The emotional boundaries of entrepreneurship in just one week

On the same day Maazah was featured in the TIME Mother’s Day Gift Guide, our maker texted me saying they were pulling sauces from production schedule and wouldn’t have the ability to run our products for months.

I couldn’t believe it. The shocking news came seven days before a scheduled launch event at Mariano in Chicago, the first stop for a local roll out of meze at Kroger grocery stores. I called my mom from the parking lot at Good Acre, St. Paul’s kitchen that is still used as a mezze warehouse. I told her the terrible news and cried out loud in silence. The last time I cried so hard was in 10th grade when my 11th grade crush didn’t bring back the gah gah feelings I had for them.

This was the first time in the business that we did everything that was planned and planned to do and it just didn’t go our way. I knew this Kruger opportunity was going to be tough. You need to adapt to a new set of new rules and make good business decisions. I’ve dealt with the uneasiness of uncertainty before, so I knew I was excited about it. I’ve surrounded myself with two great mentors and recently finished ImpactSKU, a twin cities-based accelerator for purpose-built consumer product startups, so I knew I had the brains for it. But did I have heart for it when things weren’t going my way?

In my family, food is the way we show love. We want to feed you, we want you to take a second serving and we want you to take your leftovers home. There is nothing more satisfying than sharing a delicious meal with the people you love. In growing this business, I have always been able to build on my passion for great food and share my love for my culture through food. But increasing production required outsourcing manufacturing and losing some control. It is not easy as a small brand to find packaging partners who are willing to work with you. Some did not know anything about the sauces and wanted to change the products or the packaging. Others wanted proof of a contract that we really go to Kroger’s stores. Still others just don’t answer calls.

After months of searching for the right manufacturing partner, I’ve found someone who meets all the requirements we’ve learned to look for. They were transparent about their process. They let us in to see their facilities. Their R&D manager understood what we were trying to do. She was from India and grew up with similar sauces. I felt like we found our people. So I was totally shocked by the call that canceled our production time. They said they were too committed and had a longtime customer order that had to be done first.

“Just tell them they have to,” my mother suggested when I shared the horrific news. I told her I tried it, and it didn’t make a difference. But no other manufacturer I have contacted has tried to take us on such short notice. If I learned anything as an entrepreneur it was the importance of building a network along with your business, I knew I needed to strengthen the connections. I called a mentor and everyone else I thought might be able to advise us or help communicate on our behalf, and they emphasized the urgency of the timing. I told my packing partner I understood their growing pain; We were going through the same thing, and if only they were going to help us meet this big moment for Maazah…and they did! They filled the demand and we were shelving in Kroger just in time for Mariano’s launch.

“Mazza” launch party at Mariano in Chicago.

We’ve never had a grocery store launch party, or even known it was something. They revitalized an entire section of the store with Maazah display at several sampling stations and even a balloon arch in our brand colors. We had the opportunity to collaborate with a chef to prepare the sample menu for the evening. We had a grazing station that included crudités, charcuterie, cheeses, caprese skewers, and feta watermelon salad skewers. There was a grill station with a small turkey burger slider, elote and brats. My absolute favorite was the “combined bite” station with deviled eggs and the shrimp guacamole. Very delicious!

Customers were very enthusiastic and impressed with the variety and flavors of the product; It brought back all those feelings we had at our first farmers market event in years—that feeling, awesome, this can work! And we were in a completely different situation, selling to people we don’t know. It’s not like my aunt or my friends come to the store and buy the products; This was a big time! The relationship with our customers is our lifeline. That’s why we created the Mill City Farmers Market on the last Saturday of the month. We still get goosebumps every time a customer enjoys a sample of Maazah. It’s a reminder that we don’t just settle for the dinner table – we create connections.

It may not always seem that the inevitable declines in entrepreneurship justify the dizzying rises, but a true connection with our clients will always fuel our journey.

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