Miami University-Ohio, Economics
Working as a food editor at O, The Oprah Magazine, Rachel Hofstetter developed a love for not just good eats, but also the intriguing stories behind them. Inspired by the entrepreneurs behind the products she shared in magazines, Rachel set out to share their advice on food, life and business in her book Cooking Up A Business.
Aided by a hearty bowl of oatmeal and strong coffee, Rachel wrote much of the book at 5:30 a.m. before starting her day at O. And while it was a big time investment, it’s one that’s paid off. “I feel like this book should have a sticker: ‘Warning—you might be inspired to start your own business.’” Even as the author, she wasn’t immune. Compiling so many enterprising stories was the push that led Rachel and her husband to quit their jobs, start their own business and have no regrets.
Enter guesterly, the business Rachel and her husband started after leaving their jobs—a fresh, memorable approach to introducing all of the special people at your special events, from weddings to bar mitzvahs. Sure, it’s not a culinary business, but what Rachel learned from the world of food is translatable to any business. “Food entrepreneur stories are great gateway inspiration … They’re relatable and teach you how to grow any new venture.”
When life gets crazy, frozen vegetables are your friend.
What inspired you to write Cooking Up A Business?
I was inspired by the entrepreneurs I met while working as a food editor at O, The Oprah Magazine—their products were delicious, but it was their stories that really intrigued me. I couldn’t help cheerleading for the best friends with an passion for healthy eating, or the mom who quit her technology job, bought a farm and started making the world’s best goat cheese. And I wanted to share the stories behind the food, because when you know the story, food always tastes better!
Along the way, I realized that putting these entrepreneur’s advice together created the perfect guide and inspiration for anyone who had ever dreamed of starting a business—in any industry.
What is it about food that translates so well to starting a business?
It’s so accessible! You don’t need a lot of specialized skills or equipment, or a lot of money. If you have a kitchen and can read a recipe, you can start a business this weekend. Buy ingredients at Costco, whip up your favorite recipe and have all your friends come over for a taste testing party.
Food entrepreneur stories are also great gateway inspiration for starting any business: with a focus on discrete, doable tasks and an emphasis on branding, they’re relatable and teach you how to grow any new venture.
What was one of your favorite pieces of advice you shared in the book?
One of my favorites is also one of the simplest: pick a product that makes your life easy once it’s out of your kitchen or grows beyond your founding team.
For example, I love this aha moment from the founders of Love Grown Foods, Alex Hasulak and Maddy D’Amato: originally, they thought they’d make and sell Maddy’s famous pesto. It was easy to make for a dinner party, but they realized a fresh, perishable product would be much harder to make for local and national grocery stores—and that’s how big they wanted to grow. So instead, they started with a non-perishable, shelf-stable homemade granola recipe, which made their life much easier as they grew.
What was one thing you learned while writing the book the surprised you?
I feel like this book should have a warning sticker on the front: ‘Warning—you might be inspired to start your own business!’ That’s what happened to me. I was so inspired by the entrepreneurs I wrote about that I realized I could—and wanted to—start my own business. So in the spring of 2013, my husband and I left our jobs and launched guesterly, where anyone can create a printed playbill featuring the special people at their weddings, parties and more.
Since we’ve been on the topic of one of your favorite subjects—food—can you tell us what success tastes like to you?
Ha! For me, I feel like success is built off of all those early mornings that I spent writing my book. I’d get up at 5:30am and write for three hours before work. So, can I say success tastes like black coffee and oatmeal with berries?
Everything good is so intertwined with the hard work that came before it that it’s hard to think of one without the other. But let’s throw in some pinot noir and Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor cheese to the mix, too—the good stuff.
As a writer and startup founder, is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
If you take away only one thing from this interview, I hope it’s this: When life gets crazy, frozen vegetables are your friend. I stock up on organic frozen spinach, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower from Whole Foods, then combine them with grains, beans, and/or eggs for super-fast but healthy meals. Drizzle soy sauce, hot sauce, sesame oil, or pesto on top of your bowl and you’re looking at lunch in three minutes flat. When life feels a little crazy—like it does pretty much every day when you’re growing a baby startup or launching a book—it’s the one tactic I turn to again and again to eat healthfully. I might not work out or sleep as much as I like, but at least I don’t have to rely on pizza delivery.
What are some of the rules you live by?
1 / Constantly prioritize, and keep an eye on ROI (return on investment) for every project or effort. Whether I’m putting in my time, money, connections, or employee time—what are we getting out of it as the end result? I try to go for things with small effort and big impact—and avoid big efforts that have relatively small impact!
2 / “Easy breezy!” It’s my catchphrase and how I try to approach any job or situation. A bit of optimism and a dash of can-do spirit makes any job can seem manageable.
3 / Make friends. In person, online, in big groups and small. Everything wonderful in my life has come through the people I’ve been lucky enough to know and especially the people who have become my friends. Create friends—and then follow up!
4 / Add vegetables. It’s my #1 food philosophy from my food editor days. Nothing’s on a ‘do not eat’ list, and I eat whatever I want—but I do try to add more vegetables into my life wherever possible. I even start the day with a green spinach smoothie!
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful as a writer and editor?
I think the most important quality is the ability to put yourself out there. Whether it’s asking “too many questions” to uncover a story, tracking down sources, or simply being open to new experiences and new people, it’s all about opening yourself up to the world and being proactive.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Go big! Take life by the horns and try everything you want to and don’t underestimate yourself. That, and find out who you are and be comfortable with it.
P.S. We know you used to work for O, The Oprah Magazine and Reader’s Digest as a food editor. We’ve got to know: what was that like?
It was FUN! I’ve been incredibly lucky to go from one dream job—food editor and author—to the next —startup founder. Sometimes I felt like I was on an adventure quest to track down the next cool up-and-coming thing in food and drink, then find a relatable way to share it. A lot of, “Oooo…try this!” Sometimes that meant the food or drink in question was delicious, and sometimes it meant it was crazy and perhaps not so delicious. But either way, it was fun!
Besides the actual eating and drinking, I’ve loved being part of the shift as people care more about wholesome, better-for-you, better-for-the-earth food—which is what got me excited about food in the first place!
Finally, the #1 question I’m asked: yes, food editors get to eat and try a lot of good food, but on days when they’re not at a fancy wine tasting lunch, food editors are in the gym and then fueling on a big hearty salad. It’s all truly about balance.