Have you ever considered launching your food label off of the back of a family recipe or special dish? We spoke with Rachel Hofstetter, former O, The Oprah Magazine and Reader’s Digest food editor about her new book Cooking Up A Business. In it, she follows the journeys of Popchips, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, and Hint Water from their humble beginnings in a home kitchen to international success on store shelves; uncovering each brand’s key ingredients for achievement along the way. People are often told to pursue their dreams, but what do you do if you have no idea where to start? Rachel is the perfect person for that – she was so motivated after interviewing successful entrepreneurs for her book that she recently founded an enterprise of her own known as guesterly. This ingenious concept will help you create meaningful connections with your fellow wedding guests this summer!
New York, NY
The heart of it all—Ohio!
Education (College / Major):
Miami University, and Economics
What motivated you to write Cooking Up A Business?
One of my favorite parts of my food editor job was unexpected: I would meet with new food companies to try their product and would walk away enthralled by the entrepreneur’s journey. The food was delicious, but the stories were inspiring! I soon profiled some of my favorite entrepreneurs for O, and the response to that was so overwhelming that I was able to parlay it into a book deal.
And that’s when the real fun began. As I spent hundreds of hours interviewing and writing about top entrepreneurs, I realized I was becoming as inspired as I hoped my future readers would be. I caught the entrepreneurial itch, and in 2013 my husband, Lorne, and I launched guesterly. In the last year, I’ve been living the life I wrote about for so long—and it’s exactly as exhilarating and crazy as it always sounded!
So now I have two loves of life: my book, Cooking Up a Business, and my startup, guesterly. The book is full of inspiring stories of some of today’s most successful food entrepreneurs, from Vosges Haut-Chocolat to Hint Water and Popchips. And guesterly is a web platform that enables anyone to make a playbill-style mini-book about all of the people at special events, like weddings or retreats. Our goal is to connect people and create new friendships, one guesterly book at a time.
What was it like to have the opportunity of a lifetime by becoming an esteemed food editor at places such as O, Oprah Magazine, and Reader’s Digest?
It was FUN! 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. Now I’m mostly focused on entrepreneurship–being one and writing about it!—but I still test and develop recipes for lots of major magazines. It’s the best side gig ever.
Your personal style:
Easy and golden. I’m always running around town, so I’m all about simple semi-tailored looks that can get me from morning to night. My go-to strategy: a pop of bright color, like the gold belt I wore almost every day in 2012 or the neon belt from 2013. (Please, someone help me pick my belt color for 2014!) And on that note, I’ve made metallic gold shoes my go-to fashion statement (I have about 10 pairs, everything from ballet flats to Keds to heels and booties). They’re fun and fresh, go with anything, and unlike other accessories, I can never forget to leave the house without shoes.
Sunscreen first thing, since I’m lucky to sit in front of a window all day. Then tinted moisturizer and blush. If it’s a fancy day, mascara. If I’m getting married or going on TV, eyeliner. I also got into lipstick in the last year or so—it’s so easy to apply and yet provides such a pop of professionalism!
Spring items you plan to splurge on:
Three new easy pieces! I’m a big fan of Dobbin. They make the easiest dresses right here in New York City. They’re so comfortable, I could practically do yoga in one! I’m also craving a fresh pair of Tieks (they’re the easiest flats ever for running around the city) and a Dagne Dover bag so I can haul gym clothes and my laptop at once.
The Dooney & Bourke Editor bag is my go-to everyday bag: practical black nylon on the outside, tons of pockets, and pink party on the inside! It’s light and fits my MacBook Air, kindle, and Chronicle Books mini notebooks (they’re so pretty!). Those three things go with me everywhere. Plus Justin’s peanut butter packet or Kind bar.
8:00 am – 11: am:
8:00 am: Back from a quickie run in Central Park; make a green smoothie (almond butter, spinach, banana), top it with Love Grown oat clusters, and eat while catching up on email newsletters like Gary’s Guide, which is my go-to rundown of NYC startup news.
9:00 am: If I’m working out of the office, I try to get my “serious” work of the day done first: things that require hard thought. I’ll do emails, notes, and all the little things that you have to do in the afternoon. But in the mornings, it’s only things that move the business forward in a concrete way.
11:00 am: I start to prep for lunch—either a recipe I’m testing or developing or meeting up for a lunch meeting. I love lunch meetings. And I get to read on my kindle on the subway.
We often have epic work sessions with the guesterly design team, either in the Manhattan guesterly studios or the Brooklyn guesterly labs. At either spot, my favorite part of the day is 4 pm, when we pour a glass of wine (we love Uproot—I like to call it the wine of startups!) or make gin lemonades. Then from 4 to 7 pm, we’re brilliant.
When you have a well-deserved day off, how do utilize your free time? Are you living in a dream world of possibilities?
Hiking. I’m a sucker for getting to the top of a mountain and taking in the whole wide world. From New York City we can pop up to the Catskills in about 90 minutes, and my new obsession is winter hiking. I love (summer) camping too, especially if there’s wine involved. My goal is to hike in all 58 of the National Parks—I’ve already done about half of them!
Free time activities:
I love throwing dinner parties with my husband, Lorne—the menu planning, picking the right Pandora station, the moment when you move from cocktails and appetizers to dimming the lights and gathering around the table, putting out snacks at midnight, keeping the wine flowing. I even love the next morning, running another load in the dishwasher, putting away candles and flower vases, and eating egg sandwiches while watching TV. Because hey, we threw the best dinner party ever.
What strategies do you use to maintain your physical fitness despite the focus on food?
It’s all about balance! (On any given day you’ll find as many food editors in the gym as at a swanky wine lunch!) I’m personally obsessed with HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes, like Tabata and the ones at the Fitting Room. As many push-ups as you can do in 4 minutes? I swear I get an exercise high.
When you were 10 years old, what aspirations did you have for your future self?
An architect. Then I realized I’d have to do more than design my 100-room mansion.
Best piece of advice ever received:
“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” My mom put the question to me once when I was in college, and it changed the whole trajectory of my life. I come back to it, again and again, to make sure I’m living a big life, and don’t just choose the safe path.
Career wisdom for young professional women:
Be open! You never know what great things will come out of left field disguised as challenges or side tracks. And take every opportunity you can, especially those that are semi-social. Work hard, but then get yourself to that coffee meeting or happy hour. That’s when the real connections are made and life-changing magic happens.