05
Jun
2012
SUSIE WYSHAK

GOOD FOOD CONCIERGE & AUTHOR, EPICURING.COM + GOOD FOOD BUSINESS CONSULTANT

Susie is a model for a new kind of career path, largely defined by networking, multitasking, and – most importantly – keeping your passion always in mind (even if it can’t be the focus of your full-time work). She has boundless energy for creating and implementing new ideas, but she also knows the value of what one great idea can do for you, if you have the passion and the courage to make it happen. Which is something that we at Good Food Jobs are conscious of every day.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

In high school I worked at a family-run chocolatier, which made me realize 1) I love seeing customers enjoy delicious treats and 2) hard-working workers staff should get a share of profits. At the time, I was a huge Julia Child devotee and wanted to go to culinary school–which was not all the rage. Parents: “No.” I grew up seeking out obscure, local food producers all over the states and Europe, back before globalization, when you had to travel to enjoy the terroir and local foods. While working in marketing at Internet companies, I paralleled food alongside, volunteering to start the Fair Trade chocolate program in the US,  promoting and connecting small food producers I met through Slow Food and farmers markets, and helping my friends sell at their farmers market booths in the SF Bay Area.

In 2005 my very first blog post on Wordpress.com talked about a Oaxacan food vendor, in Palo Alto, CA, whom I offered to promote. He asked for my card, to which I replied I was just helping and didn’t have a business. It was then that I knew promoting small food producers was my calling. But still, I wasn’t quite sure how to turn that into work. An “aha!” hit me in 2008 during a “what do I want to do with my life” crisis. The answer: a job combining food and the Internet. Just a few days later I heard about Foodzie.com in Springwise’s trend spotting newsletter. The Foodzie founders and I realized there was a need for someone to find and support the food artisans who would sell on Foodzie. And that’s how I turned my calling into a career. I met several others recently who also found their dream jobs just days after identifying exactly what their dream job would be.

How did you get your current good food job?

My current work came through connections or sparks of inspiration that led to an entrepreneurial effort. For example, Epicuring.com sprang from my investigating promoting culinary tourism in California. Based on research, culinary consultant Laiko Bahrs and I determined there was a huge business opportunity. We funded a website and newsletter — and found some great people through Good Food Jobs — to create a “triple win” proposition:
1) help people discover the best good food events in California,
2) help small food businesses and farms highlight their interesting food experiences, and
3) help California build its food economy.

Through connections, I also came to collaborate with Buyer’s Best Friend, the online specialty wholesale catalog. That site reflects my love for efficient, far-reaching platforms, as does my blog and book I’m writing for and about food entrepreneurs offering tips from the trenches, and expert advice.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

Love the question. It’s all about connecting the dots. Throughout my career I’ve enjoyed helping businesses and people solve problems or create opportunities. Combining this with good food, well what could be better? Whenever I look for a job, for myself or others, I consider the impact as well as the day-to-day activities, in evaluating if it’s a good fit.
From working at Internet start-ups and starting various entrepreneurial projects myself (like importing recycled pop top clothing from Brazil, and a life list website I developed called SuperViva.com).  Having a big picture goal and vision to work toward while being passionate, obsessed, wearing many hats, nimble, able to manage people, and of course to be connected are all traits common to successful food entrepreneurs.

Also, I’m an avid follower of developments in trends from food to business, tech, and politics. Happenings in one field can point to opportunities in another. Learning and being able to prioritize, focus, and decide which projects can develop concurrently is key. More importantly, I try to accept when I’m not good at or interested enough in something to focus on it. Last year I worked on starting a snack food business, and while it was interesting and I was passionate about it, the experience clarified my love of providing services rather than hard products. I do expect to continue to dabble in making and selling food as I have since college, which is so easy to do these days.

All of my food friends have many projects and interests, which we fondly refer to as our A.D.D.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

Does everyone answer the same thing? Money! Health insurance! The third thing is focus, as I have many interests and goals in life. What keeps me persevering, though, is wanting to be the change and enjoying every minute, every interaction. Good food has become the new American culture–something we used to travel abroad to experience–thanks in large part to the Slow Food movement’s early efforts.

That all being said I have joined a great little content strategy agency which fulfills another part of my brain. My great boss loves my simultaneous food work. Some suggest getting a “good enough job” to allow for passion on the side. If you can find a super fabulous job, all the better!

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

1) I believe that anyone who can solve the problem of affordable distribution and sourcing materials for small food producers is key, as well as providing small batch co-packing services. Both of these ideas are challenged by high costs–total Catch 22 in trying to make them affordable, and therefore competitive and viable in the long run. It sounds really businessey, but it does come down to business!

2) Local, local, local. Starting businesses as co-operatives, proving the business through a low-cost concept like a cart or pop-ups. Alchemy Coffee in Berkeley, CA says they started with $30. Months later they are opening a retail space. The crowdsourcing sites have made such micro-businesses so much easier to start. The new JOBS Act would allow “99%er” locals to invest in businesses which would be really instrumental in thriving neighborhoods. For example, a group of police officers invested in a now-thriving donut shop. Local good food economies, with support from the Slow Money movement, to me are the biggest opportunity. (Amy Cortese wrote a great book called Locavesting for anyone intrigued.)  More on the JOBS Act: http://mashable.com/2012/04/05/jobs-act-crowdfunding-startup/

3) Easy promotion for artisan food crafters – Check out the Good Food Awards for inspiration on creating the best possible foods as well as amazing opportunities for promotion, among winners. We’re kicking off a new Bon Bon (confections) category we hope will reveal the nation’s best candy makers. For non-product food folk, it’s not news that the world is food-obsessed, and the media are always looking for new stories. The time is now for good food!

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Self-actualization and helping millions of people, which naturally would lead to hanging with brilliant people (e.g., Sir Richard) to learn, connect the dots, and be a part of really big positive change in the world. I’m sure The Beatles would have sung “money can’t buy self-actualization” but it wasn’t quite catchy enough. Needless to say I’d need a life sponsor if I’m not being compensated for money. Is that something I’d post on Good Food Jobs? ;)