Yalonda Long: From Riches to Rags and Back Again

IMG_1091What a tale Yalonda Long tells.  Her story begins in small town, Kansas, where this daughter of a barber and a beautician mother was raised with her two brothers in a strict Jehovah’s Witness household.  As a teenager, there was no going to the movie theater unaccompanied, no boyfriends, and no parties.  Even higher education was forbidden, so when Yalonda graduated from high school, a week later she headed West to Colorado to start her life.

“I tried to learn as much about the world as I could from the public education I had because I knew I wasn’t going to college,” says Long.  “But because I spent much of my life as the outsider looking in, I learned to be a great observer and I notice everything. That would wind up serving me quite well.”

To Long, Colorado seemed like one of the most amazing places on earth.  When she was a young girl she had visions of starting her professional life as an author or photographer.  But her father had other ideas.  “He said, ‘I want you to get your real estate license,’ and when my Dad said I should do something I typically did.”

After a three-week class, Yalonda was armed with a license, and soon after she had sold her first house in an all-cash deal to a couple who walked in off of the street simply asking for a brochure.  “At that moment I thought, I’m a genius to go into this business.  This is the easiest thing I’ll ever do!”

But it would be three years before she would sell another house.  It turns out most people don’t want to buy a house from a 19-year old.  But Long plugged away, learning tricks from older more successful brokers like saying, “it seems like forever,” when asked how long she had been in real estate.

IMG_3073In the meantime, she married her first boyfriend at 19, someone she met in church after a three-month courtship and by 28 had two children and a slow but steadily climbing career in real estate.  Then came her big break.  A managing broker asked Long if she had any interest in applying to sell a new subdivision, a listing of 250 lots.  Long did her homework and went into the interview “swinging for the fences.”

The preparation paid off.  She listed her first subdivision, then another and another, and in three more years would have a multi-million dollar net worth specializing in developments and hard-to-sell properties.  Her daughters would answer the phone saying, “would you like to buy a house from my Mommy?”

But then, her story took a dramatic turn. In 2008, 37 years old, divorced and in a second, crumbling marriage, Long was at the peak of her career, but so too was the housing market bubble.  During the divorce, she bought her ex out of the house — a property that would soon be valued at less than half the outstanding loans on it.  Leaving her with an outstanding divorce settlement of $600,000 payable to her second ex husband.

“My house, which had at one point appraised for $2 million, went down to the $700,000 range in a matter of months. The real estate business dried up and I10448678_10152744489442707_4347094225663165157_ogot caught holding the bag.”  From driving around town in her black Range Rover, wheeling and dealing on her cell phone, Long went to dodging calls from bill collectors.  She lost her car and eventually her home in foreclosure.

“I was literally lying in a fetal position of hopelessness in my bed trying to figure out what to do.”  She tried to hang on to what she could of her real estate business as she sought a new life for herself.  But it became increasingly harder on her emotionally.  “People were losing their homes to foreclosure and I didn’t want my commission checks coming from someone else’s pain.”  Meditation and yoga became her salvation.  Long felt reborn and continued searching, but was not any closer to paying her bills until the day she received a call from someone who had heard that she made great soup.

“She was opening a farmer’s market and asked if I would be a vendor. For a moment I thought, ‘I don’t have time for that. I need to feed my family.’  But feeding my family was the only thing I was doing well at that point. And I did always have a knack for cooking. It suddenly felt like the universe was putting these things out there for me, and I had to grab on to it.  So I literally started the soup company to feed my daughters and rebuild my life.”

In one week, she had to come up with recipes, a company name, an environmental health application and all the rest.  10462580_10152319148719480_2983863209278360115_nAfter several days staying up until 3 am to make soup, Long was driving her daughters on a typical last tank of gas and said, “Girls, we’ve got to name this soup company or we’re in the soup.”

Her daughters said, “Mamma, that’s it!”  That’s the name of the company.”  And in THE soup was born.

From the first day at the farmer’s market, people lined up to buy her soup. They loved the taste but equally they loved her story. With her face on the front of the jar, and her inspiring story on the back of the label, Long let go of the fear and humiliation of failure, and shared it with the world.  She heard other people’s stories as she soldBankrupt Butternut, Prenup Wedding Soup, Collections Carrot, Alimony Minestrone and Tantrum Thai Coconut.

“Sometimes I made up recipes just so I could label it,” says Long. “The branding was a hit because it opened up conversations about not giving up.”carrot_drops

When Long was watching the first stocking of the shelves at the first grocery store in Aspen to sell her soup, in walked local hero and Olympic skier Casey Puckett.  Soon Casey was not only a fan of the soup, but her first outside investor. The two also fell in love and now run in THE soup together.

In THE soup is now sold throughout the West and Midwest, via Whole Foods, Kroger, HyVee and other retailers and is expanding into the East and South in the very near future.

“I cooked my way out of failure and desperation.  We all have a personal journey, and I’m a better person now because I honored my heart.”

Watch a short clip about in THE soup.

Tips from Yalonda Long:
  • It’s not about falling.  It’s about how you get up.
  • Life…is a spiritual journey.
  • Show the world what beats your heart.

Leave a Reply