One of the greatest things about attending the NGLCC Business & Leadership conference is the networking. You get to meet people from all over the country and around the world. Serendipity steps in and you get the chance to meet people like Serafina Palandech, the co-founder of HipChick Farms.
I'd love to be able to tell you that HipChick Farms is a lesbian-owned business. I'd love to be able to tell you that HipChick Farms is a women-owned business. Maybe a year or two ago, I could have but the success and growth of Hip Chick Farms and the addition of outside investors makes them ineligible for these certifications. That doesn't stop Serafina from attending the largest LGBT business conference in the world. She and her wife Chef Jen have built an incredible business through early successes and benefits of NGLCC to create a thriving brand now available across the western region of the US.
QLife: It was so great to meet you at the NGLCC conference. Are you settled back into your routine on the farm?
Serafina: We are. Since we've been back we opened up our new kitchen. We're calling it the first chicken nugget tasting room. A little hectic, but very fun.
QLife: How did you start Hip Chick Farms?
Serafina: Jen, my wife, has been cheffing for over 25 years. She's worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, she went on to become an executive chef for the Getty family in San Francisco. We have a daughter that just turned 7 and we bought a farm in Sebastopol, a small town in Northern California, and decided to take Jen's beautiful clean recipes and make a product that's really easy for busy families like ours. So we started Hip Chick Farms.
QLife: So how did that conversation go? "Hey honey, you wanna buy a farm?"
Serafina: [laughs] Well, we both really love animals. So yeah, why not? Let's learn how to grow our own food and learn how to raise animals. We have no idea what we're doing and it's been quite a process in getting there. We've had a blast.
QLife: What's been your biggest challenge in starting a business.
Serafina: I'm the kind of person that asks for help. So I did a lot of outreach in my industry and out. I worked with different folks from the natural and organic food industry. When we needed to raise capital, there is where I had the biggest challenge. Women-lead businesses receive 5% of all venture capital investment in the world, and of that 5% only 1/2 a percent are lesbian-run companies. The amount of dollars going into LGBT startups is very small, so finding access to that capital was really quite a challenge. I got very involved with StartOUT, a great national organization that helps start-up entrepreneurs connect with business resources and angel investors.
QLife: You were at the NGLCC conference, but you had said that you were not a certified LGBT-owned business?
Serafina: We've been in business for over four years. Three years ago we went to the NGLCC conference to participate in the LGBT BizPitch as a startup. As a result of pitching there, we received investment. At that time we were 100% owned by Jen and myself, so we were certified. Since then, we've taken on additional investment so that the percent ownership mix precludes us from certification, however, the company is entirely run by Jen and myself.
QLife: During the time you were certified, what were the advantages you had because of the NGLCC certification?
Serafina: There were so many resources and connections to be made both to supplier diversity programs looking to source from LGBT-owned business as well as connections to others that are doing the same thing as you. That was a great experience as well. We had an opportunity to present to a customer and I called up NGLCC and said, "Hey, I've got this opportunity with this business and they seem really interested, but could you make a warm introduction to their supplier diversity department. NGLCC made that introduction for us and that person attended the sales meeting and showing their support was important and helped influence some of the buyers' decisions.
QLife: I was in Whole Foods just before our interview and found your product there. How did you land that account?
Serafina: At the time, Whole Foods was making their buying decisions on a regional basis, so I just called and made an appointment, went down there, brought my little portable oven, plugged it in, heated up my products, gave them a tray of chicken, told our story and they approved us! We launched into several regions simultaneously in California, Las Vegas, Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest. Whole Foods also has a Local Producer Lending Program and we were able to apply for a loan through Whole Foods. We received a loan for $35,000 which was much needed at the time so we could update our packaging. They took a picture of Jen and myself and they put it up in all their stores to help promote Hip Chick Farms. If fact, just yesterday I was standing in line and looked up and saw myself reflected in all of the cash registers.
QLife: Do you still have a need for capital for fulfilling supply chain?
Serafina: We're growing really quickly. We're launching into WalMart nationwide. We're doubling our distribution into Kroger. We're rolling out 10 new products into 2,500 stores in the same month. That requires a lot of capital. We have some really great investment partners that helped with that. It's an everyday grind to balance that growth with cash flow.
QLife: Have you done any crowd-funding?
Serafina: When we first started we did Kickstarter and another accredited program. It was a great resource for us.
QLife: You said you opened a tasting kitchen?
Serafina: Yes! Today is our second day. We opened the world's first chicken nugget tasting room. We call it The Kitchen. It's a place for Jen to just shine, try new products, invent new products, everything's organic. We have a lunch counter that's open Tuesday - Saturday, 11am - 3pm. It's a new way for us to interact with customers and we're really excited about it.
QLife: What's day-to-day life like with your family on the farm?
Serafina: I wake up at 5am and start my day meditating. WIth the amount of crazy going through my head I like to start my day off calm. Then my daughter wakes up at 6am and we go feed the animals. That takes about an hour. We have horses, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and about 30 goats right now. My daughter heads off to school and Jen and I go to work. Jen spends her day cooking. We produce about 100,000 pounds of chicken fingers a month now. Jen works with closely with our employees on the line making the product day after day while I'm out meeting with customers, making sales calls, going out to the stores, and working with the best staff in the entire universe. Then we go home and take care of the animals again and do our gardening. I basically start my day and end my day shoveling manure. It's an incredibly wonderful experience to care for other living beings. We enjoy our life here and grateful to be a part of this community.
QLife: What is your daughter's favorite product?
Serafina: Ruby Rose's favorite product has to be the original chicken fingers. She can eat them by the dozen. She likes the meatballs too. We make sure that all the kids at her school have a constant supply as well.
QLife: And your favorite product?
Serafina: My current favorite is our new Tandoori meatballs. I'm enamored with our flavor profile. I also really love our turkey burgers. Sometimes turkey burgers can have an odd texture. Jen made them with Fuji apples and sweet onions so these have a more burger-like texture and are just delicious.
QLife: Do you offer wholesale or commercial products if restaurants wanted to serve your product?
Serafina: Absolutely. We do foodservice. We are currently selling to schools as well. Most school food systems have very poor quality food so it's a focus for us to get kids the best quality food as possible. We sell to some camps. And we're more than happy to sell to restaurants.
QLife: Any last parting thoughts for our readers?
Serafina: We're so grateful to be a part of all these communities. With NGLCC we're all connected in a variety of ways. It has been such a wonderful gift to be a lesbian family doing this organic chicken business and being completely transparent about it We've had some challenges as every startup has, but the amount of support from NGLCC and StartOUT and so many other organizations has been phenomenal.