Having a specialty food business might sound like a dream job, but (cake or no) it’s no walk in the park. Long days of physically demanding labor, fresh products with short shelf lives (unless you’re selling Hostess Twinkies), and a laundry list of health-department to-do’s send many would-be food entrepreneurs screaming for the hills. (Not to mention the fickle nature of foodies, who ditch one trend for the next quicker than you can say bacon-infused bourbon.)
It takes a special breed to sell an edible product, but it can be done—and we’ll show you how! Check in every Friday in March, for a new female food entrepreneur sharing her perspective on crafting a successful business.
The Truckers: Coolhaus Ice Cream
The result was “farchitecture” (a term the team coined to describe the intersection of food and architecture)—and the spark that started their company, Coolhaus Ice Cream. Today, the duo crafts ice cream sandwiches made from hormone-free dairy and farmer’s market ingredients wrapped in edible rice paper—with cheeky references to architecture greats (the “Frank Berry” stacks strawberry ice cream with snickerdoodle cookies).
Not only are these creations delicious, they’ve brought the 20-somethings serious success. Since their 2009 debut at the Coachella Valley Music Festival (selling sandwiches from a refurbished postal Jeep trimmed in hot pink that they found on Craigslist), they’ve expanded exponentially, with a fleet of trucks in LA, NY, Austin, and Miami, a brick-and-mortar store in Culver City, and sandwiches in Southern California Whole Foods Markets.
And we got to chat with co-founder Natasha Case about her experience. Read on, and then, seriously—go get some ice cream.
What challenges are unique to starting a food-oriented business?
People get into the food industry as a hobby, but it’s difficult to make it work as a business. Food is tough from the profit margin standpoint—you’re dealing with tiny profits. It’s also hard to get investment, as the bottom line isn’t always there.
Food is more of a passion industry—you’re working insane hours and often the pay isn’t good. But you’re doing it because you love being around food and feeding people and watching people enjoy your product.
So why was the entrepreneur track so attractive to you?
You can be a decision maker—and there are dire consequences to your decisions. I’ve worked at huge corporations where the work was fun and creative, but you’re lucky if 0.1% of your decisions manifest in reality. There’s a detachment there. This came naturally—this is the way that I operate best.
You can have the greatest PR and have your truck in the greatest location—but it comes down to the product speaking for itself.
It’s our mission to stay true to natural, high-quality ingredients and sourcing locally. People tell us, “you don’t have to make such a good product,” but when people try [our product], it becomes clear what Coolhaus is about.
Why do you and Freya make great partners?
We have very complimentary skill sets. Freya is definitely the business and numbers background. I wasn’t really trained, so she brought that to the table. I thought Coolhaus was going to be an art project, and then it was able to be a business. You have to share a Venn diagram—it’s a little bit of being the same and different.
What’s one challenge you face as an entrepreneur?
If you love what you do, you’re always working. It never ends—you always end up talking about it at dinner parties, and it can be draining and exhausting. Make time to step away and not talk about it for a few hours a week.
What about being a young female founder? Has that worked for or against you?
There are a lot of opportunities in being young. It’s a powerful thing when you’re meeting with older, savvier business people—they might not have a handle on their target market.
I’d say to use what you perceive as a challenge (like your age or gender) to make your business a success. Turn things that seem like obstacles around. And don’t get into competition with other women. Use other women in business as your allies.