Former Addie + Dash of Inspiration = CookingWithJames

By Matt Van Hoven 

The beauty of advertising is that it can bring value to any venture &#151 whether for a major multi-national or your personal brand. So if you’re out of work and hoping to develop an idea you’ve had, your advertising skills will undoubtedly help it get off the ground. And these days independence is where it’s at, so check out this story about a guy who applied his ad skills to his dream job and made it work.

James Stolich ended his official career in advertising as an art account director at Razorfish. There he worked with such clients as Microsoft, HP, Williams-Sonoma, revamping Web sites and art directing his keister off while simultaneously building his own food-centric brand. He left the fish last December to pursue CookingWithJames, his underground in-home elaborate dinner party business &#151 and Stolich used his ad-skills (and cooking tricks) to make it all happen.

James tells us he enjoyed the ad business but after getting a taste for cooking (savory Italian foods), he wanted only to pursue a life of creating culinary wonders. Good for him. He started things off simply enough, making dinners for friends until the costs got a bit high and he began asking for donations from guests (he held these parties pretty regularly, he says).

Well as they say, when people are willing to pay for something you make, you’ve got yourself a business. And like that, Stolich found a niche in “underground” supper clubs &#151 a trend that popped up in 2001. Stolich brings his gear to a client’s house where he and a few helpers cook and serve multi-course meals. And his ad-skills really set the business off.

“Over the past few years I used my agency and interactive experience &#151 particularly around social media and building communities &#151 to promote CookWithJames and get the word out. We were featured on Thrillist last year, for example, and most recently on”

LA Times writer Jenn Garbee even featured CookingWithJames in the first chapter of her book, Secret Suppers (Joel Stein wrote about the secret supper phenomenon in Time). The word-of-mouth buzz he generates is cheap and effective &#151 perfect for a small business.

Beyond the secret suppers, Stolich also hosts a blog where he shares recipes and teaches cooking classes each week. Today he’s teaching culinary wannabes about seafood &#151 next week, gnocchi. Great, now we’re hungry. These pieces keep people interested and provide easy access to info about what he does.

Stolich says he still gets a lot of business from referrals. With food, a recommendation from a happy customer goes farther than a print ad any day. But in developing a strong brand online, he provides means for potential customers to get a feel for his product. And you can too &#151 whether you’re starting a basket-weaving company or reinventing the wheel, you have the power to access a community (if there is one) interested in your widgets. So get out there and do it!

To learn more about Stolich’s business, click here.

More: “What One Man Has Been Doing Since Getting Laid Off From His Ad Job”