Two Female Founders Infuse Health and Heart Into a Bakery Business

Emily Farley and Gina Cavallo are the duo behind EKG Project, a New York City bakery that sells healthy fare and offers work opportunities to people who need them most.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

Gina Cavallo (left) and Emily Farley, co-founders of EKG Project.

Gina Cavallo (left) and Emily Farley, co-founders of EKG Project.

Gina Cavallo and Emily Farley want people to snack more thoughtfully. So they co-founded EKG Project, a healthy baked goods seller that also provides jobs to people who need a helping hand.

The New York City business incorporated in 2014 and has been selling smart snacks since 2015 to diet-conscious customers, including double chocolate donuts — its most popular delight. EKG Project, which declined to disclose sales figures, says its treats have found their way into six stores in New York City and are available online. The company also does catering gigs, both on its own and together with fellow makers working out of Hana Kitchens, the commercial kitchen space it uses.

But on top of healthful baking, the duo is also offering nourishing work opportunities that are making a difference in the lives of several people facing homelessness, life after prison and addiction.

Indeed, the two women say that every part of their venture was crafted out of concern for others. “I want the best for other people,” Farley says, both customers and employees. Cavallo adds: “I think that’s why we mesh as friends and business partners — because we’re both super passionate about how you help on a local level.”

Best Friends Build a Business

Farley and Cavallo are the best of friends, even though they only met a few years ago. Fate, and their jobs, brought them together in 2010. At the time, Cavallo was in sales, and Farley was working for a wine and spirits manufacturer. By the end of their first meeting, the two women said they knew they would become best friends.

Not long after they met in New York, Farley moved her life and work to Nashville to help her mother, Natalie, while she navigated health problems. This took Farley on a personal journey of discovery about diet and wellness that helped both her and her mom feel healthier and happier. At around the same time, Cavallo’s work took her to the Nashville area, and after feeling like she was “running my body into the ground” she adopted a similar lifestyle.

Inspired by the differences cleaner living made in their own lives, the pair wanted to launch a company that brought health to the masses. Initially, they thought about starting an indoor cycling business, well before such ventures were en vogue, or designing an indoor bike. It seemed like a logical leap, because Cavallo had made a name for herself in New York’s advertising scene by entertaining clients with spin classes instead of dinners.

But patent and trademark issues, mixed with a lack of design experience, made that path too tricky to navigate, they say. But after a spin class one day, a new alternative emerged. The owner of a tea shop near their gym, who knew them well as repeat customers, asked if they wanted to whip up some “clean treats” to sell to other, similarly health-focused customers.

They were initially reticent — “I make salads. I don’t use the oven,” Farley recalls thinking at the time. But after pooling their resources and getting some help from Farley’s mother — who later became a partner in the company — the pair was armed with several good recipes. And all of them were hits — so much so that, when the tea shop closed, clients began asking where they would be able to find those baked goods.

Slowly Growing Something Sweet

Part of what resonates with customers is EKG Project’s emphasis on ingredients. Every element is thought out — from the gluten-free almond flour to the organic vanilla extract. People also like the packaging, which has “that more artisanal, homemade feel” that appeals to the sort of all-natural, millennial audience they want to target, Cavallo says.

Despite success wooing customers, the pair has experienced a few hurdles in its quest for growth. For one, Cavallo still works full-time overseeing strategic accounts at global analytics company Media iQ, which results in a “psychotic shuffle” to balance the requirements of her day job with promoting EKG Project. She recalls many days spent juggling a laptop and a bag of donuts.

Also, online orders are hindered by the difficulties in mailing chocolate — especially since many of their most interested online shoppers live in warm states like California and Florida.

Scaling up has also been a challenge.They are the company’s only two consistent employees, making it hard to whip up donuts and muffins in mass quantities. “We need to be able to produce more,” Farley says, to be able to enter more stores and take on more catering orders, like gigs they’ve had for athletic-wear company Lululemon.

It’s a juggling act, to be sure, but the pair is tackling its issues from a number of angles, for example by researching better shipping methods and talking with investors about growth capital. They are also working hard on processes that keep costs manageable and their products affordable. After all, says Farley, “health should not just be for the rich.”

Working With Others In Mind

Along with organic nuts and maple syrup, Cavallo and Farley say that compassion is also baked into EKG Project. Since April 2016, they have brought on employees who have trouble finding opportunities elsewhere. These short-term workers have grappled with various roadblocks to long-term employment, and working for the bakery offers a way for them to bolster their resumes and gain a leg up in the working world.

Currently, baking is only done once a week. On that day, the pair opens its proverbial doors to members of a men’s group from the Bowery Mission who need both work experience and money to move forward in their lives. “We’re proud of these guys, and we feel blessed to have the opportunity to do this,” says Farley.

Their shared philanthropic drive doesn’t stop there. Cavallo and Farley are also trained to lead meal services at Father’s Heart Ministries, where they help give out between 600 and 800 meals per day from a soup kitchen as often as they can. And, their company donates part of every sale it makes, no matter how big or small, to various charitable organizations.

Great Goals Going Forward

The duo has many dreams for both the short-term and long-term growth of EKG Project. In the near future, they want to implement more efficient manufacturing techniques and to partner with a salesperson who can help get their goods into more stores in Manhattan and beyond. They also want to streamline the shipping process for online orders and ramp up their digital presence.

Further down the road, Farley and Cavallo have their eyes on creating custom packaging and expanding into other cities around the nation, particularly on the West Coast. “As we scale [the business], we can scale what we give,” Cavallo adds.

They have a lot they want to accomplish, but both women are committed to realizing those dreams — and working together to get there, “from a bike to a donut to whatever the hell else is next,” Farley says.

Posted: December 26, 2017

Candice Helfand-RogersTwo Female Founders Infuse Health and Heart Into a Bakery Business