Hello! Who are you and what food business did you start?

I am Chef Darrell Johnson, and I am the Executive Chef/Owner of NOLA Creations.  We are a Food Brand who specializes in all things Creole and Cajun which extend pass just food.

We are a retail company, a food truck, a full service restaurant, TV personalities and social media presence. 

Most recently, we are the winners of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” Season 10. Currently we are still a start-up and don’t have revenue. But our Pre-money valuation is $1MM.

NOLA Creations serving in Fort Myers during The Great Food Truck Race.

What are your ballpark monthly revenue numbers?

We don’t have any revenue to speak of at this point; but our Pre-money valuation is $1MM.

Pre-money valuations are tough because you don’t actually have a sells number to gage it by. What I used was the sales from the products that I have already sold and use a multiplier of 3 times.

We already have a line of seasonings, a cookbook and merchandise that has been doing very well that we sell exclusively on our website.  

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

Embracing after winning The Great Food Truck Race Season 10.

My start in this industry came as a 12 year old kid cooking side by side with my Great Grandmother who was the best chef that I’ve ever known. From there, I worked in a small kitchen cutting meat and making po-boys in New Orleans.  That was the beginning of my love affair with food and with the culinary industry.  

I’ve had the opportunity to work at some of the best restaurants on the planet, including Commander’s Palace where famed chef’s Paul Prudhomme and Emeril LaGasse were the executive chefs.  I also had the honor to work in Paris as well.  

I am a culinary school grad and a food network Alum featured on Both Cutthroat Kitchen and The Great Food Truck Race.  My food and products are true to my city and true to my culture. My style personifies the essence of everything that makes us New Orleans and Louisiana.  

The NOLA Creations food truck team.

I was a 15 year industry vet when I decided to finally branch out on my own.  I started by selling lunch plates to barber shops and beauty salons. I took $1500 and the stove out of my house and opened a small restaurant in one of the highest crime areas in my city and state. 

It was just my wife and I, and as we began to make money, we added my staff and upgraded our equipment. Little by Little, we started to build our business. We took that little shake in the heart of the hood, and made it into a destination place where the who’s who can out and dined. 

Thinking about starting a food truck business? Read our full case study on the topic.

Our first year in business, we took $1500 and grew it to sales of over $500K.  We then decided to move our restaurant to a better side of town. This place was smaller, but it was in better condition and in a safer neighborhood.  Our sales immediately double.

And after one year of being there, we decided to remain on the same side of town, but open a larger, 4000 square foot restaurant after finishing the year with $1MM in sales.  But everything took a downward turn. We were ripped off by a shady contractor and we not only could not finish the renovations, we had run out of money and had to close our existing restaurant.  

We lost everything.  But this wasn’t the first time we had lost everything and had to start over.  We were in New Orleans when hurricane Katrina happened and we lost everything then and we fought hard and bounced back. 

We knew that this would not be our end. So here we are, with a new concept and a victory on a the major episodic show on food network. And a brand that we are building.

Chef Darrell Johnson at the Crescent City Bistro.

To be casted on a food television program, you have to work very hard to get in front of the right people. I literally tried to get in shows for 5 years. From 2010 to 2015. And I broke through in February of 2015.  Once you are part of the machine, and you do well, they want to keep you in rotation. 

Because there are a lot of very good chefs who don’t do well on camera as well as a lot of very good tv personalities who aren’t great chefs.  So to be successful in the food tv world, it takes both. You have to have a personality that stands out.

For the casting of the Great Food Truck Race, I was told that there were over 500,000 applicants.  So you are literally 1 in 500,000 trying to get on most food network shows. 

The best tip I can give is to do a lot of cooking completions and cooking demos. So shows that are casting want to know that you have the culinary chops to be successful at cooking first. Then they want to know that you can cook and talk. Lastly they want to you can compete. So be to casted, you need those three things and you can get that and improve on those by competing locally. 

And what it does also, is it helps build your fan base. Everything you do is to drive traffic back you your business.  So yes, I encourage everyone who owns a food business a food business compete on a national stage. It will increase your visibility and validate your business. 

Take us through the process of developing, testing your food.

I was diagnosed with Diabetes in January of this year.  My blood pressure was sky high and I was in and out of the hospital regularly. I love food and I especially love spicy food. 

So I developed a line of spices that are low in sodium and high in flavor. These spices became the foundation of our food. This spice sets us apart from every other restaurant. 

Also, we have completed our cookbook. This book features recipes from both of my food network shows. My wife and I self published this book and printed ourselves and sold them exclusively through our own website that we created ourselves.  

The cookbook was something that I have wanted to do for a long time. I enjoy sharing my recipes and my vision with others. Also New Orleans cuisine is special and different.  It’s also difficult to duplicate.

Also, I’m not just a food truck, but I am building a brand.  I will open a brick and mortar restaurant soon, I will also be able to operate as a food service company, a restaurant consulting firm, a celebrity chef, TV personality, as well as create programs to help the next generation of chefs like my culinary camp for kids and my internship program for college culinary students. I do not recommend this path for the typical food business owner.  

It’s a lot already to own an operate a food business.  So to add these other things, make it extremely difficult.  Ive been doing this for 25 plus years. And I have a great team with me that I have assembled over those years. It is because of that, that I can do the things that I have mentioned. 

My goals for building my social media presence are simple, I want to drive as much traffic back to my business as possible. 

It’s like in boxing. Everything you do is to work the jab; you footwork, your head movements, how you position your hands. Everything that I’m doing is to, ultimately drive more traffic to my restaurant. 

Describe the process of launching the business.

Taste test on The Great Food Truck Race Season 10.

The Process of starting a business is long and hard.  That’s why everyone doesn’t do it. It starts with your passion.  Find that passion first, fall in love with that passion, and then figure out how to make a living out of your passion. 

Now you have an idea… a dream, now you must organize those thoughts into a plan; a business plan. A business plan is basically the blueprint for your business. 

Someone should be able to take your business plan and be able to follow it to the letter, and create your business. Once you’re at this stage, now it’s time to execute and push yourself to your limit and then keep going.

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

Don’t forget to check out the NOLA Creations cookbook!

We haven’t officially launched our full brand.  We are in the beginning stages of it. We had an opportunity that many don’t get. 

We were able to be on a national television show that had a viewing audience of over 1.5 million people every week. It made us immediate household names and it was the biggest coming out party for our brand that we could have asked for. 

Now, we have built an infrastructure that will allow us to grow our company at a rapid pace. We also are using all social media platforms to remain in the public eye until we fully launch our brand.  

What have you learned through starting a business and being featured on a popular tv show?

The future looks amazingly bright!  After losing everything twice and having to start over twice, we know that we are determined and ready for this next chapter in our lives. 

We almost quit. We almost gave up. But, we aren’t doing it just for us. In life, if every decision that you make, is only about you, then you will eventually run into something that is bigger and worse than you; and it will make you quit.  But we aren’t doing this just for us.

We are doing this for everyone who is connected to us. We are doing this for every underdog and everyone who has hard times and had to overcome over mounting circumstances to be successful. We are doing it for them to let them know that hard work pays off, dreams come true and that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.  

I always say, that if every decision you make in life is about you, then eventually, you will run into something that’s bigger and badder than you; and it gonna make you quit.

For me, that bigger badder thing was having to close down after having such great success.  And with my resume’ I could have easily got a job as an executive Chef or as a culinary director making 6 figures. But I felt that would have been very selfish of me. 

Cast of The Great Food Truck Race Season 10.

I realized a long time ago that there are others who’s destinies are tied to my success.  I have the ability to be a blessing to people through my success and failures.  I did second guess myself for a while. And I did eventually get a job as an executive Chef for a restaurant company. 

But when I said I had a great team behind me, I meant that. It was my wife who had been my backbone and my support for more than 20 years, who helped me get through those difficult times. And it was her who applied to the show and it was her who pushed me to go through with it. And the rest is history. 

The one thing that I would tell others is you have to have a support base. This business is hard and it can beat you down.  But one other thing that I always say is… people don’t get tire because of what they do; they get tired because they forget why the do it. And my wife and kids and everyone who is connected to me is a constant reminder of why I do what I do. 

Has there been an influential book in your journey?

 The Most influential book has been Symbol and Symbolic by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz. It talks about the principle of the moment as explained on the papyrus of Anne.  It speaks of the two Akih Lions and the quote, to me belongs yesterday and tomorrow I know.

It is the principle of the moment. And the paradox of the moment is to not address it right then; but to look at it as a reflection of yesterday and a vision of tomorrow. 

I know where I’ve been, and I have a vision of where I am going. So right now, in this moment, no matter where I am right now and no matter what obstacle I have to overcome, I know that the moment passing. The moment is only for a moment.  

Chef Darrell Johnson was a 15-year industry vet before starting his own business.

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

1.) Make sure you love the business.  Because there are times when it woke love you back.  

2.) Fall in love with the process rather than the result.  Results change a lot, but if you love the process, when the result changes, you will be able to deal with it… no matter what it is.  

3.) Have an outlet. This business is rewarding, but hard too.   You have to have an outlet to keep you balanced. Find a place that makes you happy, a thing that you can do that makes you happy and a person that makes you happy.  

Stay Connected with NOLA Creations

Want to start your own food business?

Hey! 👋I’m Brett Lindenberg, the founder of Food Truck Empire.

We interview successful founders and share the stories behind their food trucks, restaurants, food and beverage brands. By sharing these stories, I want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, sign up for our newsletter that includes our food business startup kit and most popular interviews sent straight to your inbox.

Know someone interesting that should be interviewed on the website? Tell us about them here.