Elizabeth Eichhorn: Allergy Friendly Catering

This story is part of our 1,000+ Stories campaign. What’s your story?

Name: Elizabeth Eichhorn

Business: Mary Lee Kitchen

Location: Pasadena, California, U.S.

Industry: Food & Beverage

Reason for starting? 
As a 24 year old grad student, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and food allergies to corn and avocado. After telling me my diagnosis, my doctor wished me luck and sent me on my way, but didn’t help me navigate my new life. There weren’t a lot of resources to help me with this struggle, so I poured my time into researching and coming up with recipes. After that, I realized that there weren’t caterers or restaurants that knew how to fill this particular need, so I was determined to change that.

Mary Lee Kitchen was born out of my first catering company, Mary Lee Catering, as a food company that helped bring all people to the table, regardless of their food allergy or dietary restrictions. I published my recipes, created a cookie line, and create menus for companies to help their employees of great food.

Related: Read about another foodie entrenpreneur here. 

How do you define success? 
Starting something out of nothing is a success. When learning how to spell the word, my teacher came up with a short cheer…S-U-C-C-E-S-S that’s the way you spell success! I think of that every time I hear the word. It wasn’t a great cheer, but the beat helped me think that the word had a positive vibe to it.

Success for me is when I am healthy, have a work/life balance and have enough finances to afford all of my necessities along with a few personal wants. It is also creating something from thin air and that hasn’t been done before.

Claudette Colvin was the first person to stay seated on a white bus but didn’t get the recognition because the black leaders didn’t want a teenager who was pregnant by a married man to be the face of this cause. Claudette’s success didn’t come from recognition but she was successful because she helped lay the path, so that Rosa Parks was able to stay seated on a white bus. Sometimes it takes time for one’s true success to show through.

Biggest success: 
My marriage is my greatest success. It is incredibly hard to stay married. To fight for what you want, give part of yourself, and find a balance between work, self, and another person. I’ve been married for only 4 and a half years, only seven months longer than my business, and have definitely had to work at staying together. The first year of marriage, we just kept threatening to end it. It was too hard. We were too broke. Didn’t know what we were doing or how to keep trudging along. Our life and marriage seemed grim.

After some discernment, we went to counseling, but that wasn’t what helped shift our marriage, it was making each other a priority. So, even though a business, especially a startup, takes so much time and money, my marriage has to be a high priority. For me, I want one person to know me and love me well, instead of lots of people who only see the face and the mask that I wear at work.

Related: Our 2016 Indulgences Gift Guide 

What is your top challenge
 and how you have addressed it? I’m not good at making money. Great idea person, but not all great ideas work out to make you money. Take now, for instance, I have a business, that I have loved owning, but it isn’t bringing in a lot of cash. So, this is when I have to stop, get out of the way, and refocus. Making money is difficult when you are trying to do something new and the market isn’t quite ready for it. I’m also a person who wants to help everyone. So, it has been difficult to find a balance between what to charge people and also hope to retain their business.

Who is your most important role model? 
My mother is my role model. She taught me to be loving and compassionate, while still being aggressive in ways that get things done. One of the rules that she set in our house, was that we could never use the word, bored–because there is an entire world of people who we could help. So, anytime we said we were bored, she’d have us volunteer our time with the local hospice, babysit for free, help our church, bake cookies for someone who needed to be cheered up, have us talk with our neighbors, walk a dog. You name the need, she found a way to get it met. Her attitude towards life has inspired me and reminds me that there is still hope in the world, it just has to start with you. We can’t change everything, but we can make a difference in one person’s life.

Tell us your story!
Read about another entrepreneur here.

Edited by The Story Exchange

Posted: December 15, 2016

Victoria FlexnerElizabeth Eichhorn: Allergy Friendly Catering