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Small Business Snapshot: The Gratitude Collective

Vision of making connections, sharing gratitude leads to assembly of business ventures

By Lorie Hailey

Rachel DesRochers makes delicious, artisanal graham crackers that are sold online and in stores in seven states. But they aren’t just any graham cracker, and DesRochers isn’t just any business owner.

Newport, Ky.-based Grateful Grahams was created in 2010, with a mission of spreading gratitude one graham cracker at a time, DesRochers said. The vegan cookies were first sold in one store, but soon they were available in a community of mom-and-pop stores, local coffee shops and other small outlets. Today, the cookies are also sold by some national retailers, including Kroger and Whole Foods.

“My vision has always been about more than making a delicious, organic treat,” she writes in her company blog. “Grateful Grahams was also about making connections and sharing gratitude. Why gratitude? Because gratitude, like a great cookie, touches something at the core of all of us. Something pure and satisfying. Something that can connect us in a simple but truthful way.”

As the cookies took off, so did DesRochers’ vision of sharing gratitude. She created The Gratitude Collective, an assembly of business ventures and community projects: the “In Gratitude” podcast, a women’s group called Grateful Gatherings, and a nonprofit organization called The Incubator Kitchen Collective.

The Incubator Kitchen Collective supports other artisanal food entrepreneurs by providing a shared-use, 10,000-s.f. commercial kitchen at below-market rate. At its two kitchen locations in Newport, the collective provides marketing support and offers access to a network of investors, mentors and like-minded peers. Since it opened in 2013, the incubator has helped more than 150 small food companies get off the ground.

The community is full of “people who help one another,” DesRochers said. “Everybody wants everybody to make it.”

DesRochers is constantly looking for other ways to share gratitude and create community.

“Rachel’s passion for gratitude is infectious and through it she has been a resource and cheerleader for so many entrepreneurs,” said Cheryl Besl, director of marketing at Northern Kentucky Tri-ED. “I admire what she has accomplished through her businesses, Grateful Grahams and the Incubator Kitchen. Rachel’s work has positively influenced the entire Cincinnati region.”

On the next page, DesRochers shares more about her endeavors and the idea that connects them.

How many employees do you have?
Mainly it’s my husband and I; we do most of the day to day. We have two part-time folks who help with baking and marketing.

How did you get interested/started in your field?
Food is in my blood. The kitchen is a space I feel comfortable in and a place where people come together for good things.

How have things changed in your field since you first opened?
A lot has changed. The amount of mom and pop shops have gone down, artisan producers have gone up and yet, we are a thriving community of local artisan makers.

When you meet someone new, how do you describe your job?
Living my dream, helping people, doing good work, supporting, mentoring, exhausting, awe inspiring.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A doctor. I always loved being the caretaker or the helper, and blood and guts never grossed me out…until I saw a mole get removed. I am grateful to be where I am.

Tell us about a recent project or development that you are proud of.
Honestly, I think I am most proud of just how our team and our community have banded together during a most wild 2020. The pivots and the staying with it—growing businesses. I was also just selected by the Cincinnati Business Courier for this year’s class of 40 under 40. A wonderful acknowledgement.

What has been your biggest challenge as a company and how did you overcome it?
For Grateful Grahams, we’ve had to have that have closed down, and so it’s allowed us to focus on more online sales and shipping grahams across the country. For the incubator, we really had to just hold on, let things unravel and let the companies we support feel supported as we were all walking through a completely new scenario.

What do you think will be the long-term effects of the changes made during COVID-19 on your business?
I do think there are long-term effects, but honestly one of the best things is that reminder of the importance of local food. Now more than ever we need folks supporting the local makers, buying local and getting to the markets. We need these makers to survive; they are the backbones of our community.

How is your company involved in the community?
I believe we are majorly involved in community from a “building it” situation. I am a passionate believer that we can do anything. We support our community in donations, in supporting the makers and creators as they launch their dreams. It’s incredible.

If you now had 25 hours in a day, how do you spend your extra hour?
Just being. No need to add anything “more to do”–there is already enough of that. Maybe cooking or celebrating, if I had to really choose.

If you could only eat one item of food for the rest of your life, what would you eat?
Thai food. Does that count as one food? Ha! It’s my favorite; so much flavor and fresh veggies.

What is one important skill that you think everyone should have?
Grace. Compassion. Slowing down. Listening. (Is that too many?)

You just won a major award. Who do you thank during your acceptance speech?
How much time do I have? None of this would be possible without my husband and three kids. The love and support they radiate keeps me going. My parents, who’ve spent hours upon hours helping. My community—they are incredible. n

Lorie Hailey is special publications editor for The Lane Report.
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