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Posted on Mar 9th 2021


A behind the scenes look at Young Chefs Academy's Founder and CEO

Julie Burleson's inspiring journey as Young Chefs® Academy's Founder and CEO

"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent." ~ Douglas MacArthur
  As many pictures will do, these two recently inspired me to stop and reflect on the long and winding road that is my journey with Young Chefs Academy. I hope you enjoy this little trip along the way of my many adventures as Founder and CEO. Buckle up! It was the summer of 2016, as I look on my phone's "Time hop" (see picture above, left), I see my two grown children, Rachel, newly graduated from Belmont University and my son Andrew, a recent high school graduate preparing to begin his freshman year at Belmont University, standing in front of a YCA classroom in Marietta, GA. The other picture (above, right) is of our Marietta, GA owner, Chad Polikov, celebrating his four-year anniversary with YCA. How did both of my kids end up working alongside me at a YCA that had already been in existence for several years, some 900 miles from home in Waco, Texas? The story of this summer is a microcosm of Young Chefs Academy. Although a sometimes bumpy one, I'm happy to say the road today is paved with focus and clear vision and driven on by a team unified in purpose and passion. Back to that fateful summer that congers up memories of long hot days, painting, cleaning, teaching classes full of happy children, laughing, getting lost in an unfamiliar city trying to find that one exotic spice store, with so many memorable moments in between. It's those memories that have become fonder as time moves on, the kind that bear repeating around the family holiday table.
I have learned that being a leader of a company means having to wear whatever hat needs to be worn to keep the company on track, whether it's pursuing the company vision and mission, maintaining core values, protecting your brand, supporting your team, inspiring students, and so on.
The hat I found myself wearing this particular summer was that of a local franchise owner, having taken over a location after the sudden exit of the previous owner. This required some quick decisions, but it was a no-brainer for me. I knew this was the right step to take to protect all stakeholders. This included the customers and community of Marietta, who deserved the experience they had come to expect. I knew that if I could get the right owner in place, this store would flourish. (Side note, this is basically the definition of a successful franchise model, get the right owners in place who can follow a proven system, provide them with the proper support tools, and success will follow). I had a lot of work to do and in a short time to have the Academy ready for YCA's busiest season, Summer Camps. The first task at hand was staffing. Enter my two recently graduated children. Did they have dreams and aspirations of owning and operating a YCA? Sadly, no. Did they need work? Appreciate the YCA model and mission? Have a good work ethic? Why, yes. They were hired. The rest is a blur of getting a shop into shape, interviewing teachers, organizing my marketing strategy, networking in the community, all things that came back to me like riding a bike. To say this "boots on the ground" experience was invaluable as the leader of the brand, is an understatement.
As a franchisor, knowing first-hand the day-to-day experience of franchise owners is critical in building trust within your system.
Obviously, this can be achieved in ways other than the radical way I chose; but it was the right strategic move at this juncture. As I reflect on this summer, I appreciate this pivotal time when the ship had finally made that wide turn. The culture was aligning with our Core Values, Mission and Vision. This wasn't always the case, and the path that led to this place was sometimes a turbulent one, one I've openly shared because it's an important part of who we are today; additionally, if it helps just one aspiring franchisor avoid some of the pitfalls I've experienced, it's worth sharing. The largest stumbling block was during the first year when the company experienced unfettered and explosive growth. (for anyone who isn't familiar with franchising, this might sound like a success story.) One of the many negative results of this "wild west" approach to growing a franchise, was that the culture created itself and was cemented in place. I was na�ve about the franchise model. I was starry eyed and excited about this inspiring business I had created.
I didn't have the experience nor possess adequate knowledge of what makes up a successful franchise model, to realize that by not responsibly controlling the growth, I in turn gave up control of any dreams I had for a healthy company culture - a critical component that is the backbone of a strong franchise.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016. The YCA brand is stronger. This wiser CEO (yours truly) knows what it's going to take to keep the company on track and fulfill the vision of making a positive impact on children's lives through teaching the joy and value of cooking - one owner at a time. That summer played out as I had envisioned. We got the location in shape, hired quality teachers, the camps filled up and children and parents were happy. It wasn't long before I had a pool of prospective franchise owners to interview. I remember the day I met Chad and his wife that following fall. I immediately knew Chad was a serious prospect. He asked the right questions, had done his homework, shared an appreciation for the work we were doing. Chad went through our qualification process and became the proud new owner of the YCA of Marietta, Georgia, and turned it around 180 degrees. It hasn't always been easy for him, no business story is 100% smooth sailing; but Chad is passionate, committed and knows what it takes to be successful, and continues to steadily meet his goals. I'm proud to say that YCA is a different company than it was ten and even five years ago. I'm a different leader than I was ten years ago. I owe this to so many people, my husband, my family and friends, franchise mentors who gave me a voice and confidence to pursue my purpose, our passionate franchise owners, our awesome customers, and my AMAZING leadership team who I'm blessed to say cares about the YCA brand as much as I do. Rachel, now working in the music industry and Andrew in motion pictures, both still talk about how invaluable that work experience was for them that memorable summer, and how it prepared them in so many ways for their current jobs. And they can't wait until we open a location in their hometown so they can work at YCA part time! (This makes a mom's heart happy. However, both have made it very clear that YCA is not their career calling ?.) Stay tuned, we're all coming soon to a city near you! To learn more about Young Chefs Academy, visit