HOW CHEEKY SPICES GOT STARTED...
Every hero needs a cool origin story.
I suppose mine could start with a fact that I grew up in a small town in Ukraine and my family was granted refugee status to avoid religious prosecution. We moved to Flint, MI in 1992 with 2 suitcases and $200.00 to our names. Everything we have - we worked for.
Or I could start it on the first day I walked into a Meijer supermarket and was completely overwhelmed by the amount of plentiful variety. These choices I have never seen. The adorable yogurt bottles that made me giggle.
Or maybe I should recall that I was a picky eater before I discovered Thai and Indian foods and how my friend in college taught me to cook with spices by using color (there is a secret to it, you know?)
I should certainly give credit to my parents, who, despite the broken English, utilized their engineering backgrounds and started a successful electronics business.
The story of my sister being the first Lawyer in the family and the struggles and sacrifices she made to reach her goals. The passion and dedication that my husband shows to his work while he is finding a cure for cancer. My brilliant son who's crushing his Engineering classes at MSU. My strong-willed daughter for whom I became a business woman - to show her that a girl really CAN do anything. Anything.
All of these factors play a major role in my personal character and in building the story that led me here....
But the actual starting point is a lot more commonplace than all that...
A few years ago I got diagnosed with IBS. It was NOT fun. It was most certainly not sexy. And it hurt like hell. I was placed on a FODMAPs diet where I learned that I was sensitive to gluten, garlic, onion, chives, fats, salt and sugars -so, basically, EVERYTHING. My stomach lining was so inflamed, that all I could eat was white rice and boiled eggs for a few weeks. I lost 20 pounds in 3 weeks.
I still remember going to the store to find anything I can quickly cook and literally crying in the isle from being overwhelmed by my lack of choices. And whatever I could eat was just so TERRIBLE.
The new normal became, "Mom can't eat anything."
I stopped going out with friends for a meal because I couldn't stomach yet another awkward conversation with the waiter.
But I missed my favorite dishes - Thai, Indian, Mexican. Every single one of those dishes contains garlic and onion.
So, I started mixing my own spice blends inspired by the world's tastiest dishes so we can all eat dinner together again. I've always worked full time, so I didn't have enough time for a massive production every night. So I came up with a few go-to blends that taste great and don't hurt my stomach.
My friends and family love these mixes so much that I felt inspired to start sharing them with other friends and neighbors. With continuous glowing reviews, I decided to take a first step towards commercializing the process.
As an experienced digital marketer and MBA with a history of leading top-level marketing strategy for e-commerce, digital marketing, and business development of early and mid-stage startup companies, I felt my business acumen and industry knowledge will be helpful in this journey. My specific areas of expertise include brand development, product/market fit, go-to-market strategies, and designing custom digital marketing campaigns to penetrate markets with established competitors and barriers to entry. I have the privilege of working with some of the top creative and strategic minds worldwide, and they are all enthusiastically cheering me on as I embark on my first solo journey as a CEO.
The business currently operates online at www.cheekyspices.com and I have a contract with Meijer City Market in Lansing and currently working on getting my products into Whole Foods and Busch's with promising outcomes. I am expanding my retail network with the local shops (albeit slowed down by COVID) and plan to attend industry shows and advertise online.
While the spices I use come from all over the world, I work with Michigan companies and manufacture them here in the state of Michigan.
I hope my mixes can save a few minutes for the busy moms and save a few stomachs of my fellow sufferers with tasty, healthier alternatives of my Cheeky Spices.
Rita Shelley, CEO