Keep your focus on one product. Most start-ups have an incredible vision and a fantastic idea: ‘It’s going to be phenomenal, and we have a plethora of ideas and features that are going to be in this start-up.’ Focus only on the core product or business, the Most Viable Product, get that up and running! It’s essential to have a big picture of where to go, but then start to take away each feature or service one by one until you’re down to the minimum core product. For me focusing on too many products at one time was overwhelming and it made it difficult to relay my brand message to my audience.
As part of our series about the lessons from Inspirational Black Chefs & Restaurateurs, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Emily D. Edwards.
Emily is a former social worker in private practice turned Founder of Emily’s Foods. During her own weight loss journey, she became frustrated with the lack of healthy snacks, dips, and icings options. She was looking for snacks that contained less sugar, had more plant protein, and were convenient for her busy lifestyle.
So Emily started making plant-based icings: dips with pea protein powder to pair with her snacks in her kitchen and quickly realized that people who did not eat healthy icings and dips fell in love with them.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
A former social worker, and the owner of Genoa Services, a mental health agency, I became burned out and needed a change. During this time I also went on a weight loss journey and soon discovered that it was hard to find snacks low in sugar and high in protein, that satisfied my taste buds. As a native of Mississippi, I took what I’d learned from my mother and grandmother and developed protein muffins which were 100 calories or less using Whey protein powder. To my surprise, people loved them! Soon afterward, I had this burning desire to help others, but from a food perspective. So I took a chance, sold my mental health business, and started Emily’s Foods in 2018.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I developed a sweet, plant-based icing that contains pea protein powder and has versatility. Called Paradise Icing, I developed it because I couldn’t find a healthy icing to pair with my plant-based snacks.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Trust the process.”
Often times in life, we see the end results of things and it appears easy. Once we begin the process, we realize that our initial assessment was far from the truth as it is in the process where determination and perseverance happens. When I started the development of Paradise Icing™️, I had no idea of the twist and turns this journey would take me through, so my daily mantra became “Trust the process.”
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
The funniest story is during the product development of Paradise Icing™️, we used the wrong mixer size, and needless to say we had Icing not only all over us but on the floor. I can still see us trying to keep the Icing from falling from the mixer. This was my first lesson in understanding product development. The take away was, “Don’t waste time feeling like a failure, but instead look at what went wrong, fix it and move on.”
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
In food product development, food safety is the most important step. Water activity needs to be at a certain level to deem a product to be safe for human consumption. While still in product development, I sent a sample to my business coach for feedback. She sent me a picture of Paradise Icing™️ with what appeared to be mold and was curious as to what it was and was it supposed to look like this. I automatically knew the water activity was too high. For me, this was a setback, but also a sign of growth, indicating that I understood the process which I had felt intimidated by in the very beginning.
Overcoming the obstacle:
To rectify this problem, the formula was adjusted and this lowered the water activity level. We also managed to keep improving the texture without sacrificing taste.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Listening attentively to the customers. It is important to make the customer feel like they are a part of the process. Ask questions about the taste, texture, and overall experience of sampling the product.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Grilled Sweet Potato with Caramel Sea Salt Vanilla Paradise Icing™️ drizzled over it.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
yes Paradise Pretzel Dips; 3 new flavors. It will provide consumers with different flavor profiles as well as offer them a fulfilling healthy, organic snack that appeals to both sweet and salty cravings.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Prayer. The key is not just to pray, but to remain mindful while doing so. “Make this the start of your day. If you’re not used to doing it, and you’re used to being so buzzed and distracted, start slowly and then build up a practice so it becomes a natural habit and not forced.”
Making prayer a daily part of my life gives me more calmness and heightened awareness of what is going on. For me, it’s not really clearing my mind but giving me peace of mind, just understanding what I’m dealing with and the tools to effectively handle any situation. In terms of my work, it’s given me a lot more clarity of thinking and productivity.
Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
Starting or working at a start-up can be one of the most stressful things a person does in his or her life. Despite the fact that thousands have done it all before, it can be daunting to take your first step without a mentor as a guide. Get a mentor. Hire a business coach. Be prepared to invest in yourself and your business.
It’s Not Just About You
The best advice is to not give yourself too much credit when times are good and too much blame when times are bad. Once you realize that timing and patience play a necessary role in success, it makes you humble and learn how to process every situation and pivot accordingly.
COVID-19 has been a trying time for all of us. How are you growing your business during COVID-19? What advice do you have for any chefs who are trying to stay relevant during this time?
Increased social media marketing. In a time with so much uncertainty, we reassure our customers that we are there for them and that our business isn’t going anywhere.
We have also revamped our e-commerce store making it more customer-friendly and launched a kid-friendly product.
My advice to them would be to re-evaluate your current marketing plan, expand your business and services digitally, get your message out, and connect to your community. Communicate with your customers and Promote positivity.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Funding. As you grow you are going to need twice the amount of money you think you’ll need. The very moment you think you have everything in place someone will tell you the things you don’t have, and it’ll be up to you to make hard decisions on where to find the funds needed. I’ve had to learn to research and ask questions. The most important thing is building relationships. It is hard to ask about money, however; when you are trying to build the company of your dreams, then questions related to obtaining funding should not come as hesitations but rather is this a need or a want, so when you do come across financial resources, you are very clear in your request and why the money is needed.
- Keep your focus on one product. Most start-ups have an incredible vision and a fantastic idea: ‘It’s going to be phenomenal, and we have a plethora of ideas and features that are going to be in this start-up.’ Focus only on the core product or business, the Most Viable Product, get that up and running! It’s essential to have a big picture of where to go, but then start to take away each feature or service one by one until you’re down to the minimum core product. For me focusing on too many products at one time was overwhelming and it made it difficult to relay my brand message to my audience.
- The constant loneliness. As a former social worker, I had worked with many clients to understand and get past loneliness, but being on the other side of the table became almost unbearable. I had to learn to acknowledge my feelings, process them, and develop tools to get past them. I would suggest to other startup founders to give some thought about all the jobs you’ve held down in the past. Whether it was a janitor in a school or as a doctor at a large hospital, there was a sense of community since you and your co-workers were all in it together. That’s not the case when you start your own business. It’s just you and you alone. Every decision and responsibility falls totally on your shoulders. And that’s a heavy, difficult and so very lonesome burden to carry. Having a co-founder or business partner can lessen that burden and make the journey not as lonely, but oftentimes you’re not in that position then it is a good idea you should build a safety net. It could be your spouse, family, best friend, or other business owners who are going through the same experience as you. You’re going to need them for advice, emotional support, and the more than often occasional venting session.
- Finding help is difficult. When you first start your company, everyone is excited and ready to help. Then when it comes time to rely on them or get an introduction, things start to take longer, and you don’t hear back from certain people. It’s easy to give vocal support, but when the rubber meets the road, you will easily find who can and can’t help in business. Hopefully, this won’t discourage you. I learned quickly when people say that will help that it was more lip service than action. So I stopped internalizing the rejections and found ways to farm out services to grow Emily’s Foods.
- Own your mistakes. I am sure there are many people like me who follow many relevant business people, so you frequently see tweets like ‘5 things to avoid when starting your business’ or similar posts. Sometimes, you probably take the time to read them. But here’s the thing: None of that matters. Every individual’s journey is different. No two things work exactly the same. You will make many mistakes. Take ownership that you made the mistake, learn from it, move on, and work to not repeat it. As someone who takes great joy in providing an accurate and professional service, it was not easy for me to accept mistakes in the beginning. Nevertheless, I quickly learned that mistakes don’t mean failure but growth. At the end of every week, I evaluate my mistakes and develop strategies to correct them and move on.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
Paradise Snax Pax. They are delicious!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Help consumers understand nutrition labels and serving size and how it is tied to our emotions.
Since being a Founder of a food product, I have discovered that many consumers purchase products based on the appeal of the packaging. Every item of packaged foods comes with a nutrition label that is meant to provide the consumer with the information necessary to know exactly what they are eating. Understanding what’s in the foods we eat helps us make healthier choices. Checking food labels also makes it easy for consumers to compare the nutrient content of different options. A healthy diet is vital throughout our lifetime and focusing on nutrition labels is a positive step toward improving our overall diet and maintaining a normal weight.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Social Media Links:
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!