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614 Entrepreneur Q&A: Stacie Skinner

614 Entrepreneur Q&A: Stacie Skinner

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Food allergy parent turns love into waffles

By Lindsey Escaja

Before allergy-free options started appearing in grocery stores around the world, Stacie Skinner was simply a busy food-allergy parent who had to think outside the box when it came to meal prep and traveling with a plan. After a near-death experience with her son, Ethan, who had an undiagnosed nut allergy, Skinner noticed a void in the marketplace—allergy-free waffles. The big, fluffy delicious kind she was accustomed to after years of baking with her late mother, Eva, in their Lopaus Point, Maine, kitchen.

Cooking with her mother inspired not only the name of Skinner’s company, Lopaus Point, but her passion for creation in the kitchen. This passion followed her from childhood into adulthood where she made a career in retail planning and food industry R&D before starting a business of her own. With her background and experience, CEO Skinner might just be the hero food allergy parents need on their side.

614 had an opportunity to sit down with Skinner to learn more about her journey to make Lopaus Point what it is today; the good, the bad, the ugly. 

1. Name: Stacie Skinner

2. Business: Lopaus Point

3. Describe your business: 

The joy I had cooking in the kitchen with my mother as a child completely transitioned into Lopaus’ kitchen. Lopaus Point waffles are made with real ingredients and in a GFCO certified facility. Not only are our waffles gluten-free, but they are also free from most other major food allergens, including dairy, soy, eggs, and tree nuts. Instead of incorporating preservatives, sugar, or fruit juice concentrates into our waffles like most brands do, we instead lightly sweeten ours with real fruit and other wholesome food ingredients.

We are not only dedicated to making the best waffles with thoughtfully selected ingredients, but we have optimism and inclusiveness in everything we do and touch.  For instance, it has been one of staples from the beginning to include team members with special needs. At Lopaus Point, we believe that we are more alike than different. We are dedicated to providing training and jobs to people in our community who are often overlooked and we hope others join us in celebrating those differences by buying our product.

4. Everyone in business has that moment when they know this is what they’re supposed to do. When and what was yours?

The moment I knew this was what I was supposed to do was when others started having enthusiasm for my products. When I really started paying attention during my involvement at local farmers markets to my customers and their asks was when I also realized I could turn this into a full-time business if I put the time in that it required. For instance, customers started asking me if I could save them waffles or where they could order them from; they liked them that much. This gave me the fire I needed to start my action plan in creating Lopaus Point.

5. What were the first five action steps you took to turn your dream into a reality? 

First and foremost, I did a soft quit. I switched from being full-time at Jane’s Dough designing pizzas in their R&D department to consulting part-time at Kahki. This was when I realized I needed to just hit the pavement. I started connecting with local independent stores and pitched my product with confidence. I was surprised when I had a 100% yes rate that lasted about four years. A lot of good ideas die waiting; which is why I decided to focus on this target market. For instance, it takes at least a year to get into Whole Foods whereas it took weeks to get into some of these.  Other steps I took consisted of talking more about my product and networking with others who were ahead of me in the industry. For instance, I focused on entrepreneurs who were or already had gone through a similar process and who I knew would support me and welcome my support in return. The last piece of the puzzle that came as a bit of a challenge was finding a space to work from. Not only did I have to find somewhere that worked logistically, but I had to ensure it was a gluten-free certified facility that is dedicated to only gluten-free production.

6. When did you know you had something special that people loved?

When people are willing to take money out of their wallet to support your product, you know you have something special. That moment for me was when I started selling my waffles at our local farmers market; which for an aspiring food entrepreneur like myself was like having my own free research and development focus group. I started out with one flavor, banana flax; which quickly spiraled into additional flavors like chocolate chip, wild blueberry, and pumpkin spice, perfect for any palette. When customers found out my waffles were free of most allergens, the demand grew astronomically. This is when I knew I had to take steps beyond the farmers market. 

7. What current company or entrepreneur do you admire?

I am fond of my relationships among other established gluten-free businesses in the Columbus area, such as, Erika Boll, founder of The Toasted Oat; Eric and Adrienne Braddock, founders of Eban’s Bakehouse; Dara Schwartz, founder of Darista Dips; and Vicki Nortz, founder of Ridiculously Good Salsa. Each of these individuals lends me mentorship advice and insights on how I can grow my waffle business not only faster, but smarter.

8. What are your plans for future growth?

My future plans for growth include working toward becoming a national brand, introducing new flavors, and boosting protein content without altering the product. In addition, with the current COVID climate I hope to expand my waffles into a top of mind gifting option.

9. What are the top five things you keep on your desk?

  1. My Mac because it has everything I need.
  2. Either black coffee or water in my favorite mug with the quote “It’s cool to be kind” on it.
  3. My to-do list for the day and week ahead.
  4. I don’t want it there, but somehow I can never get rid of all the paper on my desk.
  5. Food samples and some kind of snack; which is usually Skinny Pop.

10. Behind every entrepreneur are people who support them and help them get where they are: who are your people?

Because my business is 24/7 I wouldn’t be able to do this crazy, off the wall adventure without the support of my husband and kids. In addition, although my best friend, Karen is geographically in a different industry, she is someone who can listen and lend a voice and advice that I might not get otherwise. Last, but certainly not least my therapist: my rescue dog and companion, Sparkle. Sparkle always brings me 100% optimism whenever I have a setback and clearly is the best listener known to man. 

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