How I Started A Cooking Classes Business With 7 Locations

Published: November 2nd, 2019
Monika Reti
Founder, Hipcooks
from many, USA
started January 2014
market size
avg revenue (monthly)
starting costs
gross margin
time to build
210 days
growth channels
business model
Brick & Mortar
best tools
Square, Trello, Quickbooks
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
1 Tips
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I’m Monika Reti, owner, and founder of Hipcooks! Hipcooks Cooking Schools are known for measurement-free cooking, delighting in the process, and inventing along the way. Every class ends a dinner party with new friends.


I started the company in 2004, hosting small hands-on classes out of my loft-style apartment in the LA Arts district. Each class ended with enjoying great food, sipping wine and making new friends around a large communal dining table.

I was very lucky (preparedness meets opportunity!) because Hipcooks received great media attention, top Google placement and grew quickly, but organically. I opened my second location in 2006 and met my angel investor and mentor. Together, we opened 5 more Hipcooks locations, before I bought him out in 2018.

Hipcooks is different from other cooking schools: we give confidence and inspiration to home cooks through our communal approach (we don’t divide people into teams). We don’t use recipes or measuring implements. We make cooking stress-free and make sure that all leave inspired and confident they can make delicious food.

Hipcooks teachers are extensively trained to ensure we deliver a fun & fantastic product to our customers. Our customers sign up for one class at a time, (from over 50 fun-themed classes) and often return to become engaged members of our community. They bring their corporate groups for Private Classes: lively teambuilding events round-out our schedule when we’re not busy with Public Classes.

Hipcooks is proud to be counted among the top 25 Cooking schools in America, and the only other beside Sur La Table with more than one location.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

In true Hipcooks fashion: I’m not a culinary school graduate — I’m a hack! Here’s my story:

I’m first-generation American (Mom is from Germany and Dad from Argentina). My parents were young foreign students in the US and their friends were the other international students: I was a kid surrounded by people from different nationalities, like Spain, Russia, France, and the UK. I was a child foodie and loved to experience culture through food.

I caught the travel bug early, living in Argentina (studying economics in college), traveling through Europe, and moved to England for graduate school (I have a Master’s in Economics from LSE.) While in school, I cooked my way through a series of London restaurants in the gastro-boom of the ’90s, just for fun. My first job was on the West Coast, as an econometrician at the RAND Corporation.

While at RAND, I missed being in the “line of fire.” I contemplated ditching it to open a restaurant, but didn’t want the risk or lifestyle. I kept myself in the kitchen by hosting impromptu dinner parties for large groups of friends, often fridge-diving to come up with tasty things for spontaneous guests. One time a friend said to me “I really want to cook like you: you never freak out when a bunch of people shows up. You make food out of nothing.” That was it! My spark: I would teach people to cook like I do: delighting in the process. Too many of my friends viewed cooking as a chore and were intimidated to cook for others. There’s a need in America to take back our kitchens and more importantly, our dining rooms: let’s connect with friends, families, and neighbors over a long lingering meal — that’s the best way to socialize (and nourish at the same time)!

I’ve never sussed out the competition by checking out other schools: I knew the Hipcooks company style, philosophy, approach, and organization from the get-go. I began teaching classes out of an actor friend’s house over the summer while he was filming. Another friend offered to build a website to make matriculation easy. (All of this feeding people was really paying off!) When all systems were in place, I quit RAND and took a leap of faith to open Hipcooks in 2004. I haven’t looked back since.


Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Hands-down, we attract and retain customers by giving a consistent, great quality product each time we teach a class. I call it “pennies in the piggy bank:” one by one, each customer contributes to a solid, dedicated customer base.

  • #1 Google ranking (or at least the top 5 Google ranking) is important, so we keep our Google business pages full of updated content. Our Google and Yelp Reviews are solid.


In the cooking world, you’ve got to constantly keep fresh, be on-trend (and trend-set!): we’re on it with our vibrant Recipe Blog. We post free content each week to create an active, engaged community. We also post colorful content on Facebook (for each location), Instagram, & Pinterest. Potential new customers will “eat with their eyes,” so it’s gotta look good!


We use Activecampaign to create Hipcooks Newsletters, delivered 3 to 4 times per month. (I personally dislike my inbox being clogged with promotions each day, so I try to keep our content fresh and lively, limited to when we have something interesting to say.) There are about 35K active subscribers, so when we announce new classes via our Newsletters, we’ll often get a nice response. Offering flash deals via Newsletters is a nice way to reward those active subscribers, and fill occasional empty slots in a class.

Finally, you can’t beat a good website. The customer experience needs to be engaging, clear and easy. We’re constantly working to update our site and make it responsive as technology changes.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

With 7 profitable owner-operated locations and 15 years in the business, I’m (finally) ready to scale up! I think there could be a Hipcooks in every big city in the US (and even Internationally). We’ve been streamlining and documenting processes to get ready to Franchise, which is the next step.

Next-level growth is a big move forward and will require more capital and more hands-on-deck. I’d like to start by hiring a COO and business partner for the journey.

Other things I’m doing (in copious spare time): After our first successful cookbook, Around the World in 12 Dinner Parties, I’m almost finished with the 2ndbook, A Sip, and a Nibble: cocktail & food pairings. The 3rdbook, a Hipcooks Lifestyle Cookbook, is in the pipeline. Since we self-publish and sell the book in-house only, it has been a creative and lucrative process.

What platform/tools do you use for your business? is a custom-coded website with a robust back-end.
The Hipcooks Blog is Wordpress, Soledad theme.

I self-publish our cookbooks through RR Donnelley.
Active campaign is our newsletter campaign provider.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I’ve been lucky enough to have Harald Wusthof of Wusthof knives as my mentor, who has been my cheerleader, advisor, and friend since 2006. As CEO of a 200-year-old global company (family-run and not publicly traded), he has given me fantastic advice and most importantly, a different perspective, that has helped me weather the storms.

When I’m in the car, I like to listen to Guy Raz How I built this: a delightful podcast that interviews self-starters. I love to hear their personal journeys as they grew successful companies.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I think it is really useful to learn how to clone yourself, and then also teleport.

OK, just kidding! I think a really useful exercise for you and your crew to write down the adjectives that describe your company: this becomes your company philosophy. For instance, here’s what we came up with for Hipcooks:

              The Perfect Host

Once you have this list, let these adjectives dictate the style of everything you do: from day-to-day operations, quality of the product, and down to the little things, like how you handle customers, emails, and other relationships. It makes decision-making easier: Is this in line with our philosophy? Then, yes!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yep! It’s lonely at the top: I’m looking to hire a COO to help scale the company. I’m looking for an MBA with solid experience in next-level growth. If you’re a woman, it’s a plus (our entire management team is women-led, something I’m jazzed about.) Must love (but not necessarily cook!) food.

We’re also always on the lookout for great people to join our teams at out Studio locations, as full-time managers, teachers, shop and prep support staff.

Where can we go to learn more?




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