Stone's Throw Hash: From career marketer to CPG food founder
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Tenney Rosenblum Today I'm joined by Ben James of Stone's Throw Hash. Welcome, Ben. How you doing today?
Ben James Good. How are you doing?
Tenney Rosenblum I'm doing fine. Thank you. So why don't you tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you got into food?
Ben James Yeah, absolutely. So I've always loved food since I was a little kid. Breakfast is my favorite food of the day. And so I've always been interested in food, but I actually got into food through marketing. Out of graduate school, I got into initially with dog food actually, working in Nestle Purina did some marketing roles there. And then I moved in to a role at Ocean Spray cranberries. So worked in juice, as well as like dried snacks and things like that. So that was my first exposure to the food industry. And it was there that I really found the interest in in launching my own food business.
Tenney Rosenblum So what product are you launching today?
Ben James Yeah, so today, came in to show the team the Wakey, Wakey, Apple Bacon. This one is so delicious actually it was one of the first was on the first ones we launched in our food truck on the first started in 2019. In Baltimore. And it's a combination of red potatoes. applewood smoked bacon, apples, we have a cardamom rosemary seasoning, onions. It's really delicious, and a great classic hash.
Tenney Rosenblum It does sound good. Alright, so let's go back for a second to the beginning. Has anything surprised you about starting your own food business?
Ben James Um, no, I think you know, it's, it's, you know, there's always surprises along the way you've, you can plan and it's important, I should say, to plan as much as you can. And then, you know, roll with the punches as they come. Right. So it's a lot of, you know, initially, one of the big things you know, the great things about Union Kitchen is you're getting intimate knowledge of your food yourself, you're making it all the time. So it's a lot of work there as well. But then the next day, you're kind of doing something different, you're doing sales calls or knocking on doors or grocery stores. And that's what's fun about it. You really do you wear all the different hats of a leader of a food business.
Tenney Rosenblum What was your reaction to those closest to you about your announcement that you want to go into food where you're like, parents completely on board with it, where they're like, Oh, we don't know about this, what about your friends?
Ben James Yeah, that's an interesting question. I mean, I think for me, everybody was on board with it. I spent a long time planning it, almost two years before I took the leap. I had actually tested this out on all of them I was very open about I was going to start this business I was hoping to and so they were the first, you know, samples that I gave out, they tried it out. And I got the feedback from them, friends and family. So they were fully on board. And my brother's and they're helping us today. Right. So they're still heavily involved and help out whenever they can.
Tenney Rosenblum It's good to hear. Any funny mishaps happen during the launch process for this or any of your products?
Ben James Yeah, I'd say this one we're getting, you know, smoother with our lunches. But when we first ran, yeah, right, exactly. When I first launched with food truck, one of the tenants of our business is we really focus on local sourcing as much as possible, right. So started off, and we were launching in May of 2019. And so sweet potato season locally in the Mid Atlantic. And really, I mean, they stop pulling them out of the ground and the end of the previous year, but they're still good through February or so March, maybe. So it was the end of February, I had to order all these sweet potatoes. And once we had 2000 pounds of sweet potatoes we were so for two weeks straight I had aunts, uncles, cousins, my pregnant wife, everybody was chopping and watching sweet potatoes.
Tenney Rosenblum Your your child will be born with a particular affinity for sweet potatoes.
Ben James That's true. He likes everything that he's really needs a ton. But anyway, so that was kind of the initial thing. And it was it was, you know, a scramble to get it all done. But as a lot of fun. everybody enjoyed it.
Tenney Rosenblum Yeah. So what's one brand that really you admire?
Ben James Yeah so I'm going to actually pull one from outside the food space. And that's Patagonia. I've always been a big fan of Patagonia. I've read Yvon Chouinard books. I think he's a fantastic leader and truly an inspiration in terms of businesses staying the course and sticking with their core values. They've never veered from that. And, you know, 30 plus years, they've been in business and they continue to succeed. You know, any business cycle doesn't matter if it's downturn or not. And I love that they stick to that what they were founded on.
Tenney Rosenblum What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone who's just starting out?
Ben James Yeah, so you know, I kind of mentioned this earlier, but, you know, I spent a lot of time planning which is really important. You need to go through that process. Ask friends family sample, get honest feedback. And that's a key key part of it. You know, don't just stick with Yes Men, right?
Tenney Rosenblum I say this is telling me it's great is just as bad as saying it's awful and giving no more feedback.
Ben James Exactly. You need that honest, candid feedback. So doing that, that legwork, but at the same time, you can kind of stay you know behind that and be in that that stage of pre launch for so long, that you never really take the leap, right? At a certain point, once you've done your due diligence and everything, launch and I think do it in a lean way. That was one of the key learnings for me. So Union Kitchen's a great place to do that test at farmer's markets, all those things, but launch, getting real consumer feedback and data as quickly as you can.
Tenney Rosenblum So what's next for you and Stone's Throw Has?
Ben James Yeah. So you know, like I said, we've we're launching Wakey Wakey Apple Bacon today. We've got two more red potato flavors in the pipeline. So we launched with a line of sweet potato flavors. And now we're gonna round it out with a line of red potato flavors. So the next one is called the Philly Me Up. It's a play on a Philly Cheese Steak. So a steak flavor with Italian seasoning. red potatoes, green peppers, and onions. And then the next one is actually I'm pretty excited about too. It's another vegan option. We will be the first one bringing this this a plant based chorizo this specific kind. It's a chickpea based chorizo to market. So it'd be a Mexican style, red potato hash, so a little spicy. But we'll have this plant based chorizo, which is phenomenal. I think people are really going to be blown away by it.
Tenney Rosenblum That does sound good and having just tried one of your earlier flavors. I'm definitely looking forward to that.
Ben James Thanks. All right. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. You're welcome. Have a great day. And thank you to all listening for taking the time to listen to us.