We recently found a new artisan food online business called Many Kitchens, founded by Valentina Rice in New York. She left a high-flying career in publishing to pursue her dream of creating an online food business that sourced and sold the very best artisan food in and around the New York area and beyond. To find out more about how she started her new business, we asked her a few questions about her life and work and this is what she told us.
The Foodie Bugle: Valentina, how did you decide to set up Many Kitchens in the very beginning? Tell us your family background in food and drink and how the idea originally came to you.
Valentina: I grew up in London, spent summer holidays in Italy and was taught to cook at a young age by my Italian mother and Slovak father – both excellent cooks! I moved to Manhattan where I fell in love with the city and in particular its fascinating food scene. For the last couple of years I have been thinking how lucky I am that I can hop on a subway and go to Smorgasburg market and taste all the delicious artisanal food that’s being made in New York and particularly Brooklyn. I wondered what other interesting food markets I was missing out on across the country and the idea of Many Kitchens was born.
TFB: How did you make the big leap from publishing books at Penguin, your first career, into food and drink retailing, your second career?
Valentina: It was very hard! I had been at Penguin for 15 years and it was a huge decision to leave a job and colleagues that I loved but the idea of setting up a food related business just wouldn’t go away. I started working with my friend Charles Truax, who is a creative designer, and his team at Truax and Company, to start building the website. The response from everyone who visited it was so positive that it gave me the courage to make the leap.
TFB: How did the business plan develop from just paper to reality? Did you believe from the outset that online retailing was the best option in today's market?
Valentina: One of the goals of Many Kitchens was to help small artisan producers increase their audience - many of them had cult status at their local market but were unknown a few states away. Online was the obvious way to grow their audience especially now that shipping fresh products is not just possible but easy. I remember being at a dinner a couple of years ago where my hosts had shipped their ice cream from Chicago! I started trying to immerse myself both in the food world and the technical world as I began to learn what developing a start-up business involved.
TFB: How did you find the financing you needed in the beginning or did you already have the funds required?
Valentina: I was able to raise enough seed money thanks to incredibly supportive friends and family. Having their money invested in the business is what drives me harder to succeed.
TFB: What challenges and difficulties did you face at first? How did you manage to overcome these problems and did anyone help you?
Valentina: Where to start? Shipping is probably still our biggest challenge. We want to offer one flat rate shipping charge based on the combined weight of the entire order but in reality we are being charged for each individual shipment as the producers ship directly to the customers. A wonderful ex-colleague from Penguin introduced me to some people in shipping and we have been able to improve our rates somewhat, but there is still a way to go!
TFB: How much research-travel-analysis went into finding the eventual NY food suppliers on your website? How do you go about deciding whether the product is good enough for your customers?
Valentina: I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that is on offer in New York, let alone the rest of the country. Almost everything is tasted and chosen by me. Unfortunately there are a few categories that I don’t love so I seek out expert testers for those products whose taste I completely trust. I can’t tell you how many chicken pot pies I tasted until I found the perfect one made by the amazing duo at Pie Corps. It’s a tough job!
TFB: How does the supply chain work - do customer orders go from the Many Kitchens website straight to the artisans' e-mail inbox? Do you stock any of the products yourself?
Valentina: The orders are placed on the Many Kitchens website and then we distribute the orders to each producer along with a shipping label making it very easy for the producer to just pack up the food items and ship them out. We want the producer to have the ability to focus on doing what they do best which is creating delicious products. There are a few products that I stock such as old cookbooks that I find and think every kitchen should have. We hope to expand the Kitchen Tools section with a selection of curated items that I’ve found in my travels.
TFB: Describe the customers you have now and the customers you would like to attract and engage with?
Valentina: I think I’ve only met one person in my life who doesn’t enjoy a good meal. We really don’t want to focus on a particular type of customer as there really is something for everyone, we hope.
TFB: Will Many Kitchens be using the Internet, e-newsletters and social media to engage with the wider community? Will you be writing a Blog?
Valentina: We actually launched our blog a few months before the e-commerce site opened to help build the community. We will continue updating the blog on a weekly basis and encourage people to sign up to our newsletter which will also announce new producers as we sign them up. We’ve of course been active on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and hope to hear more from our customers about what they’d like to see next.
TFB: What is your strategy for the future growth and development of Many Kitchens?
Valentina: The name Many Kitchens doesn’t just limit us to food but anything that happens in a kitchen so I want to expand our range and find good artisans all across the country. Whenever I visit friends in Cape Cod during the summer they have this delicious beach plum jam that I’ve never found anywhere else. Each region across the States (and the world) has its own unique food and drink treasures and I can’t wait to find them and share them. One of my perks of working at Penguin was travelling the world, discovering the culinary imprint of every continent. I hope to continue that lifelong search.
Many Kitchens: www.manykitchens.com
Follow on Twitter: @ManyKitchens
Like on Facebook: ManyKitchens