I spent my publishing career reaching for the top echelon of the industry. When I finally made it, I discovered that I didn’t like the view from up there. The only relief I could find was at the Catskills home that I share with my wife Cathy, where I would immerse myself in nature.
That’s where I was introduced to bees.
I gave Cathy a beekeeping kit that I ended up falling in love with, and in 2003, I became obsessed. I was inspired by the bees’ work ethic and their democratic society, in which everyone works for the good of the hive. Soon I had my own hive to tend, and I couldn’t wait to get back there every weekend. The more stressful my job in New York City became, the greater the solace I found in my hives. After a few years, I had 10 hives keeping my friends and family well-stocked with pure, raw wildflower honey.
When things finally came to a head at work in April 2010, I quit. I figured I had enough money to last a couple of years while I found another executive position in publishing. But I never made it back to Madison Avenue. By September 2010, I had traded my Gucci bag for a sample case to carry my jars of honey to restaurants, farmers markets and bars around the Catskills. My new company, Catskill Provisions, was born.
Taking the plunge
The decision to swap the security of a corporate job for the uncertainty—and loneliness—of starting my own business was nothing short of traumatic. Everything had changed. I didn’t get dressed up for work every day. I didn’t have business cards with a title on them to validate my place in society, and people didn’t respond to me the way they used to.
One of the biggest changes, though, was that I wasn’t going into an office filled with people to help me get things done. There was no one to delegate to, no one to bounce ideas off of, and no one to grease the skids for me. I was on my own.
What ultimately pulled me out of the corporate world was my passion to build something I truly believed in. I believe that businesses have a social and moral responsibility to their communities. I believe that everyone should be able to access and afford high-quality food. And I believe everyone has a right to know where their food comes from. The farm-to-table phenomenon was just taking off, and I wanted to be a part of that.
From those first jars of honey, Catskill Provisions has grown into an artisanal food and craft spirits company selling a variety of products made with 100% New York raw wildflower honey. I work with a team of local beekeepers tending more than 300 beehives, and our products are sold online, at specialty shops and at restaurants across New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
I added whiskey to my product line in 2013, after New York State began allowing farmers to distill their own crops. Rye is a great cover crop for fields in the winter, helping to control erosion. Plus, it has a spicy flavor that I thought would blend perfectly with just a touch of honey. I was right: In 2017, our NY Honey Rye Whiskey won the Chairman’s Trophy at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
Learning along the way
Starting a business is emotionally draining and constantly challenging. I had to be “on” all the time and ready for anything—because something was always coming at me. I also had to be honest with myself about what I wanted out of life and what I was willing to sacrifice to get it. I can’t overemphasize how important it was to have my support group around me through all of this, especially Cathy.
I also needed to make sure what I wanted to do was actually going to become a viable business. I immersed myself in the food industry, talking to chefs and restaurant owners to understand what they wanted from suppliers and what some of the challenges might be.
For anyone who is thinking of taking a leap into self-employment, my No. 1 tip is to make sure you’re financially stable enough to support your endeavor until it takes off. I thought I’d be profitable within six months to a year, but it was closer to three years before the business was self-supporting. If you need to downsize your house or lifestyle to make sure you can cover your monthly expenses, do it before you step out on your own, because launching a business on a shoestring budget is very difficult.
That said, launching my own business has been incredibly rewarding. Looking back at the long days, sleepless nights and all of the missteps that got me to where I am today, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.Print this article