Chef Harv and the Gratitude Cookie: How an Entrepreneur Overcame Hurricanes and More

by Lori Saitz on July 7, 2009

Lori Saitz

Guest contributor Lori Saitz is founder of Zen Rabbit Baking Company. She helps people show appreciation for and give recognition to others. The main (delicious!) tool her team uses to help accomplish this important feat is through The Gratitude Cookie(tm). A thin, crunchy cross between a butter and a sugar cookie, The Gratitude Cookie is so named because if you’re eating the cookies, you’re encouraged to think about something you are grateful for as you munch on each one.

Oh, my budding entrepreneurial student, are you in for a ride.
At the end of my “You Should Sell That-Creating a Wildly Successful Business from Your Family Recipe” workshop last weekend I was asked if there were ever times when I questioned myself and what I was doing. Were there ever any doubts? Hahahaha! Oh, my budding entrepreneurial student, are you in for a ride.

If I had known what I was in for when I started my business, it’s highly unlikely I would have continued on with the journey. On the other hand, persistence was already one of my strong suits.

Needing another place to bake…stat
Shortly after starting my business, I was subleasing space in a commercial kitchen. The holiday season was coming up and I was expecting to see an upturn in business as I began marketing to my corporate contacts.
Late summer and fall is hurricane season in Florida and that year the state got hit with Charlie, Frances and Jeanne. All in all, we spent a total of more than two weeks without power. That would have been tolerable, but then I discovered that my commercial kitchen space had been severely damaged and I was going to have to find another place to bake.

Fully loaded kitchen (and opportunity)
The health department doesn’t take kindly to businesses using their home kitchens, so I was going to need to find another facility quickly. Fortunately I was able to connect quickly with a local church and started using their kitchen for baking my holiday orders. It turned out to be a huge blessing because this kitchen was fully loaded, with 3 commercial ovens, a giant mixer, lots of counter space and a super nice kitchen manager who was happy to have me use her facility. And despite the fact that I was only supposed to be there temporarily, until the other place was repaired, I ended up staying for two years.

Client changes and Hurricane Wilma
The next year, Hurricane Wilma claimed the budgets of my local clients, who were now funneling their funds for holiday giving into hurricane repairs for the second year in a row. Fortunately not all my clients were located in Florida, so the season wasn’t completely lost. But it was certainly another test of my tenacity and determination.

Chef Harv and the unexpected
After months and months of searching, I found the perfect place. Chef Harv and I hit it off right away. I felt really comfortable working with him and optimistic about growth potential. He helped me decide on leasing a piece of equipment that would automate the whole process and we worked on getting everything in order for the upcoming holiday season. We hadn’t actually signed a contract yet when Chef Harv ran the first batch of 5,000 cookies the week of Thanksgiving.

And then came the phone call.
December 1st, Chef Harv was killed in a car accident. It still brings tears to my eyes to think about how even though I’d known him less than six months, I felt that I’d lost an amazing friend. The fear over what would happen to my business came second.

To the credit of Chef Harv’s team, they pulled off the incredible feat of fulfilling all my holiday orders that season. My clients had no idea what was going on behind the scenes!

(image Teamwork by Alexdc, Creative Commons)

Patience and preparing for more business growth
Chef Harv’s wife decided to continue the business and we did end up signing a contract. It was not the terms Chef Harv and I had agreed on, but I felt stuck because the machine was there, I had searched so long to find this place and I didn’t know what other option I had. So I stayed with that facility for a year and a half, all the while looking for somewhere else to go, looking for another contract baker. Eventually I found her, a true baking partner with whom I have a wonderful working relationship and the capacity to grow.

Throughout all these ordeals, and there were more than I mention here, there were plenty of days that I questioned if this was all worth it. Could I really run this business? I felt like I had no idea what the heck I was doing. Admittedly, I still have some of those days now.

But in the end, if you truly believe in what you’re doing, if you have faith in yourself and your goal, you soldier on. You are persistent. You prove to the universe and everyone that you DO want and deserve success. And eventually it starts to come to you.

And in between giving gratitude and growing her company, Lori writes at her blog Rabbit Rouser Online where she can be reached.

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