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Mother's Day Interview Series - Raising a Family + Running a Food Business

 

This year for Mother's Day, we're sharing interviews with five mamas and food business founders who we admire.  If being a mom is the world's most challenging job, throw starting a food company into the mix and you've got a whole new category of challenges and rewards! In this interview series, we're taking a closer look at what it's like to navigate motherhood and entrepreneurship. From how these ladies built their businesses, balancing family and growing a food company, to resources that every mama can benefit from!   We're even sitting down with our very own CEO and Founder, Sylvie Charles, to share her story. Plus? Each and every one of these mamas is creating damn delicious food with a great mission to boot, and we think you need to know about it.  To celebrate Mother's Day, we're also hosting an epic giveaway, where 5 lucky winners can win a mother-powered prize pack with products from each of these brands. Enter the giveaway here until May 5th, and keep reading below to get all the interview details!

 

Interview with Kanchan Koya, PhD 
SPICE SPICE BABY


 I'd love to know how the idea for your business   came about. Was food a big part of your life and culture growing up? 

 I grew up with spices being an integral part of my kitchen and life in India. When I became a mother in the US and started offering my son spices in his baby   purées, I realized how many misconceptions there were around spices and what we can and can’t feed our kids. Spice Spice Baby was born to help demystify spices, shed light on their amazing health benefits and help more people around the world embrace their magic.

Did you start the business before or after you started thinking about having children? For me, there was a lot of internal struggle and fear around balancing a business baby that I loved with a human baby I was sure to love. What were your thoughts at the time?

Spice spice baby started as a blog so I wasn’t really thinking about it as a business back then. Once it began to grow into a genuine business I was already so deep in there was no turning back. Having seen so many amazing moms rock motherhood and entrepreneurship gave me hope that I could do it too!


What have been the biggest challenges for you as both a mom and a business owner? How do you balance the two?

I am working on being 100% present whether I’m in work mode or mommy mode. That helps me feel like I am doing justice to everything given the resources at hand. Presence is the most powerful offering one can make to others or ones work so that is my biggest priority and methodology to find that ever elusive ‘balance’.


How do you think you defined success before motherhood? Has your idea of success changed or stayed the same? Have you approached your business differently since becoming a mom?

I used to be focused on being recognized as accomplished and now I’m focused on creativity and adding value to the world. I’ve learned to be patient with my business since knowing that I have other priorities and that good things take time to build especially when you’re also raising two little people to become happy and healthy citizens of the world.


What do you love most about being a mama and a business owner?

Freedom freedom freedom and doing things on my own terms (for the most part ;-))


What do you do when you're feeling overwhelmed or burned out?  How do take time for yourself while running a business and being a mom?

I practice deep breathing, something I think is intense powerful and often overlooked. It relaxes me nervous system and puts everything in perspective right away.

What advice do you have for other moms who want to start their own business?

Just go for it! There’s never a perfect time. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Any resources you love and think other mom entrepreneurs/working mamas need to know about?

An app called Todoist that helps organize my to do lists and maintain my sanity.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, before starting your business and your family, what would it be?

Act despite the fear. There is no such thing as fearlessness but acknowledging fear and acting anyway is what will make things happen. In other words, when in doubt, take action!

Are your kiddos old enough to understand that their mama runs a company? Are there ways you involve them?

My 7 year old is aware and understands and I am so grateful I can expose him to the idea of a mom who is juggling work and momlife and doing what she loves. I involve him in recipe testing and cooking and I know he is a proud son when he tells his friends “my mom wrote a book”! :-)

Most importantly, what meal does a busy mama look forward to? What's the dish that always brings you comfort when life is at its craziest?

Indian street food or chaat specially pani puri! They would be the last meal I would want on Mother Earth period.

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Interview with Sylvie Charles, MD
JUST DATE SYRUP


 


 Tell us about how the idea for your business came   about. Was food a big part of your life and culture   growing up? 


 This is usually a very long, drawn out story. But, in a   nutshell,   food has always been an integral part of my   life. My mom and   aunt were always in our kitchen,   cooking up delicious Indian   dishes day in and day out.   Breakfast would be a cornucopia of   South Indian   breakfast dishes: upma, dosas, idlis, sambar, chutneys   of all kinds, and dinner was always focused on a   nourishing, flavorful curry paired with a delicious Indian rice. I always had a thing for the chutneys. Long story short, I became a doctor and ultimately had to take a medical leave of absence for a spine injury. During my time off, I came back to cooking and the incredible flavors that populate my food memories. I started a line of Indian achaars called Spice Mama, and when creating a modern version of tamarind-date chutney, created date syrup. I knew I had landed on something special.

Did you start the business before or after you started thinking about having children? What were your thoughts at the time?

My husband and I started trying while my business was growing, thinking that it would take time to get pregnant. Well, boom, happened on the first try. I was enormously excited about having a baby, but also anxiety ridden from how I would manage our rapid growth and my actual physical belly growth, haha. I was still a solo business owner at the time, and knew the time had come to invest in a team. It was then that I found my now business partner, which brought me a tremendous amount of ease that together we would be able to manage the struggles of growing a business while I was also growing a family.

What have been the biggest challenges for you as both a mom and a business owner? How do you balance the two?

The biggest challenge is feeling guilty, essentially all the time. Beating myself up because I haven’t achieved certain business goals, or beating myself up because I haven’t been present with the baby - for example, answering work emails while breastfeeding. I often feel that I miss working when I’ve focused on mothering needs for awhile, and vice versa. I know that Aya will be proud one day of all I’ve accomplished, and that I can be a strong example for her, but it doesn’t make a day (or many days for a work trip) away from her any easier. Right now, I am so sleep deprived. Aya is six months old, and instead of “resting when the baby rests”, I use her nap times to get as much work as I can done. I’m essentially a full time stay at home mom, and full time working mom, and hopefully I figure out how to balance these more successfully in the near future.

How do you think you defined success before motherhood? Has your idea of success changed or stayed the same? Have you approached your business differently since becoming a mom?

Success has a new meaning in my life. It’s not about the goal of being superhuman anymore, but it’s about doing the best I can. I’ve always been hungry for more, and always striving to achieve more. Just the acknowledgement and acceptance that I’m doing my best at running a business and being a mom is a success in itself. I have to keep working at that acceptance, it doesn’t come easy for a type A gal, and it’s an ebb and flow everyday.

What do you do when you're feeling overwhelmed or burned out? How do take time for yourself while running a business and being a mom?

Ha, I feel like I am perpetually overwhelmed and burned out these days, but I know that things will change soon because when my baby girl actually sleeps through the night, I feel like a new woman! For me, my biggest luxury is a good night’s sleep. So, when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed or burned out, I ask for help. I ask my husband, mother, mother-in-law for help so I can just sleep for one night! I must say, work trips used to be a chore but now are pretty fun...because I get to sleep.

What advice do you have for other moms who want to start their own business?

Make sure you’re willing to put in the hard work, sleepless nights, and speak with as many experienced people as you can. I would not have gotten to this point had I not listened to those more experienced around me. That being said, I also trusted myself and certain decisions I made that others didn’t agree with were the right decisions.

Any resources you love and think other mom entrepreneurs/working mamas need to know about?

If you’re in food CPG, Alli Ball and her Retail Ready course. Incubators like the one I was in, KitchenTown, provided an incredible platform on which to launch our product. I’m so grateful for both of these businesses for their guidance. Also, there are a number of facebook and google groups in CPG that I’d be happy to share more on.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, before starting your business and your family, what would it be?

Fundraise before you have a baby. :)

Are your kiddos old enough to understand that their mama runs a company? Are there ways you involve them?

Aya is 6 months old, but she squeals with delight whenever she sees a bottle of Just Date Syrup. My babies!

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Interview with Leetal Arazi
NY SHUK


I'd love to know how the idea for your business came about. Was food a big part of your life and culture growing up?

The idea for our business came about when we moved to the states and felt the need to not only represent our Middle Eastern culinary culture we grew up with, but we felt the need to be proactive in keeping our food traditions alive. Through our handcrafted pantry staples our goal is to give home cooks the tools and inspiration to cook more deliciously for their family and friends so they can create their own memories around the kitchen table.


Did you start the business before or after you started thinking about having children? For me, there was a lot of internal struggle and fear around balancing a business baby that I loved with a human baby I was sure to love. What were your thoughts at the time?

6 years ago we moved to nyc with 2 suitcases. We put everything we had (and also what we didn’t) in our business. There is so much financial uncertainty, at any given moment that I was really scared to bring a baby into this equation. The business also takes such an emotional toll that it makes you wonder if this is the best environment. But when you realize that this is the status quo of owning your own business, you also realize you can’t stop living because of it. These struggles will always be there and it's more about navigating life through these issues and not letting them stop you.

What have been the biggest challenges for you as both a mom and a business owner? How do you balance the two?

Ever since we started our business, I understood that balance does not exist. I tried many many times to implement ‘balance’ but I came to understand that when you run your own business, balance is just not a part of it and that's ok. Being on the search for balance is more exhausting.

When Lily came into the picture I knew that I was not even trying to look for balance. We try our hardest to have some non-negotiable time with her; weekends, bath and bedtime in the evenings and our quiet morning time. But sometimes we have an early meeting or a late event to attend and that's just the way it is. So more than trying to balance it’s about managing guilt. Guilt that I can't work as much as I need and guilt that I’m not spending as much time as I would want with Lily. Coming to terms with this situation is truly the key as when we are hard on ourself we do a disservice to everyone around us and mostly to ourselves.

Have you approached your business differently since becoming a mom?

Learning that time is the most precious resource we have and how to manage it properly was definitely something I was working on before I became a mother, but when Lily came into the picture I realized just how much this is crucial for our success both at home and in our business.
Learning to make the most of our time when working, which is a very hard challenge in itself as we work from home most of the time and the distractions are endless. And when spending time with Lily to make the most of it as well and not to let any work distract our time together.

What do you love most about being a mama and a business owner?

For me it's about Lily seeing that she can build from the ground up whatever she wants and desires. For her to know that she can be a force of change in the world. I want her starting point in life to be - ‘I can do this!’ The road might be hard and bumpy along the way but knowing that I can instill in her the ‘I’ve got this’ mentality that she would be able to apply to anything she does down the line gives me comfort.

What do you do when you're feeling overwhelmed or burned out? How do take time for yourself while running a business and being a mom?

Taking care of myself is definitely an area that I’m lacking, if I’m totally honest.

What advice do you have for other moms who want to start their own business?

Find your people. Find friends from your industry that will understand what you will go through so together you can pull up one another. Having people to celebrate the good days and to cheer for you on the bad days is crucial for survival.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, before starting your business and your family, what would it be?

My business advice would be don’t ever time travel. If I knew all the hurdles that would face us from the beginning, I might have chosen a different path altogether. And not knowing what's ahead is feeding the adrenaline junky in me. Some do extreme sports, I run a business.
Family advice would be don’t ever let fear stop you building a family.

Are your kiddos old enough to understand that their mama runs a company? Are there ways you involve them?

Lily is 15 months old, so she is not quite there in understanding what I do, but I certainly hope that she would want to take part in what we are doing one day.

Most importantly, what meal does a busy mama look forward to? What's the dish that always brings you comfort when life is at its craziest?

For me it’s not about what we eat that brings me comfort its more about who’s around the table. It can be just scrambled eggs and a simple salad, but getting to have those few moments to enjoy a meal together. And show Lily how important it is to have this time together around the table.

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Interview with Rachel Simons
SEED + MILL



I'd love to know how the idea for your business came about. Was food a big part of your life and culture growing up? 

I don't even know how to start answering this question! Food has always been a fundamental part of my life. As a young girl, I would cook with my mom or my sister in our kitchen, experimenting with our own recipes and selling baked goods out the front of our house. I then waitressed throughout college and spent countless hours watching chefs with curiosity and replicating their recipes at home. I collected cookbooks and chose almost every travel destination around where I would be eating the best food! But, the most important part of it for me is the way food brings families, friends and communities together. Funnily enough it wasn't until my late thirties that I finally made the career change from law to becoming a food entrepreneur. I am forever thankful to my co-founder, Lisa Mendelson, for encouraging me to make this change and finally pursuing my culinary passions! The vision for Seed + Mill started with Lisa, who grew up in Israel, where tahini and halva are both staple ingredients! After moving to New York, Lisa brought my other co-founder, Monica Molenaar, and I together and the three of us made Seed + Mill a reality!

Did you start the business before or after you started thinking about having children? For me, there was a lot of internal struggle and fear around balancing a business baby that I loved with a human baby I was sure to love. What were your thoughts at the time?

My kids were already 7 and 9 by the time my third baby, Seed + Mill, was born! I honestly look at new mothers with babies juggling new businesses and don't know they how they do it! Sylvie, Littal - wow you guys are rock stars! Balancing it all is still a juggle but nothing is harder than managing a business and dealing with severe sleep deprivation at the same time.

 

What have been the biggest challenges for you as both a mom and a business owner? How do you balance the two?

The biggest challenge for me is switching off and truly separating work hours from home and family hours. I hate how I often have to take work calls or deal with emails over a weekend - or work at events and the store on a weekend or evening. My kids and husband also need me to be fully present occasionally with them. This is a really important life challenge that I am still learning to master.

 

How do you think you defined success before motherhood? Has your idea of success changed or stayed the same? Have you approached your business differently since becoming a mom?

My definition of success has absolutely changed. Success, for me, now means learning a new skill, developing a new relationship, building resilience and putting it all into perspective. More than ever, I am trying to build a business with integrity, good values and ingredients that I am proud of. It is obviously nice to sell a lot more products and be financially secure as well :)

What do you do when you're feeling overwhelmed or burned out? How do take time for yourself while running a business and being a mom?

Ummmm. Wish I could pretend I had an inspirational and motivating answer for this, but the last time I exercised or had a manicure was a LOOONNNGGGGG time ago. When I am feeling overwhelmed I probably pick up the phone to call my sister, who is also running a small food business down in North Carolina with young kids!

What advice do you have for other moms who want to start their own business?

It is going to be exhausting, incredibly hard work and an emotional roller coaster, but if you truly love the product you are making, I can't help but feel that you will find success and it will all be worth it! My other top tip is to accept help from your friends and supporters and then pay it forward wherever you can! And lastly, don't be a perfectionist like me! As my husband is always reminding me, 'done is better than perfect'.

Any resources you love and think other mom entrepreneurs/working mamas need to know about?
If you have a CPG food business, then you NEED to listen to Alison Cayne's podcast, In the Sauce! Alison is the best example of someone paying it forward every day!

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, before starting your business and your family, what would it be?

Try not to panic at every challenge. You will overcome every crisis one way or another and it will all be okay in the end one way or another! 

Are your kiddos old enough to understand that their mama runs a company? Are there ways you involve them?

As every entrepreneur will tell you, there are days when you are on top of the world and days when you are overwhelmed or feeling disappointed when something hasn't worked out the way you wanted it to. There have been many days when I wonder if the stress and exhaustion is worth it. But, what keeps me going is the example I am setting for my kids around teaching them that we should never stop learning and face our challenges with courage and resilience. My daughter, Annika (10), recently asked me read an essay she had written for a school project about what it meant to be 'fearless'. I had no idea, but it turned out she had written an entire essay about how her mom had moved from Australia and changed careers in her 40s and started a food business. I honestly think I cried after reading this and could not have given her a tighter hug! I am always looking for ways to include the kids in the business and teach them to have a strong work ethic. Teaching kids that 'money doesn't grow on trees' can never start too early in my opinion! Seed + Mill recently exhibited at a food show in New York and I took my son, Oliver to work with me at our booth. Attached are some pics! I think all the 12 yr old girls were pretty excited to meet him at the show and I am sure we sold extra halva that day LOL!

Most importantly, what meal does a busy mama look forward to? What's the dish that always brings you comfort when life is at its craziest?

If I was back in my hometown, in Sydney Australia, I would say the Green Papaya & Shrimp Salad from my favorite Thai restaurant, "Spice I Am".

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Interview with Chitra Agrawal
BROOKLYN DELHI



I'd love to know how the idea for your business came about. Was food a big part of your life and culture growing up?

I grew up in a home where both of my parents cooked and food was always a central focus. My father is from North India and my mother is from South India so at the dinner table my brother and I were lucky to be able to experience both regional styles of cooking. My parents were essentially sharing a part of themselves with us each night. From a young age, I was captivated by it all – watching my father make rotis and yogurt from scratch and my mother roast and grind spice blends for stews and rices. Even though they both worked long hours, they were adamant about making a home-cooked meal every day. They also made it a point to take us to India each year and through those visits, I became very close to the older generation in my family. I continued to visit India into adulthood and become more interested in learning and preserving my family’s recipes which led me to start writing a blog called the ABCDs of Cooking about 10 years ago while I was working a job in Marketing. The blog eventually grew into a platform from which I was creating my own recipes inspired by local farms and other cuisines and serving them at my pop-up dinners, cooking classes and at markets in Brooklyn and eventually led me to write my own cookbook, Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn which was dedicated to my mother and the foods she grew up eating in South India. During that time, I had also developed several achaar or Indian pickle recipes. I loved the condiment from an early age but realized it was impossible to buy achaar that tasted homemade here in the US so I began making my own using produce from my farm share – heirloom tomatoes, rhubarb, garlic, green gooseberries. Seeing the response they were getting, my husband who is a food packaging designer came to me with the idea of launching the products to a wider audience. We created the brand Brooklyn Delhi together and the achaars became our first line of products.

Did you start the business before or after you started thinking about having children? For me, there was a lot of internal struggle and fear around balancing a business baby that I loved with a human baby I was sure to love. What were your thoughts at the time?

I started the business before I had a baby. To be honest I had no idea how hard having a baby was, let alone running a business with a baby. I grew up with a working mom and she never let on how hard it was to balance career and kids. It took me having a baby to understand the weight of it all.

What have been the biggest challenges for you as both a mom and a business owner? How do you balance the two?

I’d say my biggest challenge is overcoming guilt when the business takes me away from Alok either physically or mentally. I’m also trying to be better at being more present when I’m with him. At the end of the day I have to remember that these times with Alok are fleeting and that whatever is happening with the business can wait – I’m not saving lives over at Brooklyn Delhi.

How do you think you defined success before motherhood? Has your idea of success changed or stayed the same? Have you approached your business differently since becoming a mom?

My ideas about success have stayed the same but I think it’s my timeline to that success that has changed after having a baby. I don’t feel like I have to sprint to the finish line anymore. If anything, my approach to the business has become a lot more precise. I have a razor focus on making it work. Having a kid has made me understand the importance of prioritization and not trying to do everything but focusing on the most important things.

What do you love most about being a mama and a business owner?

I love feeding my Alok and seeing the look on his face when he tries something new that he loves. He is still too young to know what I do but I love that my work is a part of what he eats every day.

What do you do when you're feeling overwhelmed or burned out? How do take time for yourself while running a business and being a mom?

This is so nerdy but I go to bed a little earlier and get under the covers with a new cookbook or food memoir that I’m super excited about and read until I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s something I used to do often before having a baby and it makes me feel normal again.

What advice do you have for other moms who want to start their own business?

It takes a village, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Any resources you love and think other mom entrepreneurs/working mamas need to know about?

I love the mom listservs in Brooklyn that are broken out by neighborhood. You can get advice and a consensus pretty quickly. My biggest asset in food and motherhood has always been my community. Find yours and time to meet with other mamas in person.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, before starting your business and your family, what would it be?

Enjoy the journey.

Most importantly, what meal does a busy mama look forward to? What's the dish that always brings you comfort when life is at its craziest?

I love rajma, Indian kidney bean curry. It’s very similar in comfort level to say a big bowl of chili. With our rajma we make Indian tacos (topped with our tomato achaar) or enchiladas that are so delicious. This type of food just makes me want to melt into my couch and binge watch Netflix!

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