From Farm to Kitchen to Online: Meet Gina D’Orazio, "Soup-erstar" and Founder of Gina Cucina
While providing the catering for local classrooms and her husband’s yoga students, Gina D’Orazio was bombarded by people encouraging her to take her products to market. After a whirlwind experience at her first farmer’s market, she could tell that her local, organic and completely vegetarian soups were going to be a total hit. With help from her family and friends, she decided to take the leap and start building a soup empire.
We caught up with Gina to hear more about what her day-to-day is like in the kitchen and what she's hoping to learn next from *you* as she tackles the task of growing her business in 2017.
In 2005 I started cooking for my husband’s yoga retreats. We had just moved to Colorado and we couldn’t find a caterer who could provide completely organic, vegetarian meals. I thought, "Why bother looking for a caterer when I can provide exactly what we’re looking for?" So, cooking for those retreats was part of what set me on this path.
I also have two sets of twins. When they were in school, I would invite their class out to my house and teach the kids how to pick the vegetables from the garden or bring them home from the farmer’s market and make food. Before that, those kids didn’t have a good understanding of where their food came from or how it was prepared. They didn’t know that french fries came from potatoes! So, I taught them and showed them how their food was made and they loved it. Parents would come up to me asking to take home the leftovers because it all tasted so fresh and so good.
One day, I was sitting down with a friend of mine and she told me that I really should pack up a couple jars of the soups I was making, take them down to the local farmer’s market and see what happened.
That was the “aha!” moment. I convinced one of my sons to wake up at 5:30am in the morning and drive down with me to the market and we shared a booth with one of the farmers I’ve known for 10 years. We sold out of all 100 jars in an hour. It was a feeding frenzy! I was completely overwhelmed. We didn’t even know what we were going to charge.
After that, we regrouped and jumped right back in. I bought a ton of produce from the other farmers at the market and a friend of mine offered to share her space in a tiny commercial kitchen.
I was ready for the next week’s farmer’s market with 160 jars and we sold out in an hour again. We quickly became a fixture at the market. We started selling jars at the local co-op and at other little grocery stores in town, and things just took off from there.
Who was your very first customer?
I would have to say my first individual customers were from the yoga community and the group of moms at my boys’ school. They were all so supportive and encouraging of what I was trying to do.
When we started going into the retail space, my first customer was theCarbondale Food Cooperativein Carbondale, CO. They started carrying my soups pretty much as soon as they became available. I would cook for them on Thursday, have jars on the shelf on Friday and they’d be all sold out by Saturday.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
The biggest surprise for me has been the overall response we’ve had. I’ve been shocked, really, by the stores who have asked us to come in!
All these people are suddenly realizing how important it is to know what we put in our bodies. They’re realizing that the food we eat should be clean and wholesome. My soups and pestos really meet that need, plus they taste amazing.
How do you price your products?
I am such a sharer when it comes to food. When one of my neighbors has a new baby, I’m right there with food to get them through a couple days without having to cook. So it’s hard for me, in a way, to sell my products.
I’m in this to make food that people will love and enjoy. That said, I know what I’m supposed to make. I know we should have certain profit margins for certain products. So, it’s an ongoing lesson for me.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It starts with getting my four children up, fed and out the door to school. Then, my partner Cammy and I head to the kitchen. We usually cook four out of the five work days in a week. We try to prep the whole week’s worth of ingredients in one day so when we do go to the kitchen, we can get down to business.
We currently still hand jar and pouch the soups, so while the pots are cooking we’ll be labeling and filling jars of soup. We have to put everything in the freezer to bring the temperature down, then transfer and box the soup in preparation for shipping. After that, we clean. I’m not a clean cook, so there’s usually quite a lot of cleaning to be done!
We’ve had a few accidents, like one where we had 40 gallons of carrot ginger soup on the floor and the health inspector was due for a visit. It can get pretty crazy in the kitchen, but we manage to get it all done somehow.
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I have so much to learn still! I’m always wondering how to make the numbers work. Also, distribution completely baffles me.
How do you get a refrigerated product from Idaho to New York without it costing a fortune?
Let's all see if we can help Gina out!
QB Community members, what resources would *you* suggest to your fellow small business owners who are looking to bring down the cost of distribution? Do you have experience yourself with handling distribution across state lines and managing costs?
Let's crowdsource some fresh new ideas for Gina's small business! Share your own ideas and stories with us in the comments below.