Member Spotlight: Christie Ison, Founder of Arkansas Food Jobs

The Venture Center community is full of innovators, business leaders and influencers from various industries. Today we're highlighting one of our members, Christie Ison.

Christie is the founder of ARFoodJobs.com, Arkansas's largest community of trained culinary and hospitality professionals that advances the profession through a job board, training, articles on industry topics and certifications.

Read on to learn how Christie impressed MC Hammer, how she has expanded from her initial idea, and how she is now using her company to give back to the community!

  1. What inspired you to go down the path that has led you to where you are today?
    It's a funny story how this all happened. I had finished culinary school as a mid-life career changer, and due to some health challenges, I knew I would not be able to work in a traditional restaurant job. I'm a member of the advisory board of the UA-Pulaski Tech culinary school, and we were discussing job placement. My seat neighbor, Montine McNulty of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, and I looked at each other and she said, "you could do that." She knew my passion for the business and the network I had built through my earlier days of food writing. From there, the job board began, which later became the staffing agency and training programs.

    Later, a month after starting Arkansas Food Jobs, I won the LaunchPad startup competition in Conway, against some heavy hitters in the startup field. The judges, including rapper and startup aficionado MC Hammer (Stanley Burrell), said they voted for me because of my passion for the industry and the marketing plan to grow nationally while keeping a local feel to each market served. 

  2. What is the best piece of advice you ever received? The worst?
    Best advice: Do something broader than just a job board. I can't recall who told me this, but it was great advice. 

    The job board has been an excellent entry point for the business, now having thousands of candidates, hundreds of employers, and over 1,000 searchable resumes. We get very good reviews on the quality of candidates who apply through us, since we are local and specialize in this industry. However, it was limiting our ability to really serve our employers in a way that meets every employer's needs, since the selection and hiring process was still up to them. This led to the training programs currently underway and the staffing agency we are about to launch. It will take more staff and more work, but it will ultimately lead to multiple ways our employers can work with us depending on their budget and time available for the process.

    Worst advice: You won't be able to do anything with your business until you get over your health problems.

    Not true at all! I have some health issues that sometimes create severe fatigue. While I am doing things to improve, it may never be fully resolved. Meanwhile, I've been able to create a schedule, workload, and work style that works for me. I was inspired by an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about a woman who has Lupus and was able to create a large, thriving business despite her issues that were similar to mine. 

  3. What trophy or award do you want on your mantel?
    I don't necessarily want it in the form of an award, but it's my goal to impact my community for the better through the foodservice and hospitality industry. That means helping people get trained for those jobs (some of whom might not have gotten that chance elsewhere), helping already established food and hospitality people find their DREAM job, and helping area businesses have a staff that operates smoothly and benefits the community.
     
  4. What are your goals for Arkansas Food Jobs in 2018?
    A technical goal for Arkansas Food Jobs this year is to update and better integrate all my systems, which include a job board, staffing/applicant tracking software, texting and social media, etc. I also aim to launch the full scale of my food and hospitality staffing agency this year, which is just now getting off the ground. And finally, a marketing goal is to better communicate within the industry what all I do and how they can use our services. 
     
  5. What is something you'd like to promote?
    I'd like to promote our students that participate our Food Jobs Work culinary workforce training program. It's a program for anyone who wants to learn more about working in restaurants, with an emphasis on "back of house" (the kitchen) for now. My first partner in offering the program was Our House shelter in Little Rock, and they have helped me offer this education to people who are underemployed, many of whom were recently incarcerated and needed job training. All the chefs who help me with the program are amazed at the quality of work the students put out in the kitchen, and any preconceived notion about these underemployed students goes out the window. It's my goal to see every one of them rising up the ranks in kitchens all over the state. 
 Students in the Food Jobs Work program describe their dishes to chef judges. The next program begins March 12, 2018.

Students in the Food Jobs Work program describe their dishes to chef judges. The next program begins March 12, 2018.