An old piece of family land to start a new business? An overlooked product with a rich cultural history? Abianne's story would be plenty inspiring enough, but her advice as an entrepreneur is truly priceless. As if we needed another reason to root for Cat Spring Yaupon Tea.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I was raised to appreciate food and encouraged to experience different cuisine when we travel. My husband is from the UK and his dad was an amateur French chef so meals at our house are a mix of Texan, French, and British cuisine. I'd always been intimidated by the food industry because I'm nowhere close to a chef but have always enjoyed great food. Once I realized I could come alongside other leaders in the industry and supply a great product in yaupon, I knew I was game!
How did you get your current good food job?
I created it! My sister (JennaDee) and I started Cat Spring Yaupon over three years ago, after learning that yaupon had been the original source of energy for Native Americans for centuries. We grew up around yaupon on family land but never knew it as a caffeinated, antioxidant-rich, and delicious tea plant. Most folks in our area view yaupon as a pest and are clearing it out for cattle or hay pastures.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
I had previously worked for lululemon athletica DC in community development. It was a really great learning experience on how to identify leaders in the community and find creative ways to partner with them. That's something we strive to do well at Cat Spring Yaupon; we believe that success means everyone in our community is benefiting, and we're always looking for ways to support our customers. Whether that means partnering with bars for a yaupon cocktail crawl or highlighting restaurants for our marketing materials, our goal is to have everyone benefit. After lululemon, I went on to get my MBA in Entrepreneurship from Acton in Austin; the lessons I learned there have been invaluable to starting our company! I know we're making mistakes, but they're very different from the ones I would be making if I hadn't gone there.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
Building a market for a new ingredient in an existing product category is always challenging; education around the product is paramount and often daunting. There have been a few times when we didn't know how we were gonna make payroll and that's the worst feeling in the world. Since we harvest, process, and package all our yaupon by hand, we have lots of opportunity to create dignified employment opportunities in our community. We work to create jobs for individuals that may otherwise struggle to find traditional employment whether due to a criminal record, family demands, or health. Our team is what motivates me. These folks are AH-mazing. There's no way I could walk away from them.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
One of my mentors from Acton has always encouraged me to spend the time to "narrow the region of darkness" and then to act boldly in confidence within. Basically, there's no "right" answer in building a business but I can spend the time to do the due diligence necessary, surround myself with experienced advisors, and then make a decision from there. It's helped prevent me from stalling out on big decisions and given me the confidence to move forward when it seems like there are several good options. It's also given me freedom from worrying about past decisions. His perspective has really been a gift.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
There's so much opportunity in food right now! There's so much more insight into how our food is made and where it's coming from. Equipped with information and empowered by transparency, people are looking for responsibly grown agriculture and carefully sourced food. I was just talking to someone recently who is looking into creating a CSA facilitated by drones! I mean, you can have produce delivered within an hour from when it was harvested in the field - how awesome is that?!!?
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
I feel like this is obvious but fresh, gorgeous food. Or really great French cheese.