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.
No family recipe? No problem! Two friends turned gluten-free living into a lot of dough (a company worth almost $1 million).
Cheryl Katten, 43, and Myrna Mirow, who will admit only to being "60 plus," are living proof that necessity is the mother of invention. After Myrna's doctor suggested she go on a gluten-free diet, and Cheryl learned she was gluten-intolerant, the two friends, who'd met as neighbors in Boulder, Colo., decided that if they couldn't find snacks to suit their needs, they'd create them. Launched in 2009, Skinny Crisps are now sold in more than 300 stores, and the company employs 10 full-time and 5 part-time employees.
Myrna came up with the recipe for gluten-free crackers made with almond meal, sesame seeds, fennel, psyllium husks and olive oil. Although neither woman had any experience in the food industry—both had fashion backgrounds, and Myrna also had worked in real estate—they knew instantly that they had found an underserved niche. "We never said 'We can't do' something," Myrna says. "We just figured out how to do it ourselves."
SAMPLE AT THE START
To drum up customers, the two got creative. "We sent samples to celiac disease support groups," Cheryl says. "Then they'd go to our website to buy more crackers, or go to a store to try to find the crackers, and then the store would call us."
At the beginning, Myrna says, "I was going to the local store and buying big quantities of almonds and grinding them in my Cuisinart. It was so labor-intensive!" Now they buy 8 tons of almond meal each year—and they've cut out the middleman. How were they able to go straight to the source? "Simple," Cheryl says. "I googled the Almond Association!"
"When we began," Cheryl says, "business people were telling us: Borrow, borrow, borrow. They said if we didn't, we'd run out of money. But we didn't. I had a zero-interest credit card that we used, and my dad lent us $25,000. That's it. But we've always kept our growth checked to what we could handle, and it has worked. We doubled in size the second year, and every year since, we've grown by 25 percent."
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
"Early on, Myrna and I hired someone to do the artwork for our first bag," Cheryl says, "and we both saw it and were, like, 'It's not at all what we're looking for!' ". They then came up with their own design.
PRACTICE CREATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING
"We had to figure out how to bag our crackers more efficiently," Cheryl recalls. The pair created prototype packagers using cut-up Solo cups, then popcorn funnels and bungee cords. "That's the most exciting part for us," Myrna says, "figuring how to make it all work."
"We do everything in steps," Cheryl says. "We have a board with lists that say now, tomorrow and next week, and we rotate them. You can't try to do it all at once."