Transcending Workspace

Transcending Workspace: A Conversation with Alissa Leinonen

January 26, 2022 Apex Facility Resources Season 1 Episode 2
Transcending Workspace
Transcending Workspace: A Conversation with Alissa Leinonen
Show Notes Transcript

Matt sits down with Alissa Leinonen to discuss her journey as she grew her business.  Alissa Leinonen is the award-winning Founder & CEO of Seattle’s largest and longest-running women-owned catering and boxed-lunch company, Gourmondo Co. What began as a simple, four-table lunch cafe in Pike Place Market in 1996 is now a well-established leader in the Pacific Northwest food industry. Leinonen was honored as a Puget Sound Business Journal “40 Under 40” in 2008 and was a proud Women Business Owner Nellie Cashman Award finalist in 2016. In June of 2019, Alissa received the Pacific Northwest EY Entrepreneur of the Year award for the “Unstoppable” category and was named one of America’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs on the Inc. 5000 2020 list. She was also awarded Enterprising Women of the Year by Enterprising Women Magazine. Gourmondo was recently awarded the COVID-19 Champion award from the Puget Sound Business Journal for their work providing over 750,000 meals to those in need in the local community. PSBJ has also recognized Gourmondo as one of the top fastest-growing companies in the Pacific Northwest for multiple years in a row.

00:00:04:23 - 00:00:23:23

Matt

Hi, everybody. Super excited today we have a list of nominees with us, Alyssa, who is an honored as a Puget Sound business journal 40 under 40 in 2008, was a Proud Woman business owner, nearly cashing Cashman Award finalist and 2016 in June of 2019.

 

00:00:23:24 - 00:00:47:18

Matt

Alissa also received the Pacific Northwest Entrepreneurialism of the Year award for the Unstoppable Category. It was named one of America's most inspiring entrepreneurs on the Inc 500. I'm not done yet. She's also awarded an Enterprising Woman of the Year by Enterprising Women magazine, and Gorman was recently awarded the COVID 19 Champion Award for Religious Sound Business Journal

 

00:00:47:19 - 00:01:02:11

Matt

for the work, providing over 750,000 meals to those in need in our local community. The Business Journal is also recognized on Monday as one of the fastest growing companies in the Pacific Northwest, and that's been for multiple years on this.

 

00:01:03:00 - 00:01:03:12

Matt

Welcome.

 

00:01:03:17 - 00:01:09:07

Alissa

Thank you. Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here. Great to see you, man. Thank you for the chat. This will be fun.

 

00:01:09:13 - 00:01:17:03

Matt

Yes, it will. Just so everybody knows all this, and I have known each other for probably close 20 years.

 

00:01:17:07 - 00:01:19:12

Alissa

Yes, I know it's awesome.

 

00:01:19:13 - 00:01:35:24

Matt

And we were formed for inmates in the Seattle Yo Form network and have been good friends ever since. So we're here to talk to Alyssa about her journey a little bit in the past couple of years. And let's start, obviously with kind of how you started the business.

 

00:01:36:00 - 00:01:37:10

Matt

I mean, it's a really interesting story.

 

00:01:37:24 - 00:01:54:04

Alissa

Oh, thank you. So I started the business just over 25 years ago. I had kind of started my illustrious food and beverage career at Farrells when I was 14 as a dishwasher. Oh yeah. Good. Not super fun and the dish pit.

 

00:01:54:05 - 00:02:06:24

Alissa

But you know what it is. It's a great experience. So you say, Oh yeah, but listen, I think everybody needs to get your own dish fit and take. I mean, you talk about learning how to work hard at a humbling job with a lot of hustle.

 

00:02:06:24 - 00:02:22:22

Alissa

I mean, it's a great foundation for building up a quick work ethic is work in a dish. But so anyway, it was a good start and I loved the energy around food and the experience. And so I continue to just find little opportunities and jobs.

 

00:02:22:22 - 00:02:41:12

Alissa

As I was going through high school and then into college, I started working in the in the restaurant field. And then when I graduated college, I knew that I wanted to continue in that space. But I was worried about how to kind of build my life when there be so many weekends and nights.

 

00:02:41:13 - 00:02:56:10

Alissa

And I knew I wanted to have kids. And so it's a it's a it's a tough business and it does take a lot of your nights and weekends. And so I decided, you know, I bet if I just open my own small business, I might be able to control schedule a little bit more.

 

00:02:56:10 - 00:03:06:07

Alissa

And so I decided to open a small cafe and and just Monday through Friday workdays and see if I could, you know, pull something off.

 

00:03:06:08 - 00:03:07:16

Matt

And this is before the kids.

 

00:03:08:07 - 00:03:22:09

Alissa

This is before the kids. This is your first time. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So this was 25 years ago. So I refinanced. My car got $4,000 and a couple of good friends of my one that it was a sous chef.

 

00:03:22:09 - 00:03:46:19

Alissa

I'd worked with another friend that I'd gone to college with, and we started Momondo and we had our first. Our first oven was a 200 dollar used range that I've got at Green-Wood Appliance Center. You know, do not recommend residential stoves, ovens, any equipment for commercial uses that blew up in about six months.

 

00:03:47:24 - 00:04:10:05

Alissa

And so just going to small little start 470 square foot space just on the backside of the Pike Place market, right next to MetaMaus Angus Tattoo Parlor. Thank God, because she was our best customer. She was amazing and kept us going in the beginning, and it was definitely a slow start, which was disappointing because in my mind

 

00:04:10:05 - 00:04:20:16

Alissa

, I thought we were going to have this incredible, you know, big sort of. You open the doors and everybody shows up. Not so much. My mom came, which was great. And so, you know, first day sales were $36.

 

00:04:20:16 - 00:04:36:02

Alissa

24 of it was my mother, which I really count. But anyway, so we had a long road ahead of us. And but, you know, I felt like I don't know how long this is going to last. But if I can just be proud of what we're producing, you know, we'll see where we go.

 

00:04:36:02 - 00:04:52:21

Alissa

And luckily we were in the market and that's an incredible community there. I mean, we started working with the Pioneer Frank's produce pure food, fish and DiLaurentis, and they were great. We kind of everybody helps each other. They offered little discounts and we just kind of inch our way forward.

 

00:04:52:21 - 00:04:54:07

Alissa

So that's how Raimondo was warm.

 

00:04:54:14 - 00:05:12:19

Matt

And so and so you know you, you started as kind of a café, right? And then so I did it. How did you work? I know you've done exotic. I mean, like, top the line catering. I mean, when we first met you, you were flying in like shrimp from Spain that you crazy caviar from.

 

00:05:12:19 - 00:05:14:02

Matt

Who knows where you know.

 

00:05:14:04 - 00:05:18:07

Alissa

We're watching caviar coming out of Russia to see what the pricing was going to look like. Right?

 

00:05:18:23 - 00:05:26:09

Matt

Yeah. So just roll out of that. Yeah, just prior to that to do people come together to say, Hey, can you help me with a party and you started doing those?

 

00:05:26:23 - 00:05:41:12

Alissa

That's where it was interesting because we only have four tables. I mean, we had 470 square feet. And so it was a tiny little lunch spot and it was became really clear really soon that we were not going to be able to scale or survive with just this little one shop.

 

00:05:41:13 - 00:06:03:10

Alissa

And so it's just pure necessity. I mean, I think that's sort of the, you know, the foundation of any entrepreneur. It's growth out of necessity and just wanting to, you know? Really kind of reinvest in what you're passionate about, and so we, you know, we went to Kinko's and we printed out some little menus.

 

00:06:03:11 - 00:06:14:20

Alissa

I had seen box lunches. I'd seen some box lunches that just started 25 years ago. I think mostram shoeboxes doing it and I thought, this is like a little lunch gift in a box. I love it. We can do this.

 

00:06:14:20 - 00:06:28:22

Alissa

And so we started watching these kind of little gourmet box lunches. And then as we started doing that, people were asking about catering. And so we would do a little bit of catering here and there. And before we knew it, that was really where we were seeing all the momentum.

 

00:06:28:22 - 00:06:45:08

Alissa

I mean, we just couldn't serve enough people in the cafe with four tables, but yet we could serve, you know, hundreds of people and box lunches and catering. And so within a couple of years of having the cafe, we we knew that, you know, our opportunities were going to be in catering.

 

00:06:45:08 - 00:07:05:02

Alissa

And because, you know, it's totally self-funded, totally bootstrapped, you know, we didn't have fancy vehicles, fancy equipment, we had to kind of really just be careful about how we grew. And we found a great little space in South Park and kind of commercial warehouse area and really put together our first commercial kitchen at that point with some

 

00:07:05:02 - 00:07:05:23

Alissa

used equipment.

 

00:07:06:02 - 00:07:07:19

Matt

When you move into that, focus on that.

 

00:07:08:09 - 00:07:21:02

Alissa

So let's see. We moved into that. My daughter was born in 99. I started remote in 96 and I would say it was about 2001 when we moved into and was just twelve hundred square feet and we would just grow it slowly.

 

00:07:21:06 - 00:07:25:00

Alissa

You know, every few years. So you just.

 

00:07:25:02 - 00:07:47:04

Matt

And you and you as you grew, you kind of took over this building. We'll talk about this. You expand it and just kept crawling and pushing out the walls, basically down that industrial park to the point where and you know, just so all people know we are commercial relocation company in a furniture company, and we helped Alissa

 

00:07:47:15 - 00:07:52:14

Matt

move from that facility in April of 2020.

 

00:07:53:03 - 00:08:11:06

Alissa

Unbelievable. Worst possible time. I mean, here's the craziest part. I mean, here's the craziest part. You know, as you know, I was really careful and very conservative about how I grew, and that's what was great about the Little South Park business park that we were in the Cloverdale Business Park because I could just bite off twelve hundred

 

00:08:11:06 - 00:08:25:08

Alissa

square feet at a time. So I enjoyed my way up, so I kind of creeped through before you knew it. I had like half of one whole area of the park. We went from twelve to 24 to 36, up to over 15,000, and you were great about always helping me.

 

00:08:25:08 - 00:08:31:03

Alissa

Like Alissa, this is like a mouse maze and this is crazy. Like people could figure out, put an office here, could take up an office here.

 

00:08:31:05 - 00:08:49:20

Matt

Yeah, we brought our shoehorn. Yeah, you did. And and and you know, all kinds of lubricant just to get you guys that ended up in this space. We we kept redesigning you. And then as you grew, you become you became you killed the competition.

 

00:08:49:20 - 00:08:56:14

Matt

Essentially the box as I see it, and you now are the largest box lunch group in Seattle, right? I mean, you guys do.

 

00:08:56:15 - 00:09:08:21

Alissa

All combined box lunch catering. one of the things we did is we continue to diversify the business because as we were going to grow, we wanted to make sure that we could diversify. And so we had a catering division, made a box lunch division.

 

00:09:08:22 - 00:09:27:08

Alissa

We started opening and launching cafes. That's where we started. So now we've got about a dozen cafes in the Seattle area and I think, you know, being able to, I think, sort of think outside the box, you know, even though we started in the box of box lunches was really helpful to us because all those different divisions

 

00:09:27:08 - 00:09:47:03

Alissa

have a lot of synergies. We have our own in-house bakery. That's been a really great asset for us, right? So that's been helpful. And you know, it was interesting, though, because I had finally made the decision, you know, after what, 2223 years to actually invest in a very serious space.

 

00:09:47:03 - 00:10:01:24

Alissa

We were growing like crazy. We were growing 25% a year year over year and we really needed like a grown up facility. And so, you know, I had made the decision in late 2019. It was literally the end of December.

 

00:10:02:00 - 00:10:03:00

Alissa

OK, we're going to do it.

 

00:10:03:11 - 00:10:05:08

Matt

And it was fast track. I maybe go down.

 

00:10:05:19 - 00:10:10:10

Alissa

That's correct. I called you and like, Matt, you got three months. We got to hit it hard. We got to move this place.

 

00:10:10:14 - 00:10:21:22

Matt

Yeah, we were working with you in February. You started to plan, yeah, for furniture. And then we were targeting end of March, early April. And this is before anybody knew of this, you know, dreaded calls. It was coming.

 

00:10:22:13 - 00:10:36:01

Alissa

Yeah, it was crazy, too, because, you know, I'm completely self-funded. I mean, I bought my partners out years ago, so I have 100% of the company. I don't have any investors, no partners, no, no private equity is all me and I'm a single mom.

 

00:10:36:04 - 00:10:37:09

Matt

And some of two.

 

00:10:37:11 - 00:10:50:02

Alissa

John Olivia. That's right. Yeah. And so to be able to be doing all this, I felt like this is, you know, this is a big bet, right? And I believe my crew is never going to bet against yourself, right?

 

00:10:50:02 - 00:11:03:10

Alissa

But but it was a big, big, huge investment. Biggest I'd ever done and right, as we're pulling the trigger on it, you're getting ready to pack us up COVID hits, right? And I'm like, I just doubled my space.

 

00:11:03:10 - 00:11:11:09

Alissa

I went from 15,000 to 26,000. Yeah, multimillion dollar facility. And literally overnight I lost 85% of the business.

 

00:11:11:10 - 00:11:22:12

Matt

Well, let's talk about it. So you had evolved out of the box lunch or you still do the box on a very large as you play these cafes. Now describe the largest retailer in the world loves you and your cafe business.

 

00:11:23:14 - 00:11:37:14

Matt

My marketing, my marketing genius. We used to work at Amazon. She goes, Oh, I know those cafes. They're really, really good. So. So really, you evolved your business and started really expediting growth when you got into the cafes.

 

00:11:38:04 - 00:11:56:06

Alissa

Yeah. So the cafe division was a really great catalyst for us. We had started with Russell Investment Center. We opened a small little pop up cafe for them and it exceeded everybody's expectations. And it was really we're always supposed to be there for six months, just while they were kind of organizing a long term plan.

 

00:11:56:06 - 00:12:08:15

Alissa

And we ended up there for two years and Amazon had ended up coming. They'd had a meeting in the building. They came to the café and they said, We don't hope we want one of these. And I'm like, Oh yes, please, no, we can.

 

00:12:09:12 - 00:12:26:08

Alissa

And so it's our model was a very can one floor plan. We commissary had everything out of our main commercial kitchens. Everything's fresh, you know, coming in that morning. But it's just kind of like a really boutique broad line of gourmet grab and go products.

 

00:12:26:11 - 00:12:41:22

Alissa

And then we would partner with different local coffee providers. So we had a great coffee program and really the largest offering of grab and go in the northwest and bakery. So they did one and they liked it. They're like, OK, let's do five more.

 

00:12:42:06 - 00:12:57:21

Matt

Yeah, and and this this customer, we also have business with this customer and they are like, What's up? Let's go and get it, get it done. And the beauty of that is it allows you to stretch and grow so quickly.

 

00:12:58:04 - 00:13:13:18

Matt

And I know that that put incredible pressure on your older facility or when we moved you out of it, it really was the impetus of the move into the new facility. And so right in the heart of investing, probably all of your marbles were out of the bag.

 

00:13:14:02 - 00:13:27:03

Matt

Oh yeah, and you had you had them on the table and you move into this facility? I think we moved to April one, two and three, which is right in the heart of the heart of everybody going home.

 

00:13:27:16 - 00:13:30:06

Matt

Yeah, now nobody is at the cafe.

 

00:13:30:06 - 00:13:32:11

Alissa

And there's really no for closing down.

 

00:13:32:23 - 00:13:37:14

Matt

It's the evaporation of probably 40 50% of your business.

 

00:13:38:04 - 00:13:53:08

Alissa

And 95% of my business was gone. I mean, Amazon was a big client of ours, but you know, we have thousands of corporate clients throughout the Seattle Eastside area. We do primarily, you know, lunch delivery, corporate lunches, catering, evening work.

 

00:13:53:15 - 00:14:05:13

Alissa

Nobody's entertaining, nobody's catering and nobody's in the office. So we literally truly lost 95% of the business. I mean, it happened so fast you couldn't even catch up to it. It was like.

 

00:14:06:05 - 00:14:08:11

Matt

You woke up, you woke up and it was gone.

 

00:14:08:16 - 00:14:21:09

Alissa

Yeah, it would start on a Monday cancelation, cancelation cancelation. We're like, OK, we should re out. Let's go 20% down next. Say, OK, maybe we forecast like 40% down. By the third day, we'd lost 85% of the business and I was like in.

 

00:14:21:10 - 00:14:22:09

Matt

three days, 80.

 

00:14:22:09 - 00:14:22:23

Alissa

Percent of.

 

00:14:22:24 - 00:14:23:10

Matt

Your total.

 

00:14:23:10 - 00:14:33:13

Alissa

three days. Yeah, everything got wiped out. Everything started cancelation, cancelation, cancelation with nothing. And and we're about to make a multimillion dollar move to a larger facility twice the size.

 

00:14:34:08 - 00:14:39:15

Matt

Yeah. So then what? What was what was it then? What did you do? Because I know you had.

 

00:14:39:16 - 00:14:55:00

Alissa

You know, you did. Like I went, I decided to go to the market that night. It was Wednesday night when everything was falling apart. It was March, I think six or seven of 2018 I. I checked into a room at the end of the market.

 

00:14:55:00 - 00:15:07:07

Alissa

I swear I started commando. I was like, I've got to get away from everything. I just need to sit here. I just need to look out this window and I got a I got to I'm going to wrap my mind around what's going on because this is, you know, 22 years of my life's work and it's vanishing

 

00:15:07:07 - 00:15:19:20

Alissa

and and we're in the pandemic. My biggest priority is do I keep these doors open to how do I keep these teams safe? You got to make sure that these teams are safe and protected and are we going to do this?

 

00:15:19:23 - 00:15:39:04

Matt

Well, I'm going to interrupt you really quickly to let people know Alyssa and her people. The people who work for us are like kids and family. I mean, this is a very close knit organization. I mean, they all know Joe and Olivia's, and they they've seen them since they were little kids growing up.

 

00:15:39:04 - 00:15:53:12

Matt

They know them by first name. They have 20 people who have worked there. So I mean, it's not like these people are random employees that come and go. These are very long term. And so and I know you have enormous events in the summer and.

 

00:15:53:14 - 00:16:10:00

Matt

An enormous company events in the winter, I mean, there's a gigantic Santa Claus deal where kids actually come to the party, and Alissa is like handing off our gifts to all the kids of these people. I mean, it's just the connectivity with your organization, as is always extraordinary, right?

 

00:16:10:01 - 00:16:16:21

Matt

And the culture that you've built up, I think I can't even imagine what you were kind of thinking.

 

00:16:17:02 - 00:16:33:01

Alissa

It was a really intense, emotional time. I mean, I wouldn't wish trying to run an essential business on anybody through this. It is. It's you just can't think your way through it. You have to. At least for me, I just had to kind of leave with my gut, you know, because you just it's so unprecedented.

 

00:16:33:01 - 00:16:47:05

Alissa

It's happening so fast. You have to just kind of pull in your intuition and close your eyes. You know, it was intense. And I think for me, I was clear that night that, you know, we had a huge facility.

 

00:16:47:05 - 00:17:07:17

Alissa

We had an enormous army of talent and dedicated, devoted, incredible teams. And I was like, You know, we can actually make a difference and we can really pivot this company. We can we can shift and provide meals for the people that are sheltering in place that can't get out, that those that are really struggling and impacted.

 

00:17:07:18 - 00:17:22:18

Alissa

And so I thought, you know, I'm going to we're going to take it to the team. And so went in Thursday morning, pulled everybody out into the parking lot. And I said, Listen, you know, things are going to get really tough and this is this is going to be a tricky business.

 

00:17:23:08 - 00:17:33:16

Alissa

But let's let's take a temperature gauge right now because we got to decide as a team, are we going to do this? Are we going to show up? Are we going to? Are we going to keep these doors open?

 

00:17:33:17 - 00:17:48:17

Alissa

I promise you, if we do, we're going to do it in the most meaningful way we can. We're going to ship this company. We're going to keep feeding people. We're going to feed those in need, but we're not going to do it unless everyone of you can commit to taking care of yourselves, protecting yourself, protecting each other

 

00:17:48:18 - 00:18:01:09

Alissa

. I want everybody quarantine outside of this company. We got to do our part if we're going to keep going. And it was it was. It was a really moving moment because everybody was like, We're doing it, we're doing it.

 

00:18:01:24 - 00:18:05:14

Alissa

And so we did it. We but it was called gutsy.

 

00:18:05:23 - 00:18:21:12

Matt

Authentic leadership. So you don't give yourself credit. Let's just stop for a minute. There are NFL coaches getting paid $10 million dollars a year trying to inspire elite athletes to do this on a daily basis. You took 100 and something.

 

00:18:21:15 - 00:18:22:17

Matt

How many people they have working for you?

 

00:18:23:00 - 00:18:24:04

Alissa

Yeah, it was over 100.

 

00:18:24:04 - 00:18:38:09

Matt

Yeah, over 100 people. And you've inspired them now, which I think is an unbelievable statement to make because you have an amazing ability to be authentic and real for these people. So, yeah. Read on for me.

 

00:18:39:17 - 00:19:00:18

Alissa

Thank you. Well, listen, I mean, the more mondo our greatness is this team, I mean, they are the they they are so exceptional and I tell you something else. You know, my crew, they're fierce, right? I mean, these are people that have come from every different walk of life and and they they got a lot of grit

 

00:19:00:21 - 00:19:18:24

Alissa

and it takes a lot to be able to show up every day. And they're passionate. And so when you got a recipe of that kind of a crew there, really you really are unstoppable. And my priority was keep these teams protected, safe, healthy, let them do their great work.

 

00:19:19:00 - 00:19:32:07

Alissa

And then my other, the biggest thing I could do is figure out where can we point and shoot? And Amazon was amazing. Amazon, you know, they closed their campus, but they called us right away and I just figured, you know what?

 

00:19:33:03 - 00:19:47:05

Alissa

They're the big show, right? Yeah, they've come back to us when things would start firing back up, but they were great. They called me, said, Listen, I was just going to close. It's not forever. We want to do what we can to help keep you guys intact.

 

00:19:48:04 - 00:20:01:03

Alissa

Just, you know, your your café teams. But, you know, do you need anything? Is there anything we can do? And I said, Listen, we just want to work. We'll do whatever you want. You know, my drivers will drive for Amazon Prime will prepare food for Amazon Go.

 

00:20:01:07 - 00:20:19:22

Alissa

We just want to be part of the solution. And you know, they call back a couple days later and they're like, Hey, you know, there's thousands of seniors in low income housing that are sheltering in place. You guys think you could, you know, maybe prepare some meals for them, like silos that we got this 100%.

 

00:20:19:22 - 00:20:33:01

Alissa

And what was beautiful about that project is it was an opportunity for a lot of the Seattle food community to come together because I was calling Mondo's meats and I was calling, you know, burkinis and like, Hey, what do you got?

 

00:20:33:01 - 00:20:40:09

Alissa

What do you got that you can get me? We've got thousands of Low-Income seniors that need, you know, they can't get to the food banks and we're going to feed them for the next.

 

00:20:40:16 - 00:20:42:08

Matt

So what was the timeline.

 

00:20:42:08 - 00:20:46:12

Alissa

Between everybody brought like prime rib? It was insane. It was great. It was.

 

00:20:46:14 - 00:20:58:09

Matt

It was that timeline. I mean, you found out on Thursday, you're you're basically evaporated, right? Revenues are evaporating. 100 people in the parking lot. We have this conversation, and then it's one of the following week when Amazon.

 

00:20:58:10 - 00:21:05:19

Alissa

Well, it was crazy because it happened on Thursday. I transfer all my life savings back into the company, basically to shore up three weeks of payroll. That's all I had.

 

00:21:05:21 - 00:21:07:07

Matt

I had a three week, one, two and.

 

00:21:07:07 - 00:21:12:00

Alissa

three week one runway because all my money was in the move. Everything even shifted to the move.

 

00:21:12:04 - 00:21:16:23

Matt

No, that's not fair. It was not expensive now. It was only what was the least expensive part of.

 

00:21:16:23 - 00:21:20:20

Alissa

That move, but I knew they quit. Yeah, yeah.

 

00:21:21:06 - 00:21:25:17

Matt

You had invested in significant build out. Yeah, that kitchen was amazing, isn't it?

 

00:21:26:07 - 00:21:38:00

Alissa

Yeah. So I basically, I mean, it was insane, right? It was a high stakes poker at its finest. Always. It's yeah, yeah, it's crazy. And then they called, I think, within two weeks, OK?

 

00:21:38:07 - 00:21:48:05

Matt

Running on empty one week runway when they called and you said, Bam, we got it. We've got life, life support. The heartbeat is there.

 

00:21:48:10 - 00:21:57:24

Alissa

Yeah, and we were doing it at cost because the idea was going to feed as many people as you can and keep as many employees in the company. All I cared about was keeping as many of my team employed as I could.

 

00:21:57:24 - 00:22:03:23

Alissa

That was the ticket. It was just due to cost as much as you can keep this team together. And so we did it.

 

00:22:03:23 - 00:22:12:20

Matt

That was April almost May of 2028 that kept basically going and going through 21.

 

00:22:13:04 - 00:22:30:15

Alissa

No, because that was the six week project. So OK to hustle, we continue to get opportunities. And then we were connected with fair start. And then we were there start for about six or seven months, providing thousands of meals to young schoolchildren who had been on assisted meal programs in the school district.

 

00:22:30:15 - 00:22:42:21

Alissa

But the school district was closed. I mean, there was the need, the need was so great and we had the facility and a team that was able to produce. And so I was talking to Angela, who a c.

 

00:22:42:22 - 00:22:51:19

Alissa

Yeah, I just adore her. I admire her so much. A fair start. And she said, Alyssa, I can't. We can't keep up. And I'm like, Listen, we can. We can support you.

 

00:22:51:19 - 00:22:53:06

Matt

Whatever the power man.

 

00:22:53:07 - 00:23:05:03

Alissa

So we just teamed up, right? And we not start in Vermont or we were, I think, 8000 meals a day to the Oh yeah, and we were in the food banks. I mean, we were aware of as many people as we could.

 

00:23:05:03 - 00:23:22:16

Alissa

And and it was crazy because once again you were getting product like Sysco would send us stuff like, Hey, we got a good deal on a bunch of rice like, Oh, wow, okay, so we'll figure that out. And then the farmers started calling because early in the pandemic, the farmers were like, Hey, everything, stop with this.

 

00:23:23:02 - 00:23:33:08

Alissa

Our produce is going to rot. Like, Can we just get it to you? Can you just process it? Can you do something? And I said, Yeah, bring it. Like, Get it to us. We'll figure it out and then I'm not kidding you.

 

00:23:33:08 - 00:23:52:14

Alissa

These huge, I mean, semis and trucks, all these farmers start showing up on our dogs. We had £96,000 of onions and potatoes and apples, and we were working with Fair Start. We're like, We have to process all this so we can feed people with it.

 

00:23:52:14 - 00:23:53:06

Alissa

But it was a.

 

00:23:53:14 - 00:24:09:05

Matt

And I'm assuming it's going to mean your team who had, you know, like you've built a business with very specific levels of taste and quality and all of these things, right? And now it's like, what are we going to get today?

 

00:24:09:08 - 00:24:19:13

Matt

What are we going to make for lunch? It's like the restaurant. It's like a seafood restaurant. They never know what the catch of the day is going to be, right? So it did it. Did it all shift internally and have to be like, what the hell are we going to make with this stuff?

 

00:24:19:24 - 00:24:32:02

Alissa

Oh yeah, it was a constant pivot, you know, like, OK, now what are we doing? OK, now what I'm going to do? And and on top of that, we're also trying to reenter the market for, you know, for our regular clients.

 

00:24:32:02 - 00:24:46:10

Alissa

And we had fabulous clients that were regulars and we needed to figure out how to get the food to them. So we're doing home delivery right and Zoom virtual events. And so we also had to take some of the talent and be like, OK, you still got to be creative.

 

00:24:46:10 - 00:24:50:05

Alissa

You know, we still need to be able to serve our core clients.

 

00:24:50:13 - 00:24:51:08

Matt

Expectations.

 

00:24:51:11 - 00:25:09:05

Alissa

And to help the community right. And and and it was a lot of pivoting and a lot of new concepts and some were working in, some were not. It was a tense time, but I tell you what we did, everything we could possibly think of just to keep the team together and feel like we did our part

 

00:25:09:10 - 00:25:23:21

Matt

. So it sounds like it sounds like an unbelievable growth moment for not just you, obviously, but for your team, your chefs, your sous chefs, your everybody in all levels. I think the opportunity for growth.

 

00:25:24:05 - 00:25:40:11

Alissa

I think all of us grew as leaders. And I mean, I can't say enough about the team and the leadership team, my president, my chefs controller, you know, the drivers, the managers, customer service crew about players. They were all extraordinary.

 

00:25:40:11 - 00:25:53:07

Matt

And so so what's it look like today? I mean, we're not out of this nonsense. I know our business is starting to come back. We're seeing Facebook and we're seeing Microsoft starting to come back for us. And Amazon is.

 

00:25:53:11 - 00:26:03:22

Matt

And very, very strong for us as well, but the mid-market customers they knew would be sized businesses. They're still kicking the can.

 

00:26:03:24 - 00:26:14:15

Alissa

So totally. Yeah. Well, and you know, we have to kind of meet people where they're at, right? So I think that's the other thing that I realized is, you know, we just can't sit and wait. We have to be curious.

 

00:26:14:15 - 00:26:31:07

Alissa

We have to look around us. We have to really kind of sort of be in touch with what is happening, not where we think it will go, but what's in the moment. And so one of the things we decided as a team was, you know, grocery is crushing it right now, right?

 

00:26:31:08 - 00:26:47:06

Alissa

I mean, they're so busy and they're dealing with the burdens of staffing issues and production issues. And there's so many issues with the supply chain. And so we have this incredible facility. And I thought, Oh my gosh, if I'm already invested in this facility, I got to maximize it.

 

00:26:47:06 - 00:27:12:06

Alissa

I got to make it work. And so we we were able to get USDA accreditation, which means we can wholesale. So we launched an entire wholesale line. So we started providing products to metropolitan market is amazing, started doing some work with QVC, which is another fabulous grocery, and that's really helped us to kind of balance with and

 

00:27:12:06 - 00:27:24:13

Alissa

hedge your bets and COVID, right? Because corporate catering is is quieter and covered. But you know, we can there's always people to feed. And we just need to find the people and feed them. We continue to do a fair start.

 

00:27:24:22 - 00:27:30:00

Alissa

And we're working with the grocery stores and that's all we want to do. So we love to do it right. So right.

 

00:27:30:04 - 00:27:45:17

Matt

So I mean, we could go for hours on all the little pivots and questions and things you have to resolve in on the journey that you're on. You look good. Thank you. Thank you for coming on. I just want to make sure we were getting close to the end here.

 

00:27:45:22 - 00:28:01:15

Matt

Let's talk about consequences. You know, there are always good, and they're also kind of sometimes unintended consequences that come out of other decisions. What are the consequences that you've found that have come out of all the experience we've had over the last 18 to 24 months?

 

00:28:01:16 - 00:28:22:12

Alissa

Yeah. You know, I would say the constant pivots and the intensity of moving so fast is really tough. It is tough on teams. It is hard on exhausting. It's exhausting. And so I think that's one of the things that I learned is that, you know, it's not a sprint, it is a marathon and we've got to take

 

00:28:22:12 - 00:28:30:07

Alissa

care of ourselves and we've got to allow ourselves some time to sort of recuperate. Because when you're running on adrenaline that long, the burnout is real.

 

00:28:30:12 - 00:28:33:18

Matt

Yeah, we call it change fatigue. It is a constant.

 

00:28:34:04 - 00:28:48:23

Alissa

Intense. And I think, as you know, kind of running the company, that's something that I learned was like, Hey, I have to loosen up the pedal on the gas, right? It's an enormous amount of pressure that's relentless. And I, you know, I we all need to take a beat.

 

00:28:48:23 - 00:29:03:09

Alissa

We all need to take a minute and really make sure that we're taking care of ourselves during this time, right? And I think that, you know, when we allow ourselves some space to kind of breathe it, actually, I think it makes it makes us better.

 

00:29:03:09 - 00:29:21:09

Alissa

And I think we are smarter about the decisions and we become more intentional. So I would definitely say I have shifted the gear a bit as we're moving into our third year of this because I think it is incredibly hard on teams to be constantly changing and constantly pushing.

 

00:29:22:06 - 00:29:34:02

Alissa

At some point you just need to take a look at, OK, well, what is working and what's not? And then let's just invest in what's working and stop constantly trying to reinvent the wheel. Yeah.

 

00:29:34:09 - 00:29:51:21

Matt

Yeah. And all those business books we've ever read come to life in some ways, right? You know, and you know, the last few quotes I'll leave you with this one here is from Epictetus. The circumstances do not make the woman the only reveal her to herself.

 

00:29:52:00 - 00:29:53:09

Matt

What was revealed to you?

 

00:29:54:19 - 00:30:09:18

Alissa

You never give up. You never get out of it. You never give up. And you just there's always a way to move forward. And I think where you put your energy is where you go. And I knew in my heart that we were going to find our way and that's where my energy went.

 

00:30:09:19 - 00:30:13:17

Alissa

I was like, We will keep moving forward. And we figured it out.

 

00:30:13:23 - 00:30:24:15

Matt

Well, it sounds like you just you're just, you know, I think you're jumping ahead to, you know, Marcus Aurelius, who is the impediment to action advances action, which stands in our way, becomes the way.

 

00:30:25:00 - 00:30:25:11

Alissa

Yeah.

 

00:30:25:18 - 00:30:28:15

Matt

Yeah. Yeah, it's also goes away obstacles.

 

00:30:28:23 - 00:30:46:07

Alissa

Boy, this is a brutal obstacle. I'll tell you what, I could not have even imagined an obstacle like this, and I feel like in 25 years of running my own company and you know, the different challenges that we've pushed through, nothing could have prepared you for this.

 

00:30:46:08 - 00:30:47:11

Alissa

I was like, What?

 

00:30:49:00 - 00:31:02:09

Matt

They don't like having kids. They don't teach this. They don't give you a handbook. And also also let everybody know you've got to you've got Joe just graduated high school and so it's called here. Yes, this year, this year.

 

00:31:03:00 - 00:31:03:08

Alissa

OK?

 

00:31:03:17 - 00:31:04:14

Matt

And Olivia is.

 

00:31:05:06 - 00:31:12:04

Alissa

22. Yes. She's just finishing college and she's at one of my cafes and she's crushing it. Kids are great.

 

00:31:12:15 - 00:31:19:05

Matt

Yes, that's awesome. And so as a single mom, people, she has all her hair, beautiful hair.

 

00:31:19:15 - 00:31:20:11

Alissa

I think you.

 

00:31:20:17 - 00:31:44:15

Matt

Got a lovely home in Seattle. She just moved in to. She's just recovered from COVID, and I really thank you for coming on and telling your story. I hope that this story helps people in in the business community in general, because it's a really interesting story about pivoting and getting everything taken away and then re committing and

 

00:31:44:15 - 00:31:48:22

Matt

doubling down and getting it done. So congratulations.

 

00:31:49:18 - 00:31:52:01

Alissa

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Great to see you.

 

00:31:52:16 - 00:31:54:06

Matt

You, too. Thanks again.

 

00:31:54:14 - 00:31:57:00

Alissa

All right. Take it easy. Right. Bye.