Heartwarming soups. Melt-in-your-mouth Southern biscuits. Organic tortilla chips. Scottish oatcakes. Meet five enterprising women who've taken beloved home cooking and built it into a thriving career.
Recipe: Frontier Soups
Who: Trisha Anderson, 67, Waukegan, Ill.
Year launched: 1986
Sells in: About 2,000 stores nationwide
Annual revenue: $4 million
Number of employees: 29
When Trisha Anderson thinks back on her childhood in Northfield, Ill., one memory stands out: her mom in the kitchen, cooking up a steaming pot of soup on Saturday mornings. "She'd throw whatever leftovers she had from the week in there," Trisha recalls, "and I always found it so wonderful." Trisha's mom, Jane H. Clarke, 94, is still at it. "She called me the other day and said she'd just had one of her 'clean out the refrigerator and put everything into a pot' moments so she and my dad ate soup for dinner," Trisha says.
Like mother, like daughter. With Trisha's own love of soup simmering, it seemed only natural that in 1983, when the stay-at-home mom of three and weekend caterer was asked to make a product for a Chicago holiday market, she suggested an 11-bean soup. "I packed up 275 little bags of colorful soup mixes for this four-day event," she recalls, "and on opening night I ladled out my soup. The men just loved it—it's a football-watching soup! By the next morning, I had sold out. And that's how it all began."
For the next eight years, Trisha expanded her offerings—which she dubbed "shortcuts to homemade"—and traveled the Midwest holiday-market circuit, hand-packing the soup mixes on her basement Ping-Pong table. "The business worked well with my family life," she says. "I made these soups during the week, then went out on the weekends and sold them while my husband watched the kids. He loved that I was doing something that could use my culinary talents and also contribute to the family budget"
By 1991, with nine soups—including the original Minnesota Heartland 11-bean mix—Trisha decided she was ready for the big time, so she loaded up her car with mixes and a slow cooker, and took off for the Fancy Food Show in New York City. "I look back, and I can't believe I did that!" she says. "I didn't think of myself as launching a business, but 30 years later, I can see that's exactly what I was doing."
At the show, Trisha was marketing directly to retailers, and it was her breakthrough moment: Because of the business she picked up at the show, Frontier Soups doubled its production and sales.
Today, Frontier Soups sells 34 varieties, all with geographic names, including California Gold Rush white bean chili mix and the top-selling South of the Border tortilla soup mix. Trisha says it's gratifying to have built a business from recipes she loves. "You know, soup can take all day, or it can be quick," she says, "but it's always multipurpose. I love that idea of throwing together a lot of ingredients and a lot of people, and then commingling the two. It's more than just a product. Soup brings people together."
- BEST ADVICE: "If you want to start a business, go with your interests—they will lead you somewhere. And talk to people about problems and solutions. That was a life lesson for me."
- HARD LESSON: "We tried to institute an international line—including an Italian wedding soup and Hungarian goulash—and stores just couldn't give us the space. It was an expensive mistake."