Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Mother-Daughter Side Hustles Lead to 8-Figure Snack Business

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This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features mother and daughter Elisabeth and Gina Galvin, the duo behind artisanal snacking company Stellar Snacks. Elisabeth Galvin is also the founder of snack brand Delyse, which began as a side hustle in an old CVS before growing into a leading supplier of gourmet snack products. Today, Delyse services national airlines, including American Airlines and JetBlue, and Stellar Snacks is in various grocers across the country and online retailers and provides in-flight snacks for Alaska Airlines.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Stellar Snacks. Gina Galvin, left; Elisabeth Galvin, right.

What did your professional day-to-day look like when you founded Delyse as a side hustle?
In the 90s, I moved to the U.S. from the South of France, chasing a dream of becoming an entrepreneur in America. I spoke virtually no English at the time, so I enrolled as a full-time student at the University of Nevada, Reno, to learn. I was taking 20 credits and had a jam-packed schedule with courses ranging from English as a second language to communications and advanced mathematics. My days were filled with classes and studies. By night, I found solace in the kitchen, where I cooked with the nostalgic flavors of home — which always brought me immeasurable happiness.

When did you start Delyse, and where did you find the inspiration for it?
One of my favorite snacks to make from scratch was French pralines, using my family’s recipe. These are roasted and candy-coated peanuts that we commonly enjoy by the beach in the South of France (called chaud chaud pralines). They were my favorite, and I couldn’t find anything like them here in the U.S. I perfected the recipe at home and loved to share this delicacy with my American friends — who were wowed by the flavor. One day, I was invited to a Fourth of July party and wanted to bring something unique — so, of course, I brought those nuts. That was the day that a spark ignited. My snacks were a huge hit at the party and caught the attention of two attendees in particular who happened to be the CEO of Reno Air and his wife, a famous food stylist. They asked me if I could make my pralines for Reno Air and become their signature snack! They asked me, “Can you do it?” My response was, “How long do I have?” to which he answered, “Can you do it in three months?” At that moment, I set my mind to it and told him, “Absolutely. I’ll make it happen.”

What were some of the first steps you took to get your side hustle off the ground?
I knew that to succeed with this opportunity, I had to scale. I ordered three authentic copper kettles from Italy to perfect my craft. They were too large for my kitchen, so I started to roast in my garage while I looked for a bigger place. I secured permits, obtained a business license and established my company “Delyse Inc” (a play on the word delicious in French). I was still a full-time student at UNR, so I started by selling the pralines on campus and at games. My English was still in its early stages, so I lovingly named the line of snacks “Thoz Nuts” (just the way I pronounced it with my accent) and created the brand and packaging. Thoz Nuts gained traction, becoming a favorite at local gourmet and specialty stores and selling out at my booth at sporting events. I established that there was a demand, and now it was time to grow my production capacity. I found a location that was previously a CVS store, and I made a deal with the landlord (who became a beloved mentor). He said, “Rent is $700 per month; you can start paying me when you make money.” I vividly remember proudly paying on my very first month. It was the first check I wrote from my Delyse checkbook!

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building your side hustle, and how did you navigate them?
Besides the challenge of balancing my course load with my startup, my main business-related challenges were establishing credit with vendors and suppliers and getting equipment financing. I opened a bank account with a credit card that had a $500 credit limit. This allowed me to get started pre-paying my vendors. Once I earned their trust and proved that I was performing, I was able to establish net 30 credit terms, which is ultimately what you need to scale a business. Starting from scratch, it can often take three years to establish credit, and I was very lucky to do so in three months. Another challenge was finding employees. In my communications class, I had a lot of classmates from the baseball team, and I convinced them to come to work with me because it was a good workout — roasting is a lot of work and a very hot environment. Then I hired my first full-time employee, who still works with me 30 years later.

How long did it take you to see consistent monthly revenue? How much did the side hustle earn?
It took two months to start earning revenue once I got all the equipment installed and running. I was selling Thoz Nuts for $1 a bag and selling 1,000 bags per game. Every single football game sold out. In the third month, Reno Air came through on its promise and brought Thoz Nuts on board. I started by making 20,000 bags per week at $0.50 per unit. In the first year of business in 1992, Delyse made about $800,000. Reno Air was in full expansion, adding new destinations, and I was growing with it, especially during the early popularization of Silicon Valley and new flight routes to the Bay Area. In 1995, I had a new idea to sell advertising space directly on my bags in order to offer them as a free snack to airlines and win new business. This made waves in the travel industry and brought in airline clients like United, American Airlines, American Eagle, Northwest Airlines, Skywest and many on-premise venues at the airports. I worked with famous brands that loved the concept of reaching a high-end traveler demographic and creating a captive audience for the ads. Some of these notable brands were American Express, Motorola, Ty Warner, AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, General Motors, Newsweek, Book of the Month and AT&T. This evolution brought Delyse to the next level, earning about $3 million per year. That proved our ability to perform on time and at a large scale and truly put my company on the map.

What does growth and revenue look like now?
While we stopped [offering] Thoz Nuts on airlines due to the rise of severe peanut allergies, Delyse continued to grow and serve commercial aviation partners with other snack packs, trail mixes and, most notably, pretzels. Then in 2018, my main vendor shut down its plant in California, leaving a complete void for pretzel manufacturers on the West Coast. It was a crisis for Delyse and many other companies. I decided I was going to take my destiny into my own hands and open a pretzel bakery. Like that, Stellar Snacks was born — a second company I co-founded with my daughter Gina, who was in college at the time. She was pursuing a double major in marketing and women’s studies while also helping me with brand design as her side hustle after classes and her internship. Within five months, our bakery was operational, and Delyse started offering our bespoke Stellar Snacks pretzels to United Airlines, then Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue. Our in-store distribution of Stellar Snacks also grew from local stores to the West Coast, then national accounts.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Stellar Snacks

What does growth and revenue look like now?
Delyse Inc. and Stellar Snacks both continue to thrive. Our pretzels are served to hundreds of millions of passengers per year, carried in thousands of grocery retailers coast to coast and loved by a loyal fanbase. Our revenue has surpassed the eight-figure mark, a testament to our commitment to quality and innovation.

What do you enjoy most about working as a mother-daughter team?
Gina and I share an unparalleled bond of trust and unwavering support, fostering a collaborative environment where ideas flourish, and challenges are conquered together.

What’s your advice for others hoping to start successful side hustles or full-time businesses of their own?
Create a strong business plan, and make sure you secure your first customer before taking the plunge to cover your overhead. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers, and it’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out because clarity comes as you go. Learn from people you trust, surround yourself with dedicated team members who understand “startup mode,” study your industry, acquire valuable data and nurture genuine partnerships with your vendors, banks and customers by being honest, transparent and sharing your vision to sow the seeds of success. It truly takes a village, and the people who know your story will want to support and see your growth. While the journey will have its challenges, the fulfillment derived from pursuing your passion is immeasurable. Believe in yourself and your mission.



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