Celebrity chef Carla Hall’s introduction to entrepreneurship came when she was a Girl Scout in Nashville.
“I loved going door to door and talking to people and getting to know them when I sold cookies,” says Hall, who appears as a judge on Food Network’s Girl Scout Cookie Championship. “I remembered from year to year what people would get… It helped that I was writing down the orders—and I was very particular about the cookie form,” she recalls. “I had really good handwriting, and I wanted [to always use] the same pen so it was the same color ink.”
Hall started her career as an accountant for Price Waterhouse, realized that wasn’t for her, and then went to France to model. Eventually, she returned to the states and went to cooking school, earning a degree that got her various chef positions in Washington, DC.
And that’s when she got her big break—a role on season five of Top Chef. Hall was voted “Fan Favorite,” charming audiences with her “hootie hoo!” catchphrase and ineffable spirit. The exposure helped her fuel a successful catering business and, later, a cookie business and Nashville-style hot chicken restaurant in Brooklyn. Hall was also tapped for a role on ABC’s The Chew, a hybrid cooking + talk show that aired for seven seasons.
Now that The Chew has ended, Hall is excited about other TV projects she’s working on, including the cooking show Crazy Delicious and the Girl Scout Cookie Championship, a baking competition in which chefs use Girl Scout Cookies to create the ultimate desserts. (The show premieres on Food Network on Monday, February 3, at 8:00 p.m. ET, and runs the three following Mondays.)
Recalling more about her time in Girl Scouts, Hall says, “I started as a Brownie, and I was a Girl Scout until high school. I went to Girl Scout camp every year. My mother was a troop leader, and in my family being in Girl Scouts felt like Girl Power!”
She loved judging the Girl Scout Cookie Championship.
“It brought back all these memories about the cookies—[which was] my first entrepreneurial experience. There’s something really comforting about how people come together this time of year.”
Read on for the secrets of Hall’s success as an entrepreneur.
- Don’t underestimate the power of tenacity.
“I don’t give up. I don’t take no for an answer,” Hall says. “Even if it’s putting together a bookcase: if it’s wrong, I will take it apart and put it together again as many times as I have to in order to get it right.”
- Hold yourself to the highest standards.
“Even at 55, I push through,” she says. “Whatever I do, I hold myself to a higher standard than others would hold me to.”
- Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
Hall believes this is key to success in endeavors big and small. For example, someone once asked her to do a short video about being a chef. She could’ve just talked for a minute into her iPhone and hit send—but that’s not her style.
“I shot myself in different clothes and then spliced it all together—because that’s what I would want. It’s putting myself in the place of the people I’m doing the thing for.”
- Take pride in your work ethic.
“I will never ask somebody to do something I’m not willing to do myself,” she says. “I did an auction dinner at someone’s house, and afterward I was cleaning the stove. I was told ‘you don’t have to do that,’ but I don’t see it that way.”
- Do your homework.
“I learned some of my greatest lessons from working with other people,” she says. “When I was catering, I had my own company, and even though I would never do huge events, I would hire myself out as a chef with a company that would do big events at the Kennedy Center. I did it to learn the systems they were using. The only way to figure out those systems is to work with a bigger company that has the budget and the infrastructure.”
- Take hiring seriously.
Hall says she learned a lot about how to focus an interview to really make sure you’re confident about a candidate’s skill set, rather than casually taking for granted what they bring to the table.
“It’s about asking the right questions. We make a lot of assumptions about what people know,” Hall says, adding that it’s critical to ask candidates to break down the skill sets required to complete key tasks rather than assuming, based on their resume, that they know how to do the work.
- Surround yourself with the right support.
“Know what your weaknesses and strengths are and hire for your weaknesses,” she says. “I don’t want ‘yes’ people around me.”
- Take your hard-earned lessons with you.
Hall’s Brooklyn restaurant is closed now, but she’s taken a lot away from the intense experience.
“All the work that I did [in opening the restaurant] I will parlay into another kind of food business someday.”