It’s November 2015
Nicole and Rob are putting the final touches on the 88 Acres Bakery, hiring the first team members, and making as many Triple Berry Bars as their ovens can handle - Nicole is also 7 months pregnant.
When the co-founders tell the story of starting a business while preparing for their first child, they get some raised eyebrows. Early stage food businesses are notorious for requiring long hours, laser-focused dedication and years of hard work, but for this husband-and-wife team, business and family go hand in hand.
Fast forward to 2019
Emmett is now 3 years old and Nicole and Rob are leading a growing team as 88 Acres stretches into grocery stores across the country. Naturally, their days start early.
6:30 AM (or whenever Emmett wakes up)
Emmett runs into Mom and Dad’s room and jumps into bed with them. After a few minutes, he asks to make smoothies and everyone goes downstairs to the kitchen. Usually they’ll divide and conquer - someone will make his lunch while the other gets him ready for school. Emmett knows that if Dad is making lunch he can usually negotiate a Pumpkin Seed Butter and jelly sandwich, heavy on the jelly.
While Emmett sips on his smoothie and watches The Sandlot, Mom and Dad get ready for work. No one is checking emails or taking calls, the morning is reserved for eating breakfast together and enjoying the magic of just being a family. If she was still working in finance, Nicole would have been out the door before Emmett even woke up.
Emmett asks both parents if they’re going to “the bakey” or the office, just because he likes to stay in the loop. He always wants Mom to drop him off at daycare, which is only a few minutes away. Whatever guilt she used to feel about leaving him at daycare disappeared as soon as she saw how much fun he was having. “There are so many things that he can only learn by being surrounded by kids his own age. Plus, they do yoga mid-day and have a class garden that he takes care of, so he’s living his best life.”
As soon as Nicole gets back in the car, the work day begins. She returns calls from earlier in the morning and checks in with her team at the office as she heads to the Bakery in Dorchester. Bluetooth is a life saver.
The Bakery team has already been working for 3 hours when she arrives. She drops her bag in the front room, suits up in a lab coat and hairnet and heads out to the production floor. Because we make our snacks by hand in small batches, there are constant adjustments and quality checks to make sure every tray of bars is perfect. As we expand into more and more grocery stores, the team and Bakery has to grow, too. “Operations is made up of lots of little building blocks that come together to form one big engine. If you don’t understand all the little pieces, you won’t be able to make the machine run faster or better.”
Since the beginning, she has always worked in the trenches with her team. She would never ask them to do something that she hasn’t done herself or wouldn’t do today - cleaning drains, scrubbing floors. Everyone works side by side, especially the CEO. She never wants to lead from behind a glass door, something she’s experienced first-hand at previous jobs.
After doing her rounds with the production team, Nicole checks in with the Ops Director, Quality Assurance Director, and Lead Food Scientist - the trifecta team that runs production day-to-day. Their conversations cover everything from equipment needs and supplier negotiations to new hires and ESL lessons for our international staff. In the simplest terms, Nicole feels a lot of responsibility to create opportunity for the production team. She built a Bakery in the heart of Boston’s inner-city for a reason, but she doesn’t just want to create jobs, she wants to create career paths for her employees. They have open and ongoing conversations about ways to create an environment where everyone can learn and contribute solutions to big problems.
As she gets ready to leave the Bakery and head to the office, the flow wrapper machine, which is used to wrap our Seed Bars, gets jammed. Thanks to the hours she spent on the farm with her Dad fixing tractors, Nicole is the most mechanically inclined person at our company. She suits back up in a lab coat and gets under the machine to fix the problem. An hour later, it’s back up and running and she’s covered in machine grease. No one ever said this job was glamorous.
Nicole gets to the office and hikes up the five flights of stairs that never seem to get any easier. The office is where the creative, sales, financial, and marketing decisions are made. The problems tackled at the office are more art than science, which requires a big mindset shift after being at the Bakery where the solutions seem much more black and white.
The office team gets in line to run new ideas and decisions by Nicole. Usually her hours are packed with meetings, either scheduled or impromptu. She tries to meet with outside partners at the office too, so she can cut down on travel time.
She and Rob realize they haven’t had lunch yet. He runs to Amelia’s Taqueria for burritos with the sales team for an on-the-go forecasting meeting while she talks to the CFO about tracking our growing inventory and chooses which Seed Butter Variety Pack design to send to print.
Rob and Nicole decide who is going to get Emmett from Daycare at 5:15. Nicole is in the middle of a Marketing meeting, so Rob is on pick-up duty today. She asks him to bring Emmett back to the office to say hi to everyone.
Emmett sprints through the office door grinning ear to ear and makes a bee-line to give Mom a hug. He immediately moves on to his favorite job of emptying the trash next to everyone’s desks. If he hears the train rumble outside the office he’ll sprint over to the window desk so Mom can give him a lift to look out and watch the commuter rail roll by.
The team packs up and heads out of the office together, led by Emmett, office trash in tow. He likes to throw it in the dumpster himself while Mom secretly holds on to the back of his jacket, just to be safe. Emmett sees Scott, the office building manager, in the parking lot and gives him a double high five. Then he gives everyone on the team a high-five before jumping into his car seat, clearly ready to head home for dinner.
Mom and Dad tag-team on dinner prep. Emmett wants to help with everything, so he gets to squeeze lemons for marinade or put chopped veggies in a bowl. It slows down the process but Nicole always wants to encourage him to help, and they’re not in any rush. No one works on their laptop during dinner time - once again family takes priority. Nicole knows that she can’t give Emmett everything in life, but spending time as a family is the most important thing.
After dinner, they all head upstairs to get ready for bed. Mom reads Emmett his favorite book about tractors and trains. He tells Mom which train belongs to each member of the office staff. Nicole loves how intertwined her work life is with her family life. There is no work-life balance, there never has been. It doesn’t exist. She just focuses on making the most of little moments.
Emmett’s asleep. Mom and Dad finally have a moment to catch their breath and catch up with each other. As they wind down from the day, laptops come back out as they try to sift through emails before going to bed and starting the whole adventure again the next day.
Running a food start up and raising a child have lots of things in common. Most importantly, there’s no roadmap. No one knows the right way to do this, the best anyone can do is be resourceful and be present. The rest they’ll figure out on the fly.