Feeding the Community With Positivity
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In this episode, we explore the periphery with Donna Del Rey, Founder, and CEO of Relish Culinary Adventures. Driven by her passion to explore, to be creative and to be curious, Donna left her steady and good job as a chemist working for a tech company and drove herself and her 1952 Chevy Panel Truck nicknamed “Julia” into a full-time business, Relish Culinary Adventures.
In this episode, we explore the periphery with Donna Del Rey, Founder and CEO of Relish Culinary Adventures. Driven by her passion for exploring, creativity and curiosity, Donna left her steady and good job as a chemist working for a tech company and drove herself and her 1952 Chevy Panel Truck nicknamed “Julia” into a full-time business, Relish Culinary Adventures. Here, she shares her passion for food, wine and great experiences and creates fun, informative and entertaining culinary events in and around Healdsburg, California, in the Sonoma County wine country. It’s been a journey of learning about food and wine, planning and managing events and the people who come to them and being an entrepreneur through both good and bad times. Through it all, Donna has managed to keep the turbulence positive by creating a solid foundation, staying in touch with her passion, and looking to the periphery for new adventures.
Donna created Relish Culinary Adventures in 2003 to share the flavors and personalities of Sonoma County with others. A chemistry degree led to more than two decades in various marketing and business development roles for an industry-leading Bay Area scientific high-tech company. A move to Sonoma County, with its bounty of amazing foods and artisans, solidified her desire to transition to the culinary world. Donna is not a professional chef; she sees herself as an adventurous learner eager to create and share memorable food experiences. “A Relish event is so much more than a cooking class,” says Donna. “We combine amazing Sonoma County ingredients, talented and engaging wine country makers, and unique rural locations to create convivial culinary adventures that, hopefully, inspire guests to create great food in their own kitchens.” Donna and her husband Jim Morris, who is VP of Hospitality at Charles Krug Winery, are a perfect food and wine pairing.
Feeding the Community with Positivity
Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the Positive Turbulence podcast, Stories from the Periphery. Here we journey to the edge to talk to Turbulators about their experiences creating positive change. I’m Rob Brodnick. Today we explore the peripheries with Donna Del Rey, founder and CEO of Relish Culinary Adventures.
Karyn Zuidinga: Hi, I’m Karyn Zuidinga, your co host for the podcast.
Donna Del Rey is an explorer by nature, driven by that passion to explore, to be creative, and to be curious. She left her steady, good job as a chemist working for a tech company, and drove herself and her 1952 Chevy panel truck, nicknamed Julia, into a full time business, Relish Culinary Adventures. Here she took her passion for food, wine, and great experiences to create fun, informative, and entertaining culinary events in and around Healdsburg, California, in the Sonoma County wine country.
It’s been a journey in learning not only about food and wine, planning and managing events and the people that come to them, but also in being an entrepreneur through both good and bad times. Through it all, Donna has managed to keep the turbulence positive by finding ways to create a solid foundation, stay in touch with her passion, and look to the periphery for new adventures.
Rob Brodnick: Positive Turbulence podcast comes from the minds and souls of AMI. An innovation, deep learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals. Learn more at aminnovation. org. Also, we’d like to thank Mac Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor.
To hear our theme and other great music, visit macavenue. com.
Karyn Zuidinga: Good morning, Donna Del Rey. How are you
Donna Del Rey: today? I’m great. Great.
Karyn Zuidinga: Awesome. Could you, because I don’t know you, and our listeners don’t know you, could you just give me, like, Uh, one minute, just like,
Donna Del Rey: what’s your business called? Yeah, so hi, I’m Donna Del Rey. I am the founder and owner of Relish Culinary Adventures, and we are a culinary event business based in Sonoma County in a charming town called Healdsburg.
That’s uh, quite a wine destination. We do a variety of different types of events. All with an educational bend, but really not at all institutional, very inspiring and experiential. People learn just because you’re there and you’re along for the ride and you’re, there’s no way you’re not going to learn.
But the idea is to have it be a very hands on experiential experience and to get as creative as you can. Utilizing all of the amazing personalities, and foods, and ingredients, and wines, and other beverages from our region to really give people a sense of place, uh, that is unique to Sonoma County.
Karyn Zuidinga: Wonderful. Can you just give me, um, a really quick little description of what that… What’s that like? Like, give me a description of like, I know that they’re widely varied and you do tons of different things. Give me a, like a, a fun, a fun example of, of one of them. Well,
Donna Del Rey: right now it’s winter time here in Sonoma County and this time of year we are out mushroom foraging.
Ah, lovely. Sonoma County is known as one of the best edible mushroom regions in the world. We have a wide variety of edible mushrooms that can be found in the things I was really curious about when I first moved to the region. And so started doing classes about 13 years ago where we bring in an expert mushroom forager.
We hike for two hours in the hills around Healdsburg, private property. And then we bring our haul back to relish and we talk about all the mushrooms. We find edibles, sometimes we don’t, but we’ve learned about the forest. We’ve learned about the role that mushroom and mycelia play in the forest. And then we come back to our facility in town with a kitchen and we have a delicious mushroom feast.
We’re learning, we’re touching, we’re feeling, we’re out, we’re exploring, and then we come back and we eat and drink. I mean, what’s not?
Like, who wouldn’t love this idea? I
Rob Brodnick: was just thinking, baked into your business model, I think from day one has been a sense of turbulence and you, you take groups of people. And you put them in situations where, uh, you know, they’re comfortable because it’s relatively safe. Little do they know what’s coming, probably.
It’s an environment that’s a little different than what they’re used to. They’re experiencing things that are a little, little different than what they’re used to. So you, you kind of create this, you know, this. Space where things are a little different, but yet the reward is just a bunch of wonderful this when you enjoy your food and the combinations in the storytelling.
So talk a little bit about positive turbulence in your business model and the things you do.
Donna Del Rey: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to describe it. I usually when I’m explaining how our events flow, maybe to a potential corporate client. I’ll often say, you know, we do this introduction, we try to really set the stage, tell people what they’re going to be doing, you know, again, trying to take away a little bit of whatever that fear is of the unknown.
But then there’s about 20 to 30 minutes of what I call total pandemonium or positive turbulence of like, where do I go? Am I doing this right? And everybody’s asking the chef for 40 questions, like all at once as they’re trying to find their groove. And then after that 20, 25 minutes. You just feel this, you know, it kind of, it’s a little crazy, little crescendo, and then everyone finds their grip, and everyone’s got something going in there, and they’ve got something in the oven, or they’re sort of sautéing something on the stove.
And everyone’s found their spot and are making progress and then magically it seems all the food comes together and we sit and eat and I’ve even had people afterwards say, Oh, you know, I didn’t think that was all going to work out. You know, that looked a little dicey there. And I’m thinking that’s always the way it is.
Right. Right. And it is fun. And it, you don’t know who’s walking in the door. You don’t know really, you know, what energy they’re going to have, how much experience do they have? What are, what are their expectations of this? Of this event and so every time that door opens and a group walks in it’s It’s like a whole new roll of the dice and for me personally, I thrive on this and learned I’ve had some staff that that was not a positive thing for them.
That was a very scary and a draining experience for them, which is completely foreign to me personally. Right. Been an interesting way to learn about people and. But for me, I love that. That to me is the best part of it is, you know, that door opens and who do we got and how’s this going to go and and then doing whatever I need to do to make sure I’m steering it to the best possible outcome.
And you know a great experience for everybody there
Karyn Zuidinga: I think I think a lot of creative leaders deal with that kind of ambiguity all the time, right? Like you’re you’re you you float in the ambiguity there’s a line from uh, shakespeare in love one of my favorite movies where you know, Shakespeare keeps asking the producer, how is this going to work?
And the producer is like, I don’t know. It just will because it just does. Right. And, and I think that, that, that being comfortable, that kind of ambiguity is, is important for creative leaders, but talk to me a little bit about how you, like, I think it’s a, I think it’s a character trait. I think some people are, some people maybe aren’t, but you have to work with people who aren’t.
How do you get them to some level of comfort with all that ambiguity? How do you ease those?
Donna Del Rey: Anxieties. I was reading this in the chapter about creating a foundation of, for us, it’s procedures and policies. Mm hmm. And so early on in the business, you know, I’m, I’m a creative kind of type and I’m not a big fan of writing down a lot of policies and procedures.
And so I just thought people would you know We train people and they’d watch me and they’d just get it and it became really apparent that that’s not the way it works I did need to write down fundamental procedures and policies And then what I found over time is that that actually gave my staff more freedom Once they they had a solid foundation that they were confident and comfortable with Then they could take that and make it their own or come back with suggestions for improvement , but without that solid foundation, it was just wishy-washy.
Nobody quite knew if they were doing the right thing, you know? There was just, it was, oh, that’s interesting. Yeah. Letterless, yeah. Mm-hmm. . Yes. And so I learned kind of the hard way that I needed to have really clear, you know, like for example, when I was hiring a new event manager, and this is the person who is driving that ship of those people coming in and setting.
And, and just this overall event manager and that I had to do some pretty darn in depth training. And even though my joke is it’s not brain surgery, but it’s incredibly multifaceted and every one of them is different. And so you have to create this foundation that is strong, that enables that event manager to have a lot of confidence to be able to handle whatever is thrown at him or her.
Maybe somebody comes in drunk. Maybe they, somebody, maybe a group decides they don’t want to cook anymore and they go off into a corner and they start talking and this food is languishing and we need to eat and you know there’s so many things as much as you anticipate that you can’t anticipate. If these staff don’t have a good foundation and procedures and policies It’s just if they panic, they just panic versus, you know, Oh, you know, I know this is the process.
So I’m going to do this. Or I know that the ultimate goal is customer satisfaction. And so if those people don’t want to cook, my staff is going to step in and do that cooking. I’m rambling here, but I have to say this was a big learning experience for me personally running. This was the early on was just sort of a go with the flow.
Everyone’s just going to watch me and figure it out. And to, Oh my God, I got to, I got to really train these people, seriously train these people to, so that things don’t go badly wrong. And, and that they have the confidence. I don’t want to put my staff in a position where they don’t know what to do, or they’re in, or there ain’t a situation where they don’t know how to get out of it or how to fix it.
To have the tools to be able to handle anything that’s thrown at them with confidence and to leave the customer satisfied. Essentially, you created a
Karyn Zuidinga: recipe.
Donna Del Rey: Yeah. Right? And once you know
Karyn Zuidinga: the recipe, you know, well, you know, I can substitute
Donna Del Rey: this for that. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s deeper than a recipe. It’s almost like a fundamental cooking technique.
You know, it’s not, it’s not a recipe that’s just sort of a, you know, A, B and C equals whatever. It’s, it’s a deeper level of. knowledge and understanding that almost becomes innate, right, over time, right away, you got to train people, they have to get on board, but several months, it should just be innate that how our client what, you know, having enough, again, solid foundation, really strong foundation that if things go south, or something weird is happening, or haven’t read the lights go out.
I mean, we’ve had it all happen, right? If the electricity goes out, and I mean, The what do we do? What do you do? Like, how do you can you fix it? How do you so, um, yeah Recipe is kind of a fun little guideline But this is a much this is a deeper level of um a foundation and that To me is the foundation of the business that the customer experience is primary That you know your job as an event manager is to ensure that every single person in that room is going to have a positive experience That means keeping an eye out for those People that aren’t maybe engaged or there are anyway, there’s so many parts of this and it does reflect the overall business, even though it sounds dry and no funds, procedures and policies, basis for the strength of the business, right?
Rob Brodnick: Has there ever been a time when the culinary adventure had gotten so adventurous that even you were worried it’s gone off the rails and, and what’d you do? How’d you save it?
Donna Del Rey: So early on in this, ironically that you asked this question, our first ever wild mushroom foray was probably a couple years into the business, probably 13 years ago.
A dear friend of mine who’s an avid, was an avid mushroom forager. We had gone foraging on some of his property, but in Mendocino County, and he owns a winery not far from town here. And so he invited us to come and forage on his winery property. So I’m kind of assuming he’d been out foraging on this property.
He knew where we were going to go. We thought it would be about an hour hike, and then people would come back to the barn and have this wonderful mushroom lunch at the barn. So I send them off. With what’s come one of my staff and with this forger and with the winery owner. They came back four hours later
Karyn Zuidinga: And they’re hungry and grumpy and tired.
Donna Del Rey: Oh my god, and it was a rigorous hike You know up and down and it wasn’t just like we’re gonna do a loop around the lake or whatever And I’m literally down at the barn waiting for hours. Like did something happen? Did they have to airlift someone out? Like what happened? And, um, ends up that the winery owner had never really walked this path.
He’d only ATV’d it, you know, and on his track and all this stuff. And he had. No sense and also the fact that they weren’t hiking like with a purpose when you’re mushroom forging, you’re strolling, you’re looking, you’re taking side detours. So he didn’t really put this all together and I left it kind of in his hands.
I’ve learned that see that was my big thing is go scout Don’t understand that and i’d never done it before and I inflicted this on these poor people Oh my goodness four hour long horrendous Experience that was not fun, right? And then they came back down to the barn and it was all we could do to get the food together fast enough and in their bellies and I and i’m not even sure we exactly salvaged it but um, but You know, I’m sort of memorable, but I’m sure people have never forgotten that.
But so yeah, it was one of those things that I lost control and I can tell you that will never happen. And it has never happened since because, and I want to be adventurous. I want to go to the beach and cook paella. I want to do these really fun, adventurous things, but I have to have control over whatever the, the, um, the experience commits are and make sure that the customer experience is positive.
Karyn Zuidinga: Do you have any sense of the kind of, so, so I was thinking a lot as you were talking about, first of all, that what we learned from failure. Yeah. That was a, that was, that was a good one. That was a good lesson in there. Yeah.
Donna Del Rey: And it wasn’t, you know, that was a simple, easy lesson to write it. Nobody got hurt.
Nobody. Yeah, there’s no real disasters, just people working on fire, you know,
Karyn Zuidinga: we all survive that sort of thing. But the other thing I was thinking about, um, was, you know, one of the other elements of positive turbulence is being open to arts and technology, right, like, so I would consider an experience like yours to opening the flow, right, for people who maybe don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, or maybe don’t know anything about mushroom foraging, um, The, the wonderfulness that is mycelium in the forest floor, um, Do you have any sense of the learning or the, the, the, the impact of the experience on the people who, who come to one of your events?
Do you ever get that kind of feedback, that kind of flow back to
Donna Del Rey: you? Sometimes we, we do ask at our public classes, so if you sign up for my mushroom foraging, we do do a survey at the end of the event and we try to get people’s feedback on, we ask what’s their most memorable. What’s the most memorable part of the day for them, uh, you know, for constructive feedback, et cetera.
So we do get some level of feedback that way around, you know, some basic things like, you know, how was your registration process, things like that. But with our corporate events and our private parties, we really work through our, the event organizer, the client, you’re on the client side, and it’s a little harder to get that level of feedback, but we generally get an overall was pretty, was really happy or whatever.
There have been a few situations where I’ve gotten these amazing comments back. We still do a series of events on local farms. And I started the business 15 years ago. This was to me a really important thing to do, to take people out to farms, to meet these farmers, to kind of get in touch with the dirt and the land and, and just the rigor of what it takes to grow this food.
And, you know, 15 years ago, Farm to Table hadn’t even emerged yet. But to me, it was a, it was a really magical part of this county with all these farmers that work so hard. And, you know, people don’t really get that. And so we’ve done a series of events on different farms and I had one gal who came back three years in a row to different farm experiences, send me a separate letter about how magical these experiences were and how she would look forward to this.
These experiences on the farms because of this, this connection to the dirt, this, I mean, she really echoed everything we were trying to do in a way that just like it almost made me cry because it was clearly was so meaningful to her personally to have these experiences that at the time, they were only going to getting through us.
And she just got it. She just got the, this deep. Uh, connection, I guess, with the people and with the land and with the process and an understanding of where the food comes from and why it shouldn’t be cheap and, you know, that good food, you have people behind it that work so hard, etc. And, uh, That was really, that was an amazing letter, like out of the blue, and it definitely strengthened what I was doing, you know, my sort of will around what I was doing, and that I was on the right track.
Karyn Zuidinga: creating that cycle then, right?
Donna Del Rey: Exactly, exactly. And with the, I mean, we see this over and over with the mushroom process, I think people literally leave a little stunned because their brains are so full of information and the oxytocin that you release just in being in the woods and the beautiful areas that where we hike.
And then there’s something that happens when you’re. Looking for mushrooms, it’s, uh, and someone’s described it between the rods and the cones in your eyes, and it’s a shift, instead of looking at the vista, you’ve changed, and you’re looking for shapes and textures, and it, you have to be in the moment, you have to be present, you can’t be worried about the news and your work and your kids, whatever, you just, all that goes away, and all you’re doing is looking for yellow, you know, something, or black holes, or whatever it is you’re looking for, right?
And so when people come back from the hike It’s like, it’s like we’ve hypnotized them, you know, they’re just in this place that’s so, and then we feed them and give them wine and, you know, we have, and then our, and our instructors are so knowledgeable. We’re talking about mushrooms as immune boosters.
We’re talking about mushrooms as the mycelial communicator in the forest, you know, moving nutrients. We’re talking about mushrooms for dying textiles and wool. We’re talking about, you know, poisonous ones and not poisonous ones. The millions that are somewhere in the middle that you could eat but you wouldn’t want to eat and there’s so and then how to cook them and all this stuff and I swear some of the people just leave with this like look on their face.
I mean they’re so sated mentally and they’ve learned like they knew and we’ve barely touch the tip of the iceberg about mushrooms because they’re just this amazing whole world. Hopefully we’ve inspired them to maybe join a mycological association or, or just learn more, or to be more aware of the forest and what’s going on out there and seeing they never would have seen before they did this.
So we, I mean, that’s That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s just seeing people having people leave with this new sense of something, something new, something around something they’ve learned and their confidence in the kitchen. And I can’t believe I just put that. That’s what it’s all about. Is that I just that inspiration.
Rob Brodnick: love to find a way to be able to to harvest the creativity that comes out of your participants, you know. Three, three hours, three days and three weeks after they have the experience and it’s my belief that these kind of novel experiences and doing things differently and seeing the world differently way to expose our consciousness to the periphery,
Donna Del Rey: that’s where magic.
Exactly. I mean, you can like, and I love that term in the chapter about the exploring the periphery. I thought that was really good way of talking about, you know, whether there’s a lot of different ways out of the box and, you know, whatever it’s Looking not ignoring that periphery and and and proactively going out and exploring it and what happens when you do that.
What new things come in when you break down those little barriers on the periphery. I thought that was a really interesting way to talk about that in terms of running my business. And what is that periphery? And what does that mean? And then, and then I’d love the thinking about that with the client and how have we pushed them into their periphery when we do this, you should talk about ways to do that to do a follow up three weeks later, and it would look like that wouldn’t just look like a survey right that would actually maybe people and providing some.
Some insightful feedback. That would be a really, I’d love to talk with you more about that.
Karyn Zuidinga: An AMI meeting is not just your average collection of speakers around a theme. It’s an end to end curated experience. It’s a thoughtful, connected, influential community. It’s peer learning in a super creative environment.
Learn more at aminnovation. org I was thinking about, you have spent a lot of time on the periphery, like this, this business when you began was a peripheral kind of a thing, farm to table wasn’t a thing, but now farm to table is really common, there are farm to table
Donna Del Rey: restaurants, so you’re… Misused is what it is now, it’s been…
been usurped. Yeah,
Karyn Zuidinga: but you’re, but to me that seems that, that suggests that, that your periphery has, has, has moved out again. And so what, what other, what other edges, what other, what other things are you exploring right now to explore your own
Donna Del Rey: periphery? Right, well, uh, I mentioned earlier the idea of expanding into these culinary tours.
What we’re seeing now is and I don’t think this is a shock to anybody that people when they’re traveling they want experiences they don’t want to just sort of walk around or just Visit a town and eat and walk around and they’re done. They want to find authentic experiences that reflect the places where they’re visiting and um, so this this Sonoma county is all about authentic experiences.
And so this is part of what i’m trying to steer the business More to is, uh, expanding into these culinary adventures where we’re taking people out more when we started the business. I didn’t have my facility in downtown Healdsburg. So all of our events were pop up free range culinary experiences at farms and private homes and wineries and at the coast and all kinds of places that we We didn’t know any better, and we did, and it was insane how much work it was.
But we got this great following in doing this for four and a half years before I opened the facility. Which the facility really did allow me to, um, to make it a business, to make it a, to scale, make it scalable and make it something that I could really be profitable in. And so we moved away from a lot of those off site events, not entirely, you know, a lot of the AMI event and these events we still do mushroom foraging and we still do some things out, but the vast majority of what we’ve been doing the last 11 years have been at our site.
Because it’s designed for this. It’s kind of a pivot back to that original idea of getting people out because it’s so extraordinary. And when you come to Sonoma County, part of what attracts people here is the scenic beauty of this place. Let’s get people back out to that scenic beauty and let’s get them meeting these personalities, the cheesemakers and the fishermen and the farmers.
That are creating this, this amazing bounty of things that we have here around food and wine and beer and spirits and maybe cannabis and so it’s interesting because that’s where we started and then kind of brought that into a structured set of experiences and events. And now I find it ironic that now I’m going back out to something probably a little more with a lot more positive turbulence, you know, a lot more creativity, a lot more possibilities to get on the road and do this.
But I think that time is right. I think now Sonoma has really become a culinary destination. 15 years ago, you know, people came for wine and they were surprised at these other things. But now it’s cheese, right? It’s seafood. It’s olive oil. It’s, um, And wine and beer and whatever so people are getting that this is way there’s more to our Our region to explore and I think i’m Relish is uniquely positioned to do this because of these long standing relationships.
We have with these makers It just makes a lot of sense to just expand and take people out and do these great experiences That’s the new periphery for me is i’ve kind of been here in my space And it’s been pretty comfortable and I I feel like I finally Took 11 years and i’m still learning silly things But you know, it finally feels like we kind of have this flow and now i’m causing my own positive turbulence Maybe even potentially subleasing my building and getting out of that space and taking the business It’s in a very conscious direction that is almost, it’s very, very much echoing where we started.
Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah. Yeah. And the periphery is physical for you.
Donna Del Rey: I guess. Yeah. Literally going out. Exactly. And there’s so much fun out there in that periphery here.
Rob Brodnick: One of your early partners was Julia and I met Julia, I remember at one time, which is your food truck, right? And so I, you know, that was part of the, the, the, I guess the inspiration for what you were doing early on in the getting out.
And I think that was kind of your, your home base in your kitchen for a
Donna Del Rey: while. Well, yeah, I did have a commercial commissary kitchen because you have to when you’re doing any kind of food, but it was not something you would bring anyone to, right? It was just a functional kitchen. Julia, the 1952 Chevy panel truck, she’s the wheels of the business and she still, she’s loaded up with equipment and off she goes.
To the next adventure. I mean, that’s that was the idea. Yeah, isn’t that wonderful? Yeah, she’s a lot of fun get a lot of thumbs up when i’m driving So
Rob Brodnick: she’s still your partner still partnered with
Donna Del Rey: julia, yes, although yeah, she’s having i’ve had her now 14 years She’s getting she’s definitely, uh, you know getting older and so i’ve had a lot of work on her lately But that’s okay.
We all need to work sometimes when we no judging little maintenance, right? Well, exactly. No judging. No judging. But, but she’s still, oh my God, I love that track. I can’t imagine getting rid of that track. Yeah, and I, and I really saw her as a symbol of our adventurousness, right? Of our, and the, just the fun, what we do.
I could have just bought a plain old van, but there was something in this truck that was like, you know, follow me, right? Follow me to something fun. And um, yeah.
Rob Brodnick: So, so where do you go to get inspired to get your creative energy renewed? Because the food industry, you give a lot. I mean, you, you, you pour your heart and your soul into work every day.
How, how do you refresh? How do you find new things? What’s inspirational for you?
Donna Del Rey: Uh, well, right now there’s There’s been sort of two things, uh, two, um, avenues that I’ve been exploring. Um, one is I did a really intensive entrepreneur program, which doesn’t sound very fun and festive, but it was really, um, an important thing for me to kind of.
Assess where I am with the business and really have the tools to take it in a new direction ideally in a way that was smarter than my first try. You know, I learned a lot of things the hard way when I started the business. Sure. I hope that I’ve learned a lot and that, you know, phase two or the next sort of generation of this business is easier and smarter.
And so I did this fantastic program through Babson College. A 12 week program last fall. It helped rejuvenate my energy around around my confidence and what I’ve been able to accomplish and that I have the tools to do more. And I was actually a little surprised that I felt some re energizing from this because like you said, being a small business owner takes a lot out of you and then the food business is physical and exhausting and the events that we do are also mentally and emotionally exhausting.
You leave a lot behind with this group that you’re hosting three hours So I want you know, I as i’m looking at these new directions I really had a lot of uncertainty about if I wanted to continue with relish and what? How how might that look and I came out of this program with really renewed?
Enthusiasm for where i’m going with it and that I can do it smarter and I can do it on my own terms And I think part of the fear that I have comes from the fact that I opened my business in March of 2008 and then of course September the bottom was falling out of the economy and I just spent a large chunk of my retirement on this physical buildout and It was not a good couple of years and Jim’s, my husband’s work situation was very up and down and he got laid off a few times and let’s just say Relish was certainly not making any money and it was, I was pouring more in and it was what am I doing and is this going to kill us?
And it was a horribly stressful time. And so I always have that, that feeling in the pit of my stomach that like the bottom could fall out any minute. Somehow there’s something healthy about having that, right? Yeah. Yeah.
Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it keeps you like,
Donna Del Rey: it does. It keeps you like, okay, like am I making, like I, you have to make good decisions, right?
You can’t just assume everything’s going to be rosy, but it was still, it created a lot of fear for me personally, and I. I want to relive that again, thank you very much. So I think a lot of what I’ve done, even since the economy’s recovered and the business has really done well, is just continuing to deal with the aftereffects of that emotionally and financially, because of the debt that’s gone and it’s, it’s been a, it’s not a fun way to learn the hard, you know, the hard lessons of entrepreneurship.
But I think we
Karyn Zuidinga: all do that. Like, I think, you know, that I was talking to somebody yesterday about this, this very thing. You know, you talk to entrepreneurs, you ask them, you know, you, you’re an entrepreneur, you start talking to a lot about the entrepreneurs. That’s just, yes, you do. Yeah. Like, Oh, how’s it going?
Everybody, 99. 9 percent of people will go,
Donna Del Rey: Oh, it’s great. I’m doing so well. And you’re like, of course, really? No, no. You don’t share
Karyn Zuidinga: it. You don’t share it. You don’t share the pain. You don’t share the failures, partly because In experiencing it you you can’t share
Donna Del Rey: it. It’s too much Well it and I feel like too if i’m talking to someone on the street I’m reflecting my business and if I start moaning and groaning You can’t
Karyn Zuidinga: say that the
Donna Del Rey: business isn’t perfect, right?
And so and I have to say I think part of the the Babson program is a peer to peer learning and there’s a lot of sharing of hard stuff and fears and risks and And you, you, you feel like, okay, you know, this is normal and this is okay. And how do I then turn that around and make it into something positive and learn from that and do better next time?
So that whole program and having this little peer group, we meet monthly now, my little group of eight, and we set goals for ourselves and we kind of hold ourselves. Accountable, then this has just been incredibly valuable for me. And I have to say, many of these people, not all, are younger, and so that energy is really nice to see, and they’re in different, everyone’s in different phases of their business and lots of different kinds of businesses, but a lot of shared experience.
That’s been really rejuvenating for me in an unexpected way, right? I expected it to just be sort of dry and going through numbers and marketing plans, and instead, it has really helped me focus and and stay positive and actually become more positive about the business moving forward. So more creatively, now that we’re empty nesters, my husband and I are trying to travel a little bit more.
And we were able to go to Barcelona for just a short trip, but that was very inspiring. And to be a tourist and to be a visitor in a town. I haven’t, I hadn’t done that for a while. And to think about, like, we were signing up for tours and we did a cooking class and, and what is that experience and what am I looking for?
And it, it gave me a perspective that I think I’d lost a little bit. Mm-hmm. in terms of people visiting us and what are they looking for and how are they answering their questions and making decisions about what activities they wanna do. And then, of course, the food is always inspiring. And then we’re, I mean, even just getting down to San Francisco more frequently and being inspired by the food and the restaurants and the food scene there is really helpful.
And then one of the things too, in reading the chapter, when I was thinking about periphery, my business is very small. I mean, I have like four employees. So I’m always on the periphery trying to get outside information and perspective and partnerships. And You know working with evolving new businesses or emerging new businesses that I think are exciting and how can we work together Working with sonoma county tourism working with the healdsburg chamber and I consider all of these peripheral Entities almost part of my business because I depend on all of them in different ways And so I’m always trying to push that periphery, I think, in finding partnerships and finding new resources and new perspectives that can help me grow the business and find new opportunities.
I mean, that’s every day. Well,
Karyn Zuidinga: what a marvelous journey
Donna Del Rey: though. Yeah. Yeah. It has been interesting And when I really it’s hard to stop and think back because that’s always You know, you’re just peddling that bicycle as fast as you can every day But when I do and in fact the babson program really let me Assess what i’ve done.
Well, which You don’t always do, right? I’m always critical. I have to fix. I’m not doing that. I’m always in my head. It’s always the critical. Yeah. Really nice to sit down and say, wow, this process works great. Our sales process is really efficient. And to see other people’s strengths and weaknesses too. And we have come a long ways and we have built.
A legacy business that’s reflective of our region and that people really recognize as that and that’s really amazing You know, and I doubt myself kind of be in that positive place very often
Karyn Zuidinga: So well, and I think you’ve created something that’s that’s really a reflection of who you are You know, like it’s it’s a it’s a beautiful You know that all that curiosity all that exploration all that creativity is in part of the DNA of the
Donna Del Rey: business Yeah, it is.
But, and then I have to, when I hear that, part of me goes, uh, because it doesn’t bode well for an exit strategy. Certainly it does.
Karyn Zuidinga: Certainly it does because you have, you have, I, I disagree there because I think that that energy, it’s like having a child. That, that you’ve created this thing That’s its thing right now.
Donna Del Rey: still, there’s no exit strategy with a child .
Karyn Zuidinga: Well, forever, they, they
Donna Del Rey: do grow up. They do. But they’re still yours and you still worry about them . That’s true. And I
Karyn Zuidinga: think you’ll probably always worry about the business, but I, I do, I actually believe that it’s not just the way that you’ve approached it.
From what I’ve heard today, sounds to me very much like that, the creativity and the, the sense of adventure and everything is part of the brand. So, that brand is bigger than you now. I hope so. Right? And so that, that, that brand can then, can then, you know, continue to evolve and continue, you know, to do whatever it’s going to do.
Yeah, I, I believe you, you have created something that’s, that’s got an exit strategy, you know, baked
Donna Del Rey: into it. Yeah, well, it’s, yeah, because then I, I’m always worried that if I’m not associated with it, like what, what is it, right? Does it, can it stand on its own if I’m not part of it? Part of moving forward at what I’m really looking at is, do I keep that energy and personality of the business, but also make it more structured and more repeatable so that if the time came where I was going to sell the business.
Someone could take it and run with it and make it their own because right now it’s ultra dependent on me And so I, that’s a, that’s an exercise. That’s a, that’s a big one for me
Karyn Zuidinga: to. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I think, I think, stick back to that, you know, the, the, the cooking procedures metaphor, you know, think, think deeply about that.
And, and I think that you will find your relish culinary
Donna Del Rey: procedures. Yes. And that’s exactly what it is. I, I, I’m not saying it’s impossible at all. I just. To proactively work on this part of the business and getting it buttoned up so that it is reproducible And it isn’t just dependent on me and all the crazy things in my head
Karyn Zuidinga: I’m sure i’m sure it won’t be
Donna Del Rey: I mean a lot of it’s in place, but it is it’s an interesting exercise
Karyn Zuidinga: Well, Don and Delray, thank you so much for your time today and your stories. Uh, the adventure of starting the business and, and now looking to where the changes are going. Those, those are inspirational to me personally, but I think that just the story generally will resonate with a lot of people because, you know, we all have those times of transition in our lives.
Donna Del Rey: appreciate you reaching out, Rob. It has been a pleasure working with you on many levels with many different types of things. And you’re connecting me with other creative people and it, you know, these are opportunities to look at my business in new ways through new eyes and with new, you know, vocabulary and.
Karyn Zuidinga: Thank you to AMI, who have nurtured us in developing this podcast, is the source of so many of our guests, and of course, the founder, Stan Griskevich, is also the author of the original book, and dare I say, The Master Chef.
Rob Brodnick: AMI is a pioneering nonprofit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society.
AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research, and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation. org. And a big thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack, Late Night Sunrise.
Karyn Zuidinga: If you want to find out more about your hosts, Positive Turbulence, our guests, or check out our very cool and very diverse reading list, head over to positiveturbulence.
com. Until next time, keep the turbulence positive.