Sara Hurst already had a busy schedule — senior client success manager for tech company First Orion, event manager for local boutique Beige, new mom — but when she had the idea for a healthy meal prep service for kids and families, she knew she had to make it a reality.
In April 2020, Hurst launched Bella’s Kitchen and Wellness (named after her daughter) and has continued to grow the business despite the pandemic.
We caught up with the owner and founder for the latest installment of our Small Business Talk series highlighting and demystifying the world of women in small business.
Elevator pitch time. Tell us about Bella’s Kitchen and Wellness.
SH: Bella's Kitchen and Wellness offers prepared fresh and delicious everyday meals that will nourish you. We believe in a whole-food, plant-forward diet. We understand sensitivities and allergies, so we will list ingredients, as well as [cater to] special diets such as gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian. We offer delivery and pick-up in the Little Rock/North Little Rock metro area.
Did you have a lightbulb moment when you knew this was what you were supposed to do?
SH: It was not as much as a lightbulb as nagging thoughts that would not leave my head. I would start thinking of the recipes, products, packaging and all of these ideas. I still do. My brain won't shut off.
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What is it like to juggle Bella's Kitchen and your role at Beige with your 9-to-5 job?
SH: It's been challenging but very rewarding! I have gotten to grow with First Orion and learn so many things. Bella's Kitchen has been a passion project, and I'm thankful for the team I have built. I could definitely not do all of the juggling without them.
Last but not least, Beige. I have always been in love with fashion. Fashion, art and cooking have truly always nourished my soul. Being able to plan chic, fun parties is something I have not been able to turn down. [Beige owner Ashley Peeples] and I have worked together for almost seven years. We are very in tune with each other, and it works out.
What is something you wish you'd done differently when you launched?
SH: I really wish I wouldn't have been so concerned about having the perfect labels, products and website. I was so worried about people's reception of it because it is my second baby. It felt very personal to share with everyone.
Since then, what was a moment that felt huge to you, but might not look that way to others?
SH: Hiring my first employee! I think you are used to doing everything yourself, and then you have someone looking at your business, its processes and all bits of it. It makes you very self-conscious.
How have your goals evolved since you first started?
SH: Well, I think at the beginning I was really just hoping to get customers and sales. Now it's all about customer retention, how to cut costs without compromising quality (thanks, inflation!) and how to manage and get employees excited.
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What are the best and hardest parts about working for yourself?
SH: The best part is that I get to look back and think of all of our milestones and celebrate what we have accomplished. The hard part is that you don't get to ever be off. Even as you get employees, there's always something new to work on.
Does being a woman affect how you do business or the way people do business with Bella's Kitchen? If so, how?
SH: As far as customers, the fact that I'm a woman attracts more women shoppers. I think unintentionally we do cater to and target women, so it helps to my advantage. When talking to men about my business, sometimes it can feel that they assume this is a hobby, and they don't necessarily treat it as a real business.
What do you wish people knew about small business owners?
SH: That we try really hard. It's really hard to compete with big brands because they are at a scale where things are so much cheaper — i.e. Freshly, Factor, Daily Harvest, etc. They are producing at a mass scale, and we cannot compete yet. However, we employ people from our local community and pay fairly. We try to source locally, and because we are local, we work on sustainability by providing reusable bags.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
SH: I would tell them to take advantage of all the different resources available [in central Arkansas]: The Venture Center, ASBTDC, Conductor, The Nest, etc. There are so many opportunities now to get mentorship and advice to get your business started, or even just someone to cheer you on because you will need it!