Building a business with creativity and confidence
By Tori Utley
Photography by Fagan Studios
As many entrepreneurs know, where there’s no risk, there’s no reward. Bringing a great idea to light requires the courage to step out—often unsure of the outcome—with confidence, passion and tenacity.
MEET JENNIFER BECKER
Becker is the co-owner of Bleu Duck Kitchen, one of Rochester’s trendiest dinner spots, which is serving the Rochester community for a third year. While it took courage to start a restaurant of her own, Becker’s story can attest that she’s been preparing to lead her entire career.
After her first serving gig at the Town and Country Cafe in Kellogg as a teenager, Becker moved to Rochester, working at Michael’s, PappaGeorge Taverna, Outback Steakhouse and the Rochester Golf and Country Club. After 20 years in the service industry, she was ready for a change of perspective.
“I knew it was time to move forward and do something different,” she says. “My passion and drive were so fierce for so many years, but it was starting to fizzle. I needed something to jumpstart me and get me back in my own skin.”
The inspiration for Bleu Duck Kitchen came somewhat accidentally, she says. Teaming up with chefs Erik Kleven and Erik Paulsen to create a silent auction experience for the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester’s Chair Affair event—an eight-course meal at the historic Conley-Maass Building—the trio knew they were onto something.
“We pulled it off with nothing but portable burners,” Becker jokes. “We all left thinking, ‘That was awesome. How can we make this work?’”
After a conversation with her mom and the realization that opportunities are meant to be taken, she decided to go for it. “If you don’t take the risk, you’ll never know,” Becker remembers thinking. “I was at a pivotal time in my life. I needed change—I needed to grasp onto something I could make my own.”
Now three years later, Becker reflects on what it’s taken to create a restaurant of her own and the leadership lessons she’s learned along the way.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
According to Becker, you won’t find her in the back office away from the action. If you want to be successful in this business, you need to dig in deep and get your hands dirty. And some days, that means bussing tables or folding hand towels.
“There’s a joy in being a part of every aspect of the business,” she says. “It gets me out on the floor, talking with tables and helping my staff when and where they need it. It’s refreshing and gives the assurance that everything is moving in a good direction.”
The direction of Bleu Duck Kitchen creative and fun. Becker adds that her team has opted for “fun dining” rather than fine dining. “We want you to get to know who we are,” she says. “We want to push your taste buds and make you wonder why certain textures and flavors go together.”
In addition to pushing the limits with the dinner menu, Bleu Duck Kitchen has become known for the experiences they create, including Saturday Brunch, Ladies’ Bunco Night and a Kentucky Derby Party.
“We believe in creating experiences because that’s what people remember,” she says. “We’re always looking for events that make you think and are hands on.” At the same time, simplicity is key. “We’re not trying to be big and extravagant, we just want to be approachable and provide opportunities that push you out of your comfort zone to try new things.”
Embracing a trial and error approach, Becker knows it’s experimentation that shapes great ideas; some work, some don’t—and that’s okay. Becker says, “People can sense your excitement, and it will give you drive to keep creating new things.”
COMMUNITY OF SUPPORT
When asked about being a woman in the restaurant industry, Becker says she’s been fortunate to have been surrounded by strong women her entire career. From working with mother-daughter duo Thelma and Patty Holland at the Town and Country Cafe, to her staff at the Rochester Golf and Country Club, Becker says she’s received nothing but support.
“People have always respected me for what I brought to the table,” she says. “I’ve had such great support and have worked for incredible chefs who allowed me to do my own thing while teaching me along the way.”
Now as a restaurant owner, Becker says she’s inspired by the number of women making waves in the local restaurant scene. “It’s inspiring to look around and see women who are doing well,” she says. Respect for other business owners is foundational to Becker’s leadership because when it comes to competition, she believes there’s always more room at the table.
“As a business owner, you have to embrace every restaurant that’s opening up and growing,” she says. “It’s up to us to support one another and give other restaurants high praise because investing your time, money, heart and soul into starting a business is hard work.”
Along with camaraderie among fellow restaurateurs, Becker says it’s been exciting to see the Rochester restaurant community embracing new styles, drawing on influences from bigger cities or geographic regions—a trend she says will continue giving area residents and tourists the options they’re looking for.
“Our community is small, but growing,” Becker says. “Rochester is probably one of the best representations of how tight-knit this industry can be, and a lot of our restaurants are women-driven.”
Outside of her life at Bleu Duck Kitchen, Becker is a wife, mother and stepmother, all full-time roles in themselves. She says a life of family and fun outside of work is what establishes a healthy balance.
“I’m fortunate to have a huge support system that embraces my business,” she says. “It’s not always blue skies, so I have reinforcement when I need it.” With a support system by her side, Becker also says fitness, good coffee and gardening are all passions that help her be the best version of herself.
While owning a restaurant may not seem to offer balance, Becker says the creative freedom and rejuvenation of her passions has helped her strike a balance that’s been working. “Passion creates a sense of energy that will give you the happiness you need to reach your dreams,” she says. “And along with passion, you’ll need the desire to advance, the willingness to learn, wanting to be bigger, better and ready to grow every single day.”
“When you’re working on yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, things will align for you,” she adds. Ultimately, it’s growth, Becker says, that develops a foundation for healthy leadership, where you can be open to new ideas, strong enough to handle criticism and thankful for the lessons that make you who you are.
“Be confident and determined, and don’t be afraid to be yourself,” she adds. “My flaws and mistakes have molded me into who I am today—someone who is 110% confident in my own skin.”
Tori Utley is Rochester area writer and entrepreneur.