The Mother-Daughter Duo That Sells Their Food In Over 200 Stores In The US
What started as a cookbook and catering gig turned into a large scale frozen product business, virtually overnight. Robin Jemal first turned her Dare to Be Different cookbook into a catering business and now sells her frozen products in over 200 stores. But, where did it all start? And why Dare to Be Different? We recently sat down with founder Robin and her daughter, Jennifer, to get the inside scoop on all things D2BD.
What Made You Decide to Start Dare to Be Different?
Robin: In 2010, people were just really calling me all day long and all night long for recipes. I took the original Syrian recipes we're used to and put a little bit of a twist on them. People kept saying, “You should write a cookbook.” I never thought I could do it. I didn't even have the recipes written down, they were really just in my brain. I started jotting down the recipes and within three weeks of working all day and all night and loving every minute, I wrote my first cookbook. My niece, Lorraine Scher, was a very big part of that. I'd give her scribble papers and she turned it into a beautiful recipe.
Interviewer: Were you originally thinking of this as a business?
Robin: Not really. I just wanted to give people my recipes. Even with the second cookbook, Turning up the Heat, I just had a lot more recipes to share. I figured I was done after that. That's it; these are my two cookbooks, I'm done. But, people would call me and say, “could you make me this, this and this?” I was so confused. I figured, why do you need me? Don’t you have any recipes? That's how I became a caterer. I started catering people's parties through the recipes that were in my cookbook. The first couple of parties were small, but I remember being up all night being so nervous because I never did this before.
Interviewer: You had the mentality of “fake until you make it”?
Robin: Definitely. People want to feel comfortable and secure that you've done this a lot of times.
Now we're in 2017. My daughter’s husband was in medical school at the time. And Jen came to me and said, “Ma you want to do something with me?”
Jen: I said, “Everyone loves your items that you cater and make, let's make some of those items and put them in the freezer section at stores.” We started with that and went from store to store, coming to them and saying, "Hey, do you want to carry our products?" We didn't know anything about business. We didn't even know the price it was supposed to be.
Interviewer: You just walked into stores?
Robin & Jen: Yes.
Jen: Carrying a bin of heavy things until I was nine months pregnant.
Robin: That's true. Part of me looked at her one day when she was nine months pregnant, I'm like, "You're going to carry all of that?” I didn't think you could carry it anymore.
How Did You Go From Making Cauliflower In Your Kitchen To Now Being In 200 Stores?
Robin: Last year in November, we were at KosherFest (a kosher food show). That's really how we got our product out to the supermarkets. My husband, Marvin, came in and was a huge help, as well.
Interviewer: Tell me about the school lunches?
Robin: One summer, Flatbush YESHIVA came to me and asked me if I'd be able to make some school lunches for them. I had the kitchen, anyway, and I said I might as well give it a try. From there, BARKAI yeshiva called me and the center called me. And before we knew it, we were making about 600 school lunches a day.
Jen: Since we were making those school lunches anyway, we said, “Why not put those items onto Uber Eats so people could order them?” We expanded the menu into more healthy items, more stuff for adults.
Interviewer: What you're selling on Uber Eats is not just cauliflower?
Robin: We’re selling different types of pizzas, grilled salmon, salads, rice paper wraps, and more.
Do You Ever Lose Confidence?
Jen: A lot of times she'll call me and say, "I'm not a caterer anymore. No, one's calling me." And then the next week she was like, "I'm so busy. I can't, I don't know what to do."
Robin: Exactly. Catering is not a job but you wake up every day and you have something to do. You have to have patience. It's seasonal.
What's It Like Working With Each Other, Having a Mother Daughter Duo?
Robin: It's brought us very close.
Jen: We were always close, but working together has brought us closer. It's a nonstop, 24/7 back and forth. We don't really disagree so much. It is hard working with family, because you have to separate family and work at Friday night dinner.It always comes back to talking about business. But sometimes you have to say, "Okay, it's Shabbat, let's separate it".
How Did You Think Of The Name Dare To Be Different?
Robin: Dare To Be Different just came up. And the second it did I knew that was the name of my book. That's what I'm about, daring to be different.
Interviewer: Can you talk about your parents’ restaurant, Fuji?Robin: My Mom & Dad A”H”opened Fuji about 30 years ago. They came to us and said they were opening a Japanese restaurant. Me and my sisters looked at each other like, “Are they kidding?” My dad was in the wholesale business. In the beginning, I used to go in there a lot of times and help him fix some, tweak some things. Just being around the food business, I knew it was something I really loved.
Interviewer: Did watching them help you as an entrepreneur?
Robin: They showed me what it is like to go into a business that you were never in before. I was definitely faced with some personal challenges and I felt like this was a way to put myself out there. My kids saw with the challenges that I was able to do the catering and be out there and be okay. It actually helped our family come together like glue. I showed my children a way of life and that when times get hard, it's a journey that you're going to be traveling on no matter what your problem is. It's about how you come out at the end of that road because you will come out at the end of the road.
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