Ken Notari had long been interested in entrepreneurship, and after a 20-year military career, he and his wife Dani were already on the path to starting their own business. But it was after he attended the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration (SHA) that everything fell into place.
“EBV really helped us pull together all the disparate pieces of our plan and set priorities,” he says. “It provides the forum to get the help you need—and everybody requires assistance, mentorship, and/or a solid support network.” Ken and Dani opened their restaurant, Nude Fude, in Charlottsville, VA, in May 2015.
Nude Fude builds on the increasingly popular movement to use locally sourced ingredients. “Our concept makes great local meat and produce accessible to more people by lowering the price point and shortening the service timeline compared to other area, farm-to-table establishments,” Ken says. “We source as much as we can from within 100 miles, make everything from scratch, and get our customers on their way in five to ten minutes at a $14 check average.”
EBV is a national program—implemented by participating institutions—founded on the notion that U.S. military veterans with disabilities both face unique challenges and offer unique skills and perspectives. SHA has been a member of the EBV Consortium since 2012, annually offering a program focused on hospitality and food-and-beverage entrepreneurship.
Over the course of his career, Ken has accumulated the knowledge and experience that set the stage for his entrepreneurial venture and ultimately led him to EBV-Cornell. He holds traditional academic degrees in business management, and after his military career, he attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
The CIA offers a collaborative degree program with SHA, typically geared towards undergraduate students. Wondering if there were any relevant informal educational opportunities at Cornell, Ken reached out to Emily Franco ’92, who directs the program and serves as liaison between the two institutions, and she suggested he look into EBV-Cornell. It turned out to be the perfect fit for honing the synergy between his entrepreneurial and culinary ambitions.
Ken’s military experience shaped his perspective as an entrepreneur. “Even in a joint military environment, everyone is pulling in the same direction; in the business world, it’s ‘What’s in it for me?’,” he explains. “Understanding that this is not a bad thing—but just something to manage—is helpful in shaping relationships with suppliers, partners, customers and—most importantly—employees.”
And participating in EBV was largely about sharing the experience with fellow veterans, whom Ken views with humility and the highest regard. “The true value of EBV for me was the opportunity to study with some real heroes. Spending a few weeks with these men and women opened my eyes to the level of sacrifice less-fortunate service members endure … and the meaning of really digging deep.”
Starting and running one’s own business is no small task, but it offers the possibility of significant rewards, not the least of which are turning one’s passion into a livelihood and being one’s own boss. “After serving for a full 20-year career,” Ken recalls, “I realized I really didn’t want to make money for someone else.”
With his restaurant concept successfully off the ground, Ken finds satisfaction in the day-to-day challenges. “I enjoy the never-ending, all-encompassing battle to manage and appropriate resources. The difficult part is the most precious resource is your own time—that means setting priorities and sticking to them is essential.”
What ultimately drives an entrepreneur like Ken is the accomplishment of creating a strong team who share in his vision and delivering something that resonates with people. “Building a solid staff and earning loyal customers,” he says, “are the greatest rewards.”
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