Susie Fogelson, Founder & CEO of Fogelson&Co.
Yes, she does look familiar. If you’re a foodie or a glutton for cooking challenges, you may recognize her as one of the judges on the show The Next Food Network Star, while she was SVP of the Food Network and Cooking Channel. But that gig was just a peek into the expertise that Susie Fogelson brings to the proverbial table.
Not only is she a magnetic and empathetic leader from the corporate world, (who I happened to idolize at my first job out of college), but she is also showing major food brands how they can take a socially conscious approach.
As the Founder of Fogelson & Co., Susie is now serving the food industry by helping brands find their food story and tell it. In doing this, she is also elevating awareness of innovative food trends.
In this fascinating conversation, Susie shares her journey of following a passion for food, her experience striking major revenue-generating deals with advertisers, we dive deep into so many current trends in the food industry, the importance of being socially conscious as a culinary brand, food-tech vs agriculture-tech, and her own approach to sustainable eating.
- Founder & CEO of Fogelson & Co.
- Former SVP, Food Network & Cooking Channel
- Judge on The Next Food Network Star
- Food Trends Expert
Topics discussed in this conversation include:
- How food became a passion for Susie
- Working in Advertising, Nickelodeon and how she ended up at the Food Network
- Personal favorites and challenges of being SVP at the Food Network
- Being on television and judging The Next Food Network Star
- Strategizing talent like Bobby Flay for deals with advertisers like Kohl's
- Finding the niche need for Food Marketing within Entertainment Marketing and why it's needed
- Doing business with a Higher Purpose
- Biggest Food Trends in the industry
- Transparency, Mindfulness and Higher Purpose in the Food Industry
- Brands that are shifting to wellness and wellbeing in food
- What makes businesses and leaders successful
- How Susie views her own success
- Susie's own wellness routine
- Susie's perspective on the state of the world, wellness and food in the future
- Valuable advice for entrepreneurs
Founder and CEO of F&Co, Susie Fogelson, is the former Senior Vice President of Marketing and Brand Strategy at Food Network and Cooking Channel and the driving force in all aspects of strategy and marketing for both brands. Over the course of her career, Susie has cultivated and fine-tuned her expertise of the food-connected consumer and the food-marketing ecosystem. Susie founded F&Co to bring her skills to brands across categories, by uncovering insights and developing storytelling strategies to help them find relevance in today's marketplace.
Let's start from the very beginning. I want to hear about where you grew up, how you grew up and what got you into food?
Sure. I grew up in Los Angeles and I was raised by my dad. And whenever I think about why I'm so passionate about food and why food means so much to me, I can kind of trace it right back to my roots, growing up with my dad. So my dad's kind of a born and bred New Yorker and he moved to the west coast. We were in Los Angeles. We would have very specific food occasions. So every Sunday [we’d get] bagels that I enjoy at this little dump, where you waited online, it was super hot. They made the bagels on site, and we’d grab our hot, steamy bag of bagels. Then we'd go to the supermarket and we'd get our tomatoes, and we'd get our onions. And then we'd go to the deli and we'd get our whitefish. I mean, this was his ritual. We did this every Sunday.
And he had a lot of those [rituals]. And I think just growing up I realized that food was an experience and that's what makes it so personal and it is just a huge turn, on as a marketer, to be able to connect. I've marketed a lot of stuff in my life and I think food is probably the most exciting because of the connection that people have to it; because of the connections that I have to it.
What was your first job and how did you end up at the Food Network?
I'm from LA originally. I went to UCLA. And my first job was as an assistant media planner at an agency called Chiat Day. And Jay Chiat was sort of the godfather of account planning and account strategy, which at the time was relatively new. It was a strategic approach to advertising and media.
He was also one of the largest modern art collectors in the world. (He's passed away.) So, this office was the one of the most incredible offices that I've ever been to. So I walked in as an assistant media planner in a building that Frank Gehry had designed. They paid me $15,186, and I loved every second of it. And I worked on a big account, an automotive account, and I guess the good news is that there was such an incredibly large budget, as automotive typically has, that I was able to get really well versed in all media. So that was a great foundation for me as a media expert, and Food Network obviously is media, and it's food. So understanding just how all media works, how to target, how to think about strategic media planning and thinking about how the creative makes its way into media.
This was all just great training for ending up as a Head of Marketing. And I love targeting. I think that at the end of the day, I love the idea that you could see something, or find a message from a brand, and that they would find you, and they would know where to find you. And that was sort of the beginning of my fascination with targeting.
Cool. And then when did you move to New York?
I moved to New York three years after I started at Chiat Day, which became TWA Chiat Day, so consolidation was happening even then. And I worked on Nickelodeon [in New York]. So I got promoted and started working on Nickelodeon and really fell in love with entertainment. Funny that I came from LA and kind of ran from entertainment, and ended up working in entertainment in New York.
So I ultimately left and went to Nickelodeon and worked as a marketing manager and had a really great run there. I launched Sponge Bob Square Pants. I'm probably dating myself. July 7th. And I worked on the Kid’s Choice Awards. So I learned how an entertainment company, TV brand [works]. Nick is so much more than television brand, obviously. How all of that works together—that was really great training to think about 360 [degrees] in a way that encompassed on-air, consumer products, digital research, press, talent relations. So they were doing everything at such a high level that I got a really great introduction to marketing at a high level with incredible assets. Nick, being the number one kid’s player at the time.
And then you ended up at the Food Network. What was it about the Food Network that appealed to you?
Well, it's funny because they recruit. A recruiter called, looking for a Director of Marketing at “FoodTV” [which is what they used to call the Food Network], and the woman who got the call came to me and said, “I got this call from this FoodTV, and that's all you're ever talking about. So you should talk to them.” And I was so happy at Nickelodeon, I had so much going for me at Nickelodeon. But I talked about Food Network all the time. I don't recall at the time, I don't necessarily remember that. And then once I went to Food Network, people would say to me, “of course you’re at Food Network.” I’d say, “why do you say that?” And they’d say, “because you're always talking about where are you going for lunch, where we went for lunch, what you had for dinner last night, what you're having for dinner tonight… And you’re always asking us what we ate and how it was.” And I I just didn't realize that I was that nosy!
So I went to Food Network and I was there for 16 years.
Wow 16 years. That’s a long time. What were some of your favorite things about working there? What were some of the challenges?
As I said, it's a marketer's dream to be able to intersect food and entertainment. And in such an inspired way. I feel like Food Network really created a genre of content, which is food entertainment. But I think there was great food programming out there, the Julia Childs of the world, even Martha Stewart, doing food at a really high level. Food Network brought food entertainment together in a way that hadn't been done. And I feel like the opportunity to market that brand everyday.
I mean, I'd walk in a half-inch off the ground every day for 15 years, and it's because of that brand. And then right there with that were the people. I mean we had an incredible executive team. It was a small, tight little group. We all reported into the President. I had an unbelievable team that I was able to oversee and work with, and I think the good news is that when you do well you get more responsibility. So for me it was started in marketing than ended up getting promoted and taking over Creative, taking over Press and Talent Relations, taking over PR. So the brand and the people for sure.
And what were some of the challenges that you found?
Growing. I think that when there's just a few people and the stakes are medium, you can make some decisions and you can fail, and it's not so public and it's not so costly.
And the challenge with growing and becoming a Top 10 rated brand is that no one thought you could do it. No one thought FoodTV could ever be that. But also it just becomes bureaucratic and getting things done gets harder. There's a lot of steps and a lot of processes and they're not always good for groups. So I think the challenges were understanding what we needed to do from a financial perspective, where we needed to be from a financial perspective, and making sure that the team was aware of that enough that they could operate and not work in a vacuum. That what they were doing, they understood how there was a greater goal associated. So, “X show” that we're launching needs to be successful and hit this number.
What does that mean for the quarter of our ratings? What does that mean for the financials of Ad Sales? You need to understand the importance of this show, not just because it's important, because it's this important. And in essence, you need to be thinking about the level of emphasis that we need to be putting on this. So even in your day to day, if you're prioritizing work and you're not prioritizing this A-Level priority, and making it two priorities that are at the same level, that's not strategic. So understanding the big picture I think was always a challenge; to make sure the team had enough information, but not too much information, in order to be successful.
I think that’s so important because when you're in those kinds of jobs when you're supporting, or like when I was at Food Network, I was an assistant, then coordinator, a support staff, it's hard to see the big picture actually, so I think that goes a long way for sure.
I don't think everybody gives you the big picture. I think it should be empowering to know that what you're doing adds up to something bigger, and then you should be able to make your own decisions about how you manage your time, based on those priorities. It doesn’t matter what level, there's just a level of common sense and everyone needs to [share] and if you don't have that information, I don't think you feel part of something. Feeling empowered to make decisions not being micromanaged and feeling valued. I think it's just the key to being a good leader and, and liking your job.
What was your experience like as a judge on The Next Food Network Star? Did you enjoy being on TV? What was that like?
It was just… kickass! I mean, how fun that I would get to have this side hustle, that was a judge on a reality show.
I had been pregnant, I was nursing, I was very emotional some episodes. I was actually pregnant and I didn't know it in one episode, and I was very emotional and then I was like, oh, I'm pregnant. I would get emotional when I was watching [the contestants] spill their hearts out, these sweet finalists. And then my boobs would be leaking! It was very much a personal journey. But it was an incredible opportunity.
I remember the day when they walked in, CBS Production started the show, they did the first pilot for us and they said, “here's a video, we're going to put it on a TV monitor. Just sit in [this] conference room and then react to it.”
And I was like, okay. “Tell us what you think of what they're doing.” And so I just told them what I thought. I did it for a few people in the office, and I guess I did okay. And they gave me the gig.
So I think in the beginning it was like, it didn't get it. There was a pretty low budget, and then the show obviously grew and became one of the number one shows at Food Network. It was just exciting I think to be marketing it, to be thinking through partnerships and ad sales alliances, to be thinking about PR and some of the talent, to promoting the talent and the new faces that we were finding, as well as the established talent that were already in it. And it was really cool to be on the other side of it –Finding our next talent because what I did a lot of at Food Network, certainly towards the last seven years, was focused on talent brands and how we could leverage the talent brands in order to create game. And that could be an ad sales deal with Mccormick Spices or it could be a deal with Dish Networks on a particular talent, or it could be something for ad sales at Media Vest for the day. There were just so many talent means for that brand of. It was so incredible to have them as assets. And we wanted one plus one to equal three. So we did a lot. I did a lot of work with a great team of people and thinking through, how do we leverage the talent, as their own brands, combined with Food Network, to create something bigger for a great game and offer us an advantage in the marketplace.
It was a tremendous advantage. I think that when I got there, it was “the talent do shows, that's what they do.” And after [I was there], it turned into endorsement deals, deep partnerships, partnerships on publishing, going into consumer products with them. We did a deal with Kohl’s and Bobby Flay. We did, I think it was, 57 different talent deals with our advertisers. I'm making millions of dollars for them, as well as for us.
Next Food Network Star was such an incredible platform to show the behind the scenes of what was happening and how we actually go about it. It was so authentic in that way, but from there it really made me think about how talent represents an interesting opportunity here. I'm not sure that I would have gotten there if I hadn't had that role in the show.
Food Network was really responsible for this whole trend of these cooks and chefs basically becoming rockstars now. And you weren't really seeing that happened before.
I think that [it was] the timing of our chefs growing in popularity, so that they were as famous and as interesting as any top level actor or actress. But also the need for content, right?
Advertisers are just desperate to try to do something above and beyond the typical 30-second spot, that promotes the features and benefits of their product. They're just desperate to create really interesting content that they can put out across social platforms. And great content is often fronted by great talent. So that kind of bubbling up in conjunction with the brands and their lane… you know, we've got health and wellness and we've got barbecue over here and we've got Asian fusion or Indian and, and we've got home cooking and we've got kitchen tech. I mean we just had so many different types of talent, that matching up the talents DNA with a brand DNA and creating a media marketing and content story, was just right on time.
Super Fun. I love it. And now you've have embarked on your own entrepreneurial business, you've moved on from Food Network. Let’s talk about that a little bit.
Tell me about Fogelson & Company. What do you do? What kind of clients do you have? What's it about?
Well, on the heels of the work that I did with a lot of brands at Food Network, when I left, I really felt like there was a need in the marketplace that was related to just how explosive the food world had become. It seemed to me that food marketing was actually a thing, just like sports marketing may be, or even music marketing. Maybe you could say it's all entertainment marketing, but there was a specific facet that is food marketing, and that brands needed help thinking through this food culture—the food ecosystem. And that could be products on shelves, experiences, recipe content, instructional content, YouTube videos. I mean it’s just everything. There's just so much food content out there. So how does your brand represent in that culture? Understanding the food connected consumer.
Because gone are the days where we call people “foodies” anymore, right? Foodies are an exclusive, small scale little group of people that are connected to food. Food is anything but that. It's inclusive, it's global, it's big, it's young, it's a specific mindset, but it's broad. So the food connected consumer and food culture are these specific things in marketing. And the idea that you would need a strategy and some help storytelling seem to make sense to me. So I started focusing on a code to do that. So what I say is I help brands find their food story and tell it. And this is really food strategy and storytelling and we've had a lot of traction with big food.
I think there were 1100 mergers and acquisitions in the food space in 2017. At a total of $77 million dollars. So big food is purchasing small food startups. Like Nestle, Unilever, Kraft, etc. purchasing small, artisanal, specialty foods. Because big food, no disrespect to Oreos and Doritos, they do a huge business, but food needs are changing. People's curiosity and their desire to take care of themselves are changing. And that food maybe in the picture, but there are other options that need to happen. And I feel like big food sometimes can legitimately go there and sometimes they need to borrow equity. So they're buying and gobbling up and acquiring and incubating a lot of small food brands.
So [I’m] helping big food figure that out. Working with private equity. I mean there are a lot of food and beverage focused, private equity and venture capitalist firms, right? They're looking for the next Kind Bar. So the idea that we would work and help them make the right bets made a lot of sense. So that’s a food strategy.
Is it mostly acquisitions or is it also helping them create products that are catered towards this new food connected consumer?
Well, we're working with some startups, that are thinking about plant-forward cuisine, that are thinking about grab and go convenience. And so the idea that there are venture capitalists looking to invest in those startups as well as big food looking to invest in those startups; that's a really interesting. The ecosystem is really interesting.
And then restaurant groups. I mean, you've got this sort of blurring. Fast food, casual dining, fine dining are all blurring. Fine dining is now doing take-out. And a fast food is now doing fine food. So “fine-casual”. And everybody wants to grab and go, but they want it to be delicious and a high quality and affordable. So fast food has transformed. Shake Shack is a great example of really good food, really quick and easy. And the demanding consumer wants that convenience.
Casual dining is in a bit of a challenge because it's not grab and go, but it's not an hour of fine dining. So what do you go to Applebee's for? Why are you spending 45 minutes to an hour there, when you can either grab and go, or sit and have a great meal. Why? So we worked with Applebee's on a big project, which included how to bring their signature menu items to life, how to create a richer experience inside the restaurant.
What a fun project! What kind of menu changes did you make?
We worked with their signature menu items. So the idea that they have these hot performing items, foods that people love, (everything from their fiesta chicken salad to their appetizer sampler platter), but making that even richer of an experience. So we played with an idea called “Family Style 2.0”.
We all know that hot pots are really trendy, right? Everybody wants to sit around a table and make their own version and share with each other and say, “hey, try mine”, and do it together like that. That experience is important to people. It's so much more than just going out to eat. It's a shared experience. So we’re trying to borrow equity from that idea. I always think the quintessential food that I think started this was Fajitas. It comes deconstructed. And you can make your version and you don't like peppers, but I do and I want you to take that, I did mine with beef and I want you to taste mine and you're going to do yours with chicken or pork. So this simple idea that we're actually creating Family Style 2.0, and making these experiences feel like barbecues, like celebrations.
And then a simple concept that I think a lot of restaurants are doing is bringing stuff tableside. It’s sort of peeking behind the curtain. So when you order a dish, it doesn't just come made and served; you actually have an opportunity to watch it be constructed and to hear a little bit. There are many restaurants that have been doing versions of it. Guacamole has always been served table side. Some Italian restaurants do Caesar Salad. So we just borrowed equity for some things that were obvious winners. And for them, they needed to transform quickly, so they needed ideas that were [easily] doable.
There's long-term and then their short-term, and I feel like these were some good short-term solutions that are testing in markets now.
And what was your own personal intention behind starting Fogelson & Co. and what kind of higher purpose do you see yourself serving for the world with this?
You know, I’m always thinking about that. Smart with the heart is what I hope good leaders are thinking about -- how to add value. We're a small company, so I mean, there's companies that have scale that can move the “good needle” much faster. But I would endeavor to say, we're working with brands that can be thinking about how they can impact, right?
So if we don't necessarily have scale right now per se, but we work with brands that have scaled. If I'm working with a restaurant group or I'm working with a food brand, [I’m looking for] where is the soft underbelly within the marketing, within the campaign. Is there a way to think about doing good in the idea that also drives business? And I think that there is. So it's not a specific answer, but I think it's always thinking about a cause.
Cause Marketing is not an option, you know? Cause Marketing is not optional. Really good brands are thinking about how do we do business and impact the environment or consumers, and how do we impact them in a positive way. So choosing to work with brands that really get that. Also, I think taking on a pro-social client, pro-bono is a really good way of allowing our expertise to benefit an organization that is out to do good.
So we have some proposals at play right now that are with childhood hunger organizations, and we would take those on obviously pro-bono because we feel we could add value and we believe in what they're doing.
What are some of your favorite or some of the biggest food trends going on right now that are supportive of the mindfulness & wellness movement?
I think that's probably the biggest right now. Transparency. So it's everything from food safety to food trackability, to clean labeling. Every brand is trying to think in some way, how they can be forthcoming about either where their products are from or how their products get to you, , in a way that's truthful and authentic.
Not every brand has that story, but I think most brands are trying to think about it. I think what was the catalyst to it though—Mindfulness is not just something that I go do an hour a day in my yoga studio. Mindfulness and self care is something I think about from the moment I get up. And, and if you’re parents, you are thinking about it for your kids, if you’re a child, you might be thinking about for your parents. I think everybody's thinking about how can I care for myself? Again, I don't mean just meditation. I mean what I eat, how I treat the world and given the choice, millennials will always opt to purchase products, the large cross section of milennials, will always opt to purchase products that are doing something. They want to support causes not companies.
So what you do matters and it's not just about the bottom line. There is a triple bottom line that does include the environment. And I think people are thinking about that. And it comes from, probably a mistrust. I think there's a mistrust a politically, I think people are frustrated. I think the #MeToo movement, I think women feel they need to advocate more than they have before to be heard and be taken seriously. I think that people are demanding transparency in order to make good decisions for themselves. And I think that is probably one of the single biggest trends in food. And I think it comes in this form of mindfulness. But it really comes from a place where I need to care for myself, and brands that get that and are willing to show themselves, will win.
Who are some of your favorite brands that you see doing that right now?
So many of these small artisinal brands. I'm just talking to Abbott's Butcher, which is a plant-forward company we’re hopefully going to be working with, and the ingredients are natural, plant based, provocative, delicious, and honest. And everything about the way they present themselves, it's exactly that. And I and I love the idea that you don't have to be vegan to enjoy plant-forward meats. That you just might want to make a good call today. Just want to have something that is a little lighter today, little better for the environment today. Just make a good call today. And I think that's manageable and I think that's smart, because that's the way that you can scale. I think if it's a finger wagging “you have to be vegan or else”, [you're going to lose half the people], or you'll never get them.
I feel like brands that are thinking about that. I think Coke is doing really cool things with regards to water and providing clean, drinkable water, globally. They have this one campaign that they don't promote enough that I thought was really interesting. I think that there are some packaged goods companies that are trying to think about how they can impact restaurants –and not restaurants with consumers per se, but the back of the house. So how can some of these packaged goods companies, that distribute products to restaurants, think about the health and wellness of the back of house kitchen staff. It does matter that the dishwasher feels good about being at the job are present and that there is a sense of care and concern for them.
So this idea that the kitchen is a place where health & wellness or mindfulness matter – corporations are really thinking about that. So I think there's numerous brands doing good -- it's not an option anymore.
Fascinating. What about you, personally? Do you think it's important to eat organic or non-GMO or vegan or paleo or what? What are your thoughts on the diets trends these days?
Well, I'm fascinated by them and some people I know are on Whole30 and I'm always just amazed that they have the discipline to do it. I eat everything. If someone has made something for me, I will never not eat it. I know too many chefs to push food away, especially when someone has made it for you, whether it's in a restaurant or not.
Food waste is probably my biggest issue. So I'm like the crazy that takes leftover food from the table to home. And then I will somehow make it for lunch the next day or take that chicken and cut it up and put it in a wrap for my daughter. Like zero waste is [my goal]. It’s just devastating there's enough food. It's not that there's not enough food, that's not what people are hungry. It's a process issue. And I just feel like access to good food [is the problem].
It’s funny, I grew up in LA, as you know, and so I ate a lot of strawberries and tomatoes year-round, and came to New York and tomatoes are here for a couple of months. Strawberries are here for a couple of months and they're not available unless you bring them in from Chile, you know.
And so I just have learned that I'm going to just enjoy my tomatoes for those few months a year and I'm going to teach my kids that too. I do the seasonal. Tastes better, better price and, and I don't need something to come 8,000 miles for me. That just feels wrong when you think about the exhaust blowing out of that plane, ship or car, in order to get that here. It's like, I'm good. I'm going to wait for it. And I'd like to even grow it if I can. Which is a huge trend. Agriculture. [The urban farming and all that.] So I guess I subscribe to it, sounds cliché, local. I do subscribe to it and it's because I can wait, I just want what's good and I don't want you to waste it.
So I'd rather we eat what you have grown locally so you don't have to waste any of that. I feel like I'm probably more vegetarian just because I like vegetarian food. I like vegetables a lot. And I like fish and seafood a lot. And I probably don't eat pork and beef very much. But I will. I made cheeseburgers for my daughter and her friends the other night and made killer cheeseburgers. If I’m going to do it, do it up.
I don't like to buy meat that's not a humanely raised. I mean we've all seen enough of those videos. I think this has been proven, so it's not necessarily my idea, but the idea that you would be eating meat that was frightened and tortured does not sound delicious. In the cells of that animal is fear and pain and that has got to do something to the way that it tastes. It's the muscles. All the blood is flowing through those body parts and the way they treat animals is so foul that I can't support that. It makes me upset. I can't support that.
I could not agree with you more. I don't eat meat. I don't think there's an issue with people eating meat at all - if it's humanely raised and all that. But I think you're right. If the cells of that animal have felt that pain and that fear and then you're digesting it and those cells become your cells, I mean imagine what that does to your body. You know what I mean?
Exactly. And I think it sounds a little precious to say it because I know that the world is eating meat from a variety of sources and I likely will have partners that are, so I don't want to be a walking contradiction. But I really feel like we've got to figure that piece out. I just don't think it's good “juju”. I don’t think it’s good karma for the universe. [There's definitely gotta be a better way.] There is. I mean slaughtering animals is just part of our existence. But abusive slaughtering, So that's my take.
How do you think that businesses can benefit from becoming aware of these trends?
Well, F&Co , when we think about a brand, then we think about what's happening in food culture. We think about the food connected consumer, we're thinking about trends and what's happening in the marketplace that we can use as a blueprint to help you, X brand, find relevance. So for instance, we're talking to Keurig now. Keurig, their K cups, are going to be 100 percent recycling by 2020. Which is really soon. So Keurig might not have had a socially conscious kind of culinary angle, but they will.
So this is an important trend. Socially conscious culinary is a really important trend - back to what we were just talking about. It's not just mindfulness and transparency at restaurants. All food brands need to be thinking about how they can do something that's good for the bottom line. So Keurig might not have been able to fit into that scenario. That might not have been a trend that they could be invested in yet. But they will be. So it's really important to think about what's going on with that brand and what trends can they legitimately align with because if they're aligning with the trends then they're relevant and if they're doing it in a transparent and honest way then they're going to win.
So the brands that we speak to have to be thinking about the trends and that's where our expertise is. And hopefully our expertise and their brand's goals can line up. But it kind of begins and ends with the trends for us.
What do you think makes leaders and the biggest business leaders in this industry the most successful today?
It's a good question. I mean, I don't want to keep using this word, but I do think transparency. I was reading Jeff Bezos’ letter to his board, he sort of writes annually and he's been writing it for like 19 years. It's just such an honest transparency about what's working and what's not. I felt like if that's how he runs his business, I mean he's obviously an incredible example of a leader, but I guess I feel like it kinda goes back to what we were talking about. Having enough information in order to be able to feel like you're adding value, ultimate value, but also not being bogged down with too much detail.
I was in Portugal last week and we were in this area called Belem, and it's just beautiful and historic. I don't remember the name of their President, the Uber driver told us that his palaces were across the street and that he's always walking around. This was a little waterfront area with little shops and little trinkets. And he's always walking around. He just walks around and I said, “wow, that's a really cool thing for the President to do.” He said he's the first one that's ever done it. And I think that like that shows a really interesting accessibility. It doesn't mean that he's not smarter than everybody else and it shouldn't be the President, but it means that he gets that people are sort of the engine that drives his needs and why he's where he is. So I like that. I like leaders that are accessible.
I like leaders that are honest. Brooke Johnson who was the president of Food Network for many years. If I had a nickel for every time she said, “Hire people that are smarter than you, and then let’em rock.” You know, that's a really hard thing to get on board with, to actually hire someone that is not overall your experience, but in a certain facet is smarter than you. That's a really, really big way of thinking about doing well. And time and time again, that has worked for me. So hiring people that are smarter than you being transparent, being accessible.
I read an article the other day about the woman, the CEO from Spanx. She said every day her dad would ask her, what did you fail at today at today? He didn't want to know if she’d got A's on papers, didn't want to know how many soccer goals she kicked, he wanted to know what she failed at today. He wanted her to obviously get comfortable with the idea that you fail, you figure out why and then move on. Just such an interesting orientation. So I thought her dad was kind of a cool leader.
How do you measure success?
Do you consider your business to be successful today? What is your value of success?
That’s a great question. I think, to be honest, I'm just too hard on myself, I'm not in there really. I think that it's interesting to hear you talk about it in the beginning, like how what I had accomplished, you wanted to aspire to.
It makes me think, I guess? I knew it was a cool job. I knew that there were many envious people that would love to run Marketing for Food Network. But to me it was never enough. And it was never not enough. Even doing Food Network Star for 11 years. People think that it's so the “ultimate”, being on TV. But it was just like, it was my jo. It was part of my job.
So being successful obviously means attaining a certain amount of professional success and money. And money is good because we all like options and money affords us options and privacy I would say. Which is nice when you live in Brooklyn.
So I think for me, I'm too hard on myself to think that I've ever arrived. I feel pretty strongly about being a good mom and I think being self employed, I have more flexibility with my schedule. And to be honest I'm just much less self important. I think when I was at Food Network, I had meetings, I was just double booked all day long and it's just like, what was I thinking? Like, taking a beat and think, you know. I just feel like I was a bit self important with regards to the frenetic schedule and it translated into how I parented. And I think the last two years, talk about mindfulness, I wake up like 5:30am and I sit by myself for a half hour with a candle and the little news or music and I get centered and then I'm with my daughter for the next 45 minutes and that's like our time.
But that the mornings are our time and I have a relationship with my kids that I never imagined I would working full time. And that is because I am able to control my schedule now. And that to me is one of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur. . That's successful in itself, I would say. So I think being a good mom.
Do you have a workout regimen? What's your workout routine?
Yeah, I do actually. And I never thought I'd be this person, but I am the person that leaves their house three days a week and travels 45 minutes to the gym, with a big bag slung over their shoulders to go boxing.
So I found this place and it was very openly right when I was transitioning out of Food Network and feeling a little wounded and a little lost and I hadn't started F&Co yet. And there's nothing that could have kept me square like this gym. So I have a trainer and I box –circuit training and boxing. It’s called Mendez. It’s on 26th Street, right above Madison Square Park. And I just met this phenomenal guy. I met him in Paris actually. But that's life when you're open and can receive. He just came to me and then, so I’m there three days a week. And I use this grungy shower and sweating and punching… and it saved me for sure. It saved me.
So when you don't know what to do, then just do one thing. You can be so overwhelmed by what's next. What do I do when I leave Food Network? Where am I going to go? Even F&Co can overwhelm me. Is it gonna work? I have investors. It's like, just do what pumps you. An what pumps me is starting my day working out there. And from there I can do anything.
Where do you see the state of the world, wellness, food industry, whatnot, in the next five years, and how do you see yourself contributing to it?
It's a big one. I mean, raising good little citizens. I feel like it's my most important job. [Raising] kids that don't take up the whole curb when they walked down the street. They move, we call, a single file. We single file because there's people coming. Just thinking about others and being aware of your physical place in the world. And being kind. Being kind and hardworking.
Bobby Flay, that's what he taught his daughter. Kind and hardworking. He’s taught her many things. Those are the most important things he raised his kid with. He raised his kid with kindness and hardworking and I 100 percent agree.
I feel like the state of the world is a big one, you know. It's a little scary now, especially if you watch Handmaid's Tale on Hulu, that's a little frightening. It's frightening because it’s sort of what's happening now with regards to people's rights and the far right nationalism on steroids. It’s Margaret Atwood's book, but now Hulu, I think they've done an amazing job with it, but t that's a little scary, you know, dystopian view of society. I think the world is a scary place, but things that make me hopeful… I'm really into one trend which is Ag-tech.
So Agricultural Technology… You've got technology affecting everything from plant based burgers –[for example] impossible burgers are a result of technology, food tech. But ag-tech, to me, is going to be a great equalizer. And an example of that is vertical farming. So you're able to take 100 acres, that create, let’s say leafy greens.
You're able to take a footprint of one acre, grow up and produce the same amount. But you're also able to do it in a really desolate areas. So, in cities where there are food deserts, the closest thing you can get for lunches are a bag of cheetos and a orange crush. Now there will be access to vegetables. So this is a great equalizer. The idea that we help the environment by taking less carbon footprint and we also help create access.
I mean this to me, it's game changing and I also feel like people are going to start to become farmers. New appliances are no longer going to be a coffe maker. It's actually going to be a little farming unit for your kitchen. Ikea just made a big investment in this technology.
So the idea that, when you're hungry, a tomato is a luxury, right? And it's just because it's just so far away from what reality is for a lot of impoverished people. But this [ag-tech] becomes a great equalizer. There's a company called Plenty that Jeff Bezos just invested in and they are vertical farms. There’s a big one, Aero Farms in New Jersey. There are a few great companies that are doing it. And that makes me hopeful. That access to good food - that is not a luxury. And doing it so that it's better for the environment, I mean hell yeah.
What's a valuable piece of advice you'd like to give other entrepreneurs who are creating businesses with conscious intentions?
I think the best piece of advice that I got, if I could pass on, is just don't pay attention to the noise. Just trust yourself and your mission. There are so many reasons why you could be down and you don't think that things will work, and maybe your mission isn't true a or timely or relevant. But if you believe in it, just take away the noise and really focus. If you know that it's right and you believe in it, then just go for it. And I think that's the hardest part - just waking up every day and knowing that success is going to look a lot different for me than what it did at Food Network or what made me successful there.
Just trust in what you're doing, and don't get distracted by the noise. Because it's very noisy!