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November 9, 2023 17 mins
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I'm from Fayetteville, North Carolina.I went to school at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gotar Heels, and currently live in Los
Angeles. So as somebody that livedin Raleigh, North Carolina for eight years,
I know that area well. Andevery time we talk to a tar
Heel, they got to get thatout. So you just have to win
the triangle with Duke and Anti Stateand Carolina. Denise knows of the battle

of those three schools in the triangle, don't you for sure? Tobacco Road,
Yes, lots of fond memories there, and also Denise is used to
winning a lot when it comes tobasketball championships too, so she's lucky there
too. Well, listen, I'mthrilled to talk to you because when I
found out what you do and whatyour company is with Partek Foods, I
said, oh my gosh, snacks. I love them. Americans love them.

He came up with a great ideain twenty sixteen. But before we
talk about partake, especially in thisseries, when entrepreneurs and CEOs, whether
they're working to be there or they'reout there, always have a great story
about well, before I started thiscompany, this's what I did, And
I know you were kind of inthe industry beforehand. Can you tell us
about your before you came up withthe idea of Partake Foods. Sure.
So I spent about a decade atCoca Cola. Initially I worked in sales

and marketing roles across their trademark brandsCoke, Diet Coke, and Sprite.
My husband and I started thinking abouthaving a family and I wanted to make
sure that I was selling products thatI wanted to share with our child.
And so I had the pretty serendipitousopportunity to move over to their Venturing and
Emerging Brands division, where I gotto work with high growth, mission oriented
beverage brands like Honesty, And sothat's what I was doing before I had

the idea for Partake. All right, So now I want to talk about
Partake because this is the fascinating stuffthat I really get into, and I
know our listeners do when it comesto CEOs. You should know about having
that epiphany, that idea. Soyou've been in the industry, you know
marketing, you know brands, youknow what you like and what you don't
like. But you came up withthis unique idea, and so tell us

when we came up with it.Tell us about that origin story about coming
up. I think I've got apretty cool idea here. I need to
take a chance on this. Ineed a little tenacity, some hard work,
a little bit luck, I needsome money. I've got this great
idea. Let's see if we cando it. Tell us the whole story.
Sure thing, I think we gotall of those things and a pretty
lucky kick in the butt that causedme to leave my corporate career to pursue

the idea. So I have aneight year old daughter, Vivian. Right
around her first birthday, we learnedthat she has several food allergies. I
was really frustrated with what I couldfind for her or couldn't find for her
from a taste perspective, from anutritional perspective. I thought about how many
fun social events for kids and adultsin ball food and how she wouldn't be
able to confidently and safely participate.And wanted to create a brand that appealed

to people with food allergies but alsowithout food allergies. And so that's where
I have the idea. And thatwas in twenty sixteen on a sunny Saturday
afternoon, my family was at thezoo and I told my husband, you
won't believe this idea. And ournanny at the time, Martha, who
has some equity in the business,had gotten really tired of hearing me complain
about all the things I couldn't findfor my daughter and was telling me,

like, you should do something aboutit. So I was telling my husban
and gentlemen in line in front ofus as the zoo turned around and said,
sounds like you have a great idea. You should enter this small business
pitch competition for New Jersey small businesses. We entered, I went home and
corporated the business we entered. Iended up winning a ten thousand dollars prize,
which was fantastic because it gave ussome of that seed capital that we
needed to start the business. Butprobably more importantly, it came with some

local press that forced me to tellmy employer what I was working on,
because the last thing I needed wasthem to see me in the news as
local women starts allergy friendly snack company, and so they were super supportive,
but also said, you know,when you actually have a product, you
got to hit the road. AndI think that was probably one of the
biggest strokes of luck I've had inthis journey. Well, thank you for
sharing all that. And you know, there's also a common thread when I

talked to CEOs in this series aboutsomething that personally has affected them or their
family, and so they come upwith solutions to try and you know,
get better out there and come upwith something that's not only good for them,
but hey, I might have agreat business plan here of something that
really does exist or I don't knowabout, and if I started, we
might have something pretty successful. I'llgive you a great example. I didn't

start it, but I know asa parent because I've got a twenty year
old daughter, but she didn't likesocks that had scenes in them right on
her toes. And I remember mywife and I back in the early two
thousands looking for seamless socks. Theyjust did not exist. One day,
I found them, and I wishI would have come up with that idea.
But I can understand from a personalexperience when you don't have something and
you need it to come up withthat idea, but you took it to

the next level, which I thinkis extraordinary when it comes to these snacks.
So I want to do this.We want to find out all the
kind of different snacks that you haveand where you can get them. It's
really a wonderful success story that startedback in twenty sixteen. But before we
get to any of that, whatis the mission statement of Partake Foods.
So at Partake, we're all aboutmaking snacking better for you, inclusive and
delicious, and so our products aresafe for over ninety percent of people to

eat because they're free of the topnine allergens, they're gluten free, they're
vegan, they're non gmo and madewith super high quality ingredients. But most
importantly, they're delicious. And onceagain it's snacks, folks, which is
just fantastic. Americans love snacks,so we have them here at iHeartMedia all
the time and we enjoy them andeverybody loves them. And you took it

to the next level. And Ithink we're living in a time too,
Denise, that you also personally experienced. But there's all sorts of choices out
there, more choices than ever,whether it comes to your entertainment, your
clothing, or what you eat.But people are also developing more allergies,
so I see why you came upwith it, not only on a personal
side with your daughter, but alsothis great business plan that you had.
So I'm kind of curious you startedthis up, you won the contest,

You've got some seed money, nowyou got to go. So I'm curious
about how thought, how big youthought this was going to be, and
what your business plan was for thefirst couple of years. Sure, so
I wasn't going to leave a careerthat I loved and was passionate about unless
I believe that this was a scalablebusiness. But I also knew that I

was going to have a really biglearning curve and it was going to be
important for me to start small.So I had big dreams. But what
that looked like when we started wasme selling cookies out of my car to
natural food stores in New York,bootstrapping in the business as far as to
sell my engagement ring to fund it, and we really grew in small baby
steps year over year. We didthat for the first year. The next
year we added one small regional grocer, and thankfully today you can find us

in over thirteen thousand stores as wellas in lots of other places. But
initially the business plan was to makesure we're making something that consumers want and
that consumers enjoy. We wanted tohear their feedback. We wanted to iterate
based on their feedback before we startedtaking this thinking about taking this further.
So, Denise, I have asports background, and I ask a lot

of athletes and also people that arein the entertainment industry, Hey, when
did you know that you made itso with you and a company, when
did you know that you had somethingreally special? I think both of those
moments came in the middle of twentytwenty. We had gone from a small
regional brand thinking we'd had this bigmeeting with Target and we thought they would
give us a small test, andthey gave us nearly the entire chain of

stores, and so we went fromsmall regional brand overnight to national brand.
And so to see our products andtake my daughter into stores and see our
products on Target store shelves nationwide,that felt like a we made it moment.
And I think alongside that because whileI was super excited that, you
know, created costs in the business, I've gotten nearly one hundred no's on
my fundraising journey and the yes thatwe got was from Marci Venture Partners,

which is a venture fund that JayZ co founded, and June of twenty
nineteen, and so both of thosemoments, I think for me really felt
like I'm onto something. There arepeople who believe in this, They're consumers
who want and need this product.You know, this would be a great
time for some advice from you.You're a woman owned business and you had
one hundred people say no to you. And I hear this story a lot

for entrepreneurs and CEOs where there area lot of nos, and it's very
frustrating and it can be easy toquit after you get no, no,
no. I really can't help you. I don't have any money for you.
Can you share a little bit?And I know that your story is
relative to you, but just ingeneral, some budding entrepreneurs and CEOs out
there advice about starting a company,how you started it, and where you
took it sure thing. I thinksome of the tidbits that come to mind

would be one that it's okay tostart small. I think because of the
way that we started, I wasthe only employee at Partake until January of
twenty twenty, and because of that, I had to learn every single part
of the business. I was theaccounting department, the sales department, and
the operations department. And so Ithink starting small, not having a ton
of capital made me super frugal,made me look at every decision I was

making, and made me really havea strong understanding in the business. So
one thing I would tell budding entrepreneursis that starting small is okay. I
imagine that when you got the Targetdeal, that was a little overwhelming,
and some people get in that becareful what you wish for syndrome, because
you want something, Then when youhave it, you go, oh my
gosh, I'm in a mess.Now I've got to come up with all

this product. So with that said, what was a transition like when you
got Target on board. I thinkat that point we had been in business.
I'd been selling cookies for about threeyears, and I think we'd really
built a strong foundation. So itdefinitely was an oh crap moment where I
called our manufacturing partner, I calledthe one other employee at the company,
and I was like, should wedo this? Can we do this?

And we decided to all take thebet. But we felt comfortable taking the
bet because we had spent years buildinga strong foundation in the business. All
right, before we get into allthe different products you have, and it's
really cool how many different things youhave? Can you tell us about the
part take promise sure thing. Sowhen I started partak with, it came
from the idea that I wanted mydaughter and people with food allergies to be
able to partake in safe and deliciousfoods. But as a woman owned business,

as a first time founder, asa person of color, I continue
to see how many other groups ofpeople oftentimes don't have the opportunity to partake.
And so I really view this companyas a vehicle for radical inclusivity,
for creating a bigger table that celebratesall types of people and welcomes all types
of people. And we do thatthrough a myriad of ways, but a

couple are focused on our social impactcomponents, which are around reducing childhood food
insecurity. Last year, we donatedover a million meals through partnership with No
Kid Hungry and continue to support relationshipswith regional partners like Eat, Learn,
Play, the Birthday Party Project,and Hashtag lunch Bag. And we also
started a nonprofit, the Black Futuresand Food and Beverage Fellowship that's really focused

on increasing diversity in the food industryand providing HBCU students with mentorships and access
to jobs and internships in the foodand beverage industries. Okay, we've talked
about the company a lot, butwe actually haven't talked about the snacks,
so I think everybody's ready to hearabout that. We will give the website
address at the end of our conversationso you can check it out more,
go to your local store and reallyenjoy it. So what kind of snacks

and how many do you have?We make cookies, We make soft bake
cookies, We make crunchy cookies.We make cookies and snack pack lunchbox sizes.
Our number one seller is our crunchychocolate Chip Classic. We also have
fantastic flavors like lemon and snicker doodle. We launched a line of Graham crackers
this summer that we're super excited about, and we have some new products on

the horizon early next year. Okay, I have to ask the obvious question.
I think I might know this,but why cookies. Everybody loves cookies,
or at least most people do.I love a good cookie? Why
cookies? So why was that thebig item? So I wanted my daughter.
I thought about all the social settingswhere she wouldn't be able to happily
celebrate, whether it be birthday partiesor play dates or classroom celebrations. And

to your point, everybody loves thecookie. And so that's where we started.
All right. I want to hearabout a great story, maybe something
where you know, beside the targetstory which I think is extraordinary that you
can share with us that as anentrepreneur and as a businesswoman was a really
exciting moment for you. But Ialso like to talk about challenges because we
want to tell our CEOs and ourfuture entrepreneurs that it's not always unicorns and

rainbows all the time. You talkedabout challenges about people saying no and funding.
But in the industry currently today,are there any challenges that you're experiencing,
Denise? I think definitely. SoI think, you know, we
continue to see supply chain challenges,whether that be inflation, macro economic things
that are happening, you know,kind of disruption globally that's affecting the supply

chain. So there's definitely supply chainchallenges. I think specific to partake,
but also any growing business. Youknow, growing a team quickly, particularly
in a remote environment, is challengingand requires a lot of deliberate decision making
and focus on building culture and supportingemployees. So we're trying to navigate that.
And then as a venture backed business, I think the fundraising climate has

definitely cooled down some and so makingsure that we're delivering really strong metrics around
growth and around profitability so that wehave a viable business or all challenges that
we're going through right now. IfI could indulge you, I think I
know the good story. I wantyou to tell me and our listeners because
I'd like to hear right from howit was for her. Because you came
up with this idea for your daughter. So she was only eight at the

time. Is that correct when youcame up with the idea. How old
was she? She was one?She's eight now, so she's grown up
with the business. Okay, soshe was one, so she was a
little baby, but you noticed aboutthe allergy. So with all that said,
when she's been old enough to knowthat mom and the family put this
company together and she was basically theorigin story, how did she react towards
this, what does she know aboutthe company. It was interesting actually because

this morning I don't want her makeI don't want to make her take cookies
for her snack every single day.So I give her a choice of like,
do you want partake cookies or somethingelse? And she consistently picks the
part take cookies. So I feellike we're winning in that way. And
I think also for her to seemy entrepreneurial journey, how much sacrifice it
requires, how many knows come alongthe way, and how much hard work
there is, I'm hoping that itteaches her a ton about hard work,

about building businesses. And I canalready see. You know, I would
walk the aisles of a store whenI was little, and companies were so
abstract I never thought I could startsomething. She walks down the aisles and
she's critiquing product photography and saying,well, I have an eye for this,
and I'm going to build this business. And so to see how this
class dealing has been lifted off ofher head, because what she's seen with
my journey is really really exciting andinspiring. To me, Denise sounds like

a little chip off the old blockI think, and what a marketer to
take the cookies to school every day. I love it. I do too,
gives it the best and that's wonderful. I'm glad you shared that.
Thank you so much. Well.I did want to ask you too about
the philanthropic stuff, and I knowyou mentioned some stuff that you've done and
whether it's your personal with a familyor maybe other things that you do charity

wise with a company and part take, is there anything else you'd like to
be a part of? You know, I think we really were really focused
on being a triple bottom line businessand want to make the world a better
place as we grow this business.We just got our Beacorp certification this year,
which I'm super proud of you gradulationand I think about thank you.
We think about, you know,how to make the world better in every

single decision we make, and whenwe think about the causes that we support,
it really does lean in on childhood, food and security and diversity in
the food industry. But day today to this decision in terms of the
types of hiring practices and how wesupport the team, it really is all
about making the world better. Sobetween hard work, tenacity funding and a
little bit of luck and timing.The company's growing into something pretty special,

and you prove to yourself and everybodythat you're not always sustainable, but you're
able to grow. So with that, I know that sometimes you want it
kind to be careful about those thingsin your business plant by getting too big
and making sure that you don't getover your skis. But what is the
future. Maybe over the next fiveyears in your plan for Partake Foods,
sure thing, I think you'll seeus develop other products, so we'll move

beyond just cookies and gram crackers,and hopefully you'll start to find us in
other aisles of the grocery store.We want to continue to serve our customers
where they live and work and play, and so you'll be able to find
us in more locations. And tothe point I made around wanting to make
the world a better place, Ithink naturally as our business grows, the
positive social impact that we have onthe world will also continue to grow outstanding.

Let's do this for all our listeners, even though I'm sure they've Google
already, but when it comes tothe website, just to get more education
about everything that you do, andit's a lovely website, whoever designed it.
It's beautiful, it's easy to navigate. But also let's talk about all
the stores. Well, it doesn'tmatter what region because this could be running
all over domestically the United States.About where people can get Partake Foods.

Sure, thanks so you can learnmore at Partakfoods dot com and you can
find us in retailers across the countrylike Target, Walmart, Kroger, Whole
Foods, Albertson's and online at Amazon. Denise, this is an absolutely extraordinary
story, and I know that wehave only got into our dipped our toes
into the water about how hard thiswas to do and all the blood,
sweat and tears that you, yourfamily and your staff have put together.

It is a wonderful story though,and I'm so happy for you your family,
but also the success that you broughtand making the place a little bit
better with something that people could use. They enjoy good snack, but if
they have allergies. You know,it's just absolutely credible that you came up
what you think is a simple idea, you took it to the next level
and now probably hundreds of thousands andmillions of people are enjoying Partake foods and

uh, you know, it's justit's a wonderful marketing story, it's a
wonderful business story and continued success.We really enjoyed having you on CEOs.
You should know. Thank you somuch for your time. Thanks so much, Dennis
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