With Love and Quiches: A Housewife’s Journey to the Boardroom

quiche2I started my bakery business, Love and Quiches Gourmet, in my home kitchen in 1973, purely by accident, from just one quiche. I was a clueless suburban housewife with no preparation whatsoever for business ownership. My only qualification was my passion for everything and anything connected to food. I was a very good cook, famous for it in my neighborhood, and my friends traded invitations to my dinner parties.

So when my original partner (a carpool friend and another great cook) suggested we do something, I was game. We had my house licensed as a Food Processing Plant (can’t be done anymore, but this was 42 years ago) and were ready for business. We had no plan, we simply started.

We made up some quiches and took our samples to a few local businesses, and before we knew it we had one customer, then two, then five, and then ten. We added desserts early on at the request of our customers (we had the pie pans, so why not?).

By the end of the first year, we were servicing about 30 restaurants and our grand total was $23,000! We thought that was a princely sum, but never realized we had spent about the same thing to achieve it.

We were the Keystone Kops Quiche Factory; two steps back for every step forward. If there was a mistake to be made, we made it. Nevertheless, we took the giant step of moving into our first tiny storefront, and there gained even more customers. Shortly after that, my partner cried uncle and wanted out. It dawned on her that this was no hobby, and a hobby was what she had bargained for. Lesson #1: business ownership is a 24/7 endeavor, and you cannot pick and choose what effort you wish to put into it.

The early days
The early days

So I bought her out. I had bought my own business and had to access what I had bought. It was time to get serious. This little business seemed to have a will and a pull of its own. I knew that I wanted to stick around to see how the movie ended. I had tasted blood. I said to myself, “I can do this thing!”

I hired an accountant, and then started asking a lot of questions and learned from my customers, my suppliers, my newfound mentor, my peers, my competitors (who didn’t know I was watching), later from my employees … and from my mistakes. Lesson #2: learning from your mistakes is a vastly underestimated learning tool. Little by little, I learned what business was and how to run one. I am still learning.

And this was all before the dawn of the computer age, before the internet, social media, and so much else that everybody now has at their fingertips. My books and formulas (I was still calling them recipes back then) were kept on index cards, and my adding machine wasn’t the kind that had a tape.

I learned everything on the job, just by doing it. At the time, I was still a one-man band; baker, buyer, salesman, porter, delivery guy. I could often be found on my hands and knees scrubbing something, or wearing long sleeves even in summer when out selling to cover all the burn marks up and down my arms. Lesson #3: when starting out, no job is beneath you. But at the same time I developed ambition and a backbone of steel. I was a pioneer, since there were so few women in the down and dirty brick and mortar manufacturing arena back then.

I started hawking my quiches all over Manhattan, up First Avenue, down Second, up Third, and so on. I knocked on a thousand doors and it was my product that put quiche on the map, now served on menus all over the world. I did that! By now, it was a real business and our customer base and dollar volume continued to climb.

Across the decades, we grew in concentric circles; Metro New York, Metro Tri-State area, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, across the Continent, then across the globe. There were as many obstacles thrown in our path along the way as there were victories. There was brutal competition, key customer loss, key employee loss and so on. But many obstacles were beyond our control; commodity spikes, 9/11 after which the economy came to a dead halt, the Great Recession, Hurricane Sandy, and now in some measure this winter’s brutal weather. Lesson #4: there is never a straight path to the top; prepare for setbacks and deal with them.

We also moved several times as the business grew, also concentric circles to keep the commute tolerable, until we ended up in our present facility in an industrial park in Freeport, on Long Island. This has been our home since 1980 and to which we have kept adding and improving as the business continued to grow.

Of course, by now, I am no longer that one-man band, and I think the best thing I have done is help build a world class organization; great people more skilled than I am in their particular area of expertise. Not only getting the right people on the bus, but in the right seats. Lesson #5: leave your ego at the door and let your people bask in the glory. Lesson #6: a true leader knows what she does not know. By the way, we also segued into a family business across the decades, but that is a whole other story; I’ll leave it for another time.

To do all that I have done, I knew I needed to develop crucial leadership skills. Lesson #7: leadership skills are critical for anyone in a leadership position. Some were innate; I didn’t know I had them until I just did, a recurring theme. There was that ambition; you cannot take the pain of building a business from nowhere with nothing without ambition. I developed an unlimited capacity for hard work, learned to recognize an opportunity, learned to take a measured risk, overcame the fear of failure, learned not to resist change, learned the strategic use of the word “no”, among them. As important, learning to delegate, to let go, to trust; not so easy. But the best skill of all; to make a good decision, and, once made, never look back. That’s Lesson #8.

quiche1Now came the hard part. A few years ago, my marketing department decided that my blog was too good to be just that; I was ordered to write a book. Good soldier that I am, I started writing and soon realized I was in for one of the more interesting rides of my life. I realized I could not skirt around or sugar coat the truth. I had to be willing to bare my soul and share it all, both the pain and the glory. I wanted to tell a good story, but, more importantly, to provide plenty of takeaway to use both in life and business, sort of an entrepreneurial roadmap. The result of that effort is With Love and Quiches.

Starting a business way back in 1973 or now is never easy, and every era will present its own unique set of challenges. A bit of luck is always helpful, being in the right place at the right time. But at Love and Quiches Gourmet we have mostly made our own luck. It has been over four decades, and for sure I have never been bored. If I had a choice to do it all over again, would I? I would, in a heartbeat.

Susan Axelrod and the word “pioneer” go together like cake and frosting! As the Chairwoman and Founder of Love & Quiches Gourmet, Susan’s journey has paved the way for women entrepreneurs. She started her business with no formal training, only a passion for food. Coupled with her energy and tenacity, Susan was able to take her small business, worldwide. Today, these desserts and quiches are found in restaurants and retailers around the globe. Susan chronicles her experiences in her blog, Susan’s Sweet Talk and her book, With Love & Quiches: A Long Island Housewife’s Surprising Journey from Kitchen to Boardroom
Susan would prefer people connect with her via LinkedIn and message her that way – https://www.linkedin.com/pub/susan-axelrod/55/195/2a2

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