Happy Foodie Friday! This is the fourth installment of our series on successful female food entrepreneurs. If you missed them, check out our previous interviews with Cowgirl Creamery, BabyCakes Bakery, and Coolhaus Ice Cream.
The Start-up: Nella Pasta
For Leigh Foster and Rachel Marshall, 20-somethings who were laid off on the exact same day from a Boston design firm, the decision to start a business came from the realization that if they didn’t create their own jobs, they would be out of them.
So Nella Pasta was born. At Nella Pasta (cleverly coined “Pasta With A Purpose,” as their flour, ricotta cheese, veggies, herbs, and spices are locally sourced and seasonal), they promoted themselves to “CEO, CFO, writer, resident dishwasher, marketer, sales associate, and janitor—and that’s even before [we] made pasta!” says Foster.
Since 2009, they’ve been selling their handmade Smoked Mozzarella, White Bean, and Sage Ravioli (in the fall) and Fresh Corn, Caramelized Onion, and Thyme Ravioli (in the summer) to slew of specialty stores and farmer’s markets. They also managed to win Daily Candy’s 2010 Start Small Go Big contest for aspiring entrepreneurs—and to squeeze us in for a behind-the-scenes peek!
Can you describe a routine “day in the life” at Nella Pasta?
RM: Nope, and that’s the fun of it! Yes, of course we have a general schedule—Monday we make fillings, Wednesday we actually produce the ravioli, and Thursday through Friday we package—but that’s just skimming the surface. We are constantly on the run at stores, markets, fixing the machine, finding ingredients, meeting with bloggers, interns, writers, and more. There’s always something to keep us on our toes!
What’s the biggest start-up lesson you’ve learned so far?
LF: You’ve heard it before, but most businesses fail. And even if you don’t fail in the first three years, don’t expect a paycheck. It takes time and a whole lot of patience and dedication, but if you stick with it, you really can succeed.
That said, be prepared to adapt to what we like to call a “recession” lifestyle. You may not be able to go on vacation, go out to dinner, or to movies—but hey, you can host a mean dinner party at home!
What challenges are exclusive to a food start-up?
RM: When starting a food business, you’d be shocked (or at least we were) at how much math there really is! Cooking is almost secondary to the countless formulas, ratios, and fractions. Also all the legal restrictions, regulations, and permits that one has to be aware of.
What are the best and worst things about signing your own paycheck?
LF: It can be scary not knowing what you’re doing and having to learn things as you go. At the same time, you’re in control of the business and the only way you know it’s being done right is to do it yourself.
An added bonus? Sometimes, when you feel like online shopping, you can because there’s no one looking over your shoulder.
We’ve heard other young female entrepreneurs say they get treated like “just girls.” Do you face that challenge?
LF: Yes, we certainly have had times where we were treated less than favorably. People immediately associate our young age with someone who isn’t serious—or even someone frivolous. There will always be someone, for whatever reason, who wants to give you a hard time. But, there are plenty of other vendors, customers, lenders, associates out there—so just move on to the next!
What individual qualities do each of you have that make a good team? Any suggestions on how to choose the right partner in crime?
LF: Rachel and I are constantly on opposite ends of the spectrum, which has always worked out to our advantage. When I’m stressed, she’s calm, when I’m too relaxed (read: lazy), she’s ready to go.
RM: In terms of what to look for, we were definitely surprised by how many hats, so to speak, we have to wear. When looking for a business partner, try to find someone who has a lot of experience in something that you don’t to help round out the business. Leigh has more of a business and marketing background, while I have more formal culinary training.
Any takeaway words for aspiring food entrepreneurs?
RM & LF: Starting a business can be scary, and being a female in the culinary world can be a bit daunting, but there’s so many things you can do when you put your mind to it. A life in the culinary world is exciting, rewarding, and of course, delicious—so live it up!