It doesn’t matter how ridiculous, or embarrassing- find the things you love, and then do them.
Traci Weintraub is a world-renowned chef, entrepreneur and restauranteur based in Los Angeles, as well as a full time Lyme disease and POTS warrior. While Traci worked for many years as an audience switcher for popular TV sitcoms, she found her true calling in the National meal delivery industry post-illness. Today, she creates and ships out organic, gluten-free, dairy-free soups for health and healing- all over the country. Her goal is simple: to make food anybody will feel safe eating, knowing it comes from a good place.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I always knew I wanted to work in the television industry, and I was lucky enough to work there for seventeen years. While the television industry is an exciting and dynamic field, it can also be extremely erratic. After years of rejection and uncertainty, I finally began to find my footing and was working consistently which is a blessing when you freelance in TV. Then- Lyme hit. Gone were my early mornings, late nights, and fourteen-hour days. Suddenly my biggest accomplishment was walking to the end of my street. It forced me to completely change my perspective of myself, and the world around me
The irony about Lyme is that while I wouldn’t wish this illness on my worst enemy, it did help me realize that I wasn’t happy in the life I’d been living. Yes, I was doing what I’d always dreamed of doing, but I was merely going through the motions. I didn’t appreciate things, I complained constantly, I had no social life, I didn’t travel. I was surviving, but I wasn’t living. When I started cooking, it was a distraction to get me through the worst parts of my illness. What began as a hobby, helped me realize what happiness was again. I haven’t looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career- whether it be your TV career prior to founding Gracefully Fed, or during your time as an entrepreneur? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
When you start a business, particularly when you have little experience, the whole journey is one big roller coaster. In the early days of Gracefully Fed, we were cooking out of a shared kitchen, and while I had dreams of expanding, I hadn’t truly acknowledged them. One of the two women working with me at the time would constantly say, “get your own place, hire me full time”. That was all I needed to hear, and shortly thereafter, everything fell into place. We had to leave the shared kitchen, and coincidentally, a producer I was working with had a friend who was selling a bakery. The moment I walked up to the building and saw the blue door (which is now green), I knew it was my shop. It felt so right.
Of course, it wasn’t all a walk in the park. The three of us had to completely gut the place, and we spent many exhausting days turning it into what the shop is today. That time was wrought with anxiety and “what ifs”, and I frequently asked myself if I’d made a huge mistake. Of course, I hadn’t. The day we finally opened was one of the most gratifying moments of my life. I think it’s a great reminder to look behind you and remember your journey. Appreciate all the work you’ve taken to get where you are now and be proud of what you have accomplished. It’s easy to forget.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you first started Gracefully Fed? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Initially, I felt like I needed to go into business with a partner. I tried a few times, with a few different people, and it just never seemed to work. Eventually, I realized that Gracefully Fed was mine, and mine alone. The business was my idea, I developed the recipes, and I cared about it more than anyone else would. I learned that no one will be as invested in your business as you. So, you need to be your own cheerleader. The sooner you learn that, the more successful you’ll be. Of course, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t have support. You must build that system of friends, family, and team members. However, at the end of the day, the business is yours.
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 today, as a successful female founder? Can you share a story about that?
When I think about this question, the one person who comes to mind is my Dad. Throughout my life, he has continually been one of my biggest supports, professionally and personally. When I call him in a panic about something to do with Gracefully Fed, he’s the one person who can always pull me out of it. He’s full of excellent pieces of advice even if it’s to tell me that everyone should be in the rowboat, rowing together. Might not make sense to some but it’s definitely motivating. He does say often that, “Owning a business is the most anxiety you’ll ever have. The highs are the highest and there’s nothing like it, the lows are the lowest. And we just need to learn to ride that roller coaster”. While not in the food industry himself, my Dad is in business, and so he’s also been able to provide a great deal of logistical knowledge and experience. He has employees who haven’t left in 40 years, which I think is a testament to what kind of a leader, and person he is.
As I mentioned, my Dad has also been one of my biggest supports throughout my illness. I might be worried about a doctor’s appointment, a lab result, having another flare and he’ll always say to me, “Look how far you’ve come”. He never forgets to remind me of the progress I’ve made, both physically and professionally. A couple of years ago, I was scheduled to have surgery, and he flew out to be with me. It was the first time he’d seen the store, and even though we were still in the process of renovation, he was so excited. Unfortunately, shortly after he arrived, my Mom got sick. I could tell he was anxious, but instead of sitting and worrying, he started scraping paint off an old sign out front. There he was, fretting about my mom, and he was helping us renovate the store. It was such a perfect metaphor for the kind of man my father is.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing at Gracefully Fed helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I truly hope we have created a safe space for those who are chronically ill, have allergies or other food intolerances. Of course, in LA you can’t go one block without seeing a restaurant advertise itself as “gluten-free”. However, often those with one food intolerance will have multiple. This is why we are not only organic but gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free. Additionally, for me, this diet isn’t a trend. It’s a way of life, and my health relies on it. Many establishments advertise gluten-free options but don’t know to use a different toaster or oven to avoid cross-contamination. At Gracefully Fed, I understand, because I’ve been there. I know how hard it can be to find food you can eat (much less enjoy), and I want to be able to provide that safe space, where you can enjoy your food without fear.
I believe that we are more than a small business, we are a community. I can honestly say, I have so much care for each of my customers. I have one soup on my menu that I developed for one specific customer. When she contacted me, she was reeling from a couple of new diagnoses, and struggling to find meals that would fit into her new diet. At the time, we didn’t have anything on the menu that she could eat- thus, the Zucchini Soup was born. Cooking for someone is such a wonderful expression of love, and that’s what I feel I’m sending every time I package up a box of soup. It’s both gratifying and humbling to play even a small part in someone’s healing journey.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
Firstly, try everything- you never know what is going to work for you. If one thing doesn’t work- that’s fine- move onto something else! I cut out gluten, dairy, and sugar early on in my illness and I cannot overstate how much this aided my recovery. However, after a while, my health hit a plateau. I tried everything that was suggested, from yoga to meditation to new doctors, but nothing worked. Finally, I took a tip from a friend and saw a healer. I’ll admit, initially, I was so skeptical. I couldn’t believe that something like that could ever help me, but it did. Now, it’s the one hour of the week where I feel truly at peace. So, I encourage anyone who is struggling with their health, to try new things. You never know when you’re going to stumble upon something that works.
Secondly, as much as possible, try to live in the moment. I know this is so much easier said than done, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of trying. The world today is overwhelming, to say the least. Between work, social media, errands, and a social life, it can be difficult to find the time to live. This was my existence while working in the television industry, and I cannot overstate how much my life has changed for the better, since I remembered to take the time to breathe.
Thirdly, stop waiting for other people, and get comfortable with your own company. Shoutout to all my extroverts out there- I know how nice it is to spend time with your friends and family. However, I cannot emphasize how important it is to learn to find joy in being alone. Last weekend I wanted to hike, and I like to hike early, unfortunately, all of my friends like to sleep in. So, I did something that would have been inconceivable years ago- I went by myself, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I had one of the best days I can remember. Remember that you don’t need to rely on anyone else for your happiness. It’s good to invest in relationships, but the relationship you build with yourself is paramount.
Fourth, do the things that make you happy (like actually happy). This is especially important in the world of entrepreneurship, as it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of running a business. So, find the little things that bring you joy. For me, this is anything from hiking, to singing along to a song alone in the car. I remember early on I used to do the Gracefully Fed deliveries to Malibu, just so I could have a couple of hours alone in the car to do some much-needed karaoke. Don’t we all sound better in the car? It doesn’t matter how ridiculous, or embarrassing- find the things you love, and then do them.
Lastly, do what works for you- not what works for other people. Every single person and body is so individual, that what works for one person, might not work for you- and vice versa. If what I suggest doesn’t work for you, that’s completely okay! The mental energy it takes to sustain a lifestyle that doesn’t serve you is draining, and ultimately unhelpful. I encourage everyone to really invest in their own lifestyle and find what makes them happy and feel healthy.
Listening to your body and doing what works best for you is a key “lifestyle tweak” that I hope you take away from this. Nobody knows your body better than you. This is why I always pull from my own inspiration and needs and come up with innovative business ideas- like my most recent launch, the Detox + Reset Gracefully Fed box. It allows people to do what works best for their bodies while aiding in decreasing bodily inflammation.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could start any movement, I would start one of education and empathy. Mine would be a trend of belief, more specifically, belief of patients. Throughout the years I have lived with my chronic illness, I have faced doubt and disbelief from the medical community, over and over again. I understand that physicians have years of education and training behind them, but no one has more expertise on their body than the patient themself.
I have a young friend, who asked me for advice recently. She feels unwell, she knows something is wrong with her body, but every time she visits the doctor she is disregarded. I helped her to write down all of her questions, discussed them with her, and readied her for her next appointment. Thankfully, at her next appointment, she finally got her questions answered. Of course, I was elated. But, the truth is, no one should have to work this hard for the care they deserve. I want fellow patients to know that you can trust your body, and you are worthy of treatment. I need the medical community to start listening. When someone is telling you something is wrong, listen.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started my company” and why?
Firstly, just because you are the sole owner of your business, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept help. In fact, it’s all the more reason to get comfortable with the prospect. Entrepreneurship can be a difficult road, which makes it so important to have a solid foundation of support underneath you. This support can take many forms. Of course, a good system of friends and family is essential, people who will support you unconditionally, listen to you complain, and cheer your own through your successes. Furthermore, don’t underestimate the value of your team, and with this- learn to delegate. As the leader of your company, this loss of total control can feel terrifying. However, for you to find continued growth, you need to begin to take your hands off and trust your employees. As scary as this will be initially, I promise the rewards are greater.
Secondly, entrepreneurship is a roller coaster- learn to ride it. Accept this uncertainty, understand where it comes from, and then get comfortable with it. The truth is, the roller coaster never ends. As your business grows the roller coaster will change, but it will never stop. Sustaining a company takes constant work, and while there will be very high highs, and there will also be very low lows. This makes it all the more important to celebrate your victories where you can. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow- I think the past year has proved that beyond a doubt. So, when you find yourself in a high, appreciate it. Make sure to look back on where you’ve come from, and pat yourself on the back. You deserve it.
Thirdly, treat your customers the way you would like to be treated. This truly goes back to the Golden Rule, and I feel it extends to business as well. I’m a big believer in getting back to your customers quickly and allowing them to feel heard. When something goes wrong (and it will), don’t just gloss over it. Take the time to listen to your customers, empathize with them, and then find a solution that works for everyone. In this way you’ll let your customers know that you care, all while building a loyal consumer base in the process.
Fourth, invest in your employees. Currently, I have an employee who really got thrown into the deep end when he started- and he absolutely stepped up to the plate. Because I see so much potential in him, I’m willing to put time and energy into education and encouragement for him. If you remind your employees how vital they are to the business, then the success of the business becomes important to everyone. Thus, by treating your employees better, you’ll be running a better business overall. Throughout my time in the television industry, I never worked well with an employer who screamed when something went wrong. Being a leader takes quiet responsibility. Be honest, open, encouraging, and your employees will pay you back with dividends in the work that they do.
Lastly, remember to enjoy yourself. If I’m honest, I’ve been struggling recently, and it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed in the world of entrepreneurship. When you care about your business so much, it takes up so much mental energy. I’ll admit, I frequently struggle with anxiety, and have trouble sleeping. However, when I’m cooking- I remember why I’m doing it, and I feel happy. I love creating food that’s safe, delicious, and nourishing. I am empowered to create havens for the chronically ill community, where they can enjoy a meal without fear. At the end of the day, that’s all there is. I encourage you to always remember your why.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I am going to turn this question on its head and say- while I absolutely support animal rights, sustainability, mental health and environmental changes- I just want to remind readers to continue to support small business owners and keep shopping small. Post pandemic, small businesses are still suffering. Small business owners pour their heart and souls into their business, and there is more than one can possibly imagine that goes into the backend of bringing what the consumer needs to life. I wish my consumers knew that when they order a box of Gracefully Fed soup for National delivery, there is a 50% chance I packed that soup myself, so it was literally- made with love. When you support small businesses, you’re supporting me. I want “support small businesses” to keep going after the pandemic!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me and my soups on Instagram @gracefully_fed, and on our website! I’m looking forward to saying hi, and sharing some healthy treats!
Thank you for these fantastic insights!