Published on November 8th, 2019 | by Guest Editor0
Chef-Inspired Feel Good Foods gets real about the limits of “gluten-free”
After having so many health concerns, Phillips educated herself on the gluten-free lifestyle years before it hit the mainstream. As a result, she began making her own line of gluten-free products from her studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Upon meeting and working with Siverson, the two food aficionados merged their visions, tastes, and backgrounds to produce high-quality food that is easily accessible to the public. Their dream has come to life with the Feel Good Foods brand.
In a recent interview via Grit Daily Vanessa Phillips candidly discusses going gluten free, creating Feel Good Foods, and improving the quality of life through food. Check out the full interview below.
Grit Daily: What pushed you to start a career in the food industry?
Vanessa Phillips: I was born, I knew I was meant to do something with food…it’s my calling.
GD: How did Feel Good Foods come to be? Why the desire to make everything gluten-free?
VP: I have celiac and wanted to create a line of my favorite foods and have them accessible to everyone. Growing up my favorite food to eat was Chinese. My parents had a lot of Chinese restaurants and ordered in a lot. I had an overexposure to glutenous products as a kid and would always say to my mom that I thought I was allergic to something and that I don’t care what it is as long as I can keep eating egg rolls.
I definitely used to say to my mom I thought I was allergic to something, but would always say “I don’t care what it is as long as I can keep eating these eggrolls.”
When I found out I was celiac, I was devastated Chinese food was no longer an option for me to eat. When I met Tryg, he also shared my love for Asian food. He had worked at highly-esteemed restaurants Nobu, Jean-Georges, and Spice Market.
This was a shared passion of ours. He asked me one day what foods I missed. I listed off egg rolls, dumplings, and tempura, and he started cooking me dishes from his former restaurants, and tweaking them to be gluten free.
I was lucky to know someone like Tryg who could make such delicious gluten free foods. have access to someone like Tryg day-to-day, like I did. While Tryg was at Balducci’s as their executive chef of prepared foods, I was in public relations at the time. Still wanting to be involved in the food side of the food industry, I had done a trial run gluten free menu for my father’s restaurant and the foods were met with rave reviews.
One day, someone who came into the restaurant liked the food I made so much that she asked if she could buy bulk to take home. This pushed me to put up an ad online. I had 20 orders after the first week which eventually grew to 50 orders a week after many gluten-free bloggers caught wind of what was going on. My order count exploded immediately.
I was living in a 450 sq ft studio apartment and realized that food delivery from my home was not economic. As a result, I took down the ad and regrouped. This is how the inspiration for Friedman’s came to be. But I loved the idea of people serving my food in their homes and I never got over that idea. I knew that one day I would come back to that concept, but it was on the back burner while Tryg and I launched Friedman’s. Feel Good Foods was born from that. It’s Friedman’s but in a box.
GD: Which FGF products are your favorites? Do you plan on expanding the line with other foods?
VP: The potstickers are my favorite. Growing up, dumplings were my favorite food. Today, they are still my ultimate comfort food when I’m feeling sick and tired. Even before I was diagnosed with celiac, dumplings were my ultimate comfort food. I was determined to create them with Feel Good Foods. We are absolutely planning on expanding with other foods. Food innovation is the most inspiring part of what I do and I will never stop.
GD: What do you wish you knew before you started FGF?
VP: It’s going to take a lot of money. I didn’t realize how much time fundraising takes. It is very exhausting and can feel very defeating at times. It is a big part of what I do every day and I was naive in thinking it’d be easy. Example: I remember early on saying to my partner that we have such a great idea and that getting the capitol is the easy part. In reality, getting people to invest in you when you have no proof of concept is one of the most challenging things you’ll be up against. I wish someone had prepared me for that.
You are not always going to love every part of what you do. When I first started my business I was obsessed with it. Totally in love. But just recently, I had a moment where I really wanted to give up. I realized that running a business is similar to being in a relationship or getting married.
You have to realize that it is for better or for worse. When I started, I never thought I would have moments of uncertainty and would really have to ride out the hard times. In reality, you sometimes have to get discouraged a little bit in order to get back up again on the other side.
Maybe if someone would’ve told me the various logistics within a grocery store, I would have chosen to go into a different segment. I never knew that frozen food was one of the most challenging categories within grocery. At the end of the day I just wanted to get into food but I am proud of how far FGF has come and glad we are growing within the frozen sector and changing how people stock their freezers.
It never gets easier, it just changes. I used to ask people before I started that if starting was going to be the hardest part. They said yes, but in actuality, it is all hard. As you grow and get bigger, the challenges change and get more dynamic. But I believed that once I got started and got my placement that things would get easier. People said that being a start up was the hardest part but that’s not true.
GD: What’s the biggest misconception surrounding FGF?
VP: That FGF is food for people who have Celiac. The idea is that FGF is really far reaching and its food for everyone to enjoy and feel good eating. Definitely not just food for people who have to eat GF. There’s a stigma around GF foods and sometimes that creates a stigma around FGF. We want everyone to try it to see if it’s something that could become a part of their food routine.
GD: How can we better support women in business, such as yourself?
VP: By encouraging more women to go into business, talking about it more and lifting each other up. We are outnumbered.
Today Feel Good Foods is carried in major retailers including Target and Whole Foods.Tweet