You don't have a company unless you have excited people to be there
Craft Food Classroom
Craft Food Classroom

Episode · 6 months ago

You don't have a company unless you have excited people to be there


MelkandCookies Founder and President, Rochel Melka, has been spreading joy with her cookies since she was a young girl. MelkandCookies was launched on the principle that serving family and friends home-baked cookies is an act of love and a nod to simpler, uncomplicated times.Rochel talks about how lucky she was to have a mother that encouraged her to have fun and make a mess in the kitchen. She speaks passionately about her employees being the most crucial ingredient in her success. "I was just really lucky because I had a Mom that didn't care about the mess I made in the Kitchen.""Sticking close to the knitting: Creating the best cookie on the market.""If somebody like me can do this business, anybody can."

This podcast is brought to you by Hydans, founded in one thousand nine hundred and twenty nine and Shaker Heights, Ohio, by local butcher Joe Hyden. Hindans is grown to twenty three total locations, with nineteen stores in the Cleveland area and for in the north shore suburbs of Chicago. After years of building connection with Midwest farmers, it became a part of Hyden's nature to do business with smaller regional companies. Today, Hydans is proud to carry nearly seven hundred Midwest made non produce items that are present in all departments. For more information, go to hyandscom. Welcome to the craft food classroom podcast, where we help make food business simple at every stage of growth. Brought to you by central kitchen media and now here's your host, Eric Diamond. Welcome to the craft food classroom podcast. This is verry Jarvis Writing Solo today as your host and we are remote for the first time, which is exciting in a way. We have a very special guest coming to US problem Chicago and her name is Rochelle Melk I and she is the owner of milk and cookies, which is one of Haydn's featured made in the Midwest brands and welcome to the show, Rochelle. Well, thank you, Barry, and I'm so excited to share my story with you and so thankful for Hindan's to give us this opportunity. They are fantastic and we're so excited to have you here too. They consider all their Chicago folks to be local, just like here in Cleveland. So wonderful. We love Hinan's milk and cookies. Got Their start at Hyden's when they opened up their first Hindans store in Barrington Illinois, and we were successful there and then they continue to put us in the next three stores in Hinans has always been a great selling store from Melk and cookies. When we talked about hynd's in our neck of the woods, I always explain that it the customer service, the cleanliness the stores are top notch absolutely and it's such a warm feeling every time you go in there to receiving to the group people on the floor and they display your product beautifully. So it's been just such a great opportunity for us very much. Couldn't agree more. That is amazing. Yeah, can you tell me about when you've got that news that you were that you had made it into hindands. What what was that like? Well, that was exciting. Actually, less buyerman was the buyer at Hindan's at that time, the frozen buyer, and he actually called and said we'd like to have your product in our store and I said, well, I could get it to you tomorrow. Well, I think BARRINGTON store wasn't exactly open yet, but we soon got it in on the shelves right away. Wow. So, yeah, they're just they're in, you know, just wonderful neighborhoods, every neighborhood in Illinois that these hindman stores are in just beautiful, nice neighborhoods. Then, at what point did you get where? They said let's let's try this in Ohio as well. Yeah, so that's a great question. In this question speaks to the perseverance. I had asked in two thousand and eighteen and it wasn't a good fit at that point. In two thousand and nineteen it wasn't a good fit, and then in December of two thousand and twenty I thought I'm going to ask again because I knew sales had done so well, especially during covid they had really picked up. And the frozen buyer, Andrea, she said yes, but I needed to find...

...a distributor that I could work with. So she referred us to Sherwood Distribution and they've been a great partner for us. Just love, you know, just as everything's gone better than I could ever imagine. That is great. Congratulations. Thank you. Now, you started this journey me as a young girl. Well, whenever you came over to my house to play when we were growing up, we always made cookies before we did anything else, and I was just really lucky because I had a mom who didn't care about the mess that I made and she didn't care about the ingredients that I pulled out of the cupboard. She just let us go for it. She was awesome and I'll tell you what, she cleaned up after us, because once we got the cookies made and we got to eat them, we were out of there. We went and did our things. So, yeah, it was just really lucky to have a mom that was easygoing. I would say that is pant. You know, so many of the food entrepreneurs we talked to have a wonderful role model like that to inspire them. Yes, yes, she was. She was great my husband. Well, I've got a couple mentors. The first mentor that I went to talk to before we even started milk and cookies is a guy by the name of Bob Carmody. He's the owner of Diana's bananas. It's chocolate covered frozen bananas, and my husband and I went together to talk with him about what this journey would look like and what I loved about Bob as he told the truth. He said this is going to be harder than anything you've done. I didn't believe them. I thought it was just about making cookies, but I soon learned it was about trying my best to run a successful business. And it's really about running a business. It's not any more or. It's not about the joy of making a cookie any day and making a cookie every day. It's about how do I run this business so that we can have a business? But stick to my mission, and that's the other thing about carmody said. He says you stick like my goal was I want to have the best all natural cookie dough in the market and that meant that along the way, no matter how things how tough things got, I could never change my ingredients because my ingredients were always top of the line. We don't substitute with oils, we use sweet cream, pure butter, we have social responsibility, we use cage free of ways and we use top of the line chocolate, locally sourced from blombers, which is in Chicago. So we have never changed our ingredients, but what will always do in the manufacturing process is find a way to be more efficient, because efficiency is the name of the game, and I mean if it comes down to one additional step that doesn't need to be taken, we find a way to make that better. that it's fantastic. I can't and I love the the dedication to the finest ingredients. And on that note, I am going to pop some of these cookies in the oven and I'll pick right back up there on our next question. Okay, I can't wait. Sounds fit. Do you have an amazing food product that's retail ready? If so, you should check out our class on delivering the perfect pitch. It's taught by Kim Hyden from Hyden's and she heads up the category management team. She's going to take you through the key differentiators that'll set you and your product apart, as well as to give you the four peas of a perfect pitch. It really is a great road map to get you on retail shelves. So check that out at the central dot kitchen classroom. So faking was my only being culinary school. So I don't usually set timers or measure things. So...

...okay, I'm sure you'll do great. So, you know, back to what what Bob said, and I love that advice because it's so broad truthful. You know, it probably was the heart of one of the hardest things, if not that they've ever done. Can you tell me about, you know, a moment where it was such a struggle, where you thought, how am I going to get through this? Yeah, Huh, you know, I've never felt that I couldn't get through it, and that really is the truth. It's just the sticktuitiveness, do you know what I mean? When it stops being fun, you still stick to it, and I love the phrase sticking close to the knitting. I don't know if you've heard that phrase, but my husband keeps me on track. I am kind of these one of these people. I have a million different things I want to do in a day, but I needed to always focus on saying close to the knitting, which was create the best chocolate chip cookie and the best oatmeal raisin cookie on the market now. I mean, if I was with my own brothers, I would have had fifteen different cookies on the market by now, but that would not have been a good idea. I needed to stay lean and stay stick to what we do best, and really our chocolate chip cookie is the winner, and so that's what I need to continue to do, is just to continue to manufacture it with the love and care that we do and do it in small batches. I mean this cookie is hand scooped. You know, the business has always also been about the people that we work with. We have a team of ten women and you know, my father always said surround yourself with people who you think are smarter and better than you. And guess what, I have done that. These women come up with the best ideas and I just love to hear their ideas and I love to implement them. I love to make them feel like they I've not make them, I love them, I love to see them loving, take a little bit of ownership, because it just gets them excited. That's I saw the yeah said, I mean yeah, staff picture on the website. They just looked so happy and you know you're giving so many great nuggets of wisdom for for craft food entrepreneurs. Can you talk a little bit about that, that fate, that kind of treating the employees you know well as as kind of the first ingredient? Absolutely, and you said it exactly right. That is the first ingredient, because you don't have a company unless you have excited people to be there and who want to give you their best every time they come. And it's true, like we keep our work shifts to five hours. You can't do this job well for longer than five hours. We rotate, we rotate people through different positions and we love to, if you know, acknowledge your great idea and implement it. Maybe the next time where it manufacturing and and I'll tell you, we wouldn't be where we are today if it weren't for those women who had all these great ideas. And I love to create an atmosphere where you're never you feel like, no matter what you say, it's going to be not acknowledge, but it's it's going to be taken heartfelt. What's the word? It's going to be taking seriously every suggestion to me is fantastic. Do I implement every single one of them? Know, but I love to always hear them. Yeah, just so. Love to reward them with little you know, I love to bring them all flowers one day. I love to sometimes surprise them all with a little gift certificate to starbucks. I love to bake them pies and all the all the bosses and... owners out there. I hope you're listening to that. That is super important and touching. Yeah, now tell me about without telling me too many of your secrets, because these will be coming out of the oven here in a few minutes, tell me about the research that that it took to come up with this cookie that doesn't fall flat. Oh my gosh, that was baking a lot of cookies in doing something, you know, there's just there's just one little thing that I did. I thought we'll wait, let me try this, and I remember it with a fall afternoon my at the time, my kids were outside with my husband and a neighborhood stopped by and I had baked these cookies in the oven and I brought him out. I'm like, I got it, I finally got the recipe. I can remember the day exactly got the recipe, so I can't tell you what I did. I did so I don't I don't need to know, but I love that. I love that story. Tell me about how you know you put so much time into the into these ingredients. was that a struggle to to verify buy your sourcing and just kind of the supply chain to get everything scaled up? Well, in the very beginning, Diana's bananas, Bob Carmody, he's sourced for us the first fifty pound box of chocolate chips and I would drive to Chicago in the city to pick up fifty pounds of chocolate chips and it just got to the point where I was able to finally order them directly when we scaled up our business. But we started small, I mean super small. I mean I for I don't even remember, but did I buy my flower from the grocery store? I think that's how we started. And I started out at our local French market. It's an outdoor market, so we started there and we had no reasonable success. It was we were trying to sell a frozen cookie dough in the middle of summer when I was eighty five degrees. So we would bring a generator with a one of those little freezers you get at home depot, and we would put our cookies out on the table and we sold them and I thought, you know what, I'm having reasonable success. Why don't I walk over to the local meat market and say hey, here's our package of cookies. What do you think? Would you put it on the shelf? So the owner of wheat and Meat Company is name is Brett, and he said sure, Rochelle, will give it a try. Well, it was successful. Then I thought well, oh my gosh, whole foods is right down the road. How am I going to get into whole foods? And you know what it is is that I walked in with a package of cookies and I asked to talk to somebody who is in charge. I showed him the cookies, I talked him up as much as I possibly could and he said, you know what, we'll give it a try. I came home as like, can you believe this? Of course we had to go through all this process with whole foods where they needed to check our manufacturing facility, check our sources for ingredients, m because it's serious business once you get into the grocery store, and we complied with all the rules and it got on the shelf at whole foods and wheaten. Well, from there I went from every store single handedly in Illinois to ask if they would have it on their shelf because it wasn't in the plan Agram. So you do, you know what? You know what a planogram is. It's where, it's the set space for all products. It was never that. It was always one store to time. So we got into all those whole foods. We were successful and whole foods and then about a year and a half to two years ago, I asked if I could get I have to do the asking. I think that might be the timer for my cookies. Thanks. Look good right. I want to see how they baked. All those look pretty good. Those look look right right to you. Let me. Can I see him? These look fantastic. Gonna let him cool down. Him there. Okay, all right. So before before I try these, I'M gonna go ahead and ask about and I know you've already covered...

...this a lot, but if you could inspire a upandcoming food entrepreneur just starting out or just with an idea maybe of their mother's or or grandmother's or something like that, what would. What would you say to that? Oh, Barry, I love that question because I just love to inspire young women, medium age women, women even my age. I'm not the medium age anymore. I wish I was, but not. You know what, if somebody like me can do this business, anybody can, and I really mean it. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, I'm really not, but I have what my friends would say, if you use an adjective, I have moxie. I'm ready, I'm willing to try and I'm willing to fail and rejection is okay, and you will get a rejection and it is okay. You just keep going at it again and again. It's you know, find your passion. I love just write down on a piece of paper what are your five top things that you love to do, and then build a business off the things that you love and you know takes. Take business classes that can help you. I'm fortunate I have a husband WHO's a great business mind and he has helped me a lot with staying on track and he's just a great sounding board. I always make the final decision, but it's great to go to him and just ask because he's been in the business world as whole life. so He's been a great support to me, wonderful support for young girls. Just find your passion, go for it. You know, and I'll tell you what, the people who have in the people in my May and my community, are the people that help me get this business going. I had a friend who was a she had her greet art. She's the one that did our packaging for us, so she was a friend. I had another friend who majored in English. She's the girl who did the writing on our package. So I really looked in my community to see, well, who's good at these different things? I was good at a few things, but I wasn't good at those other things, and that when I accepted the fact that I didn't have the skills to do my own packaging, I didn't have the skills to write properly, and I went to the people around me with skills, and these are just moms that I've known in the neighborhood. So those are the women that did my packaging in the writing. Wow, so that's that is cool. It is cool. It is yeah, all right, here's the best part. I love that answer and I am going to try these now. I have both kinds. Here we have the chocolate chip in the OATMEAL raisin. Okay, I bet I read to you have a bunch of kids and grandkids. I bet you have some great product testers around. You know what? On like every Wednesday, are seven grandchildren come over for milk and cookies time. Every Wednesday they get off the bus. We make about thirty six cookies. I let him, I mean or more than that, their parents, you know, the mom's come to and I let these kids eat two to three cookies after school. Oh my gosh. Yeah, that I started with the old meal raising and I got some local pasture raised melk here from hidings as well. And that milk looks nice and rich. It is, is it? That's a great comp I think it's home Olk. It's home. It looks like a milkshake. Yeah, Yep, but it's a good Combo. That is incredible, very good Combo and I'm wow, I now we're going to do that chocolate chip next. You know, there's nothing better than a cookie straight from the oven.

Once you start making these cookies, you know, we love that it's in a receialable package. You can bake two at a time for a time six at a time. But once you start eating cookies that you bake fresh out of the oven, you're never going to buy a package of cookies again. There's just something about fresh out of the oven. Oh Yeah, and this, I mean, I've never done it. I didn't like I was lucky to grow up in a family that probably wouldn't do this. But this blows. A has to blow away the tube you cut off. Oh my goodness, please, yes, it does. Oh, it does. I am super impressed with those. Well, thank you. HMM, thank you. Absolutely wonderful. Your grandkids are lucky. They are lucky, you know, I think for people who want to start a business. For me, I had talked about starting a cookie business for years with my girlfriends. We have a bike riding group of five of us. We actually went to Cabo and you know, you had a great time and cob over. AM In a great time, and then you're getting we were getting ready to board the plane coming back home after five days in Cabo, you know. And so usually on a vacation, you know you've had your good time, but it's now it's time to get back to work. So I said to my girlfriend's I said, you know what, guys I'm done. I am not talking about this cookie business anymore. I am going to start a cookie business. And I said what am I going to call this business, and my girlfriend to the left said, Rochelle, it's perfectly easy. Your last name is milk, milk and cookies. You know what, once I had the name for this business, that's all I needed to start. And in really just starting is just do something every day, to try to do your business and just don't be afraid, just absolutely don't be afraid to walk, if it's a food business, walk into your local grocery store, walk into the mom and pop grocery stores in your area and let them show them what you got. Bring him samples, and you'd be surprised at how many people are receptive to to entrepreneurs. Wow, it's not anything to be afraid of. The receptive. They love you for it, they're excited for you and they could probably feel your passion, your obsession. Yeah, yeah, well, I'm certainly thankful for that trip to cab Kabo that, you know, pushed you over the edge, I guess. Yeah, yeah, well, I will say I you now have a customer, and me for sure, these are fantastic. My boys are well, love these. Thank you, verry. How many boys and three boys? And we cook all the time. But, oh, yeah, but you know, baking's not my thing, so this will be perfect. Yeah. Yeah, well, you're a good podcast guy. I like how down to Earth. I really do. I appreciate it and we are so thankful for Hyghan's and for introducing me to you that. This has been fantastic. Oh, well, wonderful. Yeah, I really like to just speak from the heart. I'm nothing special. I mean, of course I think I'm I am special, but you know, Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm just a regular, everyday kind of person that just decided to do something. It's just that, SI. I think that humility is probably why you can motivate your you know your staff so well and treat them with such empathy and kindness, and that probably is steady to your your whole driving force. It absolutely as You you you listened well, because that's exactly right. Yeah, well, I'm so glad we connected. Thank I will look forward to maybe stopping in. We're planning a field trip to the Chicago area that to do some things. Yeah, so, Oh, we'd... to. If you give me advanced notice, I'd love for you to come and see her off on that would be fantastic. Yeah, it's it's simple. I'd love for you to come and see it. All right. Yeah, we don't take a lot of talking break. Now, remember I talked about if it's right we I said you can talk all you want when you're scooping, but if your mix a mixer, you're not to say a word because we can't screw up the rest of hey, that is fantastic. I mean it's a five hour shift, so just keep your head down right. Well, you can talk all you wanted scooping, but yeah, they all know that. There's absolutely no talking if you're mixing and there's no talking when you're counting twelve cookies to put in a bag. Yeah, because I'll tell you what the customers will Paul if there's eleven cookies in the bag, and that's cost. I can see why every bite. Yeah. Well, thanks so much for joining us, for Chelle. Thank you, Verry, for every good day. Okay, thank you so much. Thanks for joining on the craft food classroom podcast, where we help make food business simple at every stage of growth, brought to you by central kitchen media. To learn more about what we're doing. visit us at the central dot kitchen. Please subscribe to this podcast to learn more about food entrepreneurs and their experience in the craft food business. This podcast is brought to you by Hyden's, founded in one thousand nine hundred and twenty nine and Shaker Heights, Ohio, by local butcher Joe Hayden. Hydans is grown to twenty three total locations, with nineteen stores in the Cleveland area and for in the north shore suburbs of Chicago. After years of building connection with Midwest farmers, it became a part of Hyden's nature to do business with smaller regional companies. Today, Hydans is proud to carry nearly seven hundred Midwest made non produce items that are present in all departments. For more information, go to hydanscom.

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