachter-Lerner says, so YCA was a clear choice. But what she especially liked was how the Academy's curriculum "doesn’t stop at teaching kids how to cook. It opens the door to a new world of emotional and intellectual maturity for our students." Now, she says, she can't wait to spread those values to more kids.

Name: Nora Wachter-Lerner

Franchise owned: Young Chefs Academy, Frisco, Texas.

How long have you owned a franchise?

I have owned a franchise for five years.

Related: Franchise Players: Why One Franchise Wasn't Enough

Why franchising?

When starting up as a small business owner, there is so much to do. Franchising gives you some structure and takes care of some of the infrastructure you would need to create along the road.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I was a CPA, in international consulting.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

During my time as a tax consultant, I was diagnosed with cancer. I have recovered since then, but that was hard for my entire family. My daughter, who is now 11, encouraged me to leave my office job and teach. Today, she sometimes helps out as my teaching assistant. I have been cooking my entire life. It is very dear to me, so opening a Young Chefs Academy was the clear choice. I also admire the company’s founder, Julie Burleson. She has given franchise owners a chance to teach kids of all ages invaluable life lessons, with a rewarding concept that is both fun and fulfilling.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

I bought a location that was already open for business. [According to the company, franchising with Young Chefs Academy typically requires a franchise fee of $39,900. Qualifying veterans receive a discount on the initial franchising fee of $5,000. And the average initial investment to get up and running is between $66,500 and $122,000.]

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

My research was much more than sitting online or looking through city records, although I did plenty of that. I got to know my community by volunteering in the area and speaking with other professionals and franchisees. I also relied on my previous experience in corporate America.

Related: Meet the Chefs Who Are Bringing Quality Food to the Masses

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

The biggest challenge was modifying the interior [of my location] to get the license transferred. I did not expect this to happen since the location was open and in business the day before I took over.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Do it! My advice for individuals who want to own their own franchise is to choose one that you are passionate about and go for it.

Related: Franchise Players: 'Cupcake Wars' Champ Takes on Franchising

What’s next for you and your business? 

I plan to open multiple Young Chefs Academy locations in the area. Our curriculum doesn’t stop at teaching kids how to cook. It opens the door to a new world of emotional and intellectual maturity for our students. I am very passionate about the way this concept touches people’s lives in such a positive and lasting way, and I want to share that with more people.