Over the years, so many of you have asked questions about starting your own business. How did I know I was ready? How did I get into gifting and flowers? What is the best advice I can give someone starting on their own? So as we embark on a new year, I figured now would be a perfect time to share how it all began.
For most of my childhood and early adulthood, I wanted to be a fashion designer. From selling handpainted, handsewn tanktops and beaded bracelets in high school to starting a handbag line in my late twenties with Andre, it was all I ever thought I wanted to do. Until the day I was forced to stop and think about it as an adult and realized it wasn’t.
When I turned 30, my professional life fell apart. Andre and I had to close our handbag company, Sud de Sur, because it wasn’t making enough money to stay afloat. For a while, it felt heartbreaking. It was all I had ever wanted, and now it was over. Still, desperately needing to make money, I had two options. I could go work for someone again in the fashion world, or I could pivot and do something else. Rather than heading down the safe path of what I had always said I wanted to do, I sat with it. I thought about all the things I spent my free time doing. And, everything came back to food and entertaining. It was dinner parties, coming up with new recipes, putting together tablescapes, and creating beautiful moments to share with the people I loved. It was delicious food enjoyed with friends; it was laughter, connection, and joy. Never once did I think about fashion, or clothing, or designing.
So, I took note of this and decided to try something new and entirely outside my professional comfort zone. Since I had never worked in restaurants or gone to culinary school, I knew I needed to get some real experience to see if it would be a good fit. I began emailing restaurants and responding to job posts, but all replies were a firm no, as they said, I needed restaurant experience. Finally, an old friend cooking at a restaurant around the corner from my house told me to come and meet the owner, Corina. And so, I did. We sat in front of her small neighborhood restaurant, Canelé, and shared a little bit of ourselves. I told her how much I loved food and cooking. I told her I just wanted to learn and would be grateful if she could even let me only come to observe or have an internship. And, bless her heart, she said yes. A few days later, she hired me, put me on the line at the salad station, and it was from there that my life and career changed forever.
In addition to Canelé, I also took jobs with several catering companies in LA to get a sense of other ways to have a career in the food industry. After months of working for various companies, I realized that I enjoyed cooking at people’s homes, much more than in a restaurant. I loved creating intimate and delicious evenings for small groups and the variety of making various dishes rather than the same thing over and over again. And, this is how Valleybrink Road was born. Launched in 2013, it was initially a boutique catering company of one—basically, personal chef services but for parties. I would come over with all the beautiful ingredients and cook. It was exciting, exhilarating, exhausting, and so physically demanding. But it was also extremely fulfilling. And, as my small little catering company began to take off, a friend called me one day out of the blue and changed the trajectory of Valleybrink Road forever.
It was the middle of the week, and I wasn’t really up to much when my phone rang. An old friend who was now the VP of Talent at a major movie studio needed some last-minute gift baskets for the cast of a show and thought I might be able to help. “You’ve always been creative and good at making things look pretty,” she said. Of course, I said yes. So, I set out, driving around town, finding different beautifully branded products for the gifts. I decided to use wooden boxes instead of baskets, nixed the plastic cellophane, and added some fresh flowers. And, voila, the Valleybrink Road Gift Box was born. She loved them, the cast loved them, and after I posted a picture on Instagram, I quickly realized that people I didn’t know loved them too and wanted to buy them. Three months later, Valleybrink Road also became a gifting company. And then, two years later, a floral design company as well.
Once we realized that Valleybrink Road was developing into something significant, Andre, who had already been doing so much to help, came on as my partner to expand the company. Over the years, we’ve organically grown and changed our offerings based on how our life was unfolding. Once we had Costa, catering became harder and harder for me to manage. I was working nights and weekends at events and all-day making gift boxes. I saw Costa less and less and completely lost any desire to cook for my own family, as I was cooking for others all the time. It was important to me to be home in the early evenings, spend time with family on the weekends, and cook and connect over our meals. So, Andre and I decided, before Paolo arrived, to phase out catering and focus on growing the gift boxes and flower delivery services. Those services seemed more manageable for us to scale while also creating the type of home life we wanted to have for our kids, especially in the early years.
Up until a year ago, we had never paid for any marketing efforts or PR. Growth was always steady, and clients and customers stuck with us once they saw our work’s quality and consistency. We never took any outside funding or investment, but instead, were conservative with our choices and always mindful of running a lean operation. And, up until this year, this approach had worked well for our small business. We experienced growth year after year for seven straight years. And then, a pandemic.
As I shared on Instagram yesterday, this year has been very hard for Valleybrink Road. Like so many small business owners, we’ve been decimated by the pandemic. It feels so heavy, and like, for the first time in a long time, we are back at the beginning. We’re down to one part-time employee and will be moving out of the warehouse we’ve had for the last four years because our landlord is raising our rent. I now bring my kids to work and pack boxes while they sit on Ipads for hours. While many days these past months have felt hopeless, I also have faith that there is light and opportunity at the end of this long road. We’ll get through it because there is no other option. I love being an entrepreneur and having a company that is our own. I love showing the boys that their parents work hard and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. I know these were important lessons I learned from my mom, a hardworking single mother of three. So, it’s important for me to pass these lessons onto our boys too.
So, I guess the best advice I can offer is this. If you have a strong work ethic and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, then the time is now. If you have been thinking about taking that leap, then the time is now. You will fail a million times on your road to success, but you have to keep getting up each time you fall. We are magical, resilient creatures who are capable of so much. And, if you believe in you, others will too. X