These inspiring entrepreneurs share their secrets for making it big
This baker went from slinging homemade pies on her Brooklyn stoop to selling her artisanal Pop Tarts at more than 8,500 Starbucks locations.
Meghan Ritchie, owner of Megpies, the strawberry and cinnamon brown sugar-flavored hand pies, was working part-time as a waitress in 2011 and churning out pastries as a passion project before even dreaming of expanding her Brooklyn-bread empire nationally.
“What I loved to make more than anything was hand pies,” she tells Moneyish of the sweet buttery pockets filled with preserves and topped with a sheen of icing she’d make in her kitchen. “My goal at that point was to get out of my apartment,” she recalls.
So in 2012, she began selling them at the food festival Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. After that it became a labor of love with her business and life partner Paul Jones who helped get accounts at neighborhood cafes and coffee shops like Stumptown, and deliver the baked goods on his bike.
A year later, Ritchie, with the help of a few assistants, was cranking out around 3,000 tarts a week. They landed a partnership selling pies on QVC, next an exec from Starbucks looking to find mom-and-pop producers with tasty products and good ingredients came calling. They started with a test run in 30 Starbucks stores in New York and then expanded nationally. A four pack of tarts costs $15 on their site, and one at Starbucks costs $3.95.
“You have to really be ready to have a lot of product,” says Ritchie of prepping for the massive overhaul.
To do this, she found a co-manufacturing facility in Sunset Park working with an experienced baker to tweak the recipe slightly for mass production.
When it comes to giving business advice to fellow entrepreneurs she says simply: pick a lane early on — in her case, it was between having a retail storefront or going wholesale.
“What I find has been the driving factor amongst the growth is determining exactly what you want your business to be and trying to commit to that,” she says of deciding to focus on just one product rather than many at a bakery. Ritchie and Jones hope to expand to grocery stores next.
Like Meggie Pies, the founders of Rip Van Wafel came from humble business beginnings. Millennial entrepreneur Rip Pruisken, 29, grew up in Amsterdam and dreamt up an edible idea to show Americans the Dutch treat wafels, wafer-thin cookies sandwiched between a gooey center, using a wafel iron in his dorm room while attending Brown University in 2010. He teamed up with his friend turned business partner Marco De Leon, and started selling the treats, which have just 8 grams of sugar, on campus. In 2012, he started making the sweets and hand delivering them to local tech start ups that give free snacks to employees. To get funding for expansion, they started a Kickstarter campaign and managed to raise $23,000.
“That gave me the capital to buy the machinery, the ingredients and rent the space in Providence with a beat up Volvo station wagon to get around the campus hand delivering the orders we were getting on a regular basis,” Pruisken says.
Fast Forward to 2016, and the wafels are in 12,000 Starbucks in the US and Canada along with supermarkets like Shoprite, Stop & Shop and on American Airlines flights.
“In 2011 when were just starting out, and we didn’t even have a commercialized product, we realized Howard Schultz was doing a book tour going around the country and I literally got on a plane — after four failed attempts listening to him talk — I finally got in front of him at a book signing and gave him a Rip Van Wafel,” Pruisken remembers.
“The key thing is to make sure that the product fits the company that you want to partner with,” says Pruisken, who believes being persistent is a job requirement, adding that he spent a lot of time networking and getting people to taste his product.
The increased demand for locally-sourced ingredients has led to more opportunities for small local businesses, like New York City mainstay Bantam Bagels, doughy bagel balls made from scratch and stuffed with different flavors of cream cheese, where owner Elyse Oleksak, who founded the business with her husband, believes starting out as a local retailer in the West Village helped her establish a brand.
“We started as a shop in New York City because we wanted to develop authenticity and credibility,” says Oleksak, who would network with customers.
“Expansion was our dream from the beginning,” Oleksak adds, of getting her product into places like Starbucks.
Oleksak knew she needed someone with experience in mass producing and marketing so she sought out advice by applying to be on “Shark Tank.” She ended up getting Lori Greiner to invest $275,000 for 25% equity of Bantam Bagels. They were able to take the business from a $200,000 a year mom-and-pop shop to a $13 million food brand.
“We were never afraid of asking for advice or bringing on partners who would lead us in the right direction,” says Olesak. “That helped get us more of a national platform. We simultaneously built out a shipping business, completely reinventing the business from scratch.”
So when Starbucks came calling, she was ready. They started in three stores in New York City, putting up signs for the mini bagel bites in coffee shops. Soon the number of stores expanded to 500 stores and today they’re in just over 12,000. “We’re a commodity, but the value that we bring there and in grocery stores is we come this really authentic background. It’s all about staying true to your brand.”
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