This is a follow up story for Full Belly Fare. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! My name is Lyla and I own Full Belly Fare - Handcrafted Dinners Delivered. Full Belly Fare hand delivers meals and snacks directly to homes and businesses in the Portland, Oregon metro area. I started Full Belly Fare 7 years ago, aiming to provide fully customizable meals, focused on local, organic ingredients, to anyone, but most especially to those struggling with specific dietary needs who were having a hard time finding nutritious AND delicious food they could eat. Families with new babies, people recovering from surgery or undergoing treatment for cancer, busy professionals, and seniors aging in place, all benefit from our offerings.
Over the years, my menu has expanded to include a wide array of “pantry” items in addition to complete meals. The pantry items are made both in house and by other local vendors, and represent the amazing food scene in Portland as well as supporting other micro-businesses and providing a much-needed service to families and individuals in the area. Up until the end of 2019, the business was not making a profit, although it did employ 11 people (mostly mothers who needed a part-time job at a living wage).
However, this quarter of 2020 is seeing tremendous growth! With a focus on community over competition, a restructuring into a collaborative management system (more on that below), and a transformation of the menu to provide many more options, including packages, collaborative menu items with other local chefs, kid-focused meals, and products from other local businesses, Full Belly Fare has seen near doubling of revenue!
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Due in part to transformation and expansion of the menu and in part to the increased demand for delivery and food support as a result of Covid, Full Belly Fare is doing very well recently. Although we have stepped up the marketing and outreach a bit, I attribute the growth more to a combination of the times in which we find ourselves, coupled with our emphatic focus on community support, not just sales.
Community over Competition in the Covid Era
Full Belly Fare has always been about community over competition, but in the wake of the pandemic, that focus is even more central. Forced to reduce crew size for the sake of safety and social distancing, we had to come up with some innovative ways to stay in business. At first, we reduced the highly labor-intensive menu complexity, and added several "chef's surprise" items to the rotating weekly menu, as well as several items to the "pantry menu" - products made both in house and by other local small businesses. The impacts of this decision were many:
First, the remaining crew members could each work more hours per week, in a safer, socially distanced environment.
Second, Full Belly Fare customers, many with young children, elderly, or recovering from illness, and now isolated and further challenged to safely get and prepare groceries (and remember many stores were cleared out of pivotal items for a while), could stock their pantry and refrigerator with a wider array of easy to grab and eat, healthy and delicious items.
Third, Full Belly Fare was able to do its small part in supporting other local food businesses that were struggling from the pandemic related restrictions. In particular, with an eye toward the Black community in Portland, Full Belly Fare made a concerted effort to reach out to Black-owned businesses, and the profits from the products we carry from those businesses are donated to the Black Resilience Fund and other organizations supporting the Black community. Through this process, the Black-owned businesses earn the money they need from their product, and the money from the sale of those products is leveraged again into an organization that is supporting the Black community.
Group Gifts/Matching Program
Not everyone can afford delivered prepared meals, especially in the wake of layoffs and income loss. Full Belly Fare has long had a "contribute to a group gift" option, wherein colleagues, family, and friends from anywhere in the world could contribute any amount to a campaign for a loved one, and all contributions are pooled together to support that person in need. With the pandemic, we increased visibility of that program, and perhaps most importantly, collected donations from customers, which Full Belly Fare matched, in support of local families and health care workers in need who did not have a community to support them.
Living Wages and Collaborative Management Restructuring
In a more focused effort even closer to home, Full Belly Fare turned an eye toward the increased needs of our own employees. While we have always been a part-time employment situation, and that couldn't change due to the once per week meal delivery schedule and the scale of the business, I wanted to ensure that I was doing everything possible to support my crew members. In the interest of fairness and also in gratitude for the amazingly talented and dedicated team, we transformed the system in several ways: We eliminated the management and pay structure for the kitchen crew - everyone doing food prep earns the same, and everyone has a voice regarding processes, menu items, procedures, and more. This resulted in a significant pay raise for many of the crew, and a tight-knit sense of teamwork and camaraderie, as well as a spike in creativity and enthusiasm! We are now offering so many more wonderful in house products, inspired and created by team members!
Into the Future
As we have been able to expand the menus again, even adding new collaborations with local chefs, Full Belly Fare looks forward to a future of opportunities to increase community support and connection through good food, made with love.
Nonnina Tuscan Meal of the Month Collaboration
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I don’t think any of us could have predicted what random impacts on business that 2020 would bring! I am convinced that any decisions made by small business owners - and definitely by myself - that ended up being helpful to the business this year were a combination of pure luck and the long term inherent benefits of decisions founded on basic principles of caring, kindness, and community.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Full Belly Fare is poised to continue the growth we have enjoyed this past quarter. We are looking at moving to a bigger kitchen, where we can stretch our wings further, both in terms of menu offerings and crew size. I intend to seek further opportunities for collaborations with other local businesses and chefs, as well as to explore the option of offering ready to eat products at local supermarkets and other venues. We are poised to launch a new website, which has been years in the making - a site that will be tremendously more user friendly for our customers and more efficient for us. The new site will also make it possible to offer more dietary customization with a single click.
To operate a business with ethics and principles (critical to long term goals of a thriving business), a business owner must be willing to spend money and effort on what is important.
Long term goals for Full Belly Fare include consistent enough orders/revenue to increase wages even further, as well as, once Covid restrictions diminish, we hope to expand delivery opportunities beyond the Portland Metro Area to Seattle, Salem, and perhaps beyond.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
One of the main things I have learned over 7 years of business is that to operate a business with ethics and principles (critical to long term goals of a thriving business), a business owner must be willing to spend money and effort on what is important - primarily on anything that will cement customer AND employee loyalty - quality products, highly responsive customer service, living wages, and a true voice for stakeholders/employees.
This will, in turn, requires charging prices that will allow operations that follow these tenets. If a business operates at this high level, customers are willing to pay premium prices.
Where can we go to learn more?
- See how you can give handcrafted dinners (and snacks) delivered to a loved one or colleague
- Email Lyla with any questions
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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