Ayeshah Abuelhiga: Founder & CEO of Mason Dixie Foods

Episode 459

The Founder and CEO of Mason Dixie Foods, Ayeshah Abuelhiga, wanted to change comfort food for the better by disrupting the comfort food category, starting with yummy buttermilk biscuits. Why couldn’t this comfort food be made with real ingredients? Clean ingredients? Today, Mason Dixie Foods is one of the fastest-growing brands in the frozen aisle in stores now with sandwiches and waffles. I can’t wait for you to hear all about Ayeshah’s journey thus far, lessons she has learned and what’s in store for this terrific brand in the future. Now on #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin. And we are here on the Kara Goldin show. So excited to have my next guest. Here we have Ayeshah Abuelhiga, who is the founder and CEO of an incredible product. And if you have not tried their entire platform of products under the Mason Dixie foods line, you must because they are so so yummy. They have changed comfort food for the better. I was just telling Ayeshah that I tried it for the first time bought it at my local market and Marin County called Molly stones, which is one of my favorite markets, they’ve been so good to hit water over the years as well. And they are selling her line of of food products as well. And anyway, that’s where I tried it for the first time the yummy, yummy biscuits that she carries. So it’s a it is now one of the fastest growing frozen comfort food brands in the US best known for its clean labeled biscuits, sandwiches and waffles. The company only uses fresh ingredients real dairy, and all products are free from junk. And there’s lots of things that are considered junk, I won’t get too much into it. But anyway, I always love it when we meet a founder able to have a founder on who can really speak to why she did it and what she saw in the market and then went out and made it happen and especially when she’s a she. So the definitely a little bias towards that. But I can’t wait to hear all about Ayeshah’s journey thus far in the future for the terrific brands. So welcome.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 2:30
Thank you for having me, Kara. Super excited to be here.

Kara Goldin 2:34
Very, very excited to have you here. And you are based in Baltimore. You said? Yes, Baltimore, Maryland. Very exciting. So you started the company and 2014 is that correct? Correct. Amazing. So before we get into hearing about your story and your journey as an entrepreneur, Where did the name Mason Dixie foods come from?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 2:58
Yeah, when I when we first started, we actually started as a restaurant concept. And myself and both of our founding chefs at the time were from Maryland. It was kind of my concept. And so they wanted to lean into the femininity of being a woman owned brand. So we kind of looked at ourselves and thought Okay, well let’s make Mason Dixon feminized. And so we, you know, took the female name Dixie and added it to Mason, and here we are.

Kara Goldin 3:24
I love it. So no naming company was used it was you guys sitting around thinking about Yeah, what what could this be called?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 3:33
Literally three foodies like throwing darts at a board. But yeah, it was all kind of homegrown.

Kara Goldin 3:40
So the story behind how you decided to do this, what did you see in the market? I’d love to get an idea how it all got started.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 3:51
Yeah, so um, you know, I’ve always kind of been growing up in the restaurant industry. My parents had a small carry out grocery store concept in Baltimore when I was really little. And so I kind of grew up in the kitchens, and I watched my mom, you know, you know, shred collard greens, cook fried chicken from scratch all of that food. And I just always had this cultural affinity for scratch cooking. And then, you know, fast forward I was the first I was a child of immigrants. So it’s first kid to go to college. And then when I graduated or not, before I graduated even I had to kind of put myself through college by working in restaurants. So I just, you know, in some way had a cultural affinity to, to always be a part of that. I entered into the business world and was in a career in software Tech Automotive for 15 years and I just really miss being in that colonial restaurant environment. So decided to kind of take a look around and see what the industry needed. And I realized, you know, it was an interesting time right the early 2000s to mid 2000s. There was a resurgence of better for you comfort food. Foods whether it was pizza, or burgers with Shake Shack or in and five guys were there are people that were really turning comfort food upside down by going grass fed going preservative free fresh ingredients. But no one had really touched American comfort food from a from a soul food standpoint, right? No one had really touched, you know fried chicken and biscuits. You know, we still had Popeyes KFC Chick fil A, you know. And I just thought with the amount of people that love that food to really be able to have it the way that my mom made it, right, really scratch cooking, farm to table. That is the essence. So I kind of took the opportunity to get out in the market and try our hand at doing that. So we started out with a restaurant. That overnight we had, you know, lines wrapped around city blocks. When we open the drive thru restaurant, we had two mile long line of cars. So we knew that it was resonating with people. And that’s really the crux of why we tried to fixate on this cuisine, it just needed some cleaning up and some TLC.

Kara Goldin 6:00
So What year was this that the restaurant was launched?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 6:04
Yeah, it was in 2014, summer of 2014. We started with a partnership with a local gelato factory that happened to have a coffee shop inside and I was like, Hey, can I sell this gets in biscuit sandwiches and you guys sell coffee, and we’ll end gelato and we’ll make good together. And never in a million years that I think we were gonna have the reception that we did. I mean, we had a Washington Post came out and they did a feature and it just, it just blossom so quickly, that, you know, we were so excited to see that this there was traction, and then we got picked up by a local food hall. So that was our first restaurant location. And then we opened up our, our full service, drive thru restaurant just a couple years later. So you know, it was a fast ride. And in all of that, right, as the restaurant had opened up, we actually got discovered by Whole Foods Market, a regional marketing manager in the mid atlantic stumbled across the restaurant. And at that time, instead of selling T shirts, we were selling frozen biscuit dough. And we were like, Okay, well, why don’t we try to, you know, package this up, and you know, give it out as a tchotchke, right as a nicer tchotchke. And she ended up buying a bunch, her son fell in love with them. And a few months later, this was maybe early 2015, I think around March, she was like I have to have these at Whole Foods like we have to we have to sell this and I I truly had no intention of ever jumping into the consumer product space. So it was kind of a happy accident. That’s obviously led to many incredible things along this journey. But the first day we launch was the day before Thanksgiving. And you know how it is in Whole Foods is usually a ban to blackout period. You can’t demo you can’t, you know, do anything in store. And our you know, the GM just kind of winked and nodded and said, Go ahead. And we did it. And we outsold butter and milk the first day of our sales. So that went viral. And here we are,

Kara Goldin 8:05
oh my gosh, that’s amazing. You know, we had an amazing relationship early on with the Mid Atlantic Whole Foods too. And I have heard that in multiple categories. I mean, it’s so many founders have said that. So I think it’s so interesting. It’s like, you know, even when you have a large brand, like Whole Foods, it’s still a people based business and having you know, this, that person that is championing, you know, you and your brand and really believes in what you’re doing and how it can kind of fit into their overall strategy is, is so important. But sometimes it’s like finding a needle in haystack, right for for a founder, you know, and in a totally different category. It’s like, I’m sure you have people who come to you and say, How did you do it? And it’s sort of like, it always kind of happens by accident. That was not your intent to go and launch Whole Foods. Right? And totally, yeah, and answer. And so looking at looking back on those days. I mean, you wanted to do something that was turning comfort food into better, cleaner ingredients better for you, all of those things. But did you realize like how bad the industry really was, I mean, other biscuits that were out there, did you you’re focused on the restaurant industry, but not, you know, the slew of other biscuit companies that are on the shelf. And were you just shocked?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 9:38
Yes, I mean, I think when when my two chefs and I first started we were kind of thinking okay, what is readily available in the marketplace, especially on the foodservice side as a restaurant tour, right? And all we were getting were, you know, very large conglomerate companies where all the biscuits were made with like, oils right and, and you could taste it or there was aluminum in them for the baking powder, there was all these things that were just like, well, that’s not what we thought a biscuit should be. And one of our chefs happened to be a pastry chef. And I handed him a recipe that I literally gotten at the public library when I was like 10 years old. And I was like, I just want them to be like this, I want them to be really homemade. Like I cut them out with a with a water glass, right? I want them to be as authentic as possible. And so you know, we both look to each other. We’re like, Okay, we’re going to have to make them ourselves. So there was that big of a gap in market for at least in the foodservice side. And then to your point, lo and behold, we get into the consumer products space, and we’re looking at our competition. And we’re like, wow, how is there not one brand out there that is making a clean label, biscuit. And if even if it was, there were some gluten free things out there. There were some that were quote, unquote, natural. There was actually some big brands that were being sold at Whole Foods at the time. But they were still made with palm oil, they were still full of stabilizers and gums. And so I was just kind of dumbfounded that that hadn’t been disrupted. So we were kind of lucky in that our restaurant recipe really kind of hit all the clean label call outs. But you touched on something that was really important, because I think what was so inspirational about jumping into this cuisine was how many times I talked to natural foods, retailers, or people like myself, who shop in natural food stores. And the definition of comfort food was almost like an evil. You know, you don’t you don’t eat fried chicken, do you like? Well, yes, everyone eats fried chicken, like whether you admit it or not even the skinniest celebrity is eating fried chicken at least once in their life, right. And they love it. And I just thought it was always strange how people almost wanted you to feel bad, because you wanted comfort food. So I think the premise for what we were trying to deliver on whether it was the restaurant or the product line is always to be to make people feel really good about the food that they crave right, inside out, you know, from the ingredients to the people to the service level, right. That was always the crux of what we want to deliver on. And I think we were really successful in doing that both the restaurant and the CPG side. So that kind of kept our Northstar towards always making sure that we had the toughest brand standards when it can’t when it comes to clean label.

Kara Goldin 12:23
How different is it to actually produce a product that goes into a grocery store versus opening a restaurant? Oh,

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 12:35
great question, Kara. Because for the first part of our existence, we actually produced all the biscuits out of the back of our restaurant, and we had a little reefer trailer and we would shove that full of pallets of biscuits, and then we would have the distributors come pick up from the restaurant parking lot. So, you know, this is, you know, back in the day, you obviously can’t do stuff like that as easily anymore. But, you know, I think for us it was the hardest part was scaling, right? I think anyone in the baking craft knows that Baker’s math is not logical one plus one equals two math and understanding how to go from, you know, a small hobart mixer in the back of the restaurant to, you know, a 1500 pound batter mixer was a big scale up understanding how leavening performs with that much understanding the importance and the challenge in our food manufacturing industry in the US today. When you’re using real ingredients, fresh ingredients, the number of times the bakeries were like can you please just use powdered buttermilk? Can you please just use oil? And I was like, why? And they’re like, oh, just make it so much easier on the line. I’m like, I want to make it easier on our consumers gut health. I don’t care about a machine, right i and that’s a that’s one of the premises we’ve never ever abandoned, right? We’ve always tried to make food nutritionally valid and humanly digestible over a machine. And I think that’s something that we also learned and never thought would be something we’d have to fight over. But here we are today. We’re still fighting for that right to eat real.

Kara Goldin 14:09
Yeah, no, absolutely. And when you talk about your brand, versus, you know, to the consumer, and I guess you’re always fighting for, I guess, not shelf space, but the space in the frozen food freezers, right. That’s, that’s kind of everybody’s competition. But there’s competition. And then there’s education. Right. And you have to figure out how do you share the greatness that you’re doing with the consumer, without lecturing to them right and without Versa, beating on some of your lookalikes that aren’t really like you at all. I mean, hint, yeah, the product that I created years ago, it’s the same thing, right? Like we would look at these Other drinks that, you know, were zero calories that were just so different than what we were doing. And they would have all kinds of, you know, Earths were tall and lots of other stuff preservatives that we didn’t have. But how did you and how do you like educate the consumer to know what you’re doing? And, and I know you did product sampling inside of whole foods and things like that. Oh, yeah. What what was sort of the the initial, like marketing behind it? And has that changed over the years?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 15:30
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think some of the things that we’ve always led with this simplicity, right, I think I think we as people, as humans, love to D complicate our lives. And the more simplified messaging or ingredients are, the easier for someone to really recognize that what they’re eating is good. And I think today, especially there’s a bigger and bigger trend towards limited ingredient formulations. And I think it’s the right thing. We were really proud that, you know, in most if not all of the products you make, we use 10 ingredients or less. And for us, it was also about the freshness, I think, you know, one of the messages, we would have to shout out into the freezer aisle TierPoint in the middle of a demo, right, was we use real butter, we use real buttermilk, it’s fresh, right? And then people go, What do you mean fresh? And then you realize they have no idea what’s in food? And then you get into a really awesome conversation casually saying, like, Well, did you know that most of the breads out there are made with powdered substitutes versus, you know, real fresh dairy? Or did you know that it’s usually palm oil that, you know, kills orangutans in the in the rainforests, right? Like that Did you know really started to kind of take off in our customer interactions. And I think the other big thing that we really played on very early was on packaging, right? I think, in Frozen especially, you only have so much time that there’s more barriers to entry than in a even a refrigerated beverage case, right? You got to get them to the aisle, they got to open the door, hopefully, it’s not frosted over so they can find your product. And then they got to learn about it within 30 seconds or less. So you know, the power of packaging and shouting scratch made having really good visuals of the back in the day, we used to have little cutouts of the dough. So you could see right through you can see the butter chunks. Those were the holistic things that I think really sold the product to customers early stage. And then as we branched out into breakfast entrees like our biscuit sandwiches and our chicken waffle sandwich, it was really playing into the simplicity, the ingredients, you know, calling out the low caloric content and the high protein count. And then when you’re like intrigued by you flip it over the back and you realize, wow, it can be like this if you don’t put all the extra crap in it. Right. So that’s been a huge advantage, I think is just being as transparent on packaging and the label as possible.

Kara Goldin 17:52
You touched on packaging, I’ll never forget I, you know, we agonized over our packaging early on. And we wanted a clear product. Were you know, water, right? So we wanted it to be clear. And so we had our label was clear, everything was clear. And what we didn’t take into account and we had a lot of smart people sitting around the table when we were getting ready to bottle the product. And nobody thought about this. But the lighting in the stores was and who we were sitting by typically inside of a store was such a key thing that we never really thought about and long, crazy story. But we had to actually change our labels from clear to white labels because of a bottle deposit law that went into effect in New York, and we were going to have to get pulled off the shelf or be fined. It was it was crazy anyway. So we did it very, very quickly. And the only labels that we could get were white labels. And we I think 5x Our sales overnight and went to like why? Yeah, and here we were sitting here, like saying, No, everything’s got to be clear. And this is what we have to do. And and, you know, had no idea what we were missing. Were there any crazy packaging things that you thought, Oh, this is like amazing. We’ve, we’ve got to have the window or whatever. And then it just added expenses to your product. Maybe or and then you were like nobody cares, or nobody could see that issue. Yeah,

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 19:31
you know, we were really lucky because we got out the gate in a really original way frozen. It’s an interesting space, right? It’s predominantly owned every category in frozen zone by one or two big players. And then there’s everybody else right? So just happened to be at the time that it was a sea of white and blue. And then there’s a sea of yellow and red. Right? So we were like okay, how do we differentiate ourselves and one of the biggest ways was having a black box, because back then right on the dye line.com I got free information because there was no CPG learning houses like there are now right, all those knowledge bases are fairly new. And one of the things that black signaled was premium was luxury was, you know, trust in many ways. And so we were like, Okay, this is awesome. And it’s disruptive in the space. Never in a million years that I think that was going to be such a brand maker for us. But it was. Now the things that didn’t work. When we first got started, I thought it’d be cute to just drop the label in and we had this like, curved cut out thing, what we didn’t realize people with that wood stock would then just stick their hands in the hole and then rip the top. So we had a lot of breakage, and we’re like, Okay, well, we got to clean that up, right. So we then went to like a die cut circle over time. And then now, just as we’ve scaled so much, that had to go away completely, just because the die cut was cumbersome, just in where you can put information. And again, going back to educating the consumer, you know, it’s so important to maximize that real estate. So, to your point, a lot of lessons learned in the path to glory.

Kara Goldin 21:05
totally great. And I always tell people, it’s like, you know, the most important thing is obviously, safety for the consumer. But you just got to get your product on the shelf, because every person, your packaging will change from the first one. And you’ve just got to get it out there and see what the consumers respond to. And also, if you need to make any major fixes as we did, and actually change the color, which ultimately saved us in costs, too. So it was definitely a learning experience. So how have you funded the company today?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 21:40
Yeah, so we’re interesting, obviously, you know, I am a woman, I’m a woman of color. And fundraising was never fun, my forte or easy, right? You know, when when we got into the restaurant trade, I was really lucky that I was able to bootstrap the restaurant for over four years, and the consumer brand for over four years with just my own savings, my own credit, etc. And I was in full intention of trying to hold on to every ounce of ownership as possible. But the consumer brand group, you know, this is a very difficult trade and a lot of cash going out just to be able to succeed. And so when we really started to scale, we took we needed investments. So I, I shopped around to everyone that I knew, and they’re like, all you have to get venture capital, you have to find investor groups, you’ve got to do that. So I did, and I kissed maybe 7500 Frogs. And each time it was like, Well, I get the restaurant, but are you really focused on the consumer? Oh, I get the consumer, but what’s going on with this restaurant thing? And it was just wild to me, because I’m like, you have two successful proof points that this brand and the product is wanted? Why would you just not to in it, you know, it all comes down to in that world. They’re experts in one caveat in space, right? Folks that invest in restaurants don’t do product necessarily, and vice versa, especially early stage. So I had to pivot. And I was like, alright, well, we’ve either got to figure out how to get a loan, or we’ve got to raise capital from other folks. And I learned that you could get private investment, right, you can get angel investors together. And it was probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me was taking that advice to say, hey, you could look at you know, hobbling together a bunch of high wealth, individuals that might believe in the story and the risk and the opportunity, more than a venture capitalists might. And I was really lucky, I was able to find some investors that had invested in anything from five guys to other major fast casual chains. And they were really intrigued by the consumer side, too, right? Because for every million dollars, you could probably open one restaurant, but a million dollars for us jettison Dustin to you know where we are today. So it’s just the scale was there. And then I think the other interesting thing you get to do when you take on private investment is you get to really find out who your I mean, people forget, right? Investors are like, they’re like a marital partner, right? It’s just, it is a financial marriage. So you have to have the same values, you have to have the same passion and desires for success. And one of the things that was really important to me very early on when I was fundraising was finding investors that supported the woman on status that we had. It’s incredibly important to me because as a kid, I grew up very poor. I grew up in Section Eight housing till I was about 13 years old. And I always think back then had I seen a successful businesswoman, entrepreneur, anything outside of a teacher or homemaker, my life might have been different because it would have been more aspirational as to what I could have been. And so for me having that stamp that we’re women now and having that stamp that we’re bipoc owns. That’s so important to me, because I’m just hoping one day There’s some other little girl out there that’s only seen a teacher and maybe a nurse and thought that’s what she has to be. And then she could see this and go, No, this is what I can be. Yeah. So, you know, when I talked to a bunch of the folks who were fundraising where they said, I want to keep the status, I really want female investors. And a lot of them were like, oh, okay, let me talk to my wife. Let me talk to my daughters. Let me talk to you know, my friends. And you know, the power of women is incredible, because women are the best marketers on the planet. They’re the best supporters on the planet. I’ll tell you like that, you know, all of our female investors are out there wearing Mason Dixie T shirts in the freezer, I’ll go and I invested in this brand, you know, and they’re the cheerleaders that really jettison the brand to where it is today. So I think, you know, fundraising in this way, while challenging and piecemeal, has made us a huge success, because I’ve never had to sacrifice my values and who I am to get to where we are.

Kara Goldin 25:56
That’s awesome. No, I love I love that story. So you’re going on 10 years with the with the brand, which is crazy, right? Time flies when you’re having fun. When did you know that a business is successful? Oh, Cara? That’s

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 26:12
a great question. I still don’t. I think I think the founders curse, right, as you’re always looking forward, and you never look back. And so to me, it’s like, you know, I want this to get as big as possible. So and I don’t feel like we’re anywhere close to done yet. So I think, you know, I think when I knew, though, that it wasn’t a fledgling thing that was that had its own life, right, when your brand has its own life, I think I think it was when we had to close the restaurants. So in 2020, because of COVID, we were in pretty high traffic zones, really reliant on a commuter, you know, city pattern, and without commuters and the the business really kind of grinded to a halt. And at the same time, the consumer business was a hockey stick growing. I mean, that one year, we grew over 4.8x. And I had to make a tough decision, right? It was either, you have to have two children, who do you love more, and it was very tough. And I actually had many conversations with my investors, with our team members to say, you know, this is about to happen. Do you think this is, you know, a nail in the coffin? Do you think it’s over. And we all didn’t know, we closed the restaurants down, we waited three months, and we’re still growing, and it just never stopped. So I think that was a moment when I could break away from thinking that the restaurant was a crux for our success. And that if we didn’t have that we didn’t have a narrative. And it wasn’t true, right? There was an appreciation for the product, the craft, the brand, the people that transcended the physical brick and mortar space. And that’s kind of when I knew that, you know, we could be successful if we just keep going. And that’s kind of been the big motivator for us, as we kind of enter into this next chapter here and our growth coming out of early stage emerging into growth stage. It’s been very exciting.

Kara Goldin 28:07
That’s awesome. No, that’s, that’s such a great way to look at it. Because I think sometimes, you know, we as founders will hold on to something. Right. That is, that is part of our history, part of the the origin story. And I think it it’s at some point, things happen along the way that you definitely have to make changes as you go. And you have to believe that it’s going to be for the better, right, and let the rest of the business grow. And I think it’s it’s exactly what you guys have done. It’s not to say that you don’t go back to opening restaurants to I mean, it’s, it’s interesting. I was just talking to the founder of San Mazon. And they just, I mean, they’re, I think a 20 year old, close to 20 year old brand as well. They just opened their first store, first restaurant in, I think in Raleigh airport. Oh, cool. Yeah. And I was just, I mean, they’re from San Diego. And I’ve known those guys for a long time. But you know, it’s interesting, because there were a lot of reasons why they were not in the restaurant business. They had some original concept stores, they shut them down and really focus more on the grocery, and then they came back to it. So I think it’s really interesting. It’s like, you know, you could sort of, you know, reboot in a different time and maybe even in a different way. I mean, I don’t know that they’ll actually go and have a on the street restaurant, maybe they will maybe, maybe they won’t, but I think actually being inside of airports, where people can grab something really quick and then run to the plane. I mean for them, they figured that out. So anyway, that’s interesting.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 30:03
Yeah, I think for us, we kind of have been experiencing a little bit of that transition, but kind of coming back to our restaurant roots in many ways, right, because last year, we had the fortunate opportunity to launch into Marriott nationwide. And we’re on the Select brand breakfast bars in the morning. And it was interesting because we could actually be what we wanted to be as a restaurant, right? The solve for the busy consumer that values natural food wants gut, Phil wants to feel good about comfort food. But instead of having a brick and mortar presence, right, we get the opportunity to actually share that love through our food service business. And that’s really catapulted us into other platforms, right? We’re now talking to colleges and universities and independent coffee shops that are labor constrained, you know, kitchen constrained, and yet they want to offer, you know, scratch made cuisine that complements a $4 cup of black coffee. Right. And I think that that has been our opportunity to transform what we learned and understood was important in the restaurant trade, and deliver that through the food service consumer side. And it’s funny, just because full circle, as I’m talking to you, I’m thinking about this again, founders not retrospective, right? But when he when he asked about, you know, what was it like when you were starting the restaurant, were there good biscuits out there, and there wasn’t? Wow, I never really thought about it. But nine years later, there is right now you can go and order through your Cisco or unify catalog, a real scratch made biscuit and not have to settle for less. So in many ways we’ve gotten to solve for the problem, we started to have to figure out on our own, and I think that’s a really proud moment for us.

Kara Goldin 31:43
Yeah, I always think about too, that, you know, not only are you doing things for the consumer, but you’re also resetting categories, right? And, and so, you know, maybe a Cisco, for example, might have a lot of other biscuits nine years ago, that weren’t doing it one way, but now you show up, and you show what’s possible. And all of a sudden, it’s like, oh, you know, she’s, she’s here to disrupt this. What can we do? Right? I mean, how can we sell the rest of these? So you’ve created, you know, lots of interesting stuff, and they’re working with you. And and people better make their products better, or, or else right. And I think that’s right. We’ve seen that in the beverage industry over and over again. And I probably think goodness, right? Yeah, I get the most excitement from actually doing that. And it for a lot of different categories and sort of showing people what is possible. So, so great. So when you close your eyes, and you think about the brand that you’ve built, I always ask this, or not always. But a lot of times I asked this question, because I think it’s it’s something that I don’t get to answer very often in interviews, but what are you most proud of that you’ve been able to do? I mean, you touched on this a little bit. And being a female founder and entrepreneur, you’ve been able to create a ton of change, but what what are you kind of most proud of that maybe you don’t get a chance to talk about?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 33:19
I love that you’re always preceding my thoughts. You know, I always say the thing I’m most proud of is being able to attract the talent and the team that is here, you know, disrupting this industry and building this dream alongside me. Whether you know, whether there were folks that are still with me today, or folks that were in our restaurants, I mean, everyone who has been a part of this journey, and being able to track folks to this purpose, has made every ounce of this experience, more than I could ever ask for, right? I mean, I’m sure you worked in corporate America, and you worked for someone and you worked in departments. And, you know, you don’t get the same zeal when you don’t get to select who goes on that journey with you. But beyond just knowing that they’ve chosen me, it’s been an awesome experience realizing that, you know, to my earlier point, right, the number of folks that have come and worked for this brand, have wanted to come here because they’ve said they wanted to work for female CEO, they wanted to work for a woman of color. They wanted to work at a company where they felt like they belong, that has always gotten me so much, because you don’t realize who’s hiding around you if you’re in big corporate setting, sometimes just in despair. And I love that people feel as though they could be 100% of their authentic selves here. They can feel safe, and they can feel like they’re being put in positions of growth and success. So you know, I don’t know if I mentioned this to you earlier, but you know, we’re 60% Woman run company, and 40% diverse company, run company, and I’m very proud of that and if everything went to crap to me Arrow, no one could take that away that we achieved, having the dynamics of what American companies should look like here. So that’s my proudest thing.

Kara Goldin 35:09
I love it. So what’s the best advice that you’ve ever received, as you were really getting out there to do something big and bold and scary and launch not only the restaurants but also the the brand that you’ve created that has gone nationwide and stores and is just killing it? At what what advice along the way do you think about that somebody gave you that you want to pass on?

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 35:40
Yeah, I think everyone has a little bit of impostor syndrome at times, right? Like, can I really do this? Is it stupid of me to quit my six figure job at some place because I have a dream to do something. And I’ll never forget, I got incredible advice from a guy that I worked with in LA when I was out there. His name was pastor Casanova, what a name. And he said, you know, what, have you ever failed that that you gave 100% of yourself to? And he said, really think about it. And I couldn’t think about it. I didn’t, I couldn’t think of one time where if I admitted to myself, I gave every ounce of my being to it that I ever failed. And that’s what I think has driven me through every trial and tribulation in running this business, whether it was a restaurant, or whether it was the consumer side, or COVID, or all the things right. If you try, and you pivot, and you try and you fail, but then you pick yourself back up. It’s not a failure. It’s not. And I think that’s always been a driving force, because nothing is predictable challenges will be thrown your way every day, there’s a boulder to climb every day. And if you just stop and said, I’m not going to do it, that is true failure. So I think that’s been my driving. Why best advice ever. Thank you, Pastor.

Kara Goldin 36:56
I love that. We’ll also thank you so much for sharing the journey of of you and growing your brand. And also all of the lessons and inspiration really, really appreciate it. And everybody needs to pick up a box of Mason Dixie foods, the biscuits or the sandwiches that that she has the sausage, this sausage biscuit sandwiches. So good. So definitely, definitely, everybody go look for that in the frozen case. And it’s such a pleasure to meet you and have you here today. So thank you.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga 37:36
Thank you so much.

Kara Goldin 37:39
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening