Food Network Champion and Vegan Dessert Star.
Doron Petersan is President of Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats, a beloved vegan bakery in Washington, DC—and soon-to-be national e-commerce powerhouse. Doron has played a huge role in paving the way for vegan options in the mainstream that actually taste good. She’s also a two-time champion of the Food Network competition “Cupcake Wars.”
”The only way people are gonna make change is if it’s easy and it tastes good.Doron PetersanPresident, Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats
Julia Balick (00:00):
Hello, we are back on the building while flying podcast. I’m Julia, our producer and on this week’s episode, Katie speaks with Doron Peterson, founder of Sticky Fingers Sweets and Eats, a beloved DC vegan bakery, and soon to be national ecom powerhouse. Doron founded sticky fingers in 1999 and built a national following over the 20 years she’s been in business, highly active in her local community. Doron has played a long time part in paving the way for delicious mainstream vegan options and is the winner of the food networks’s Cupcake Wars. Katie, what stood out to you most about this convo?
Katie Hankinson (00:38):
Hey Julia. Um, it was great chatting with Doron. She’s awesome. She’s a force of nature. Um, and she’s built an amazing business. I think what stood out for me is at its core sticky fingers is a purpose driven business. She really believes in veganism and in what kind of trying to educate people about eating and growing meat does for the environment mm-hmm <affirmative>, but she’s not preaching. She’s actually gone about it in the way of building a phenomenal brand with really delicious food and showing that you can actually make the right choices and really enjoy the things that you’re eating and has made some real learnings along the way, like knowing that she really needs to reach out for help to scale and really having to re herself on the difference between building a restaurant and building a national retail brand. So listening for this episode, it should be a good
Julia Balick (01:30):
One. So excited now let’s not keep our listeners waiting any longer. Let’s dive into Katie’s conversation with do
Katie Hankinson (01:41):
Welcome to building while flying a sat group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies. Welcome to the show. Joran
Doron Petersan (01:57):
Hi. Thank you. It’s always exciting and fun to kind of go back and talk a about where I’ve been and how, where I am now. Cause I forget <laugh> I forget how I got here. I’m just like wake up and I’m like, oh my God. Yeah. So let’s
Katie Hankinson (02:10):
Start with a little bit of that background. And what kind of brought you to sticky fingers? Cause you’ve been in the restaurant business since you were like 15 years old. So talk a bit about how that tie of food has developed over the years and brought you to the sticky fingers. Bakery. Both 1.0 and now 2.0 <laugh>
Doron Petersan (02:28):
1.0 and 2.0 I, um, so I started working restaurants when I was 15 just for, you know, cash while I was in high school. Um, and it was not all the glitz and glamor that you hear about <laugh> um, back when you had to like actually slide credit cards and make a, you know, carbon imprint. That’s how old fashioned I am, but I really, I really enjoyed being around the, the food and the people and the regulars and just watching and seeing how the community blossomed through this. Mm yeah. Little sandwich place that I worked in. Right. And I mean, even I worked in a lot of different food places. Like don’t shame me, but like, uh, even working at places like, you know, Chucky cheese that was, but <laugh>, you know, it was a neighborhood people’s childhood
Katie Hankinson (03:23):
Memories all tied up with the places like
Doron Petersan (03:25):
That. Exactly. That’s kind of, my point is like, um, a place like that is in spite of the food and then working at other places that were, um, very mom and pop print, your own special taste, uh, type of restaurants. Um, so I’ve always dabbled in restaurants and, um, even when I was in school, mm-hmm <affirmative>, I thought I was gonna public health, but, um, once I was really in school and found my niche and nutrition, um, I really found my, uh, I guess, love zest, my zest words, zest for life zest for life. Yes. Through, uh, when I started taking some, um, food chemistry, and uh, actually like these like food, like, uh, kitchen organization classes, they’re fascinating. Mm I’m not a very, I’m not naturally an organized person, but like once you give me a recipe or a kitchen, I’m like it’s Jenga all over the place.
Doron Petersan (04:32):
<laugh> yeah. But, uh, once I got into the, um, food science part of what we were studying, that was it, that was when the light went off. That was like, oh, oh, oh, I understand now. And I had been vegan for a while and I had been thinking that I was gonna go into public health with a vegan nutrition aspect. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and it quickly turned to like, oh, I think I’m, I think I’m gonna try and fix things that don’t take taste good with using the science behind the cooking and the baking. And that’s how we’re gonna convince people to eat better. And this was like the early years of Boberg, right. Just when vegetarian alternatives were starting. Um, and it was all
Katie Hankinson (05:21):
Tied up with like, and nurse and like the sort of crunch granola end of the spectrum and all the mainstream would just be like,
Doron Petersan (05:29):
Not for me. Yeah. Still, it was completely related to that health aspect and that well of aspect, every single bakery that offered something that was vegan, it was a health aspect or an allergy aspect. It wasn’t a pasting good aspect. <laugh> um, I love to eat healthfully. I love to eat true to the food. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, whole foods, whole grains. I love to eat that way, but when you are trying to show kind of a fun food or fun food aspect, right. MI me pie, isn’t gonna cut it. Mm-hmm <affirmative> <laugh> okay. No, Uhuh people want chocolate chip cookies and they want burgers and they want like big, giant, you know, they want abundance and fun and things that you relate that silliness to when it comes to, like I said, trying to create, um, a mission based change right. In the way people eat and the way people see vegan options, it has to be fun. It has to be relatable. Just be with like millet, if I could have, if I could have convinced the world just to eat like grain bowls and salads, real tofu like that, would’ve been a different path, way, way
Katie Hankinson (06:44):
Less sticky fingered path as
Doron Petersan (06:46):
Well. Totally. Like I think people have been trying to do this for years. Like we, we have the information, um, and the information is there that like, look eating this way is better for you. And people are still like, man, I want bacon has been proven to be like the worst thing for you. Like it’s called a carcinogen. It causes cancer like eating. A lot of it causes cancer and people are still like, but it’s so delicious because we’re compelled by our, you know, excitement wants and needs. But in my experience, especially here in DC, I was not the first vegan to do it. I was one of the first white girl vegans to do it. Mm-hmm <affirmative> right. Uh, a lot of the people who, um, instill D DC’s very diverse and we have a very diverse following. Um, but a lot of the people who were interested in health and wellness and were following vegan diets were communities that were not white mm-hmm, <affirmative> so much more African American. It was much more acceptable. Um, and the kind of like the, um, I, I’m just gonna keep saying like health and wellness sector <laugh> yeah.
Katie Hankinson (07:51):
The early days of like yeah, yeah.
Doron Petersan (07:54):
Healthy living. Yeah. Very much. Um, here in DC is very much a, a black popul. And so I’m really grateful for having been a part of, you know, four or five other groups of people that were kind of doing the same thing at the time. So there were things like there was a restaurant called salve mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, that was where every vegan went to eat. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and, um, <affirmative> there were other people in the community who broke off from that. Um, I guess it was the religion from that group mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, and started doing some vegan options. So there’s quite a few different, like, I guess I would say Southern style eateries that are like sort
Katie Hankinson (08:43):
Of home cook, really like just healthy, non, not full of crap food,
Doron Petersan (08:47):
Basically all vegan. And it’s all like Southern soul food take on vegan options. And those were the people who broke off of this organization and they had different places all over, uh, all over the country and DC, uh, because, um, you know, Howard university is here. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> a very, um, you know, I say now it’s a diverse population, but when I first moved tier, I think we were still like 75% African American. So I think that that’s really an important thing. Like I didn’t create vegan chocolate cake and I didn’t create vegan Mac and cheese. There are a lot of people who did that before. And I happened to be someone who, um, the right place in time. Um, <affirmative> was being in DC where there’s a lot of national press mm-hmm <affirmative> and, um, being really loud and obnoxious <laugh> and, you know, I mean, I being a white woman at the time, like sometimes being woman works against you, sometimes it works for you, right? Like when it’s knit like a kitchy type of niche and it it’s cool, people are gonna be like, whoa, look at what this girl is doing. And then <laugh>, and then sometimes it’s like, oh, there’s all these like white girls doing this vegan stuff, you know? And it’s, so it, like, it kinda like comes back to bite you where you’re like,
Katie Hankinson (10:11):
It’s like the pendulum swings as people, you in one way or another. So you started, you know, like it began in that early vegan community, then it was kind of the allergies. Then it was the neighborhood, um, of, of DC and your kind of other fellow vegan businesses that were helping to grow. And then you started to kind of expand out to become more mainstream. And then you shifted didn’t you from the bakery to restaurant? Like, what did, what did that do is,
Doron Petersan (10:38):
Yeah. So early on, I mean, just trying to sell bake goods, um, they’re notorious, I mean, it’s a treat, right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> like, they’re a very small percentage of the food sales generally of like the, what is it, the gross national product or whatever. I’m trying to use big words and it’s not working, you know, like at the grocery store, it’s only like 11% of pales between four and 11% and notoriously in restaurants. It’s only four and 11%. Um, so trying to make an empire through cookies is very difficult trying to do that with vegan retail is very difficult. Um, and then also you have have somebody who has absolutely no knowledge in yeah. This and is just like, oh, hello. I would like to sell some cookies please. And I’m like, I don’t know. So I had to learn all of that. Like making cookies, you can figure it out.
Doron Petersan (11:33):
You can find somebody who wants to make them. You can find somebody who wants to make more. You can find somebody who wants to do the creative aspect, but running the business <affirmative> side is really the tricky and most difficult part. And that’s where I’ve spent all of my time. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So, um, what I learned early on was that if we were going to make a viable business, that it had to make more money than what it was making <laugh>, um, and that creating a line of savory items so that people could come in and get breakfast, lunch or dinner, and then tack on like, you know, you’re attracted by the cupcakes, but oh, while you’re here, grab a sandwich, grab a lasagna, grab this mm-hmm <affirmative>. And then what worked with the mission where we were exposing more and more people to vegan options who wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to them.
Doron Petersan (12:14):
It was also attractive people who were vegan, who needed a place to be able to, uh, easily find food. So, um, we moved into a larger kitchen and started doing, um, it was basically a cafe, right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> like, so we had a pretty big menu, um, of all different sorts of offerings. And it was really fun and creative and interesting. And I really enjoyed it. It’s a different business. It’s running two different businesses simultaneously in the same kitchen. Mm. Um, so jump ahead. One of the things that we kept a kept people kept looking, they wanted a place to sit down. They wanted a place in their family, and there was nothing really, that was a, you know, a decent restaurant where you could go in that was really offering a, a lot of vegan options, um, or vegetarian options for that matter. It has to be accessible.
Doron Petersan (13:10):
Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And I mean that in every, every aspect where you put the business, what you’re offering, um, how, how it’s being presented, it has to be accessible. Right. So the things that I have always invested in, um, is PR like, I just don’t think that being the little guy being, you know, the underdog, I’m not going to get the attention, unless I do something that’s really kitchy. Right. And like, you know, win a bunch of food network stuff, which is exhausting and hard and takes up a lot of time. <laugh> so, um, you know, I have to make sure that I’m there with the mainstream so that I become part of the mainstream. Right.
Katie Hankinson (13:51):
So, and, and let’s talk a little bit about that mission. So it obviously, you know, it came from your love of vegan food, right back when you were at school, like learning all of that, the chemist, the food chemistry, um, that it’s about in, can you just talk a little bit about kind of the, the underlying philosophy that drives your mission and the fact and what it is that you are trying to achieve the with in the store, but even as you start to think about stick fingers, 2.0
Doron Petersan (14:22):
Yeah. I, I, the reason that I became begin, um, was not because I don’t like burgers and not because I don’t like to eat animals. Um, it is because I love to eat animals <laugh> and that suck that’s, that’s sad. That sucks really <laugh> um, I don’t want to like to eat animals, so I don’t. And so that is conscious decision that I made, um, begrudgingly, and, uh, the only way that people are gonna make change is if it’s easy and if it tastes good, mm-hmm, <affirmative> because you, like I said, you could tell people over and over again to eat a salad, but when you’re real hungry, you’re still gonna go for that like, solid thing that you know, is gonna fill you up and in this right country and culture, those are animal products. And every single person we talk to every single person, every single one is like vegetarian or vegan, but you couldn’t bake, but cheese. I love, yeah. I couldn’t give up X. Yeah. Right. And like, okay.
Doron Petersan (15:20):
Why? Like, why it’s, because there’s not anything that’s good enough to replace that so that you don’t feel like you’re going without, because it is such a fundamental part of who you are in what you’re eating and what you enjoy. Um, um, so for me, making, making that like mental decision, mental choice took a long time. I’ll say this, I went vegetarian and vegan very quickly. It took a very long time for me to wrap my head around it and to stop wanting food. How does that work for other people? Like, how does that work for everyone? And that’s part of the mission is it’s better for you, better for the animals, better for the environment. Right. So if it’s better for all three of those things, for all, all three of those things are, are a part of the mission. Then, then at any moment you’re making a decision outside of, of just yourself, right.
Doron Petersan (16:16):
Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, outside of just the animals who might be a little bit too abstract mm-hmm <affirmative> or just the environment. So like, there’s always a good reason, right? Like we talk about global warming, but like right now it’s cold outside. And sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around with you don’t, you know, like if you don’t really, if you don’t really grasp it or under stand it, or like, you really can’t see that human condition of like, if it’s not in front of your face, you can kind of ignore it. Yeah. Right. Or if you’re in a community where people are saying that that’s not really an issue, or it’s not true, or you live in an area where you might not be affected, mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, as much as someone else, like, that’s really important. It’s all about your perspective and where, or you’re sitting at that moment.
Doron Petersan (16:57):
So if you can think about those three things, then I think that you can make a better decision. And I, I use that in the mission every day. I use that in the restaurant every day, I use that in the bakery. So when I’m making decisions, right, like let’s say, let’s use, let’s use 2.0 is an example. Okay. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so getting out of the, um, I have two retail locations, one’s that bakery cafe that I talk about is the restaurant, the bakery cafe, as there have been more and more places, it’s almost, um, more and more places opening up. It’s almost like, um, doing the savory options from there were not as important, but making sure that we still had all of those sweet items available really was. And one of the things that was really missing from a lot of different places were, was that sweet option.
Doron Petersan (17:49):
Right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> so you go and get tacos anywhere, but they’re never gonna have like that vegan treat for you. Right. Um, same thing in the grocery store. Like you really have to, like, there’s more and more places that are off or more and more options out there, but there’s still pretty obscure. Right. So how can I strengthen that reach and make sure that I am providing a product that is as good as if not better than the non-vegan counterpart and getting to as many people making that as available and obtainable as possible. Right. I opening a bunch of brick and mortars would be great. I’m not rich. I, uh, yeah. Also have found out that it’s exhausting. <laugh>, that’s where we really started to look at the, um, the virtual viability, right. Online retail sales, direct to consumer, we can expand a lot faster. We can use resource that would be utilized for brick and mortar investments and put that towards marketing and, um, all sorts of different types of marketing. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um,
Katie Hankinson (19:03):
And from there
Doron Petersan (19:04):
And go from there and using people to push that market and push those sales.
Katie Hankinson (19:11):
Yeah. I, I love how, even the way you describe it, like the, at the core, the mission is about getting more people to embrace vegan food, because it’s better for them, better for the animals, better the environment. And that’s about making the food delicious and comparable with the thing that they’re so finding so hard to give up also accessible. And it’s those things that are driving your business decisions, not the kind of abstracted, I’m a scale at all cost or like growth or nothing. It it’s growth in service of driving access to more people to help them understand and like move their behaviors towards more. We food. Now you are in, in like sticky to, which is the virtual piece. And what, what does that look like? That that looks like you expanding it’s pure E across the, the us.
Doron Petersan (20:05):
Yes. It’s purely eCommerce and also wholesale. So expanding our reach in grocery course. So you have a reference point, um, you know, growing your business through main street USA for me is not an option. Right. Um, but I can still keep that product and presentation through manufacturing and getting that product to your door or to a grocery ordinary mm-hmm <affirmative>. So the direct consumer and the wholesale option is what we’re pushing, and we’re just starting that growth process. And we’re figuring out the kinks, what are some
Katie Hankinson (20:41):
Of the things you’ve learned as you’ve made this
Doron Petersan (20:43):
Switch? I mean, I could go on and on and on about the just delivery and how that works and how it’s all about distribution and accessibility. And the distribution side of things is real. That is what controls the entire world, the
Katie Hankinson (21:02):
Shift of model as well from going from like front of house in interacting with day to day consumers to now running something that’s got the scale, but has that distance between you and the end customer, it must have been an interesting adjustment for you like you as a owner. Yeah.
Doron Petersan (21:21):
Well, I still have farewell, so I still get to te talk to people all day long, but that is part of it. And it feels, um, it’s scary to do that. It feels like I’m dismantling a business, which sort of, I am I’m dismantling one manner and then creating a new manner and people are, are, there are some people that are angry, they’re horribly angry because things are different. And there are some people that are just like fine. And then the majority of people are like, okay, this is how we’re doing it now. Or this is how being introduced to them. So really trying to not worry about where I’ve been and really focus on where I’m going. Mm-hmm <affirmative> is really hard because I’m like, wait a minute. But, but Mr. Bill has always ordered his cookies, right. For me on Tuesday, you know?
Doron Petersan (22:04):
And like, I don’t want to lose Mr. Bill. Um, but in order to move forward, I have to kind of work with Mr. Bill so he can still get his cookies because I’ve been open for 20 years. And now he’s 80 years old. And he started buying for me when he was 60, you know? And like, now he doesn’t have a smartphone or doesn’t want to have a smartphone, or he doesn’t want to deal with it, or I don’t want to deal, you know, like, like you still have to accommodate the customer that has brought me here. Right? Yeah. Comedy, the people that have created this opportunity for me without going backwards. And so that’s, um, terrifying and confusing to say, just to be completely honest, I’m just like, I don’t know how to do that. And I really hope that everybody’s not gonna be mad and I we’ll figure out a way for you to get cake, but like, we have to push stuff online. What were
Katie Hankinson (22:54):
The things that prompted it? Like, obviously there’s the mission, but what was that point where you were like, I realized I need to make this shift.
Doron Petersan (23:03):
Uh, yeah, it started before the pandemic and it had to do with the mission it had to do with, if we’re going to reach more and more people, we can’t do that by, by just being two little mom and pop stores in Washington, DC. And I don’t want to open a hundred brick and mortars and right. The, the opportunity to the, the likelihood of finding somebody who would just be like, Hey, um, you know, I’m interested in investing in your stores. I know you only have two right now, but we wanna grow you all over the country. Like, that’s very, that’s just a long shot. Right? Right. There’s certain rules that, you know, you have to have more than five stores. You have to have certain revenue, you have to, and before somebody really becomes interested in taking you to grow it and to franchise it, I’ve been doing this for 20 years.
Doron Petersan (23:51):
I’m not done. How am I gonna continue my mission? Where does it go from here? I don’t, I physically don’t wanna open any other restaurants or take that financial risk. Mm. Um, and they’re expensive and it’s getting more and more expensive. Real, estate’s getting expensive. It is getting more and more difficult to find, um, to find labor, to find people who are invested in what you’re doing, whether it’s a part-time or full-time job, it’s getting very tricky to find, um, people who would consider this a career anymore. This is a part-time job. This is a means to an end or it’s. So, and
Katie Hankinson (24:25):
So many just through the pandemic with, um, with, uh, with all the, yeah. The hiring challenges, especially in the restaurant business as well. So here we are with, you know, the shift to, from two brick and mortar stores, which is still happening and, and running them running the day to day, albeit with some changes per pandemic, now growing to a push to be a national brand brand, even growing the brand in the name, um, getting boxes on doorsteps and dealing with all the crazy supply chain nonsense that we actually all now as a nation seem to be quite party to <laugh>. What does success look like? What’s your like, vision, the, the, the eventual empire of sticky fingers.
Doron Petersan (25:13):
Oh my goodness. All right. So the diner, um, is being rebranded so that this is our brick and mortar, and it’s a diner bakery, and it’s sticky finger diner, right? Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, that’ll be happening in January, um, where we’re working on closing, um, a deal for a warehouse mm-hmm <affirmative> to produce all of our cakes, cookies, cupcakes. And that will be the direct to consumer wholesale hub. That’s where everything will be made for the ginner as well. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, and then getting it, like really being able to start moving and pushing and promoting and selling this product right now, the direct to consumer part is being promoted, um, and marketed. Uh, the wholesale side is I’m holding back mm-hmm <affirmative> because I don’t have the space yet. So once we get into that warehouse, it’s, it’s off to the races. My goal is I have a three year, I have financial goals for three, five, and 10 years.
Doron Petersan (26:14):
I want this to be the hub for the vegan cookie super highway. And that vegan cookie super highway is what goes all across the country. And, uh, there is no vegan cookie. There is no vegan cookie. There is no super vegan cookie right now, right. There is no household name for a vegan dessert. Mm. There is for lots of other items, you can think of tissues and soy milk, and you can think of sandwich cookies, and you can think of regular cookies and you can think of toast or bread. Right? Like you can think of brand names that pop up. Yeah.
Katie Hankinson (26:47):
But there’s, but when someone says vegan cookie, I’m like, this is the super vegan cookie. Well, yeah. It’s
Doron Petersan (26:53):
Gonna be, it’s gonna be sticky fingers. That’s success is when, and I can give you numbers. I can give you how many units I wanna be able to sell per week,
Katie Hankinson (27:01):
But just big picture. Yeah.
Doron Petersan (27:02):
Big picture success is when somebody says, what’s your favorite vegan cookie? And they’re like, oh, sticky fingers. Either chocolate chip or, or whatever, you know, like they know it because it’s on their, it’s in their grocery store. And they also are able to send it as a gift online or enjoy it for themselves.
Katie Hankinson (27:23):
I have to say, I love the visual of the vegan super highway. <laugh>, especially in this like congested supply chain world that we’re in. Like, it’s got such a kind of awesome, like visual feel to it.
Doron Petersan (27:37):
There’s just these trucks going. And there’s like, Powow
Katie Hankinson (27:40):
Magical vegan everywhere. These
Doron Petersan (27:44):
Giant highways. And one is like your national cereal highway. And one is your like national sandwich bread highway. And one is your like vegan hot dog highway. And like,
Katie Hankinson (27:56):
It’s like zip past one, another speed of light. The speed of vegan. Yeah.
Doron Petersan (28:01):
It’s brilliant. This little, I don’t know, know cartoon vehicle just like puttering along, like spitting out cotton, candy clouds, like throwing out cookies everywhere.
Katie Hankinson (28:12):
And the, and what does the world look like when you succeed? I mean, this activism is definitely part of your kind of poor ethos. So presumably this also pairs with an ever growing Tran of, of the us switching their habits.
Doron Petersan (28:29):
Yeah. We have more and more people that are here. So more people are eating more vegan and vegetarian options, but there’s more people. So there’s actually more animals that are dying for food. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and that’s not going to change until we change our habits. So trying to help put that habit with a cookie. Right. There’s no eggs, there’s no milk. You don’t have to worry about that. So hopefully that will help a little bit. Yeah. Right. But what it does is it helps people change their minds. Right. It, it gets their, it gets them to wrap their heads around it in a way where it’s not scary anymore. And especially, you know, my kid is 10. Um, and you know, his, his mom owns bakery. Right. So, and it’s in DC. So all of his friends know who I am and they’ve had our stuff, but none of ’em are vegan, but they’re not scared of it. They don’t grab our cookie and be like, this is the vegan cookie. Right. I mean, no, they don’t like, they’re just like, I know it’s yummy. Yeah. Like, gimme those cookies. So like, that’s, that’s where I wanna get to. And we’re only gonna get there as time goes on. Uh, so I have to be patient. I can’t force feed people. My cookies. <laugh>
Katie Hankinson (29:41):
<laugh> much as you would love to. Well, I’m definitely gonna be, uh, trying, trying, uh, sticky fingers being cookie in a, in a, at a moment. Very, very imminently sending
Doron Petersan (29:52):
You. I need to send you a gift back. I’ll
Katie Hankinson (29:54):
Get your, but I’m just totally angling for a gift that right now <laugh> yeah.
Doron Petersan (29:57):
I hear you. I hear you. I
Katie Hankinson (30:00):
Two last for you. Yes. One is what have you learned about yourself as an owner operator leader of a company as you’ve gone through this journey?
Doron Petersan (30:12):
That’s the meanest question.
Katie Hankinson (30:14):
<laugh> what, yeah. Doesn’t have to be like the most hard of all the learnings, but like, what do you sometimes think about, wow, like this is, this is a thing that I’ve discovered about myself over these years that I didn’t
Doron Petersan (30:30):
Learn for. Uh, oh my gosh, where do I start? I can pick one.
Katie Hankinson (30:35):
You can have more than one if you want. <laugh>
Doron Petersan (30:37):
Uh, so taking things, um, for face value, like as they’re happening. Mm. Like there’s enough crazy stuff that’s gonna happen. Most likely you’re gonna be able to fix it most likely. Um, if you just flow with it and you just go with kind of, what’s being presented to you and you just work with it, that doesn’t mean only ex accept what’s being presented to you. It’s not being roll over. That means don’t fight every single angle, choosing your battles life on life’s terms, however you wanna call it. It, it, and that’s different per person and it’s different per moment. Um, so a lot of time, cause people talk about owners getting, getting in their own way. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> like, I have vision that I’m stuck on this vision. This is the only vision that I have, and I will not go anywhere else. And this is the path that I have to get there. And like that is damaging. That’s almost as damaging as being like, well, which way should we go? I don’t know. I don’t know. Where do you wanna go? Let’s do this. Like, you know, so, so having those guidelines and those rails, but being able to, you know, flow with it, go with the punches, all that stuff. Not a sense
Katie Hankinson (31:53):
Of the mission, but yeah, those flexibility within
Doron Petersan (31:56):
It really important for me. Cause I can beat myself up. I can compare myself to other people I can get pretty intense and that doesn’t, um, it just does more or damage in the end. Mm-hmm <affirmative> then, um, there’s no rules. Mm. Like there’s no rules. There’s um, there’s expectation. And, but having some of those guidelines and those rails just helps you stay within. So mm-hmm, <affirmative>,
Katie Hankinson (32:23):
Doron Petersan (32:25):
That, that for me is the hardest part. I would like it black and my right. Um, cause then you have like very strict rules to go by. It would be so much easier, but then I’d be boring. And then I would fight those rules anyways and I would break it down and it would all become a slushy gray. So, um, also re realizing and recognizing that and being okay with, um, my timeline to get there. Mm. Um, knowing that like, as a woman where I come I’m from my upbringing, my background, what I’m capable of, all those things have played a part in how long it’s taken me to get here and where I am now. Right. And I can’t forget those things as much as you’d like to, and be like, no, none, those things should matter. I should be able to do this right now. Like yeah, no, that’s not how it works. So
Katie Hankinson (33:20):
Being, knowing you are the product of your experience kind
Doron Petersan (33:23):
Of thing. Yeah. And recognizing that it’s okay. And like being okay with not opening 150 brick and mortars around the us. That’s okay. I would sometimes it’s like, I wish I wanted that. And then it’s like, no, I don’t
Katie Hankinson (33:38):
Just like, you don’t wanna be in the food truck right now.
Doron Petersan (33:40):
Don’t wanna be in a food truck.
Katie Hankinson (33:44):
So with this in mind, um, we always ask our last by pilot’s checklist question, because of course on our podcast name is building while flying. And when you are building while flying, it’s important to keep calm under pressure. And, um, when you are faced with a tough decisions, your business have a checklist just like that pilot to help you get through it. So what is your building while flying checklist or, or that
Doron Petersan (34:09):
Mantra? Panic moment. Panic
Katie Hankinson (34:12):
Moment. Yeah. Or like crisis indecision moment. What, what do you do?
Doron Petersan (34:18):
So, uh, I’ve actually learned, this is where I’ve spent, like the past 10 years trying to figure out my, figure myself out and figure out like exactly this, like, how do you operate under pressure? Because there’s always gonna be pressure and there’s different levels of pressure and where I’m at is my, it goes back to perspective, right? It goes back to that like, like the life on life terms where mm-hmm, <affirmative> like it at any moment, like fingerprints on the door can be an absolute, like everybody stop what they’re doing. We have to clean off the fingerprints or a, you know, four foot flood in the kitchen can be an emergency. So it really just depends where you’re at, um, and happening. But number one, you have to, you just have to pause mm-hmm <affirmative> um, you have to what you’re doing so that you can like regroup.
Doron Petersan (35:09):
Uh, you have to do absolutely everything you can to keep everybody else calm. There have been times where I’ve had to tell everybody, like the worst thing that’s gonna happen today is we shut the doors. So I need everybody to think about that. And then once you put it in perspective and I’m like, Hey, and guess what? We can lock the doors. If we need to, let’s all take breath. And then they’re like, okay, what do we need to do? And like, like I said, like we’ve had, we’ve had an extreme flood that everybody calmly pulled together and cleaned it up. And like, we still open for service. I’ll be at an hour late. We’ve had, you know, maybe we’ve had a fire or two, um, sometimes things catch on fire. Um, sometimes this is really awful, but sometimes people die and don’t show up for work. That’s an extreme situation. Um, but these are horrible reality is of life. Well,
Katie Hankinson (35:58):
It’s so wonderful to hear about the journey of sticky fingers and what the beginning of what is now sticky fingers. 2.0 is you begin to grow the brand across the country. And I feel like when you were talking about the whole early days, when you began your restaurant jobs and you were wor you, people would go to restaurants in spite of the food, you got it across to being people going to restaurants because of the food. And now you’re in a place where it’s because of the food and so much more. Um, so I’m super excited to hear about how the, the mission continues, how your ultimate vision of the vegan super highway becomes manifest well to domination. You will in fact, build an empire on cookies it’s gonna happen. Um, but thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. It’s been such
Doron Petersan (36:45):
Thank you so much for chatting. I really appreciate it. It’s
Katie Hankinson (36:48):
Fun. So much fun. Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next for another flight.
Mickey Cloud (37:03):
If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building while flying across brands, businesses, marketing, and more
Katie Hankinson (37:17):
Original music by Fulton Street Music Group.
Welcome to Building While Flying!
This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.
In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild; building the plane while flying.
Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.
How do you change people’s behaviors?
In her conversation with Katie, Doron shares the challenges she’s faced throughout her career: from breaking into the vegan food industry, to creating vegan food that tastes good, to changing people’s behaviors, and learning the business side of running a vegan bakery. She also emphasizes the important role her mission plays in growing her brand and business. Lastly, Doron talks about shifting from brick-and-mortar bakeries to e-commerce and wholesale, and what that means for the future of Sticky Fingers.
Other in-flight topics:
- Challenges of breaking into the vegan food industry
- Learning the business side of a bakery
- Running a mission-based brand
- Why shifting to e-commerce is the right move
- Lessons learned from shifting to e-commerce
- …and more!