Having a specialty food business might sound like a dream job, but (cake or no) itâ€™s no walk in the park. Long days of physically demanding labor, fresh products with short shelf lives (unless youâ€™re selling Hostess Twinkies), and a laundry list of health-department to-doâ€™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 doneâ€”and weâ€™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
Architect Natasha Case and real estate developer Freya Estreller were cooking in Estrellerâ€™s momâ€™s kitchen one day in 2008, kicking around ideas for an â€śart projectâ€ť involving ice cream and cookies.
The result was â€śfarchitectureâ€ť (a term the team coined to describe the intersection of food and architecture)â€”and the spark that started their company, Coolhaus Ice Cream. Today, the duo crafts ice cream sandwiches made from hormone-free dairy and farmerâ€™s market ingredients wrapped in edible rice paperâ€”with cheeky references to architecture greats (the â€śFrank Berryâ€ť stacks strawberry ice cream with snickerdoodle cookies).
Not only are these creations delicious, theyâ€™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), theyâ€™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, seriouslyâ€”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 itâ€™s difficult to make it work as a business. Food is tough from the profit margin standpointâ€”youâ€™re dealing with tiny profits. Itâ€™s also hard to get investment, as the bottom line isnâ€™t always there.
Food is more of a passion industryâ€”youâ€™re working insane hours and often the pay isnâ€™t good. But youâ€™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 makerâ€”and there are dire consequences to your decisions. Iâ€™ve worked at huge corporations where the work was fun and creative, but youâ€™re lucky if 0.1% of your decisions manifest in reality. Thereâ€™s a detachment there. This came naturallyâ€”this is the way that I operate best.
You can have the greatest PR and have your truck in the greatest locationâ€”but it comes down to the product speaking for itself.
Itâ€™s our mission to stay true to natural, high-quality ingredients and sourcing locally. People tell us, â€śyou donâ€™t have to make such a good product,â€ť 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 wasnâ€™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 diagramâ€”itâ€™s a little bit of being the same and different.
Whatâ€™s one challenge you face as an entrepreneur?
If you love what you do, youâ€™re always working. It never endsâ€”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. Itâ€™s a powerful thing when youâ€™re meeting with older, savvier business peopleâ€”they might not have a handle on their target market.
Iâ€™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 donâ€™t get into competition with other women. Use other women in business as your allies.