By Lorrie DeFrank
When Terri Davlantes started JAX Bridges in the fall of 2016 she was not sure what she wanted to do. Her concept involved something with food. Healthy home deliveries, maybe? Online content? Today her JAX Cooking Studio offers classes for all tastes and ages and hires professional chefs and dietitians to ensure quality and results.
With an impressive resume already – nurse, attorney, teacher, academic administrator … not to mention wife and mother of four – she nevertheless lacked the confidence and clarity to pursue her persistent ambition to teach people how to cook healthy food. “The Entrepreneurial Growth Division of JAX Chamber was instrumental in giving me the skills and the confidence I needed to take the leap,” she said.
The only girl among nine siblings, Davlantes was born and raised in Jacksonville. She followed her mother into nursing and worked in critical care at St. Vincent’s Hospital, later pursuing law, another family profession. She practiced health care law with the Rogers Towers firm then started to have children and stayed home for about 10 years to raise them. When the youngest was in kindergarten she returned to the workforce to teach at Florida Coastal School of Law, where she later became vice dean. From there she went to Jacksonville University to oversee a program to keep promising graduates in Florida.
“I was still working at JU and thinking I wanted to do something with cooking,” she said. “It’s scary to leave a full-time job where you get benefits and vacation and know you’ve got an income and take that leap into entrepreneurship.”
Coincidentally Davlantes had connected with Ellen Sullivan, an entrepreneur who was soon to become director of the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center (JWBC.) Davlantes called Sullivan’s mentorship invaluable, especially for steering her toward JAX Chamber’s entrepreneurial programs.
“Terri has this incredible passion to help others enrich their lives through food,” said Sullivan, now director, ATHENA—JWBC. “Before moving forward with her business plan, she conducted a market analysis that demonstrated there was unmet need for the services. By incorporating modern business tools with her skills and knowledge of health, business and large scale program design, she built a solid infrastructure to launch and grow her business. It is thrilling to see the excitement that both adults and children have about learning about healthy cooking at JAX Cooking Studio.”
From her nursing background, Davlantes realized that people were not teaching kids how to cook anymore, and that many parents hadn’t learned themselves. She knew the strong connection between food and health and wanted to make a difference. “We don’t usually teach people how diet can improve their health outcomes. We just prescribe medicine and maybe do surgery,” she said. “There’s a lot people can do with diet to feel better.”
But starting a cooking business involves much more than pots and pans. “When I took JAX Bridges I had no idea what my business model was going to be. It evolved into this,” she said of her 1,800-square-foot studio that hosts public and private classes, team-building sessions, and birthday parties, classes and summer camps for children. “They helped me create a value proposition and test it to make sure it would meet the needs of my target clients.”
Davlantes maintains that meeting weekly with other like-minded individuals kept her moving closer toward her goal of opening a new business. “JAX Bridges gave me the courage to move forward one step at a time,” she said. “I figured out that I really can leave this full-time job to start my own business. At the end of the program, I had narrowed down my focus and thought, ‘OK, this is what I am going to do.’”
JAX Bridges helped her survey potential customers and identify a strategic location prior to her June 2018 opening. She also participated in JWBC’s Customer Development program and attended selective Financial Matters workshops.
With her successful business continually growing, Davlantes hires professional chefs to teach classes while she has her hands full doing marketing, hiring, scheduling and ordering. She has mostly moved away from helping with dishwashing and mopping but still pitches in, as needed. Her husband Timothy, a family practitioner at Mayo Clinic, does her books.
Although plant-based classes usually sell out quickly and the studio offers such specialty series as cooking for cancer and diabetes, the curriculum is diverse and includes meat, fish and pastry classes, “Our motto is get people in and teach them that cooking is fun and doable,” Davlantes said.
Some of the current offerings include Havana Nights, Plant-Based Sushi, Family Pasta Night, The Art of Chocolate and Spring Break Kids’ Camp: Street Tacos.
“JAX Chamber is so well organized. The Entrepreneurial Growth Division is a gift to Jacksonville,” Davlantes said. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of our community and the Chamber recognizes that and supports entrepreneurs through its programs.”
To contact Terri Davlantes:
JAX Cooking Studio
14035 Beach Blvd., #6, Jacksonville, Florida