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Taking a Big Leap for Tiny Cakes

by Megan Bedford

Brandon Hall
Name: Brandon Hall
University: UCLA
Major: English
Grad Year: 2004

Company: Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes
Title: Owner
Industry: Specialty/Gourmet Foods
Year founded: 2006
Type of company: Online Bakery
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Number of employees: 4
Website: www.chunkomunko.com


If you don't live in greater Los Angeles you might not know about Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes-yet. However, should Chunkomunko's past record of success be any indicator for the future, it's easy to imagine their tasty gourmet cheesecake will be nationally available one day soon. Chunkomunko, the online bakery that delivers tiny cupcake-like cheesecake bites around L.A. County, was inspired by public demand.

"I brought some of my wife's cupcake cheesecakes to work for a holiday potluck," owner Brandon Hall recounts, "and the response was overwhelming." People who had been at the party were clamoring for more cheesecake cupcakes, and coworkers who weren't at the festivities hounded Hall for their fair share. For a while Hall and his wife accommodated the demand. "I brought them in again, then again, then again," he says. But finally enough was enough.

"We couldn't keep feeding the entire floor."

Hall asked his wife if she thought they could expand, and she agreed-thus Chunkomunko, LA's hot online cheesecake bakery, was born. And Hall had graduated from UCLA with a degree in English only two years before.

The Biggest Hurdle

Los Angeles County has some of the strictest food regulations in the nation. As Hall explains, "even experienced restaurateurs have told us how it has taken them twice as much money and time to open a food establishment in this city." Some even move their establishments outside of city limits. Hall had absolutely no previous experience in the food industry.

"I had no idea I would be pursuing a career in the food industry, not in a million years."

And while Hall advises other young entrepreneurs to "try working part time in a successful business that specializes in the area you want to get into," he also offers a counterpoint when speaking of his own experience. "The question of being able to do anything never really came to mind; whether or not I knew I would want to be doing something like this is another story. I had no idea I would be pursuing a career in the food industry, not in a million years."

Hall describes the initial plunge into the food industry as both "a little scary" and "extremely exciting." But if he had any doubts, his coworkers, the people who had initially inspired the Chunkomunko venture, were there to cheer him on. They offered "nothing but encouragement," Hall says.

Hall's coworkers also did what they had done from the very beginning-they passed Chunkomunko along to friends, who in turn gave it to their friends, helping to establish a kind of cheesecake chain to spread the word. "Everyone who ate our cheesecakes said, 'You should sell these,' and it was that kind of 'just do it' encouragement that gave us the courage to get out there and start this business."

The Buzz

Hall cites Chunkomunko's appearance on www.chowhound.com as their first big break. "People outside our social network were discussing our products and showing a real interest in enjoying the food our company produces," Hall says.

"Everyone who ate our cheesecakes said, 'You should sell these'."

Indeed, several Chunkomunko discussion board postings can still be found in the "Los Angeles Area" section of the Chowhound website. Among the most frequent comments: Chunkomunko's Cheese*Cake Cupcakes are a great deal, and well worth enduring Westwood traffic. A pop-cult following seems to be growing for the "purple ones"-these are the "Ooey Gooey Ubi" cakes, made with candied purple yam.

For those who want to find out more about Chunkomunko, their website offers a mouthwatering look at all forty flavors of the bite-sized confections. But viewers beware: If you live outside of L.A., you're out of luck. "We want to be able to take our company nation-wide eventually," says Hall, "but first we need to work on expanding outside L.A. County."

"There is not a moment in a 24-hour day that I am not thinking of the million things I need to get done."

On the other hand, the small scale approach of Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes is most likely one that appeals to their loyal L.A. customers-each batch is baked to order, rather than frozen and stored. Although financial success is a primary concern for Hall, he isn't willing to compromise the quality of his product as a means for expansion. It is refreshing to know that Chunkomunko isn't looking to establish itself as the next mall-side Cheesecake Factory.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

"One initiative we are undertaking is committing to more charity events and galas," Hall explains when asked what his plans are for Chunkomunko in the future. "We love when our cheesecakes are able to help a charity." While cheesecakes for charity may not seem like an obvious equation, Hall's enthusiasm proves an interesting point: No matter the product, young entrepreneurs can start a successful business that can also impact the larger community in a positive way.

Of course, launching a start-up company isn't a cakewalk. Hall says, "There is not a moment in a 24-hour day that I am not thinking of the million things I need to get done." Chunkomunko is still a four-person operation. And that Westwood traffic? Someone has to deliver the cupcakes. "My least favorite part is all the driving I need to do," Hall laments. "Traffic can be a bear in Los Angeles."

"That initial ledge entrepreneurs have to step out and jump off is a pretty scary one."

But for all the responsibility of starting his own company, Hall maintains that the payoff is worth it. When asked what he would do differently, Hall responds, "This is probably an answer everyone gives but whoever starts their own business probably wishes they would have done so sooner. That initial ledge entrepreneurs have to step out and jump off is a pretty scary one."

Hall is remarkably level-headed when describing his venture, and his calm confidence makes it easy to believe that Chunkomunko will find nothing but more success in the future. Whether that means a national brand or expanded service in Southern California will depend on what Hall feels is best for the company, product, and in turn, the customer. As the Chunkomunko website explains, service will expand when they "find an acceptable shipping solution that does not compromise the quality of [their] product."

Until then, we'll just have to wait.
Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes
Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes
Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes
Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes
Chunkomunko Cheese*Cakes
 
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