Cara Nicoletti: I'm a fourth-generation butcher. After working in restaurants through college in New York City, I started a butchery apprenticeship in Brooklyn and gravitated towards sausage making. I knew it was the most sustainable kind of meat-eating [because it incorporates various cuts of meat in one].
The store I worked at, The Meat Hook, was selling all this gorgeous heritage pork and pasteurized beef and educating our customers, but people were coming in and buying meat every single day, which is not sustainable.
I decided to try to sneak vegetables into the sausages, which is how I came up with the 'meal in a casing' idea. I'd take dill, carrots, celery, and chicken [and combine them in a sausage] and say 'this is chicken soup.' It became a way for people to get excited about a flavor and not realize they were eating 50 percent less meat. After I left to go on a book tour [for Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books] and butcher in London, I helped to open [Brooklyn butcher shop] Foster Sundry and experiment more fully. It got to the point where I was making 5,200 pounds of sausage a month by hand.
CN: I wanted to scale up the business so badly, but wasn't getting good advice. People said 'the most you can do is open a shop,' but then a friend reintroduced me to Erin, who I knew peripherally. We sat down to talk and she said to me, "You're not thinking big enough. This should be a brand." Within a few weeks, she called back and told me she wanted in on the business. For the past couple of years, we've worked on scaling up and going to market which has been really scary, hard, and exciting.
Erin Patinkin: Concurrently, I was doing a lot of mentoring and talking about business. In the course of building Ovenly no one had been honest about what it was like to scale or raise money. I'd decided that my future was to help scalable entrepreneurs with authentic stories go to market.
Cara is very humble, but she has a big presence in the food community. When she calculated how much money she had been creating for other companies with her sausages, it turned out to be $10 million. It showed me that it was a viable idea. Here's a woman who is very smart, who is an artisan and craftsperson, and has a wonderful idea, and other entrepreneurs were trying to take advantage of her and were jealous and trying to downplay her ideas.
CN: Through research, we realized that women are still the buying power in the grocery store. We wanted to make something that would appeal to kids and women but not be so hyper-feminine that it would turn anyone off. Our overarching idea was to make eating well fun.
EP: We use certified humanely raised meat. Not a lot of brands do that. All our e-commerce packaging is 95 percent compostable—you can use it for plant food or packaging. The paper bands around the packages are made from renewable sources, are fully recyclable, and use vegetable ink. We offset all our carbon emissions from production and shipping and aim to make our whole process carbon neutral within the next two years.
We only partner with companies that pay their staff living wages and provide benefits.
EP: Owning a bakery for so long, people could never think of me as a CEO, even though I was managing 72 people and owned a multi-million dollar company. With a man, they would never have asked 'where's your apron?'
There is not another women-owned meat company that we can find that is nationally distributed. This industry has been dominated by men for so long and hasn't been disrupted until now. It's a women-owned and run sausage company, but we're not isolating ourselves, it's for everybody.
CN: I've worked with mostly men for my entire career and been really lucky in some ways and unlucky in others. We want this brand to be inclusive and accessible for everybody.
CN: I belong to Equinox in Williamsburg. But right now, my boyfriend and I are doing home workout videos and using his ab roller.
EP: I'm a big exerciser. I usually do two days a week of running, two days a week of yoga, and two days a week of weightlifting. Lately, I've been doing the dance parties that the choreographer Ryan Heffington puts on his Instagram Live. In a moment where everything is going crazy, it's so much fun to dance ridiculously.
CN: I've never been more grateful that I didn't open up my own sausage shop. I've been thinking about that everyday. It's been a really important time for us, bringing into focus what it means to be in people's homes on their plates feeding them. I'm really glad that our product is healthy, has a great shelf-life, and is fully cooked. Our flavors are super comforting and I'm really excited that you can feed your family with this one package. That's more important than ever right now.
EP: I have the opportunity to help my family eat better and Seemore has come in to play now that I'm cooking for four people.
Our sales have been strong (although I'm the chairman of Ovenly, and we've had to lay off all our staff). I'm experiencing everything you could experience right now. I'm incredibly grateful for our staff and investors, who have been so supportive in these unbelievably uncertain times.