One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a mom who grew up around fresh produce on her family's farm. When Sarah Pike had a family of her own, she decided to bring her passion for wholesome meals to market -- and built a million dollar business in the process! -- Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
Growing up on an organic farm in Maine, Sarah Pike learned the importance of hard work and the benefits of a really big freezer early on. As the oldest of six siblings, while her parents ran the family farm, Sarah would make sure there was always a hot meal on the dinner table. And for every lasagna, quiche or pot pie she made, there were always two or three more that she’d stock away -- comfort food for a day when there simply wasn’t time to cook.
“I took my first cooking class at five,” she laughed. “It was mostly trail mix and homemade Play-Doh, but by middle school, the Betty Crocker cookbook had become my bible. My mother was so busy working outside that she gave me free reign in the kitchen, and she taught me to use the freezer as a tool. On a farm, putting up food for winter was part of our existence and survival.”
Sarah took those lessons with her to college -- working in restaurants and in her spare time, reading cookbooks like they were novels. But after witnessing the amount of stress that her bosses were under, she knew opening a restaurant of her own wasn’t a path she wanted to follow.
“I knew my internal compass was guiding me towards something with food,” she recalled, “but at that point, I wasn’t sure where I wanted it to lead. So I kept cooking for friends and family, but I moved to San Francisco and began a career in internet marketing.”
As time passed, Sarah got married and she and her husband, Josh, who also grew up in Maine, began thinking about having children. They moved back to the Northeast, to be close to family -- and that’s when that inner compass started sounding alarms.
“Once I had our son, Ben, I started consulting from home. But it made me think about what I was doing. I loved that little boy so much that I wanted to be sure the work I was doing was really speaking to me. It had to be worth the time it was taking away from him.”
And there was something else that was weighing heavily on Sarah’s mind. A college friend had died in an airplane crash at the age of 23. He’d just left a finance job to follow his passion for furniture making. His life cut short, he never had a chance to live his dream.
Sarah started thinking more about moms like herself, who were torn between their families and careers. And that’s when it hit her -- if she could make one thing easier for them, like preparing dinner, in the way she had done for her own mother, maybe she could build a business around it.
What she never foresaw, was that the lessons she learned as a child would help her launch a million dollar business, and ultimately put her food back in the freezer. Only this time, the freezer would feed a few more people -- because there would be lots of them -- at stores like Whole Foods and Target. But first, she would begin by feeding her neighbors.
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Sarah Pike grew up closely connected to local farming and cooking. After making a career switch from online marketing back to her roots of farm-to-table comfort food, Sarah launched her own successful gourmet food company.
In 2008, Sarah started her own line of gourmet frozen comfort foods called Good Tastes. Drawing on her desire to support locally-sourced ingredients, Sarah's company makes gourmet, sustainably-sourced comfort food favorites like mac & cheese, which are easy to prepare at home.
Growing up on a farm in New England, Sarah was raised with a close relationship to the land. With six children in Sarah’s family, there were always plenty of little hands to help pick vegetables and prepare them for canning. "I had my first cooking lesson at age five!" Sarah laughed.
A large part of Sarah's childhood was spent storing the crops and fresh produce her family harvested in order to keep the freezer full during the winter months. Here, a young Sarah and her father pick strawberries during the early summer.
During her teenage and college years, Sarah stayed involved in the food industry, cooking and waitressing at various restaurants. It was during her college years that she met her future husband -- and another future entrepreneur from Maine -- Josh Pike. After college, they both found careers in online marketing and media.
After Sarah and Josh got married and moved back to the Northeast to be closer to family, they began thinking about starting a family of their own. Shortly after, Sarah gave birth to her first child, a son named Ben. After Ben was born, Sarah started thinking about consulting from home to spend more time with her new little addition.
Sarah started thinking more about busy mothers like herself, who were struggling to balance their families and careers. And that’s when it hit her: if she could make one thing easier for these busy moms, like preparing dinner, maybe she could launch a fruitful business. Before long, Sarah had rented out a commercial kitchen in Newburyport, MA to start creating all-natural meals to deliver to local homes.
Before long, Sarah's meal delivery service was underway. She was working around the clock, delivering frozen gourmet dishes like Sweet Potato Chicken Croquettes and Hoisen Pork Wraps in a refrigerated van to busy local moms.
Sarah has always loved working with food and entertaining. While she was running her meal delivery service, she was also catering on the side. Here, she is hard at work plating a round of Good Tastes' Beet & Goat Cheese Napoleons for a local event.
The recipes Sarah came up with were all inspired by gourmet "foodie" flavors, like Brie and Fig Mac & Cheese, which quickly attracted retailers. Here, fans taste test an early sampling of mac & cheese in Boston.
One of the founding beliefs of Good Tastes is to use sustainably-sourced, local ingredients whenever possible. Here, Sarah takes a trip to one of her early suppliers of cheese in Maine. "The cheese comes from cows with names, not numbers!" Sarah pointed out.
Just like she used to help her mother with cooking and jarring on the farm as a little girl in Maine, Sarah was inspired to help other busy mothers with dinner preparation.
In addition to delivering the gourmet dishes in her van, Sarah began bringing the line to local stores, retailers and gourmet food shows. After a very successful run on HSN and flash sale on One Kings Lane, Good Tastes made its way to the freezer section of Whole Foods.
Shortly after Good Tastes hit retail shelves, Sarah gave birth to her second son, Sam, in May of 2010. Sarah and Josh found themselves navigating both parenthood and their own start up ventures during this exciting time.
During the early phases of Good Tastes, Sarah struggled with "switching gears" from mommy to CEO, but she eventually found a healthy balance of career and family. Throughout the process, Sarah has made it a priority to spend time with her sons, passing down her love of cooking.
Sarah has always encouraged her two sons to be creative and pursue their own dreams. Here, the budding entrepreneurs set up shop at their first neighborhood lemonade stand.
Sarah and Josh make a point of bringing their sons on fun family trips whenever possible. Here, the family enjoys a beautiful ski day on the slopes in Maine after a busy week.
Another part of the balancing act, Sarah is not only a mother, sister and daughter, but also an aunt! Here, Sarah and her adorable niece Charlotte bake cookies together on a Saturday afternoon.
Sarah was inspired by a lunch she had with a friend at a local Colombian restaurant, kicking her mind into gear for the next phase of her business: Buen Sabor. This new line would take its inspiration from traditional flavors of Latin America.
The next step for Good Tastes is a line of gourmet foods with a Latin American twist called Buen Sabor -- Spanish for Good Taste. "It's all about uniting over food and discovering new flavors," Sarah says. Here is a sneak peak of the line's meal offerings.
Sarah worked with several chefs who specialize in Latin American cuisine to help with the launch of Buen Sabor. While on vacation in Mexico, she discovered new flavors by visiting local markets and getting familiar with new produce, spices and flavor profiles.
With recipes like Chicken Tamal, Rice with Chorizo and Cheese and a line of Empanadas, Buen Sabor will hit the shelves at 200 Target stores in May of 2014. Here, Sarah experiments with new flavors at home.
In the midst of this busy mom-turned-CEO's success, Sarah has made her family her number one priority. Here, she takes a break from her cooking tour of Mexico to relax with her family for an afternoon on the beach.
“I thought I could create a meal delivery service,” Sarah explained, “for really busy people who loved to cook with healthy, natural ingredients, but didn’t have the time. The dinner kits would be 80% done, and I’d include a recipe card, so parents would still get that feeling of ownership, rather than feeling like they were just warming something up.”
Sarah found a commercial kitchen and began whipping up dishes like Sweet Potato Chicken Croquettes, Hoisen Pork Wraps, and an array of pasta dishes. She put the word out to her neighbors, and it wasn’t long before the busy mom was working around the clock and driving all over town in a refrigerated van.
“I became that person you’d always see running. I never walked. I ran. I’d park my car and run into the grocery store. I’d run into the post office. I was constantly running. My day began at 5:30 AM and I was still working until one in the morning. By the end of 2008, the only current topic I was aware of was that Obama had been elected president.”
And in an effort to make even more people aware of her fledgling business, she convinced a local wine store to stock some of her customer’s favorites. She’d been making a different flavor of gourmet Macaroni & Cheese each month -- comfort food with a twist -- creamy varieties infused with wild mushrooms, bacon and shallots, even brie and fig. So she took a page from her childhood and made a little more -- and packed a freezer in the merchant’s store.
“That wholesale piece was really just to drive the meal delivery service,” Sarah said with a smile, “but then it hit me, it was a lot easier to deliver a case to a store than it was to drive all over town.”
So Sarah began bringing the gourmet dishes, she’d named Good Tastes, to lots of other local stores. She even started a Mac & Cheese of the month club -- shipping, rather than driving her comfort food throughout the country. And then she decided to step outside of her own comfortable surroundings. She brought Good Tastes to the Fancy Food Show in New York.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had no distribution channels set up. People would ask about brokers and I didn’t have any idea what they were talking about. But what I did know was that I had something unique and different. And I was right. People stopped in their tracks when they saw Brie and Fig Macaroni & Cheese.”
Among those people were buyers from HSN. They ordered 4000 boxes that needed to be delivered within a month. And that wasn’t the only delivery Sarah had on her mind. She’d just found out that she was pregnant with her second child.
“We weren’t set up for that type of manufacturing. So there I was, in my first trimester, fighting morning sickness, while I made massive quantities of Mac & Cheese -- all the while, worrying about the ten pounds the camera adds!”
Clearly the entire country was looking for comfort, because Sarah sold out -- not only on HSN, but in a flash sale on One Kings Lane. It wasn’t long before Good Tastes made its way to the freezer section of Whole Foods and Sarah found a manufacturing partner.
“Instead of chopping 200 pounds of cheese by hand,” she remembered, “I watched them press a button and it was done! I completely teared up. Some girls get excited about diamonds. I get excited about really great manufacturing partners.”
Within five years, Sarah went from delivering door to door, to manufacturing enough Mac & Cheese for 600 stores. By early 2013, she caught the eye and interest of an angel investor who offered to help her get to the next step. They pulled together a team of advisors who’d worked with brands like Kashi and Pepsi, but it was over lunch with a friend from her past, that Sarah would see her future.
“My friend is Columbian and she wanted me to try the foods that she had grown up with. So we went to a South American restaurant and she ordered enough food for ten people! Afterwards, she wanted to stop at a Latin market that carried ingredients she had a hard time finding close to home, so I went with her. As we walked down the freezer aisle, I was blown away by the lack of Latin American foods in the freezer section. All I saw was Stouffers, Lean Cuisine and some Tex Mex interpretations in bright yellow boxes.”
And that’s when the woman who grew up cooking for her family, decided it was time to offer a taste of home to another culture. She went back to her kitchen and developed recipes for dishes like Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo, Chicken Tamal, Rice with Chorizo and Cheese and a line of Empanadas -- all made with natural ingredients. She named the brand Buen Sabor -- the Spanish words for Good Taste -- and with the help of her team, this May, it will begin to roll out at 200 Target stores.
And while she’s got a lot to be proud of, what seems to bring Sarah the most fulfillment, is that many of the ingredients she uses can be traced back to family farms like the one she was raised on. The creameries and farmers she partners with can be tracked on her website -- once again, bringing comfort to busy parents, who want the best for their kids.
“I get so much joy from feeding people and being able to do it in this large of a way,” Sarah said softly, “sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure it’s really happening. I don’t want to make this sound easy or to underestimate the cost. It can be scary. But for me it would have been scarier to never try -- because if you don’t take that leap, you’ll never find out where you could land.”
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