A clinical audiologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center by day, Emily Love turned her passion for creating beautifully displayed, fun, colorful food boards into a side business she calls Make Food Lovely. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Emily about how and why she launched her business.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial? Have you always known you wanted to start a business?
EMILY LOVE: I’m not entrepreneurial at all! I never thought I wanted to start a business. I’m not in the food service world. I’m not a chef. I’m not a cook. I joke that I’m “an arranger.”
NAN: How did you come up with the business concept for Make Food Lovely?
EMILY: It started back in 2017, when my oldest son was transitioning from a stage where he’d eat anything to just eating crackers and air! I started cutting food into different shapes and putting it all on one board, so he could just choose what he wanted. I was using mostly fruits and vegetables and then I started using cheese and meats. I’d also create these boards and bring them to parties.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was furloughed from the hospital from March until June. My resident was graduating and he requested a going away party. So, we all sat six feet away from each other and I brought each person a personalized cupcake box filled with meats and cheeses I’d artfully arranged. My colleagues began asking: Are you going to sell these?
NAN: Was that when the idea sparked?
EMILY: Yes, but all I could think was it’s very complicated. You have to get specific licensing and your kitchen has to be regulated. It’s a time-intensive thing, too.
But I started looking into the timeline and itemized what everything would cost. Then I proposed the idea to my husband, who’s far more entrepreneurial. I told him my goal would be to pay for one week of daycare a month through this side business. So, in terms of profit, that would equate me selling a specific number of boxes during a specific timeframe.
His main question was: Do you love it? And my response was: I absolutely love it! It’s like my version of knitting. It’s therapeutic. I think it would be great. So, we both agreed to invest in this beloved hobby of mine. That was in July 2020.
NAN: How did you build clientele?
EMILY: On August 16, I sold my first two boxes to my mom’s best friend. That was how I imagined my business—selling to my mom’s friends and my aunt. I thought it would be like my version of selling Tupperware.
But after that first sale, I had eight orders. I honestly couldn’t fathom how eight people had found me and didn’t just want to support me because I was a friend or the daughter of one of their friends. They genuinely just wanted to buy the product. So that was exciting. I kept getting more orders and, about three weeks later, my husband and looked at each other and realized: This is different than what we thought this was going to be.
And then my friend Keri Soltoski bought one of my boxes. Keri used to own Found Company, a local small business, which still has a significant social media following. She tagged Make Food Lovely in one of her Instagram stories.
I went to bed one night and I had had about 200 followers, all people who had followed my personal page, and I woke up to about 500 followers. It turns out, a well-known artist from Ellington who has about 150,000 followers shared Carrie’s story. She ended up becoming a fabulous client—another female entrepreneur who saw me and helped elevate what I was doing. She shared about it on several Ellington Facebook group pages, and suddenly all these orders started coming in from that area.
NAN: So, is social media your biggest marketing platform?
EMILY: Yes. My marketing budget is zero. I’ve never paid for an ad or a post. My marketing has just been word of mouth, foot traffic, and social media. I only created a website a couple of months ago because I was doing all my business through direct messaging and it was getting too challenging to manage. My website now features scheduling and ordering and I use an Excel calendar to keep track of everything.
NAN: How else has your business evolved?
EMILY: It’s ever evolving. I started partnering with some local female-owned businesses to do some workshops and classes. I came up with the idea when R Dee Winery in Enfield posted that they were looking for class ideas like painting nights. On a whim, I messaged them about teaching a make-your-own charcuterie class. I was shocked when I got a response. I pitched the idea, we came up with a price point, I created an Eventbrite page, and it sold out in a week.
That gave me a lot of validation. I started hosting more classes, which also sold out quickly. One of the last ones, where I collaborated with Board & Brush Creative Studio in Southington, sold out in 11 hours.
Owning this business is still so surreal. I can’t believe a month ago I had about 5,000 followers on Instagram and now I have more than 16,000. I’m floored by the fact that there are that many people in the world who thought: I want to support this woman in some way, even if it means I live in Brazil and I simply like her photos.
NAN: What tips or advice do you have for other people who are thinking about starting a side business?
EMILY: Keep the passion there. The reason my husband and I decided I could do this is because I thought it was fun. We made a deal that the moment it stops being fun, I’ll stop. Admittedly, there have been some moments where I’m not having fun. But then I block my schedule from taking orders for a week to give myself some breathing room.
That’s the benefit of me also having a full-time job where this is the side hustle. If I didn’t have that full-time job, I wouldn’t feel the comfort saying no. It helps knowing I can say yes or no as much as I want. I think that drives a lot of the decision-making I do as an entrepreneur. I know not everyone else has that luxury and I’m extremely grateful and appreciative.