Reisha Antoinette Delug is currently enrolled in the twenty-week culinary course, which meets once a week at New School of Cooking. She founded FarmBox in 2009, a service that delivered boxes of farm fresh produce direct from farmers to customers with partner Chako Fairbanks. The endeavor was so successful she sold it to GrubMarket in 2016. Her latest startup – a subscription based tea business, The Santa Barbara Tea Company. She recently spoke with us about her passion for locally sourced food, cooking, culinary school and her entrepreneurial spirit.
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself – Name, age, family, where did you grow up, where do you live now?
Reisha Antoinette Delug, 31, married with a 3 year old son; grew up in Pacific Palisades, currently reside in Malibu.
2) Why are you in Culinary School, and what do you like about it?
When dinnertime comes around, sometimes you get into the habit of doing the same thing over and over again. Comfortable. Even having gone to culinary school before, it is important to branch out, gain a fresh perspective, stay current, and get outside your comfort zone. The 20-week culinary course I enrolled in is once a week, making it realistic to learn the basics while still offering time to practice at home and not feel overwhelmed. Cooking nourishing meals for my family and friends is important to me, and when it comes to my three-year old my cooking has to evolve. I want him to develop mature taste buds and be nourished with minimally processed, locally sourced, and nutrient-dense food. Much like sommeliers, with my new tea business, I enjoy pairing the tea varieties with food I cook.
3) Describe where your passion for food came from?
The seeds were planted when I was young. My mother shopped at Farmer’s Markets long before they were prominent, and made delicious, balanced meals. I always knew I wanted to cook for my family someday, too. After college, I studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris. In a whirling city where cooking is an elevated art, attendance at farmer’s market is a reverential obligation, and sharing delectable, quality meals with others is deeply rooted in the heartbeat of the culture, my passion for nourriture, or food, took a big leap. My passion grew exponentially from there when I was challenged to grow and sell food.
4) What inspired you to start Farmbox?
There was nothing more valuable than the years I spent working on a farm. The work that goes into planting, growing, and harvesting fruits and vegetables is an intense and satisfying labor of love. When the harvest was ripe and I was able to bring home the food I had grown, I gained an education and respect for each dish I prepared and ate. From that point, the beginnings of my food business emerged to support the local agrarian ‘ecosystem’ – farm to table. Founding and growing FarmBox was my way of innovatively supporting the local and organic agricultural movement. I noticed farmers and artisans needed more support in selling their produce. FarmBox became an alternative for farmers and artisans to sell their produce before they go to market, and in a way that was flexible around nature’s imperfection and unpredictability. I wanted the farmer’s market experience for my customers, so I sourced from several farms, which separated me from the traditional CSA (community supported agriculture) model, which sources from only one farm. Also, we helped farmers sell what they were harvesting most of for any given week. Farmers told us what they knew was ripe for harvest and we bought that in large quantities, which we then packaged weekly in our FarmBox.
5) Describe how the business progressed, some of your highlights and some of your challenges?
A highlight of growing FarmBox was buying a few dozen items from farmers to then buying out an entire crop for a farmer. One of the bigger challenges was moving the business from my garage to our own warehouse.
6) What was your proudest moment with Farmbox?
I am proud of all the steps, large and small. I can think of one very proud moment being when I moved from my garage to a shared kitchen. Physically, my home life was now separate from my work; however, mentally was another story! Another great moment was when I hired my first driver. I no longer had to drive and deliver the farm boxes. Sitting in traffic was one of the most difficult jobs. Having filled the shoes of many of the jobs myself in the beginning of the business, I have a knowledge of and respect for the variety of jobs and talents it takes to make a business flourish. Overall, I was proud of FarmBox’s growth because each day we moved forward with ideas and strategies and partnerships. The work was gratifying and brought about growth and ingenuity. I never regretted any decisions we made.
7) Why did you decide to sell it?
In order for FarmBox to reach more people it needed a tremendous amount of capital investment. My partner and I did not have it. GrubMarket was eager to grow FarmBox, all the while keeping our core mission alive, our staff, and farmers. These were critical components we agreed on. GrubMarket had done an exceptional job raising money and with their commitments, we happily agreed to sell. I also wanted to be more available for my family and I knew I was not the leader for the next round of growth.
8) Can you give any advice to someone starting a new business in the farm/food arena?
- Patience is key. While a business is not a baby, in many ways the stages of growth reminds me of the phases of raising a child. If you want your business to thrive quickly, it is important to approach the creation of your business with equal amounts of time and dedication to see the developmental stages unfold in their right time and place.
- Don’t spread yourself too thin. Start out with a few marketing approaches and do them well. Whether it is starting out knocking on and going door to door (I did this for FarmBox for many years), or selling at the farmers market, be very present and authentic in all you do. Less is more. At the beginning I believe offering fewer quality products is better than dazzling an audience with a lot that may be hard to produce in a short amount of time given your resources.
- Working with perishable goods can be a challenge. Before production begins, finding a place to store and sell the goods before expiration needs to be diligently thought out.
9) Can you talk about your new venture with The Santa Barbara Tea Club?
This is the most exciting topic for me today. I am passionate about helping people explore their tea palates among the thousands of varieties that exist. Brewing loose-leaf tea is restorative and relaxing. The Santa Barbara Tea Club is passionate about the celebration of tea – we support the centuries-old sustainable cultivation of the vast varieties of the venerated tea plant and bringing its uplifting and healing properties and cultural traditions to our customers. Our commitment to quality before profit and providing a fascinating education on tea for the value it brings to the customer makes us proud of the product and experience we provide. Discovering your tea palate, while learning the process of brewing and sipping, is importantly about taking time for the cultivation of a more balanced self. The teas are exceptional, seasonal, small-batch, rare – chosen for the unique flavor profiles infused within the variety itself, its given terroir (or climate and soil), the expert cultivators whose expert skills and knowledge ensure the integrity of the tea’s properties – and without added flavorings or fussy blends. We are proud to provide a produce to be enjoyed for both your pleasure and making time to share with others.