Climbing the Food Service Mountain: The Journey of a Small Diversity Vendor

Heidi's Real Food
Article by Heidi Matonis, Founder of Heidi’s Real Food

Innocence and naiveté served me well when I started Heidi’s Real Food. I began my vegan food business as part of a mid-life crisis, a challenge, a dare to myself. I knew nothing about the food business. I simply liked to cook and used it as a creative expression of love for my family.

Early in my journey, I was advised to get certified as a woman owned business. I did not know exactly what this entailed or what I would gain but, nonetheless, preceded through the arduous paperwork required by WBENC – Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.  The last step in this process was an office visit to assure that I was the very same woman documented in the paperwork.

Sandy Smith came to my office. She had been a woman certified business in hospitality for 40 years.  She came at lunchtime so I fed her my meatless meatballs, which were retailing in about 10 Whole Foods locations at the time.  Sandy got very excited and mapped out the food service industry, scrawling on a piece of paper all the working parts.  She seemed to know everyone and everything.  In time, Sandy introduced me to Fred Klashman and a host of other food service veterans.

I was like a toddler learning to walk and these very kind and enthusiastic people started planning my climb of Mount Everest.  Everyone was well intentioned and helpful but honestly, the obstacles of: production, pricing, Food Buy, distribution, it was all really beyond my reach at that point.

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Heidi's Real FoodFast forward, 2 years later:  I keep going to all the great WBENC networking events.  I keep asking questions and meeting people.  Fred introduces me to Ace Natural, a food service distributor in the NYC area that specializes in vegan products.  They help me really focus my food service aspirations.  Ernie Nieves of Thompson Hospitality helps me find a small diversity distributor that services some of his corporate accounts.  He helps connect me to corporate accounts that use this distributor such as Morgan Stanley.  Morgan Stanley is my first corporate client and is a great champion of diversity vendors.

Essentially, I have found a toehold in the behemoth system that wants to let small diversity vendors in but in actuality is set up to do business with other giants like Kraft or General Mills.

My journey is not done:  I have not summited.  Heidi’s Real Food is currently supplying Morgan Stanley’s and Goldman Sachs’ corporate dining rooms.  We also have other commercial and catering accounts and have grown our retail presence. It’s a wonderful start but from where I stand, I can see mountains beyond mountains that need to be climbed and it would all still be too much but I also see the camp of stalwart friends that nurtured and guided me.  Because they all seem ready to throw me a line and lend me a hand, I will keep climbing.

To learn more about Heidi Matonis, Founder of Heidi’s Real Food — maker of ethnically inspired vegan meatballs. Passionate about creative plant-based eating!  Please visit her website.