These fledgling entrepreneurs launched their businesses within the past year, just as the economy was beginning to show signs of unraveling. What are they doing to stay afloat now, and what advice can a seasoned expert offer?

Home cooking

Dennis Ryan and Megan Munitz launched Fraiche Kitchen, which offers in-home cooking classes, in November 2007 to teach people what many top chefs already know: Local, organic ingredients taste better.

Mr. Ryan and Ms. Munitz – graduates of Kendall College’s accelerated culinary arts program – charge $150 a person for groups of eight to 20 people.

Since opening, Ms. Munitz says, they’ve hosted 20 in-home lessons – three-hour sessions to prepare a three-course meal.

“We start by teaching a cooking technique, then about sustainability,” says Ms. Munitz, 28, who previously worked in kitchens at Spiaggia and NoMi in Chicago. “Towards the end, we eat, answer questions and see where the conversation takes us.”

The conversation, she says, is usually about organic foods, an industry with $20 billion in U.S. sales last year that is projected to grow to $23 billion by yearend, according to the Organic Trade Assn. in Greenfield, Mass.

Despite rising interest in organics, Mr. Ryan and Ms. Munitz haven’t hosted an in-home cooking lesson since April. “It’s a luxury item,” says Mr. Ryan, 39, a former manager at Green City Market in Chicago. “When the economy is down, people aren’t willing to drop that kind of money on one evening among friends.”

To fill the gap, the duo has started offering employee seminars at local companies. An hour-long seminar for up to 40 people costs $750.

They’ve given 30 corporate seminars on topics such as sustainable living, how to shop for healthy foods and the benefits of organic cooking.

EXPERT ADVICE: Shelley Young is founder of the Chopping Block – a 12-year-old cooking school with locations in Lincoln Square and the Merchandise Mart.

She believes the Fraiche Kitchen duo should lower their prices. “Charging $150 (per person) is too much for an in-home cooking class,” says Ms. Young, 42.

In terms of brand-building, she says, as a small business with few resources, Fraiche Kitchen should form partnerships within the cooking and food industry.

“They should approach that by asking what they can do to contribute to that community,” Ms. Young says. “This will help to build their reputation and create industry awareness.”

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