Gwen Narcisse, CEO, of gourmet spice company, Hillari Moon, LLC. This blog post is part of our continuing focus on women-owned businesses – Chef Gwen Narcisse, CEO of Hillari Moon, a gourmet spice company located in Atlanta. Her company is just one of the 11.3 million woman-owned businesses in the U.S. according to the National Women’s Business Council.
Cooking has been a part of Chef Gwen’s life from a very young age. Her mother encouraged her to cook, but Gwen initially viewed cooking as nothing more than another chore. Of course that changed with practice and, as she describes, the delight others experienced as they tasted what she made.
From Cook To Entrepreneur
Going from cook to entrepreneur was more a leap of faith. With an MBA in hand, and several years of corporate experience she knew it was time to move forward. While her desire to bring pleasure to the palates of others was the inspiration for Chef Gwen to pursue a career in the food industry, the catalyst came from family. “The real catalyst was my husband and the push out of corporate,” Gwen recalled. “My husband supported me when I decided to pursue entrepreneurship after being laid off. We lost a significant amount of income, but we were both willing to make the sacrifice to pursue business.” Part of her journey included formal training and certification. Chef Gwen is a graduate of the Culinary Business Academy. She is ServSafe Certified, and she received her Personal Fitness Chef Certificate from Spencer Institute. She also found a mentor who was instrumental in helping her start the business.
Like most entrepreneurs, her first few years had some challenges. “Surprisingly, my mother was one of the biggest challenges,” Chef Gwen said. “She was not encouraged at all by my entrepreneurial goals. I realized that she was afraid and all her responses were driven by that fear. When I would share the hardship with her, she would say “Why don’t you get a job” or “You used to do so well” or “Why are you doing this”. For Chef Gwen, she realized that, at least for that period, it was best not to share so much about her business’s progress. “Today, my mother is one of my biggest supporters,” Chef Gwen added. Beyond those growing pains, she now sees the business as exciting and she receives lots of support from friends and especially her mom.
A Spice Blend Is Born
As a personal chef, Chef Gwen’s clients wanted the ingredients found in a lot of spice blends in the meals she prepared for them. That’s how Hillari Moon was boon. (The name Hillari Moon is a combination of names from two dear women in Chef Gwen’s life. Hillari is her sister and Moon is her mother’s nickname.) She began by sourcing spices domestically from the finest ingredients, making sure not to include fillers, preservatives, MSG, gluten or sugar. Her selection includes four salt-free spice blends and four spice blends containing Himalayan mineral salt, which contains over 80 trace minerals found in the human body. Her blend recipes feature several cultural blends, making them easy to use, that provide a burst of flavor in dishes.
Whole Foods and Retail Expansion
Today, Hillari Moon Spices is carried in six Whole Foods locations in Georgia and one location in Mississippi. Whole Foods has boosted the company’s bottom line. “Whole Foods has helped our company increase brand awareness,” said Chef Gwen. “We proved ourselves to Whole Foods by demonstrating consumer demand through outdoor events. We also got incredible feedback from customers that led to new spice flavors.” After about two years in Whole Foods, the company’s customer base has expanded. “My orders with Whole Foods have increased each year we are on the shelf.” When asked what advice she would give to entrepreneurs seeking to enter a relationship with Whole Foods, she offered the following, “I would advise any entrepreneur looking to partner with Whole Foods, or any other grocery, to stay consistent and follow the retailer’s procedure precisely.
With Whole Foods providing a solid distribution channel, the company is now planning to create online brand awareness. So far the company has created a free recipe book to offer online. More flavors are also in the pipeline as well as bulk sizes online and even larger sizes suitable for wholesale buyers. The company’s slogan “It’s Tasty, Baby!” is so popular, a line of T-shirts and aprons are available online. It’s Tasty, Baby! is also the name of Chef Gwen’s go-to spice blend, an all-purpose seasoned salt, great on all foods. When asked what she likes to do for fun, Chef Gwen’s passion for life really showed. “I lo-o-o-ve live entertainment and travel. I also enjoy spending quality time with my husband; he’s my best friend and supporter. People have made our pursuit in business worthwhile. It is so refreshing to have others not only take an interest in what you do, but offer support. Positive energy fuels us,” she concluded.