- Jack Witherspoon, age 19, survived three battles with leukemia before his 18th birthday – and discovered a love of cooking during his time in the hospital for treatment.
- He wrote his first cookbook when he was 8 years old, and recently launched Chef Jack’s Kitchen. The company’s first product is a “skonie,” a cookie-scone hybrid. Witherspoon donates a portion of proceeds from skonie and book sales to childhood cancer research.
- Witherspoon told Business Insider that Chef Jack’s Kitchen is in talks with food services giant Sodexo to offer skonies and other baked goods in hospitals across the country.
- Witherspoon says that he has donated over $US150,000 to cancer research through the Jack Witherspoon Endowment for Pediatric Leukemia.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If Jack Witherspoon has anything to say about it, skonies will be the next big Instagram food sensation.
The 19-year-old chef and entrepreneur launched his first venture, Chef Jack’s Kitchen, in November with a scone-cookie hybrid in vanilla bean and cinnamon sugar flavours. The budding entrepreneur also authored a cookbook when he was just 8 years old after ending treatment for his second battle with pediatric acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
“I wouldn’t have written [the book] or gotten into cooking at all without the cancer,” Witherspoon told Business Insider. “It’s hard to rank [which I’m more proud of], to be completely honest, one wouldn’t have happened without the other. I want to show other kids how to make lemonade out of lemons, that’s been true through everything I’ve done and holds true to my company now too.”
Now with more experience in business, he donates a portion of proceeds from book and skonie sales to the Jack Witherspoon Endowment for Pediatric Leukemia Research. To date, the endowment has raised over $US150,000, and Witherspoon told Business Insider that Chef Jack’s Kitchen is close to signing a deal with food services giant Sodexo to offer skonies and other baked goods in hospital cafeterias across the country.
Witherspoon was first diagnosed with ALL at age 2, but was back in the hospital with a second occurrence just four years later. Witherspoon was pulled out of school and tried to entertain himself during long days of treatment.
“I remember it clear as day,” Witherspoon said. “I was in the hospital and it was 12:30 at night. There were no kids shows on, it was mostly just HGTV and those channels. This was the early 2000’s so it was just cable shows, and my mum was flipping through the channels and a Food Network show caught my eye, and I told her ‘wait, wait.’ I watched every show they had while I was there, it was something I could do to keep myself entertained. It really gave me the light I needed when I was in my treatment.”
Witherspoon worked with his mother to catalogue every recipe, from Rachel Ray to Emril Lagasse, so they could try them out once he was out of treatment. He was released, and the pair began working their way through the stack. Witherspoon told Business Insider they worked on a new recipe every night while developing the 60 featured recipes in the book.
“When I was 8, my mum and I sat down and we had accumulated all these recipes and thought we should publish the book,” Witherspoon said. “My mum was super instrumental in getting my thoughts on paper because I was only 8 at the time, and she wrote down all the measurements which are super important when you’re making a cookbook.”
Witherspoon’s mother continues to help the now-college student with his business ventures – since he started the business when he was a minor, she signed or co-signed a lot of registration forms early on to help get things started. According to Witherspoon, his mother was the brains behind the skonies’ brand and marketing, and she helped him negotiate potential investors’ offers.
“Oh, my mum is my hero,” Witherspoon said. “She’s been through everything with me. She sat with me in the hospital 99% of the time, and doing the cookbook with her strengthened our bond even more. She’s my partner in the company, too.”
Witherspoon is naturally pursuing a business degree from his local community college but hopes to transfer to the University of California, Los Angeles, while continuing to build his business. He has been cancer free for almost eight years after a third recurrence when he was 11.
“Sometimes people brush me aside and don’t take me seriously because I’m so young,” Witherspoon said. “I’ve learned being underestimated is not the worst thing. I’m knowledgeable about the company, and people are typically impressed, which makes it easier going into different corporate environments. And even though I’m 19 I look really young, so people think I’m even younger than I am.”
Witherspoon told Business Insider he wants to expand Chef Jack’s Kitchen’s offerings beyond Instagrammable skonies, even though he started out as more of a savoury chef.
“I have a really unique view of the market because I’m not really a sweets person,” Witherspoon said. “I actually came up with skonies because I wanted something that was like a cookie that wasn’t as sweet.”
Chef Jack’s Kitchen sells skonies online and at a selection of boutique grocers in Witherspoon’s native Redondo Beach, but he is eager to get his creation in front of children eating the “mundane and plain” hospital food he had for a large portion of his childhood.
“The hospital cafeterias are where I want to go because that’s where people will be impacted the most,” Witherspoon said.
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