I happened to pick up a few pints of the Sorbabes Gourmet Sorbet this summer out in the Hamptons. I am mildly addicted to new products that look too good not to try. It was a nice treat. Then an email dropped into my box from Deborah introducing me to herself and her co-founder. Starting a food business might be one of the most difficult things to do. Starting a food business that has to be frozen takes it to a whole other level. I was interested.
Deborah grew up in the Yorkville neighborhood of the Upper East Side of NYC. Her Mom is an artist and her father is an ophthalmologist eye surgeon. Deborah went off to Washington University in St Louis where she majored in advertising and graphic design. She was drawn to the arts and spent one semester in Florence. Looking back it was there that the food world drew her in. Her Grandmother had taught her to cook and in Florence the meal became the center of each day. It was inspiring. She spent the day seeing Italian frescos and art thinking about what the meal was going to be that evening. She began to think about what she wanted to do when she graduated from college and she knew that she wanted to work with her hands.
He first job out of college was working for a small production company that made commercials in NYC She stayed there for three years doing post production work on commercials. It was 2002. She knew it was not for her. Instead she decided to take break and move to Milan and in 2003 moved there. She was mildly obsessed with Italian culture after spending the semester in Florence. She took some cooking classes in Milan and worked in restaurants. It was her mission to find herself when she was in Milan.
She returned to NYC and took a job where she went back into advertising because she knew it and could make money. Very quickly she realized ugh this is not what I went away for. She took a drive up to Stone Barns and walked in and said that she would work for free. They took her. She was diligent, hard working and did whatever they asked. She was totally comfortable in the kitchen and two months later they hired her. She stayed for a year and got burnt out. Her husband was in NYC and she was basically living up at Stone Barns. She shift gears and landed a job at A Voce just as it was opening. She stayed there a year before she was pulled in Greg Kuntz businesses that opened and then closed. She became a private chef after that. She ended up meeting Nicole in the Hamptons through one of her favorite clients. Nicoles mother-in-law was the house manager and introduced the two of them. As Deborah says, they hit it off immediately and became each others wives.
Nicole grew up in Anchorage, Alaksa. She was born in Palmer Alaska (population 6300) and when she got older they moved to Anchorage. She laughed thinking that it is kind of humorous that she ended up working with frozen products all day long. Her Mom primarily did business management for small businesses such a private medical practices. Her father was a CPA who had moved to Alaska initially to work on the pipeline. When the kids were born he got his CPA and began auditing different businesses around the state of Alaksa. Between the two of them that is where she gets her business sense and accounting skills. Her parents were high school sweethearts from Georgia. In 1976 her mom bought a Camero and they two of them drove to Alaska, fell in love and set down roots.
Nicoles free ticket was after graduating high school she just started to travel. She decided to go to Pace in NYC without even seeing it. She knew she wanted to study business and be in NYC. Nicole was an avid traveler which was always her passion. She would save money up during the school year working random jobs (she also paid for her own college) and then she would go travel. She'd spend the summers in full immersion programs in other countries from Spain, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. She would live with families and take classes 3-5 hours a day. Learning Spanish by herself was an amazing adventure.
She was determined to make it in business and had her eye on Wall Street. She got hired by JPMorgan after college into the investment banking program. After four months of intensive training and being top of her class she moved to the investment banking department. Being in this world seemed like the perfect fit but the truth was Nicole was miserable. She stayed a few years and when the day she graduated from the credit program her sister was killed. That changed everything.
Domestic violence killed her sister leaving two young kids in her wake. It turned her whole life upside down. The kids went to live with her Dad since her Mom had died a few years back. It took her a few years to get out of the funk she was in. She realized that she did not want to spend the rest of her life in a cubicle and she did not need to make millions to make herself happy yet she had to work to pay the bills.
Nicole left JPMorgan and began to work in financial related jobs very similar to what her Mom did. She met people who were starting their own businesses from real estate to even planning to making curtains and Nicole set up their businesses for them. She kept thinking I want to do something myself. It was 2008 and the market crashed.
Nicole knew it was time for a change. She started doing what she did in college which was making sorbet. She'd go to the green market and get a huge garbage bag of bruised fruit taking it off the farmers hands for $10. She'd make sorbet and sit on the roof tops with her friends and eat it. It was cathartic. Then she began to test recipes in her free time. She just had her first child and her husband totally supported her efforts. She felt she could make something out of this. She bought a sub-par freezer which she kept outside in order to keep it cold. Then she discovered a new toy, Pacojet, that takes a huge block of ice and shaves things superfine so you can make any sorbet out of it . She thought I can not do this all by myself and then she met Deborah.
Deborah decided to come on board. Deborah manages the quality control, design and production while Nicole does all the business stuff. The good wives. First they went to DeKalb Market and got them to buy their products. Then they landed a wholesale and retail account in the Hamptons. They got such great feedback they realized that they really did have a special business on their hands. The winter of 2012/13 they concentrated on the brand. What is the voice they want it to be, what is their debut line, what is their packaging going to look like, how do we want to get there. They decided to launch in the focused environment of Sag Harbor where her husband grew up. They went around to all the stores and 90% of them said yes to carrying the product and boom they had a business.
It has become crazy to meet the demands of their customers but they are figuring it out. I know when we spoke they were talking to some large plants about manufacturing their products. Two people who literally came from the other side of the country that didn't even realize that the food business is what they were both looking for to make them excited about getting up every morning to go to work.