4 Female Entrepreneurs Who Are Shaking Up the Food and Wine IndustrySee a need and fill it. These women did.
Half of all restaurants in America are owned, fully or partially, by women. And in the last decade, the number of such restaurants have grown by 40 percent. But women remain underrepresented in other parts of the food industry.
These four women are making gains in male-dominated areas of the food business, including wine and products. They share their advice for food startups and restaurants.
Veronica Garza, co-founder and president of Siete Family Foods
After being diagnosed with lupus and other autoimmune conditions, Veronica Garza overhauled her lifestyle, adopting a grain-free diet and exercising more. But even as she became healthier, the South Texan missed eating tacos on the flour and corn tortillas her Mexican-American family used (lettuce wraps just weren’t the same). So Garza set out to create pliable, sturdy tortillas without grains.
For years, she made them on weekends to eat and share with family and friends. Eventually she started selling in grocery stores, first in Austin in 2014. “I made a batch of tortillas, put them in a ziplock bag, and [my brother] drove them over to Wheatsville Food Co-op in Austin,” she says. “The grocery buyer asked how soon they could start selling them. We had no business, no brand name, and no idea how to start a food business.”
With her family’s help, Garza started Siete Family Foods, a line that now includes a tortilla made with almond flour and another with cassava (a starchy root vegetable) and coconut. Today she sells her tortillas in many Whole Foods Market stores and natural grocers and online. Garza hopes to expand to other Mexican food products in the future.
Small business tip: “Don’t be afraid to put your product out into the world. If you wait until you have a perfect product, you will never start a business. Products can evolve, businesses can evolve, and they should. Listen to your gut, have no regrets, and surround yourself with smart, positive people.”
Mary McAuley, founder of Ripe Life Wines
After realizing how hard it was for consumers to pair wines and food, Mary McAuley, a certified sommelier, founded Ripe Life Wines. The small-batch “occasional wines” from California vineyards remove the guesswork.
The Clambake Chardonnay and Clambake Rosé pair with lobster and seafood, as evidenced by the beachy branding on the label.
“I understood the novelty of focusing a wine brand around food and wine pairings — something that is daunting to the average consumer. But what I also noticed was the absence of high quality wine in approachable packaging.”
This year’s Clambake Rosé was mostly sold out before it was released, and McAuley is getting ready to introduce Tailgate Red, which will pair with burgers, sausages, hot dogs and BBQ.
Since launching in 2013, her label has grown from 463 cases to more than 8,000 cases distributed throughout the East Coast and now Tokyo.
Small business tip:“There are plenty of people who will give you their two cents about your startup, but it’s pivotal that you stay wholeheartedly committed to your core concept. Weak ideas don’t make it big — only strong, bold, honest ones do.”
Lauren Abda, founder of Branchfood
It’s the brainchild of Lauren Abda, who founded it in 2013 to foster innovation after working for intergovernmental organizations and small startups in the food industry. “We are all part of a food community whether we want to be or not,” she said. “Taking an active role in the food community lends well to discovering new opportunities, contacts and lessons learned.”
In addition to work spaces, Branchfood hosts networking events, classes and workshops. The offerings have grown rapidly in the last three years, and now Branchfood has the largest group of food innovators in New England.
Small business tip: “Start talking to people. There are tons of opportunities to create more efficient solutions to challenges inherent to food, restaurants, urban agriculture and more. The best way to learn more and understand the sweet spot where one’s interests, skills and greater food system needs intersect is by getting involved in the conversation.”
Christina Bognet, founder and CEO of PlateJoy
Everyone wants to be eating healthier, but not everyone has the time to plan meals, let alone cook. That’s where PlateJoy comes in.
Founded by Christina Bognet in 2012, PlateJoy takes into account dietary preferences (paleo, vegan, low-carb, low-fat), weight loss goals, and lifestyle to deliver personalized shopping lists and recipes each week. “We like to think of PlateJoy as what would happen if your personal nutritionist and fairy godmother went grocery shopping for you,” she said.
Groceries can be delivered by local stores via Instacart (where available), and users get a personal health coach who makes recommendations for staying on track with goals.
Bognet was inspired to start PlateJoy based on her experience losing 50 pounds after college. “I tried tons of different tracking apps and diet delivery services, but none of them worked, and many were bad or really expensive,” she said. “I kept thinking about how it didn’t have to be that way, and that I could eat so much better if I shopped for myself.”
Small business tip: To offer healthier options on restaurant menus, “emphasize vegetables, healthy fats and protein. It doesn’t need to be complicated — combining simple foods is best. A bed of greens, avocado and grilled chicken or salmon, with olive oil, lemon juice and salt for dressing, is an amazing option that I wish every restaurant had on their menu.”