We teamed up with Chelsea Market to present an enlightening and uplifting panel discussion examining the intersection of entrepreneurship, the culinary industry, and authenticity. The conversation, moderated by Hot Bread Kitchen, included three Chelsea Market business-owners: Joanne Kwong of Pearl River Mart and Pearl River Mart Foods, Manal Kahi of Eat Offbeat, and Summer Johnson of Zach and Zoë Sweet Bee Farm.
Here are some of the key insights and tips for building a successful brand these entrepreneurs had to share:
Never underestimate the power of community
“Without our community, we would have closed March 2020. We started in 2015 as a catering company,and by 2020 we were primarily doing corporate catering. But in March 2020… we lost 100% of our revenue essentially overnight. There was a lot of uncertainty, and so we went to the chefs and … they said we want to keep going and keep cooking our food, so that’s exactly what we did. We took our bestsellers from catering, we put them in a box, repackaged them, repurposed them and we started directly delivering them to our customers at home. And that immediately took off because of our community.” – Manal Kahi, Co-founder and CEO of Eat Offbeat
One of the major themes of this panel was the importance of community and building relationships for small business entrepreneurs. Manal shared a story from a major turning point for Eat Offbeat due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Be true to your authentic self
All panelists commented on the importance of staying true to your mission or brand–and yourself. Joanne Kwong commented how, “If you can’t bring your authentic self to work, it’s very binding, and you’re not doing your best work.”
Running a small business requires hard work and dedication. Having the space and freedom to be your authentic self allows you to commit that much more, and can help prevent burnout. These ideas were echoed by Summer of Zach and Zoë as well. “If you have a business, you are going to do it everyday. You have to know what you like and want to invest your time and energy in it… Let yourself be your true self.” – Summer Johnson, Co-founder of Zach and Zoë Sweet Bee Farm
Be prepared for uncertainty
All of the panelists agreed: being a business owner means you can’t foresee every obstacle that may come your way. Preparing yourself for surprises may save you frustration down the road, and will set you up to always be thinking ahead.
“Get comfortable with uncertainty. You’re starting a business now, and there’s nothing you can really prepare for. There’s nothing I am doing now that I thought I would be doing 8-9 years ago when I was starting out. I still have that north star, our mission, that I look to, and that allows me to navigate change. The more comfortable you are with uncertainty, the easiest the next few years will be. You are going to face so many things, and that’s ok. That is what you will learn the most from.” – Manal Kahi, Co-founder and CEO of Eat Offbeat
It’s a great time for CPGs
Now is a great time for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands. These businesses get to reach a customer base both online and in person, allowing a wider reach and potentially quicker growth. Joanne from Pearl River Mart commented how,
“It’s a great time to be a CPG entrepreneur. For CPG brands, you get the best of both worlds, you sell online but you are also pitching to [brick-and-mortar stores]. We are actually pretty proud because we have our food store downstairs [in Chelsea Market] and it has become a juggernaut for Asian American founders.” – Joanne Kwong, President of Pearl River Mart and Pearl River Mart Foods
This also connects back to the importance of community for early stage small businesses. Pearl River Mart has been able to facilitate the growth of small CPG entrepreneurs within the Asian American community by stocking their products in their store.
Entrepreneurship can be difficult to navigate, but can also be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. The story of each entrepreneur at Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs at Chelsea Market is a testament to that fact. At Hot Bread Kitchen, our food entrepreneurship program supports aspiring entrepreneurs and current business owners to run and grow their enterprises within NYC’s thriving food industry. Learn more about our small business programs at hotbreadkitchen.org/small-business/.