Clara’s Kitchen LLC

Clara’s Kitchen LLC

Getting Through the “Dips” of Entrepreneurship

December 2011

Motivation is an essential part of entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurs must find the energy, time and time again, to strive through the highs and the lows that will inevitably occur when starting a small business.  Finding that energy can be hard, which is why so many entrepreneurs follow their passions into business.  Their passion for what they do can be the force that drives them to continue through adversity.  If they can weather the storm, many entrepreneurs find recognition and prosperity on the other side.  For entrepreneur, Michael Kruk, owner of Clara’s Kitchen LLC and the originator of his namesake “Mike’s Famous Michigan Bean Dip,” enduring the trials of entrepreneurship has lead to some well-deserved recognition and growth.

Mike-Dip-Tray-248x300Michael Kruk started making his famous bean dip almost 30 years ago.  At the time, he was a vegetarian and he wanted a bean dip that used healthy and fresh ingredients.  He started making his own Mexican-style bean dip with refried beans, vegetables and spices, but then he got an idea from a friend to include peanut butter in his dip.  She told him peanut butter is often used in some Mexican cooking and that is mellows the heat.  Soon, other people were trying it and they were all surprised by the unique and great taste.  Mike considered marketing his bean dip for many years.   Finally, about 2 years ago, Mike decided to try to sell his dip on the open market.

Kruk first contacted the “Can-Do Kitchen” a local kitchen incubator that helps entrepreneurs who need commercial kitchen utilities and expertise to perfect their products.  Kruk started working with Can-Do-Kitchen manager, Lucy Bland on standardizing his recipe. However, he did not have a lot of business experience and did not know how to start the business.  The staff recommended that he get in touch with the Southwest Michigan Region of the MI-SBTDC at Western Michigan University.  After going to a few events held by the MI-SBTDC, Kruk decided to ask for help.  John Schmitt, a small business consultant with the MI-SBTDC, started working with Kruk on the details that come with running the business.  John assisted Kruk on establishing pricing for wholesale and retail and working on his marketing.  “The experience has been very positive and helpful,” said Kruk.  “John really knew a lot and he had many helpful little tips that I was able to use.”

Kruk started by selling his dip at local farmer’s market, but he admits, “I didn’t want to just sell at farmer’s market.”  So, Kruk went looking for opportunities with local retailers.  He very quickly expanded his offering to local restaurants and grocery stores.  After starting with hand-make labels that went on the dip Mike worked with Brakeman company to design a more professional label.  Increasing his production meant careful consideration on things like UPC codes.  Kruk got help from a lot of friends and also worked with the MSU Product Center who helped him with contacting a UPC reseller.  He has been producing the entire product out of the Can-Do kitchen location. Now, Mike’s Famous Bean Dip is available in six local stores, two local restaurants, and is available at the Bronson Hospital Café.

Just as the business was starting to progress, Kruk hit a snag.  Some health complications landed him in a hospital for ten days.  He had lifting restrictions for two months and the business stalled.  Kruk was unsure of how much he would be able to grow the business.  Kruk needed to decide whether to continue on with the business.  “Everyone was saying that I was just on the edge of moving up, so I had to go back and give it a try,” recalled Kruk.

Kruk’s hard work and determination seems to have paid off.  He recently won the Westborn Market Product Placement Competition Award at the Making It in Michigan Trade Show.  As a reward, Mike’s Famous Bean Dip will be available in three Westborn stores in Southeast Michigan.  Kruk acknowledges that he has not been able to do it alone.  “My wife, Caren Braymer, helped me so much with getting the business going.  She has been amazing.”

Kruk is excited about the award and the opportunities in the future.  “I really want to create a tasty food product that’s also healthy,” said Kruk.  “And having more places to buy it.”  He knows the difficulty of starting a small business and offers some advice to other entrepreneurs.  “Learn to trust your gut and seek assistance from organizations like the MI-SBTDC and the MSU Product Center.  Do solid, quality work and and don’t be afraid.”