Be versatile. You have to be dynamic to survive in this industry because people are very fickle about food. Stay responsive enough so you aren’t taken off guard or left hanging dry because you’ve chosen a service nobody wants, it’s not about what you want — it’s so important to listen to your clients and welcome change.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Keller.
Co-founder of Nutrifit and her latest endeavor Txoko USA, Jackie received her culinary training from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, beginning her culinary career with Westin Hotels, and subsequently with Stouffer Corporation. She also holds multiple certifications as a Professional Wellness Coach (ACC, CPWC and BCC) with specialty designations in Health and Wellness. A nationally recognized health and nutrition educator, Jackie is the author of Body After Baby: The Simple 30-Day Plan to Lose Your Baby Weight Fast and Cooking, Eating & Living Well, a cookbook and guide to nutrition-related lifestyle change. Jackie actively promotes sustainable practices in work and play and employs sustainable methods on her organic company farm, SimpliHealth™ Growers.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I wanted to help save people’s lives.
The idea for developing an innovative way to bring healthier food to the masses began almost three decades ago. Formed in 1987, my husband, Phil Yaney, and I realized many people living in the Los Angeles area preferred tasty, farm-fresh meals, but often lacked reasonable access to obtaining it. Oftentimes, the only way to enjoy healthier fare was by visiting exclusive and expensive restaurants. Even then, organic meals were offered as occasional, specially prepared entrees that were only available to limited clientele.
I knew that fresh, wholesome food should be the norm, not the exception because everyone deserves a fair shot at healthy living. So, a healthy food delivery option was created and NutriFit was born.
While teaching aerobics on the side, a student approached me and asked if I could help her cook to help treat her extremely high cholesterol. We worked closely together and she saw major improvements in her cholesterol. She became the first client from which Nutrifit grew. It was then I knew I wasn’t going to change the world in a corporate environment.
I decided I was going to save the world, one person at a time.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My dad died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 46 while he was on vacation. I never saw him again after saying goodbye at the airport. Still just a teenager, I was absolutely shocked. It completely rocked my world and changed my trajectory.
He was always very supportive and ready to let me pursue my dreams, always standing in my corner. Because of his belief in me, I went to culinary school in France and dedicated myself to my interest in culinary arts very early on.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My husband came into the business full time after about 4 years of me trying to figure out what I was doing and how to do it. Because he had such perspective and skill, he was able to bring that side to the business effort, making it so much easier to propel us through challenges.
The way we stayed viable is the same way we’ve existed through two recessions, covid and everything else: we pivot.
We aren’t a one-trick pony; we have a diverse offering. We generate in response to the need that’s out there while the core mission remains the same: people still need to live longer and healthier lives.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
While different findings from scientific studies regularly change the nutrition landscape, science is steady in the message that there are some very basic things that help people live longer and healthier lives. You have to pay attention to the quality and quantity of what you eat, how much you eat and drink, and how much and what you do for exercise, your sleep, and your stress.
Healthy living involves all five elements — diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and hydration.
While wellness trends ebbs and flows, this message stays the same. You have to keep learning and keep current on cutting-edge science in this field. While the core of what we do is consistent, we are constantly learning about what is being newly discovered and always reevaluating what we deliver.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We both thought that having a meal delivery service would be easier than owning a restaurant because we wouldn’t have to work as many hours. Now we look back on that and laugh at our naivete.
The lesson learned was that to grow a business, you must dedicate yourself to it completely, and that means doing whatever it takes, whenever it’s needed.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I am a published author. Not many business leaders have the backgrounds that I do in terms of education, understanding of science, and culinary skills.
Another component that makes us special is that people can still walk through our front door. We don’t hide behind inaccessible locations. We’re available to be very high touch for the people who want it, always there to show them where their food is made. We welcome them to just come on by and stop in. None of our competitors do that.
We also deal with really complicated issues many other companies refuse to deal with. We accept members with all health issues and all needs. Once we address their specific situation, we find the paradigm that fits for them rather than squeezing them into one of our paradigms.
There aren’t many companies out there that are willing to customize their programs to the extent that we do.
Not to mention, there isn’t another company out there that has their own farm and puts plants in the ground themselves.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
If you do it out of passion, it’s the passion that propels you. If you’re a mission-driven business and your mission is to help people, you will always aim to do that.
My advice is to uncover what really motivates you internally. It’s our intrinsic motivation that really propels us through life and helps us flourish. Burnout arises when people are just going through the motions instead of being on a crusade of their inspirations.
If you are on such a crusade, that will get you through all obstacles and you’ll remain engaged.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve had a few mentors in the coaching field that have certainly helped me along the way — it’s hard to choose just one person!
I’m incredibly grateful for the informal, initial advisory board we had at NutriFit in its early stages.
I am also immensely thankful for my husband. Together we bootstrapped it the whole way. We worked as a team growing NutriFit and raising our family. Now our daughter is helping us run the business. It’s such a joy looking to her for input, advice, and perspective as she comes from a totally different and young mindset, so she brings a whole different set of criteria.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It’s simple: we’re saving lives one person at a time.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Don’t use the name NutriFit. Other people will usurp it and it’s difficult to defend a name that is very popular.
2. Be prepared for a complicated business model. We do so many things and offer so much to our clients. The good news is that we have solutions for every human being that comes through our doors. The bad news is that it gets confusing.
3. Be versatile. You have to be dynamic to survive in this industry because people are very fickle about food. Stay responsive enough so you aren’t taken off guard or left hanging dry because you’ve chosen a service nobody wants, it’s not about what you want — it’s so important to listen to your clients and welcome change.
4. Be financially conservative, mindful and responsive to what’s going on in your industry. Develop according to the market.
5. Hire more people. I would have had less on my plate and more depth in the organization if I had a larger team. There’s a fine line between being willing to trust and letting go of things, and keeping control. I don’t trust easily, but if I had, I would have been able to develop much differently.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Find a community of like-minded people who will support you. In my case, I got involved with a small group of health educators and vendors of health-related services, and together we formed the Valley Wellness Association (I later became Chairperson). Several years later, I joined the Women President’s Organization (WPO) and found a wonderful group of women business owners. I’ve been part of that organization for many years, and now serve on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for the WPO. The group serves as social and business support — an informal but caring advisory board.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
I am deeply dedicated to slowing the progress of climate change. We have a dedication to encompassing environmental responsibility in our business. I would expand to create a larger version of that.
I would spark a movement that recognized health as more than just diet and exercise, but rather a more holistic approach. Health in its most essential form has six pillars: nutrition, exercise, hydration, sleep, stress, and social responsibility. We’d all be so much better off if we embraced that and looked at the totality of our health and access to health.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!