What It's Like To...

What It's Like to Start and Run a Multi-Million Dollar Business

October 19, 2022 Elizabeth Pearson Garr Season 4 Episode 4
What It's Like to Start and Run a Multi-Million Dollar Business
What It's Like To...
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What It's Like To...
What It's Like to Start and Run a Multi-Million Dollar Business
Oct 19, 2022 Season 4 Episode 4
Elizabeth Pearson Garr

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Nancy Mueller went from baking petite quiches and other hors d'oeuvres in her home kitchen, to becoming known as the "Queen of Quiche."  Through hard work, determination, lots of eggs and flour, and refusing to take "no" for an answer, she built Nancy's Specialty Foods into a multi-million dollar business that eventually produced 1.5 million quiches per day. 

In this episode, Nancy reflects back on the early days of the business (when she made each quiche by hand), all the way through to the night she woke up in a cold sweat and knew it was time to sell it.  She shares lots of stories, including her big break (the first time her products were in Price Club); taking a rock star's private plane to Bentonville, Arkansas; and being a female boss in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.  Nancy made quiche, built a business, and blazed trails along the way.

In Nancy's words,The reason I didn’t have any problem with the glass ceiling is ‘cause I owned the ceiling!”  

In this episode:

  • How Nancy decided to start making appetizers (01:26)
  • The idea to try to get into Price Club (08:55)
  • Running the business (10:32)
  • Spreading the word--PR vs. advertising (15:43)
  • Dealing with the growing business (20:10)
  • When Nancy realized it was time to sell the company (25:41)
  • On being a female boss in the '70s-'90s (30:06)
  • Developing various products for Nancy's (31:40)
  • Words of advice for someone starting a business (34:14)
  • Nancy's adventures on her yacht (39:28)

Want to know more about Nancy?

  • https://www.nancys.com/aboutus

Want to know more about the podcast What It's Like To... ?

  • Sign up to be on our Insiders' List to receive our newsletters and insiders' information! Go to whatitsliketo.net (sign-ups are at the bottom of the page)
  • Follow us on social media:

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Nancy Mueller went from baking petite quiches and other hors d'oeuvres in her home kitchen, to becoming known as the "Queen of Quiche."  Through hard work, determination, lots of eggs and flour, and refusing to take "no" for an answer, she built Nancy's Specialty Foods into a multi-million dollar business that eventually produced 1.5 million quiches per day. 

In this episode, Nancy reflects back on the early days of the business (when she made each quiche by hand), all the way through to the night she woke up in a cold sweat and knew it was time to sell it.  She shares lots of stories, including her big break (the first time her products were in Price Club); taking a rock star's private plane to Bentonville, Arkansas; and being a female boss in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.  Nancy made quiche, built a business, and blazed trails along the way.

In Nancy's words,The reason I didn’t have any problem with the glass ceiling is ‘cause I owned the ceiling!”  

In this episode:

  • How Nancy decided to start making appetizers (01:26)
  • The idea to try to get into Price Club (08:55)
  • Running the business (10:32)
  • Spreading the word--PR vs. advertising (15:43)
  • Dealing with the growing business (20:10)
  • When Nancy realized it was time to sell the company (25:41)
  • On being a female boss in the '70s-'90s (30:06)
  • Developing various products for Nancy's (31:40)
  • Words of advice for someone starting a business (34:14)
  • Nancy's adventures on her yacht (39:28)

Want to know more about Nancy?

  • https://www.nancys.com/aboutus

Want to know more about the podcast What It's Like To... ?

  • Sign up to be on our Insiders' List to receive our newsletters and insiders' information! Go to whatitsliketo.net (sign-ups are at the bottom of the page)
  • Follow us on social media:

Support the Show.


Back in 77, when I started this, it was pigs in a blanket. Biden was sort of a pig in a blanket. Now with Julia Child's sitting on my shelf. So I was hoping that I was enabling the consumer to have something better.


If you've ever been at a party and eaten a tiny little quiche, you probably have Nancy Mueller to thank. Her story is remarkable. She went from baking in her home kitchen to creating an order of empire called Nancy's Specialty Foods. I'm Elizabeth Pearson Garr. And on this episode, we find out what it's like to start and run a multimillion dollar business from the queen of quiche herself. Hi, Nancy, thank you very much for coming on my podcast. I'm so eager to hear all your stories and all your experiences about being the queen of case. I think it's such an intriguing trajectory that you've had to go from making appetizers and hors d'oeuvres in your kitchen to creating this multimillion dollar business. So I'm curious, did you have a big goal when you started out? Or did it just kind of evolve step by step by step?


Well, you know, when you start out, and you're making little petite quiche with your fingers in a mini muffin tin, and dipping in coffee measure 12 times to fill each one of those little tins. And then you put three or four in the oven. You just don't know in the beginning, I had a vision that we needed appetizers, because I would have these big Christmas parties every year for my husband, who was a venture capitalist, with his work colleagues as partners that invite our friends and 3000 appetizers later stored in the freezer and babysitters serving them out of the oven. We you know we had a party. So yes, I had a vision. I was driving down the street past the high school and my kids were five and eight. And I was unrelated playing tennis. And I was a horrible tennis player. And I just decision that I wanted to do something that after 10 years, I would have something to show for my time. And another part of my inspiration was I was a member of the Junior League at the time. And they had us all do a career development module. So we had to sit there for two hours and answer all these questions about would you rather do this or that and so forth, it was a really good exercise. And I came out of that knowing I wanted to be an appetizer maker, I wanted to manufacture appetizers,

Elizabeth  2:57  

specifically appetizers, not just that you wanted to have your own small business or anything appetizers. And the main thing he said was

Unknown Speaker  3:04  

you couldn't get them in the store. It's a pain in the neck to make them if you're short of time. And remember, this was in 1977, a long time ago. And we had just to come up with a pill for most women. By 77. Most women were using it. And they were working and they didn't have time. For all this. You know, even with little kids, you hardly have time. But certainly if you're working nine to five, or nine to eight, whatever. So that was the whole inspiration behind the business was to have something after 10 years to show for my time to be able to integrate it with my family, my young children and my husband. And I could do it in 1976. I have a focus group in October and I made a bunch of appetizers and I gave a little cards and I asked my friends to rate these products. Well it didn't matter what the ranking was because there was really only one that I felt I could mass produce. And it was the petite quiche. And it was the flagship product anyway, but it was just a fantastic eating machine. You

Elizabeth  4:13  

just pick it up and everyone loves it. It's a finger food. Yeah, I think of

Unknown Speaker  4:18  

it. When finally I had the right equipment. The crust was very thin. The filling was succulent and moist. The browning on the top look good. You could eat it Dubai's without getting your fingers dirty. Yeah, had a little napkin and a little tiny bit of buttery grease, but not much. And it worked. It worked big time.

Elizabeth  4:39  

You had mentioned earlier that more women in the workplace, maybe affected your business in a positive way of people not being able to make orders so they would buy hors d'oeuvres. What about the idea of quiche in particular? I know Julia Child had recently come out with her Mastering the Art of French Cooking Do you think But we're just more interested in the idea of French food to in the 70s.

Unknown Speaker  5:04  

Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I was one of those. I've got two or three copies of her book.

Elizabeth  5:11  

My mom to my mom cooked her way through that book.

Unknown Speaker  5:14  

That's right. I didn't know a quiche was a matter of fact, the UPS driver would come up and say, What is this? quickie? What is it? He sh, you know? So no, people did not know what it was. But Real men don't eat quiche. Remember that book? Yes,

Elizabeth  5:35  

I do. I was sure

Unknown Speaker  5:37  

that that was going to hurt our business. It did not hurt our business. It told the whole world what quiche was.

Elizabeth  5:45  

No publicity is bad publicity, right? As long as it's publicity.

Unknown Speaker  5:50  

That's interesting time with that. So awareness was the biggest problem in the beginning, because nobody really knew what it was. But think of this. Whenever anybody buys a box of petite quiche, and they serve it at a party and people say, where did you get this, you now have 12 mouths from that box and plus another 12 or 24 from the other boxes in the kitchen. And everybody then learns about it. The product becomes a massive demo

Elizabeth  6:19  

really does speak for itself.

Unknown Speaker  6:22  

Exactly. And it was good. I know it was good. Because it tasted good. I I'm very fussy. But if I was not just me saying it, it was good. So my original customers were retail stores all the way from Marin County, north of San Francisco down through San Jose, I would take my Volvo station wagon with a big triple ply corrugated watermelon box that I stuck in the back of it. I cut out doors with little wooden knobs. So I close it, open them and then the back had a big door too. I'd stop at the foremost dairy on the way out and fill it with dry ice. And I'd stuff that thing full of as many boxes of product as I could. And I would stop at all these little stores along the way. Talk to the freezer guy and say can I cut these in? And so I did all of that myself for the whole year. Wow. And then I had some food service accounts a wonderful little guy. Tanaka brought me orders had picked up product for restaurants and caterers and so forth. Six years later, in 1983, I was a half a million dollars in the red. Oh, I had moved a couple times to bigger shops. There's no problem selling it. The problem was selling it and making the bottom line work.

Elizabeth  7:45  

It just because you had employees at this point, you couldn't make all this on your own. So

Unknown Speaker  7:51  

I did it all. Then I hired the high school kids and they were great. And then eventually an Hispanic lady knocked on the door. And she said can I have a job I want to make some money to have a nice wedding for my daughter. While 10 years later she retired

Elizabeth  8:09  

way past the wedding. She's still working for

Unknown Speaker  8:11  

you. All the kids and all the talent, all the help. I remember her as she'd stand at the door checking them out, you smell go home and shower, come back with your dish. This crew she knew how to take care of Mina was wonderful. So that's how we got our people. We had 510 3050 so forth, the business was growing. But still to the point we were in red ink. We were in debt, because we kept funding it. And it was a lot of money. We were both saying this is about time, we have to either find a solution or shut the business down because it wasn't tenable. So in 1983, two weeks before Christmas, we sat around the table. What about trying Price Club? They were very new at the time. So we took it to them. They said we'll take it up the freeway and have it shrink wrapped. And bring it back and let us see it. Well, they put it in a I had ordered 25 cases. That was a Thursday for the following Wednesday. And then we had to build those 25 cases of product that would serve as customers for a month.

Elizabeth  9:28  

How much would be in a case? They were probably

Unknown Speaker  9:30  

60 I think in that case. Okay. So that next Wednesday we had 25 cases in each of the four price clubs in Northern California delivered on the floor by nine o'clock. By 11 o'clock. They were all sold out. Wow. Got into a freezer case. They sat on the pallet in the middle of the floor and people just grabbed him and ran.

Elizabeth  9:58  

Oh my gosh they didn't Get into the case there wasn't someone handing out samples or anything. People just took them.

Unknown Speaker  10:03  

No, they just needed it. It was Christmas. Yeah. Wow. So what is success? We had a monkey by the tail. And I got a call the next day from the Los Angeles Price Club wanting a truckload. I said, Well, hello. But next year, I will. And next year, we had many truckloads going to LA at Christmas time. So just think of it. You know, here we are. There's so many aspects to this. But how did we make those 25 cases? How are we doing all of this delicate finger work? Well, we were because an old guy Roddy had walked by the shop. What are you doing in here, while we showed him, he said, I can do something to make that work faster for you. He was an engineer from the aerospace business. And he didn't want to make any money because he didn't want to pay the taxes to the government who was running the war in those days. So he came in, and for $10 an hour, he made all the jigs and the dyes and the equipment to semi automate the process. So if you've had been in a bakery, you might wonder how they make their pie crust to fill to make pies. Well, there's a machine called a pie press. And the pie press has a die on it. And it made us first of all, one little die, a plug that would press the dough in those little mini muffin tins. So one at a time, we could press that, and we had a little jig that it would sit in. So when it came up, it was centered is important. So the crust is even. In the meantime, I learned that a convection oven was far better than a radiant oven for cooking this product. So I had banks of convection ovens at a big walk in freezer, we would put this stuff on racks, roll it in the freezer, when it's frozen the next morning or that night, whatever, take it out and box it and pack it and data and get ready to put it in the truck. And we had different packages for food service and retail and Price Club and Trader Joe's by now. Yeah. So we were in business. And we had good business. I can't remember in those days, the sales were probably half a million dollars. About that time. Wow, we got into Price Club, I think we were 1.2 million, something like that. In sales. We had had a little profit there earlier on. But it just wasn't steady. It wasn't reliable. Once we got into Price Club, we had to drive out of that red ink. Because two things one, the pricing that we had for price off was good. It wasn't excessive, but we made money on it. You have to or you're out of business, right? The retail product helped to introduce people to the retail customer would buy retail product. And then when they saw the Price Club in a bulk form 60 instead of 12. He of course that reduces the price because the costs are lower. So the product continued to fly out the door. So after that Christmas, they took the pity quiche out, they discontinued it because it's the holidays over right. Nobody's gonna buy an appetizer in January, right? Wrong. But three weeks later, they begged us to put it back in because everybody was clamoring for it. And at the same time, we had put in a small chicken pot pie size quiche frozen. And that did all right, but it wasn't quite right. So eventually, we found a way to make a single serving quiche. So Nancy's case, we have the little rain and spin it Florentine. And we have Monterey and mushroom as well. And these went into retail and also Price Club took them as well. So we're swimming, we are just going gangbusters. Price Club was growing. So in the beginning, they had like seven stores or eight stores. By now they've got 40 5060 stores, and we ship to their warehouses. They draw the supply from the warehouses. The kiss of death in this business is to run them out of supply. So we always had more inventory than we thought we needed so that we could always supply them.

Elizabeth  14:39  

We had I guess you could have that since it was a frozen product.

Unknown Speaker  14:42  

Exactly. Exactly. And in the meantime, I think it was 1985 we picked up the Sam's Club business. Sam's Club operates out of Bentonville, Arkansas, Sam's of course watch as well. price clubs does BJs a another warehouse smaller in the East Coast had had it for a couple of years. Sam's had, I don't know, a couple 100 stores. So I was scared to death that, yes, it would work in Price Club. But would it work in Sam's with their far flung stores and little towns turned out one of the stores in Tennessee was their highest seller, go figure, you know, TV that people hear about things that they wouldn't have heard about otherwise. So, in good news was traveling fast by that time.

Elizabeth  15:35  

Was it a lot of word of mouth? Or were you getting a lot of press? Or was it just people like the product and so they're gonna buy the product?

Unknown Speaker  15:43  

In the very early days, I called the people at Regis McKenna, Regis McKenna was a man and it was his marketing company. Because the venture guys were using Regis McKenna, Apple came out of Regis McKenna. And so they decided they heard my story. And they said, No, you don't want to buy advertising, which I was doing $18,000 for an ad that ran once in a newspaper, black and white, terrible waste of money. So they recommended doing PR. So I was on TV, radio, newsprint, magazines. That's how Trader Joe's family's from California business. And I was on the cover of it. And they called me up that next day and said, We want to talk to you. And I'm all over the country. I was down in Mexico. I was in Japan, because we had some business there. I was in Canada, we had business up there. So PR for anybody wanting to get into a specialty business like this is more important than any advertising can do. Don't waste your money. So I had a story about Sam's waiting in the San Jose airport for the rains to stop in Dallas. We finally got off to Dallas from San Jose. And then all the flights were canceled. The whole thing was dead. Except I had checked. General Aviation when I was in San Jose to calibrate could I charter a flight from San Jose to Bentonville? Well, I couldn't, because the weather was so bad, that by the time we got to Dallas, we are assessing our options. I said I'm gonna call general aviation, see if they have a plane. Well, they did have a plane. But she said it's a challenger. And this is the kind of plane that takes rock stars across the pond to Europe. I said well, I need to go to Bentonville, which is 45 minutes away. $6,000, which it would have cost a charter that plane in San Jose. I got this challenger that Larry my VP of sales, and I enjoy we had some of their whiskey we have a swag. So we've got this private plane, and we go to our Motel Six.

Elizabeth  18:10  

Great juxtaposition there.

Unknown Speaker  18:12  

And this was to get the Sam's business in the beginning. And I had to fly from there to New York. And I just sequestered myself I had a little computer at the time. I think actually, it wasn't little I think it was one of those big portable compacts around with me. And I did the spreadsheets I worked on the sand. What if we were to sell the sands? What would the model be so forth? What if we had to do demos, we do demos at Price Club once a month in every store? Well, we have to expect to do demos in Sam's Club once a month in every store. That's expensive. Fortunately, it helps move product. So it kind of pays for itself. But if you're not moving product in Ozark County, you know, whatever that store is, is not going to pay for itself. But it did. And so Sam's really became the bigger account. Even with Price Club being so big. Sam's was bigger than price.

Elizabeth  19:08  

How did you have all this business acumen? I know you were a chemist by training originally. But did you just learn a lot of this as you went? As this business grew to be able to run this empire as it was growing? It's really astonishing.

Unknown Speaker  19:27  

Well, I've been I've always been kind of mechanical. I was the oldest boy of two children in my thing. I listened girl but you know, I did the boy stuff with my father and I would come home with a project from Latin class and I want to make a Roman aqueduct and have the water flow and you did things like that. So I've always been very mechanical, and enjoy using my hands. Also because I was a chemist, and have an analytical mind. I was a problem solver. You have to be a problem solver. You have to start over I look at it a different way and try to figure out how to make it work. I also, you know, use the industry. When I bought my first pie making machine. We couldn't keep up with all of the business from Costco, now Costco they brought Price Club, so become so the business was just beyond us, we couldn't produce enough. And certainly for the next holiday season, because we knew that the there were more stores being added than we were getting into Sam's bah bah bah. So I needed an automated system. And I went to Italy, and I almost bought their son, thank God I didn't. And I met a woman who had a cheesecake company in San Francisco, and I told her what I was doing. And she said, Oh, you don't want to go with get the Italian equipment. That stuff's awful. Go to Reichart in Holland. So in January on January 27, I remember the date, I placed the order for that Reichart machine to be delivered in August. And we would also at the same time have a big pass through oven, a big convection oven, that would bake the product properly. The cooling tunnel, so you could handle it after it came out of the oven away to Deepan. The quiche, because they're now they're being done in nine across 12 long holes. So multiply that out each pan at that many. And that would go in through the oven through the cooling tunnel, Big Frame to put it into dump it over and all the little quiches would come out, we would sort them put them in the trays, put them on another conveyor, going into a spiral freezer, they go up, up, up, up and then down and into a packing line.

Elizabeth  21:43  

Well, what's the point of the spiral freezer

Unknown Speaker  21:45  

to stay in the chamber longer than capacity had to be equal at all of these points. So if you could get 20 trays through the oven in 20 minutes or half an hour, you've got to be able to get 20 equal quantity for those trays out of the freezer. And everywhere else along the

Elizabeth  22:06  

way. It's a whole logistical problem all along the way. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  22:11  

And then I've got this nitrogen system to do the freezing was a nitrogen freezer. So I had the equipment outside of it, it was really massive on the so it was 10,000 square feet. And by now we got another 10,000 down the street. So then we ended up knowing that we needed more capacity, building why so we had these two little buildings, we needed a big one, we build an 84,000 square foot two story facility, and wasn't just me, I've got a fabulous team. So I built this new building, and bought another pipeline for my car twice the capacity, twice the speed, double rows of punches, instead of a single row of punches. So I could do twice as much, and another freezer for the new facility and another enter system of n and more conveyors, and all of that. So that was huge. And eventually, by the time 9098 99 came around, we were pumping the keys directly from the kitchen into the poppers that would then deposit into those little cells. So it was a flow through process. Very, very highly automated.

Elizabeth  23:26  

I don't know if this is correct. But I read in my research before interviewing you that in 1995. Every day, a million keys pies in six flavors came out of the plant in Newark. Is that right? Do you think a million a day?

Unknown Speaker  23:41  

Yeah. And by the time we sold the business in 1999, I'm getting ahead of myself, those machines, they were making all petite quiche could produce a million and a half a day. And they were always running all the time. So that's the way it was. So let me say some things that make a business work, you've got to have fabulous people got to have a fabulous product. It's got to be a product that people tell their friends about whether it's food or whether it's an app, or whether it's a pencil you like whatever you want to broadcast, you want to talk about it because you like it, they should too. And you need customers who you can depend on the problem with the club stores. They're fabulous if you're doing business with them, but the minute they think they can put another product in that is equal to what they have, at a slightly lower costs. They will kick you out with absolutely no apology towards the end of 98 and into 99. They were bringing competitors against my cash weekly. I have three segments of business, the business from Costco, the business from Sam's, and all of the other food service and retail Business and they were equal third, a third, a third. And Costco and Sam's were both profitable. The retail and foodservice business was not profitable. The only reason I did continue doing it was because as I alluded to before, by building that retail business, the branded business was because that would introduce people to the product all over the country, if you put all the stores together, 60% would have it.

Elizabeth  25:30  

So it's almost like PR it was in their grocery store. So they would see it

Unknown Speaker  25:33  

is a tasting room. And then they go to the club stores, they find it there and all they just put it in their freezer. So I just couldn't sleep. I woke up one night, and I was in a cold sweat, I was scared to death that I would lose one or the other of the club store instances. And without it, I was barely at breakeven. And I had $20 million with debt. You know, I had to build that big facility. I had all the equipment in it, paying all this off, but it's not paid off. And so I thought, wow, if something happens, how am I going to recover? Because there's no product number two, that can come in, like Heinz is a $9 billion company. They bought Nancy's in 2006 Was I sold the leveraged buyout firm, they have it six years, and then they sold it to Heinz and woman and Heinz bought it. And this is 1% of it were a small, so they could afford to take a risk at it. And Heinz products they wanted to add into their appetizer business. So anyway, I think that's another point in owning a business. It's like in the car game, you got to know when to hold them, you got to know when to fold them. Because if you hold on too long, and I think of GoPro, I think a peloton, GoPro I think is doing right, peloton and snap, they should have sold out when they could make some money at it. And you know, you work too hard. I spent 22 years of my life doing this. Sure I did a few other things here and there. But it was on my mind 24 hours a day for 22 years. I wasn't tired. I just knew I had to sell to preserve the asset. That was it.

Elizabeth  27:24  

So that was the beginning. That was the realization that night of the cold sweats, it's time to get out.

Unknown Speaker  27:30  

Yeah, I can't take the chance that a competitor will come against me. And you can't find Nancy's boutique quiche. In Costco anymore, or Price Club. The retail piece is still in the stores that is being made across the San Francisco Bay. But I don't get involved in it. Nobody's ever called me and asked me an opinion or a question.

Elizabeth  27:52  

Did you take any vacations in those 22 years? Like real vacations that you could clear your mind? Or did you always have these things spinning in your head?

Unknown Speaker  28:00  

Well, they're always spinning but no, no, no, we, we had on our boats, we would go up to the Yacht Club Island and the delta for a couple of weeks every summer and my team was able to take care of that. And I was, you know, I had a telephone. Eventually, we had cell phones that made it easy. But we had a couple of international trips, my husband was determined that we were not going to sit around just because you business

Elizabeth  28:24  

just because of Keith. I wanted to drill down a little bit when you're talking about some of the pillars to success, the people and the product. And you clearly built a great team of people. So that's the one I'm going to start with. It's intuitive to know that you need great people around you. How did you find and recruit those people? And then keep them with you? Yeah. Are you just are you inherently just a really good manager?

Unknown Speaker  28:52  

Oh, I'm a perfect manager?

Elizabeth  28:53  

Of course, of course you are.

Unknown Speaker  28:56  

I made my mistakes too. And I learned from them. But I use headhunters I interviewed carefully. I had to like the person. First of all, I had to feel some simpatico with a person and have them feel some supply to go with me. Because we're going to be working together. We have to respect one another. We have to care for one another. And I did with all of my people. So they liked me. They really did. Yeah, there's always some angst here and there. But I was a good manager. When you hire a good VP of marketing, you don't go in and tell her what to do, or him what to do to do operations. If they come and ask your opinion. You give it to them, but they then are the ones who pick up and do it. So it's not like I just let them go. We all talked about it. But I was not micromanaging my people. They could do that very well themselves. And everything's was so fluid. So moving so fast. Even the automation, think of the computer automation that we went through during those times to Yeah, for customers to manage your financials and all that stuff. It was just boring new stuff was always coming in.

Elizabeth  30:06  

Did you run into any resistance being a female boss in the 70s, early 80s?

Unknown Speaker  30:13  

I didn't, I didn't. If somebody didn't want to work for a woman, the headhunter wouldn't hear from them. But I worked at syntax for five years before I had my children because I was 65 to 70. I was in the pharmaceutical chemist, I never felt any problem of being a woman, that syntax. If you look for something, you might find it, but I didn't look for it. I was just me. The same thing with Nancy's. You know, the reason I didn't have any problem as a glass ceiling is because I own the ceiling. There was nobody above me I had to placate. So I didn't have that problem. And I know many very successful CEOs and top people in large companies, and they get along, because they're nice people. They're harmonious. They're not out to try to prove somebody did something wrong. I made my own way through all of this stuff.

Elizabeth  31:10  

So in terms of the product, especially in the early days, you said, initially, the very early days, you had taste tests with your friends and things like that. But as the company got going, and you brought out the quiche Lorraine and the Florentine and things like that, how did you create the new product lines and decide which ways to go and what to pull back from and did you ever put something out and then realize, oh, that's, that's really not going and we have to pull it back from the market.

Unknown Speaker  31:40  

All of the above. So first, I did all of it. I remember, perfecting the mushroom turnover here at my house. I hired somebody part time to help build a t shirt Lorraine because I didn't have time. I hired eventually were director of development. And she had a small team. And they worked on new kinds of appetizers. We had five or six by the time we were done, but nothing is as strong as the petite quiche. We had a wonderful pecan turn. It was a butter, sugar crest. And it was pecans and all that gooey, wonderful molasses flavor. Oh, it was so good. But you know it was a standalone product. We tried a couple other desserts, but they weren't the same. And it was an orphan, the poor thing. They finally let that go. Rushing turnovers for straw. I was very high on this. We did a calzone, which was like a little crescent shape. Pizza dough filled with Italian stuff. It was sausage or whatever interesting thing was that Cal Sony cost as much to make as the mushroom turnover, which is very fancy, we can get the price for mushroom turnover. But we couldn't get the price for the counseling. Because it was considered pizza and not worth it just didn't have the the cache. It's a tough business and the survivors. That's one reason you see products in and out of the clusters all the time. And I'm not speaking out of school. I mean, this is this is just the way the industry is. It's a fabulous industry. It's been good for America, because people can get really good products for less money. And why not? You know, everybody makes out is cheaper for the consumer. It's good for the manufacturer, and Costco makes out of the club store makes out as well. So it's it's a wonderful system.

Elizabeth  33:35  

How did it feel when you would walk into a store or the Price Club and see Nancy's specialty foods or Nancy's quiches on there? Did you sometimes get a little taken aback and think, Wow, I did that?

Unknown Speaker  33:48  

Oh, of course. Of course. I'm always straightening it up and making sure the facings are proper. And oh, yeah. I love to tear the frozen food section even today. See what's there? Well, of course, it was exciting. But you know, when you get over that pretty quickly, you just expect it's there. Anyway, yeah, it is. It was thrilling.

Elizabeth  34:10  

Is there anything else you want to add that we haven't touched on?

Unknown Speaker  34:14  

In terms of words of advice? I never said How am I going to do this? I just started. I was six years working hard, very hard and almost had to close it down. So there's so many parts to this that have to come together. Right? You have to have the people you have to have the product. You have to have the economics right. And I thought I did but I really didn't. It took a wholesaler like Costco and Sam's to make it work for me. Trader Joe's was good too. That was a good account. But Safeway you get into Safeway, and the first thing they want is for you to buy an app for $10,000 When how many keys do you have to sell the makeup $10,000 And that's the way the retail businesses today. So if somebody's in Started doing something like this, learn about the business, talk to brokers, talk to buyers of the stores, talk to the buyers of your local grocery store and find out, get a sense of what the margins are. And if you were to do this, what did they think of the success? Of course, if I had asked that, I did take it to a broker in San Francisco, the top broker, and he kind of patted me on the head after I gave him my pitch and said, well, good luck, you know, because he could not see the vision. I had the vision, he could not see the vision. He wasn't a woman, he wasn't doing cocktail parties, he didn't know that people need this, really. And he thought of it as being a really small little dabbling thing. But I had to make it work, I had to do the distribution, I had to promote it, I had to take a chance with the club stores, I had to take a chance, five, four and a half million dollars worth of equipment. It's what it takes to do it, to have the freezer and the oven. And then after all that stuff. When I had nobody saying I'll buy enough tissue to pay for that, I had to do that on faith. So you know,

Elizabeth  36:06  

you got to have to have the stomach for some risk.

Unknown Speaker  36:09  

Exactly. But if you feel in your gut, that there's something wrong, listen to your gut. Because your gut tells you when you are hiding a problem or trying to solve a problem. And it doesn't feel right. Listen to

Elizabeth  36:25  

it sounds like you listen to your gut. All along. You listen to your gut, initially, there's a hole in the marketplace that could be filled. And I'm going to buck the naysayers. And then I'm also going to listen to my gut when something feels wrong, you really were true to yourself throughout this process, which isn't easy to do when there's a lot of voices coming in. That's right. It's so multi-dimensional this business, it's the product, and then it's the managing the people. And then it's the manufacturing. And then it's the buildings and the distribution. And I mean, they had so much to learn and to manage.

Unknown Speaker  36:59  

And you know, the retail food sector now is really pretty replete with almost anything you can think of. Back in 77. When I started this, there was a picture of a blanket, there was an appetizer, but it was sort of pigs in the blanket, not with Julia Child sitting on my shelf. So I was hoping that I was enabling the consumer to have something better. And that's what you're looking for, you're looking for the hole in the market, not to do a better something to try to make something new. If it's new, you have a better chance of success. And if you're just doing something better than the other 10 products of the same sort on the shelf,

Elizabeth  37:40  

do something new and do it well. And stick with it.

Unknown Speaker  37:43  

And make sure the pricing is right.

Elizabeth  37:47  

says the woman with experience and success,

Unknown Speaker  37:50  

packaging, labor benefits, a little profit, a little bit of profit, you should be getting eight to 10% profit. Otherwise your business is not viable, because you have to reinvest, you have to buy new equipment, you have to

Elizabeth  38:04  

grow. Was there ever a time in those 22 years that you thought, wow, I don't know that I can keep doing this? Like you said you thought about it 24 hours a day. Did you ever just think I've devoted my life to this. And I just don't know if I can keep up at this pace, or it's becoming too big or any number of things? Well,

Unknown Speaker  38:25  

it was only the threat of losing the customer, I would still be running it. I would have a ball 10 people helping me. As the president, I was reporting to me. And I have to mention, my late husband was very helpful to me up until 94 when we lost him, but he was a business school graduate. He was a venture capitals. He knew how to start and run businesses. And I could not have done it without plan. In those days. When I had a big problem. I would bring it to him. But you know, in terms of running the company, he was running his company, he had more work to do that he knew what to do. And so we were both kind of doing our own thing. But I always went to him with a problem. And he had good advice. He was fantastic. I was 55 when I sold the business, I could have gone on for another 20 years, except for the fact that I was worried about losing big parts of my business which I know that happened. That was the only reason I sold it was because of the threat.

Elizabeth  39:28  

And then you did do something really fantastic and amazing after you sold it, which is you commissioned a yacht to be built and you sailed all around the world and went scuba diving and photographed things underwater. Right? Yeah. What an amazing journey you've been on. Yeah, you know,

Unknown Speaker  39:47  

Glen and I were sailboat racers on San Francisco Bay in the 70s and 80s. And then we got a 40 foot power boat and then a 50 foot power boat. And we love the water. We love sailing I'm cruising. But in 1968, we went to Italy and Germany and we walked along the K and Portofino. And we saw all those enormous boats all backed into the K, all with their flowers on the table in the back and the stewards out there, and blah, blah, blah. And we had a dream of doing that. We talked about it. And we just had a dream of being able to someday do that. And this gave me the chance to do it. And even though I had lost Glen, I basically designed the floor plan. And a lot of the parts of the boat because I'd been on boats, and I knew what I needed. And some things were different, more unusual, big, full galley, as a place where people could congregate and talk. And yes, we did a lot of diving and partying, I had 800 pillow tops, over the 10 years that I had the vessel. That means even your people slept on my pillows.

Elizabeth  40:59  

You really entertained a lot of friends.

Unknown Speaker  41:01  

I had a ton of friends. So we had a point of every time I was somebody who was on my boat, that's the first thing I talked about was that was so much fun. It was fantastic. Saw a lot of the world I never would have seen. I'm accused of having a lot of energy and I'm guilty. And into something for a little bit. I go into it wholeheartedly. So that's where I am. And that's why I like to be

Elizabeth  41:25  

well look at the results. The results speak for themselves.

Unknown Speaker  41:30  

So much. I'm having a great life got a long way to go. Yes, yes.

Elizabeth  41:34  

Well, thank you so much, Nancy, thank you. This has been really interesting for me, and I really appreciate your time. It's just so fun to hear these stories, you know, I've eaten your products for years. And it is true that they speak for themselves because my kids will be at a party unless they can you grab like three or four more of those, I don't want them to go away. So they're still popular. So I love hearing the stories behind the product. So thank you very much. I'm still amazed that Nancy's junior league assessment pointed her in this specific direction of manufacturing appetizers. And she took that and ran with it big time. I learned so much from talking with Nancy, here are some of my takeaways from our conversation. Number one, listen to your gut. It tells you when you're hiding a problem or trying to solve a problem to do your research. But don't always follow the advice other people give you. Others may not be able to see your vision the way you can. Three, surround yourself with great people and be good to them. Care for them. Respect them, let them shine for be a problem solver. Be willing to start over or look at something several different ways to make it work. Five, we're all going to make mistakes, if and how you allow yourself to learn from those mistakes determines how you move forward. And finally, number six, use good judgment. Kenny Rogers had it right. You got to know when to hold them. And you got to know when to fold them. And this isn't necessarily a takeaway, but it is the coolest sentence someone has said to me in a long time. So I just have to repeat Nancy's words. The reason I didn't have any problem with the glass ceiling is because I owned the ceiling. My big thanks to Nancy Muller for inspiring us with her stories and her determination and for creating and owning her own glass ceiling. If you'd like to learn more about Nancy, please check out the show notes for this episode on our website. What it's like to.net You can also find all of our past episodes there. If you'd like stories about female entrepreneurs, you may want to listen to episode 37 with Aisha to Fatima Dozier, the founder of bossy cosmetics, and episode 18 When Rebecca Firth talked about creating her own food blogging and cookbook enterprise. If you aren't already following us on social media, please do. And please tell a few friends about our podcast too. I'm Elizabeth Pearson. Gar thanks for being curious about what it's like.