Women In Business: Elizabeth Wood – The Joyful Food Co.

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Elizabeth Wood, founder, co-owner, baker at The Joyful Food Co. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

The Joyful Food Co.

When was your company founded?

January 2015

What inspired you to form your own company?

My oldest son was dealing with some health problems and doctors couldn’t give us any answers. After doing a lot of research on my own, I decided to drastically change our family’s diet. We eliminated grains, refined sugars, dairy, and I made everything from scratch. It was a lot of trial and error (I only cooked and baked with pre-made mixes from the grocery store before this), but soon we were seeing improvements in our entire family’s health….and I was getting better at making food! Soon others asked me to bake for them and it kept growing until it only made sense to open a brick and mortar store.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of the job is definitely our customers. Many of our customers are dealing with new diagnoses or trying to get to the bottom of health problems–it’s frustrating for them! But when I show them our ingredient labels, and they realize they still can have some of their favorite foods, it’s like a new world opening up to them. Even just meeting others who have been where they are is a relief to them. Sometimes we will have a child with food allergies come in who is used to having very limited options. Watching them learn they can eat anything we make is very rewarding!

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is managing a staff. I don’t think most people start businesses because they love managing a team of people or paying sales tax or any of the mundane, background things that running a business requires. I opened a business because I love to bake, but now I have a staff of 9 people. Hiring, scheduling, firing–it’s very complicated to manage!

Have you found that being a woman owned business has helped your business?  

I don’t know that it has helped our business specifically, but it definitely informs how we (I have a business partner, also a woman) run our business. We have chosen to close our business at times when our children will be out of school because we want to spend time with them. We make sure our employees know that we value hard work but prioritize family. I’m not sure that is something you would hear at an interview if 2 men were in charge.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

In the beginning, especially, I think I had a hard time being taken seriously. I tried to look at a space for my first location and one landlord scheduled a time with me, and then called me back later to ask where I was getting the money to do this and made it clear he didn’t want to waste his time. I also had a lot of people treat this like a hobby vs. a business at the beginning.

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable?

Your time isn’t free. The older I get, I realize that not only is my time not free, my time is actually quite valuable. Whether this means costing my time into the recipes I make or being more thoughtful about how much of myself I’m willing to give to things like speaking at schools or in-depth requests for dietary help. I have learned to weigh out if these things are worth my time, and I don’t always mean monetarily worth my time. Is it worth more time away from my family? Is it worth preparing a presentation the night before, after working all day? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t–but it is never free.

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

You can’t do everything. Decide what you’re going to do, and do a fantastic job at it. When I first opened my business, I was inundated with customers asking me to do special items for them or giving advice about what I should make or what I should carry in my store. Instead of branching out in 100 directions, I decided to do the things I wanted to do, the things I was good at, and the things I enjoyed, and do them very well.

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

While I’m sure I’ve made a number of missteps throughout the past 6 years, I wouldn’t change any of it. Each mistake taught me something about myself and better prepared me to manage this business in my own way.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

A goal I hope for with my business is being able to hand off more responsibilities to others in the future. I would love to have a general manager that handles staffing and other aspects of managing the day to day business.

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

This probably sounds funny because my answer is someone I’ve never met before, but Bob Moore, the founder of Bob’s Red Mill has been an inspiration to me. I knew about the Bob’s Red Mill brand for years, and even used a number of products from the company before I ever heard Bob’s story. I love the podcast “How I Built This”, and one of the episodes told the story of Bob Moore and his mill. So many things about the story endeared Bob to me: his belief in good food for all, his devotion to his employees, his dedication to his craft, and his philosophy of people before profit. Everything about his business model and life philosophy feels like something to aspire to.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

The pandemic has been challenging, and we had the added stress of being handed the keys to our second location the week the pandemic was declared. Even though we were considered ‘essential’ since we were a food-based business, it seemed tone deaf to open a new store in the middle of the chaos and shutdowns. We delayed opening our new location by 2 months and transitioned our first location to curbside only while we navigated all of the changes. Luckily, in 2019, we had purchased a refrigerated van, so we were poised to increase our delivery business. Overall, business is still not back to normal for us, and we aren’t really sure how to measure ‘normal’ at our new location because it has only ever been open during a pandemic. But we are making it and if the pandemic taught us anything, it was how to pivot and be more flexible.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

Being able to laugh and vent with my business partner, Rebecca. It is invaluable to have a partner and to know that even when things seem terrible, at least you have each other. Also, messages from customers are so encouraging. Last weekend, a customer messaged me to let me know that a friend’s mother had been in hospice and my muffins were the only thing she could tolerate to eat. She told me what a blessing that was to the family and what a burden it lifted for the daughter who had been working so hard to find anything for her mother to possibly enjoy.

If you were not a bakery owner what would you be? 

In my dream world, a veterinarian!

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I’ve had a lot of careers, and I hope I’m young enough to have a few more! In 5 years, I would love to be thinking about selling my business to someone who has the desire and business savvy to grow it even more.

What would you like people to know about your business?

That even 6 years in, I still feel like someone who should not be in charge of a business!! Like I said earlier, I started this because I love to bake. I have no formal culinary or business training, and sometimes I feel like an imposter. I am constantly learning as I go, whether that has to do with bookkeeping, managing employees, or even baking! Also, I would like people to know that even though we now have 2 locations, I am still as hands on as I’ve ever been. My partner and I manage all moving parts of the business.

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

I’m not sure if everybody told me this, but I think there is a perception that running your own business gives you a lot of flexibility and freedom. I think that is true in some cases, but when you own a very small business, each employee has a very specific job, so if even one employee is sick, the owner is likely the one who covers for them. The more employees you add, the more likely you are to have one who is sick or one who is on vacation or jury duty (at one point, we had 4 employees and 2 were called for jury duty the same week!). There is definitely some flexibility, but the buck stops with the owner, and that is a challenge.

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

People were SO supportive of my business. They told their friends, shared on social media and showed up and bought food! The first few weeks I was open, I sold out of food nearly every day. I could not have asked for a more supportive community.

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

I have been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by support, but there is a saying that I’ve always loved: People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. That’s my overall philosophy of negative people–hush, I’m working over here!

How would your customers describe you?

I think they would describe me as hard working and joyful.

What has been your most favorite project to date?

At the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to help with food insecurity in our community. This is something that has always been on my heart, especially that people in need should have access to healthy food. We started offering meal donations on our website. Customers can add a frozen meal donation to their order and for every 5 that are purchased, we donate one. We partnered with a local non-profit, Grace Klein Community (run by an amazing woman–Jenny Waltman) and they distribute the food to those in need. It has been so rewarding to send this healthy and delicious food their way and to experience the generosity of our customers.

Where do you find inspiration for a new idea or project?

I can’t credit a specific source, but I will say that I rarely get inspired to try something new when I’m working too much and feeling overwhelmed. Most of my good ideas come during time off when I have some space away from the stores.

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I have had a lot of jobs and careers: I’ve worked at a dude ranch, been a vet tech, a bank teller, and a pharmaceutical sales rep. I worked in a cancer research lab, was a stay-at-home mom, and later a water aerobics instructor. Most recently I am a baker and small business owner. I hope to add more to this list one day! It’s never too late to start a new chapter.

You can find Elizabeth and The Joyful Food Co. here: