Editor’s Note: This article is a part of a BoldHeartMama Storytelling Series which offers a peek into the lives of mothers from all over, and highlights their unique BoldHeart stories, from struggles to triumphs in work and mothering and life. Read more at BoldHeartMama.com.
Like everyone else, it seems, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the buzz of Liz Fishman’s wildly growing meal service Daily Jars. The accolades are well-deserved—her carefully crafted foods are not only made from local and organic produce whenever possible, but they are delicious, nutrient dense, and beautifully presented—truly, meals to look forward to enjoying.
Liz’s prepared meals, snacks, and treats cater to families with food allergies and intolerances, and even if that’s not you, all of us can appreciate the convenience and value found in high quality prepared foods that we can feel good about eating and feeding to our families.
Captivated first by her food, my attention was next drawn to Liz herself as I couldn’t help but wonder how launching Daily jars was impacting life as she knew it. How was she balancing the demands of her new lifestyle as business owner and mother, and how was she managing her time and the needs of her family? Was it crazy or carefree?
I’ve always been interested in the different ways that women, especially mothers, make decisions for themselves and their families about their work and home life. Equally curious is how these women live out their decisions to make their choices truly work for them because there are so many ways to do it.
Liz is a mother of two, and while she may come across as humble and maybe even a bit blown away by her own success so far, don’t let her quiet modesty fool you. To shatter the notion of some who may look on with awe wondering how does she do it all? In her own words, “Do I love it? Yes. But nothing comes from nothing. I’m no superhero, I’m working my ass off.” So it goes with passion work.
J: Liz, tell us about Daily Jars and your mission from the food to the packaging.
L: Daily Jars is a local meal subscription service that caters to people with dietary restrictions. All of our meals, snacks and sweets are free of gluten, dairy, egg, soy, peanuts, corn, shellfish, beef and cane sugar. Whenever possible our ingredients are local and organic. Many of the meals are packaged in glass mason jars and the remainder are packaged in compostable boxes. A rotating menu is offered each week and customers place their orders online by Thursday at noon and then pick up their meals on Sunday night or Monday.
When I started this I was offering soup and muffins, and some small treats. I felt strongly about avoiding plastics, particularly with hot foods, and mason jars were ideal because the soup could be transported and warmed in one container. These mason jars are lovely empty vessels I can fill up with food and present in a gorgeous way. I get to think about each individual ingredient, and how it will interact with the ingredients around it as they layer into the jar—I get to be an artist and I’ve always loved creating things.
In my faith there is also this idea of a Mitzvah—doing a kind deed for someone else. Doing a mitzvah is good for the person who you do it for, and for yourself.
My grandmother, my mom’s mom, she was a typical Jewish grandmother always wanting to cook for others. We called her Bubbie and after she was diagnosed with breast cancer she began baking these individual loafs of challah bread that she would drop off at radiation clinics as her way to touch other people’s lives—to let them know they weren’t alone—in effect giving them a hug with food. She called them Bread of Hope, and in all she delivered more than 25,000 loaves of challah! She has always been a role model to me and like her, I believe that cooking for people is a way to care for them, to let them know that you’re thinking of them and that you love them.
As I’ve learned more about allergies and intolerances I’ve also understood that diet change often leads to life change for people. The idea that I can nurture my customers in a way that helps them to heal themselves through the food they eat really is at the heart of Daily Jars.
J: As much as I once craved to plan for my career in the context of my family life, I’ve found that my work and the trajectory of my career have been shaped most by synchronicity, the meaningful coincidences that happen in our lives–those seemingly random events you can’t foresee but that make total sense in hindsight. You’ve held a variety of jobs, and for the last six years you have been at home with your two kids, now six and two. I’ve heard you described as an “accidental entrepreneur,” how did Daily Jars first begin and was it a bit of synchronicity for you too?
L: Daily Jars began because there was a need here in Richmond with regard to prepared foods for individuals with food allergies and intolerances and I stepped in to try and fill the void. My two children and I each have different dietary restrictions and it has been really challenging to find restaurants and take-out options that meet all our needs.
In January I participated in an elimination diet support group. During our meeting members of the group expressed their frustration at not being able to find prepared options that fit into the parameters of the diet. Many were busy professionals or parents or students, and simply didn’t have the time to cook every meal from scratch. I offered to prepare extra portions of the food I was already cooking for myself, and before I knew it, Daily Jars was born.
As for synchronicity, I do think had this happened a year earlier—when my son Levi was one—I would have been begging other people to make me food, not jumping in with both feet! Last Fall I was in the mindset to seek out something for myself, a goal—something just for me. I decided to train for a triathlon and then I joined this support group, and the timing was just right. I was ready to accept a challenge like this when the need presented.
J: I’m a big fan of the idea of starting wherever we are and taking small steps or actions that bring us closer to our big goals and dreams—it can be any little thing that we choose to focus on but persistence and steady progress really add up. Share with us your approach to business so far and how, in short time, Daily Jars has grown from all these little actions you’ve taken as opportunities have presented.
L: I’ve always been an impulse driven person. I jump without looking.
My motivation when this began wasn’t to run a business, it was to help these people sitting right in front of me by making food for them today. I found myself in this extraordinary position, uniquely qualified to meet an urgent need. So I was responding to immediate need, while operating and planning at the same time.
Maintaining a focus on the quality of the food I offer and connecting with my customers—making sure that I’m meeting their needs—has always been my top priority. I was a one person show for a minute, but I quickly realized I needed more hands on deck. I have learned to rely on my community and to ask for help. When I got married I planned a destination wedding and it was a bit like launching an invasion. That’s kind of what I liken this experience too, there are so many pieces to it. If I just sit back I can get really bogged down, but every week I pick one goal to focus on.
One week early on I just buckled down on the business side of things and got my insurance, my license, my tax id, and a health department inspection. Another week I was focused on sourcing ingredients, and how to keep prices affordable while using the organic local foods that I feel really passionate about. This week I’m working on better planning and documentation of each recipe. Exactly how many beets do I need to buy to make 26 shredded veggie jars, and then how much beet goes into each jar?
Sometimes things come to you and you may not feel ready but you have to take the opportunity and give it all you have. At other times, instead of feeling overwhelmed and like things are insurmountable you need to break it down and tackle it one step at a time, and feel good with each action you accomplish.
I’m learning from my mistakes too. Every week there are new lessons. It’s not all roses but I do my best to move forward towards my vision, and while my end goal may not be clear yet I know that I’m very fulfilled by feeding others healthy foods and by the sense of community I feel when I sit down to dinner at night knowing there are so many other Richmonders sitting down to the very same meal.
J: Embarking on an entrepreneurial adventure like this must impact all facets of your life. What is your family/work schedule like right now and how are you all managing the transition? What are you doing to take care of yourself as demands for your time and energy have ramped up, and has any aspect of entrepreneurship influenced your attitude about self care?
L: Ha! Yes, let’s talk first about self care. It took three years of being a parent before I remembered that I needed to take care of myself. I learned that time alone really helps recharge my batteries and so I put a high priority on exercise. Since starting this business that time has, unfortunately, gone pretty much out the window as I try to eek minutes and hours out of each day to spend quality time with my family and run Daily Jars. I know I can’t thrive long term without caring for myself and I do want to better incorporate self care not as a bonus to myself but as necessary to my wellbeing, but I need to figure out how to work that back in.
I enjoy reading fiction and I stay up too late reading! Sitting down with a book lets me get out of my own head and go somewhere else. Right now I’m reading The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum. I also take a nap most days. I’m not a great sleeper so I’ve let go of the “falling asleep” part of the nap—I just need to lay down in a dark room, and that is rejuvenating to me.
As for our actual daily schedule, it is totally different each day and each week. The only real constant is that I’m cooking and delivering food to my pick up locations on Sunday, leaving my house at 830am and usually returning around 700pm. Most other days are split between hanging out with my kids and tackling my million mile long to-do list. It has been a new and challenging place for my family to be as I’m away from my children for 20-30 hours a week. My daughter frequently questions why I am spending so much time in the kitchen with my jars, and she often wishes I would go back to being her round-the-clock doting mommy. My husband Greg has been extremely supportive and has picked up my slack at home, like chores and a lot more time with the kids for longer stretches of time. He has traditional hours and work that often comes home with him too.
I’m fortunate to have a wonderful friend who has been watching my children along with her own, and I would like to use some of that time for self care to swim or run.
J: What has been the best part of this experience for you? How about your biggest challenge so far?
L: The best part is truly feeling that I’m part of a community now. While it was wonderful being able to focus on my children for the last 5.5 years, I have often felt very isolated as our own little entity—my little family in our house—almost like living on an island. Now I feel so connected and a part of something bigger. I have developed connections from reaching out to other business owners and experts for help, with my repeat clients who I love to see and check in with at pick-up every week, and with those that are helping to make Daily Jars the success it is—my caring friend and babysitter, and the hard-working rock stars that create culinary beauty with me in the kitchen and who help with day-to-day planning and operations.
I’m also proud to have created this concept that other people are really excited about. I recently teamed up with Ellwood Thompson’s where I have shopped since I moved to Richmond ten years ago. I have always loved their commitment to support our community and provide fresh, local, organic and natural foods. Learning that Ellwood was enthusiastic to work with me is the fulfillment of a dream I didn’t even know I had until a few months ago.
My biggest challenge is time management and the fact that there aren’t enough hours in the day to spend time with my kids, get the work done, take care of myself, and spend time with my husband. I use my iPhone to squeeze extra minutes out of the day whenever I get a chance, keeping up with emails, tracking orders as they come in, communicating with growers and vendors, employees and customers. I am certain that being able to conduct business in this capacity is both a blessing and a curse.
J: What are your future plans for Daily Jars, and what is your business approach moving forward? Are you taking it as it comes and figuring it out as you go? Are you proactively business planning? Maybe a little of both?
L: I’m doing some of both, probably still more reactive than pro-active, but that’s a good fit for me. I have recently reached a place where I can see that it would be really worthwhile to step back a minute and set some long term goals. It’s time to write a business plan.
J: As you look forward do you have any feelings of fear or worry about the intersection of your work and your mothering? What is your advice to other mothers who may feel this way?
L: I do constantly think about both the positive and negative ways this business effects my family, and I plan to continue to touch base with those thoughts. I loved some parts of being a stay at home mom, like the lack of stress and the feeling that I had all the time in the world to creep along at a snails pace with my kids, but the monotony of spending every waking minute with little people also was challenging and even in some ways boring. While I enjoyed staying home full time with my children, I know that I’m a happier and more fulfilled person since starting this venture. Daily Jars happens to be a wonderful marriage of all of my hobbies and strengths—it has brought a whole new light and life and energy into my being that has been missing. I do also miss the day in, day out parts of mothering, and every Sunday when I leave the kitchen and pass the swimming pool across the street I feel a huge sense of sadness and guilt that I’m not at the pool with my family. But I have to remind myself that a mom is a person too—my identity is not to just meet their every need. I have my own needs.
There’s so much pressure on moms to be and do everything. To feed kids a certain way, to interact with them in a certain way, to provide them with this experience of childhood that may not be that great for mothers, or children. Life continually changes so my advice to other mothers is to be aware of the pieces that are working for you and the pieces that aren’t working for you and to be open to change and to find the best balance for you. If your needs aren’t being met, it’s not just what is best for your child and family but also for you. Have faith that even if the place that you are in right now may not be exactly what you are looking for, if you stay curious and open to what is out there, you may find yourself in a place that is closer to where you’re trying to get.
To check out this week’s menu and for more information about Daily Jars visit the website at www.DailyJars.com
Article edited for content and clarity.