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How Instagram helped former NFL player Tobias Dorzon find six-figure success as a personal chef

As a student-athlete at Jackson State University, Tobias Dorzon was known for more than his on-the-field abilities. When he wasn't at practice or competing in a game, he could be found on campus hosting fish fries for his teammates.

"Cooking was something I always loved," he tells CNBC Make It. "But it wasn't until I ventured off and stopped playing [sports] that I realized I loved it more than football."

After two years in the NFL and Canadian Football League, Dorzon turned his passion for cooking into a full-time career. His catering company, Victory Chefs, provides services to businesses in the Washington, D.C. area and to professional athletes and celebrities across the country.

Chef Tobias Dorzon
Photo courtesy of Adam McMillan
Chef Tobias Dorzon

From football to the kitchen

Dorzon knew early into his professional football career that it wouldn't be a long-term situation for him. To set himself up for success after the league, he spent his off-seasons attending culinary school at the Art Institute of Washington. When his football career came to an end in 2012, he went back to his hometown to complete his degree before moving to Brazil for three months to continue his culinary studies there.

Trading in his cleats for a chef's coat seemed like a natural transition for the young athlete, but Dorzon admits that his first year as a full-time chef proved to be a difficult one financially.

"Finishing culinary school and working in an actual restaurant making $38,000-$40,000 a year was a bit hectic for me," says the 33-year-old. "It came with a bit of a shock, but I knew culinary was something I wanted to do and I knew that with the drive and determination I had that something was going to come from it."

After working at several D.C. restaurants, including the Ritz-Carlton's, he quit his restaurant job to launch his own catering company, Victory Chefs, in 2014. Dorzon used his Instagram account as a marketing tool to showcase his culinary creations while providing catering services to local residents and businesses.

"I post a lot on my page because I work hard on my craft and on how my food looks," he says. "I usually tag a foodie and [my followers] would tag other people under my pics."

Building a clientele

His posts of mouth-watering dishes like jerk shrimp pasta, Thai chili jerk wings and cilantro lime lamb chops eventually caught the attention of Washington Redskins player Santana Moss in 2015.

"One of his buddies followed me on Instagram and tagged him under my pics," explains Dorzon. "One day in the middle of the night I was up and just decided to start liking a bunch of Santana's pics. He just so happened to be up as well and sent me a DM asking if I was in the D.C. area."

The next day, Dorzon met with Moss at his home and demonstrated his cooking skills with an herb roasted chicken, broccolini and sweet potatoes. Moss hired him on the spot and offered Dorzon a salary five times more than what he had been making working in restaurants.

A week later, Moss took some of the food Dorzon prepared for him to the Redskins' locker room for other players to try.

"He came back and told me, 'DeSean Jackson wants you to start cooking for him and Trent Williams wants you to cook for him,'" says Dorzon. "Within a month I had five Redskins players I was cooking for."

Moss describes Dorzon as an individual with a unique flair that sets him apart from other cooks that he's encountered.

"To be honest, chef [Dorzon] has a different type of swag and confidence about his craft," says Moss. "So he made [hiring him] a no-brainer."

His work with Redskins players also helped Dorzon land other NFL clients, like Tyrod Taylor when he was with the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Robert Golden. He eventually developed a close relationship with Jackson, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dorzon credits Jackson with helping him to expand his client reach beyond athletes.

"With [DeSean] being from California he has a lot of connections, and he put me in a position to do stuff with so many different people," he says. "I worked with The Game and Snoop Dogg all through DeSean."

New ventures

Dorzon's relationship with Taylor, who now plays for the Buffalo Bills, has resulted in a business partnership that includes the recent launch of his food truck, Victory Truck.

For years, Dorzon said he resisted the idea of expanding his business to a food truck because he was content with the pay and flexibility of being a private chef. But after doing more research — and reading about a California chef who made $1.2 million in one year from a food truck — he decided to give the idea some more serious thought.

On November 30, 2017, Victory Truck held its grand opening and in January 2018 it hit the streets of D.C. for the first time.

"The first night we went out we had 300 people waiting outside for food," he says. "We made about $4,500 in three hours."

He says the food truck is a stepping stone to expanding his business and one day opening up a full-service restaurant.

"There are a lot of foodies out there who are 40-plus and not on Instagram all the time, and I want them to know who I am as a chef," says Dorzon. "I can do the food truck for a year or two years and show up in all areas of [D.C., Maryland and Virginia] and show people who I am. So when it's time to open a restaurant they can say, 'I've heard of the Victory Truck, so this must be the restaurant.'"

"I'm more successful now as a chef than I was playing professional football." -Tobias Dorzon, personal chef, founder of Victory Chefs

Dorzon recognizes that the rate at which his career has grown is uncommon. He admits that his dad, who worked as a chef at the Pentagon and in his own restaurant, didn't reach his level of success until later in his career.

"Right now, where I am in my career, I never knew I would be here this fast," he says. "It took my dad 10 to 15 years into his career before he started making six figures. I did that in my second year as a private chef."

He hopes his transition from football to cooking will show young people the importance of having a backup plan and prove that success can be found off the field.

"I want people to know being a chef is dope and not boring, and I always want to inspire the younger generation because some of them think you have to be a rapper or football player to be successful," he says. "I'm more successful now as a chef than I was playing professional football."

Video produced by Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo

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