Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ethan Shapiro, Owner of Big Mama’s Backyard Garden, located in Miami, FL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Big Mama's Backyard Garden is a salad dressing business started by Big Mama and me (her son) in 2021. Since launching less than two years ago, we've sold nearly 3,000 bottles of our famous Calamondin Vinaigrette. A huge hit in South Florida, we've shipped our dressing to every state and even as far as Hawaii and Alaska. Once you try our vinaigrette, which is the opposite of store-bought dressings, you'll realize what you've been missing. Our slogan is "Made with Love...Tested on Grandchildren" because our dressing is exclusively tested on Big Mama's grandchildren.
Tell us about yourself
Big Mama has been making a salad dressing with fresh ingredients grown in her backyard garden for over 30 years. Anyone who tried it would say, "This is excellent! You should sell it!" In 2021, I posted a picture of the dressing we made for our family online. So many people wanted to buy some, I told my mother, "let me see how far I can take this." I found a bottle, designed a label, built a website, obtained nutritional information, got a UPC code, and became licensed as a wholesale manufacturer. Since then, we've sold nearly 3,000 bottles and are in five stores. Things have been going so well that I left my 23-year career as an IT Executive to focus on Big Mama's Backyard Garden full-time. Big Mama loves seeing how many people use her dressing for such interesting recipes. Grilled salmon, marinated shrimp, pasta salad, and dipping veggies are some of the most popular uses.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Our biggest accomplishment has been managing growth in a smart way. Through every stage of growth, we've tried to make sure demand is constantly catching up to our production capacity. We've grown demand by increasing sales at farmer's markets and adding more retail partners. This has allowed us to invest in bottling and labeling machines which allow us to grow our production capacity to slightly exceed demand. Most recently, we made the cover of Miami Community Newspapers, and this helped increase demand as well. In 2022, we had a YoY growth of 284% and were projected to grow another 366% in 2023 at current retail locations.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
One of the biggest challenges in the beginning was to pin Big Mama down on a recipe. For years, her recipe would change based on whatever was fresh in her garden. Our chief taste tester, Big Mama's 7-year-old granddaughter Heather, finally helped us perfect a recipe; the rest is history.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Be extremely careful about protecting your brand and not trying to do too much or grow too fast. One large expense that doesn't pan out can drain your reserves pretty fast. Lean on family who has business experience and connections that might be helpful.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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