What sparked your interest in veggie burgers? Do you remember an important moment early on in your journey here?
My interest in veggie burgers was driven only by my personal need for a good veggie burger, something I had missed, being a vegetarian for as long as I was. I preferred eating naturally and vegetarian for most of my teen and adult years. There were not many good options available so I was inspired to make my own. I guess you could say one of my gifts was cooking and creating recipes, so I actually made the 'Original' recipe almost 30 years ago. I would bring these veggie burgers to pot-lucks, cookouts, etc., for years and everyone always raved about them. I would sometimes think, Hey, someone needs to join forces with me to get this veggie burger out there, because people loved them. Once I realized that wasn't happening, I started saying, "Someday, I might do something with this awesome recipe." Even my family started saying, "Come on, Mom, when are we starting the veggie burger business?" It really took a bit of talking myself into it because it was a completely different business than I'd ever had before. I created the vision of an all-natural veggie burger line with these awesome burgers, but knew that in order to sell them in stores and get them out to the public, it would have to become an automated system at some point—that was definitely beyond my experience! The idea never went away.
So, I figured, Well, I have to start somewhere...i.e., local and manual, in order to even test the market and create demand. My two daughters decided to join forces by adding their sales and marketing energy and drive. I managed to take a small loan out and my husband helped to set up our first commercial kitchen. It was a small commercial kitchen, nevertheless inspected by the FDA. All this without even knowing if our project would actually fly! But fly, it did. We received much enthusiasm locally and started cold calling and sending many samples. This created many accounts including restaurants, service, etc. We started doing our local farmers market, which also helped to drive demand. Those first couple of years we really did not even know how far we could take it. It has been a total education along the way, some good, some not so good.
What do you love most about what you do?
One thing that continues to amaze me is hearing from and meeting folks from many different places who either email or call to let us know how much they enjoy our yummy veggie burgers. I will never get tired of that! Which, in turn, reminds me that I am helping to make a difference, helping folks to eat healthier.
I also remind myself to enjoy the journey each day; life is an adventure in spite of the daily pressures of running a business. Treat people with kindness and respect, because our fans are NoBull Burger's most important asset; the rest will work itself out. Our customers have been a huge support to us. Cheering us every step of the way. Sometimes that is just what is needed to give you the nudge of confidence to take the next step. So many people were instrumental in getting us into farmers markets and local stores and restaurants. We love our fans and supporters!
Was there feedback you had to discard when you created NoBull Burger? How did you handle any discouragement?
Well, my family was my biggest encouragement! They pretty much made me believe that it could happen and that everyone who was health-conscious would become a customer and love NoBull Burgers as much as we did. And yes, it did come with a bit of criticism, but mostly from people who had never eaten or would never eat a veggie burger, so mostly folks who are not health-conscious. How did I handle the discouragement? I think I was just determined. What did I have to lose? I must try first before I give up! You need to be determined and confident in your product, that it fills a need, serves a purpose, or can become highly desirable. Determine if there is a probable market for your product or service and do the ground work to get it out there. I mean, if you like it and your family likes it, chances are someone else will, too!
Is there an individual who helped you in a transformative way at some point in your career?
My biggest cheerleader and mentor is my sister, Patti. She is the one who has always said to me, "You can do it!" She has helped me from the beginning, never losing faith and always helping us whenever needed (I love you, Patti). She thinks outside the box. Together, she and I have spent hours upon hours figuring out many business dilemmas, not to mention recipes.
What do you wish you knew about work when you were first beginning your career? What would you do differently?
I believe we are all here on this amazing earth, trying to find our way and survive, and, in the midst, trying to find purpose, hopefully.
It has become evident to me that God has created within each of us unique talents and areas of natural abilities in which we find satisfaction and joy. If we are lucky and seek to grow in these areas, we are able to offer these gifts and services for the benefit of others; in turn, it will also benefit us.
It did take me awhile to look at life in this way. Whether one has gone the way of formal training and education, or not, we all have something to offer for the benefit of others. We must think this way so as not to seek a self-centered existence. Life truly is about others—I mean, if you want your life to make a difference, and I think most people do. It could be anything—making jam, growing flowers and selling at farmers markets, or operating in your area of training—we all are here to offer what we can to make a difference. I wish I had know these truths when I was younger and maybe I would have stepped out, taking the risk at an earlier age.
Photo of Crissanne Raymond and daughters Heather and Elizabeth courtesy of Dave McNair of The Hook. Kitchen photos courtesy of Helen McLaughlin. Crissanne Raymond can be found at NoBull Burger, and on Facebook and Twitter.
A version of this interview first appeared on the website HAPPY AND HEARTWORKING on August 31, 2014.