[Myrna and Cheryl were recently interviewed by David Biondo and Dean Rotbart for an upcoming edition of B. Unconventional. Here is an article that Dean wrote about the two Boulder, Colorado friends and entrepreneurs in January 2010 for his Examiner.com column.]
Myrna Mirow and Cheryl Katten shouldn't be having as much fun and success as they are.
The two Boulder, Colorado, neighbors have watched their Skinny Crisps line of healthy, tasty, crunchy low-carb and gluten free crackers grow about tenfold over the past year even as so many other small businesses have wilted or gone under.
What is their secret formula? Almonds, chickpea flour, golden flax seed, psyllium husks and olive oil contribute a lot.
But the real secret is finding an underserved niche and stepping into it with high-quality products, self confidence, and plenty of hard work.
The tale of Myrna and Cheryl should provide comfort to all aspiring entrepreneurs who may be encouraged by well-intended family and friends to give into to their limitations when, quite the contrary, they should be focused on their potential.
There are a thousand and one reasons why Myrna and Cheryl's business aspirations should not have worked. Neither woman had previous experience in the health-food/ snack-food industry. Neither had the financial resources to underwrite a food business. And as for helpful industry connections? Zero. Nada. None.
Nevertheless, launched on a two-rack oven in Myrna's kitchen in the summer of 2007, Skinny Crisps Inc. has captured loyal customers online and at 60 mom-and-pop shops throughout the country and as far away as Alaska. Moreover, since April 2009, Skinny Crisps have been addicting growing numbers of shoppers at Whole Foods stores throughout Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region.
Indeed, the six Skinny Crisps varieties - Plain Jane • White Sesame • Toasty Onion • Seeded • Cinnamon Crisps • and Brownie Crisps - are now rolling out to Whole Foods stores in Southern California, Nevada and Hawaii and perhaps, soon, to other regions as well.
From producing a total of 1,000 5-ounce bags of the gourmet, naturally baked crackers in January 2009, Myrna and Cheryl are now generating 8,000 to 10,000 bags a month from a newly minted bakery of their own. As word of mouth spreads, (pun intended), those numbers should multiply exponentially.
Skinny Crisps appeal to customers who pine for the taste and crispiness of full-carb, full-gluten crackers and snacks, but who for health reasons can't or choose not to eat the high-octane variety.
In 2006, Cheryl was advised by her physician to avoid wheat, a diet recommendation that is followed by millions of others with celiac disease, diabetes, obesity and even autism.
"Once upon a time there was a sweet and beautiful Princess with a very Sour Tummy. When the King's physician told her that she could no longer eat anything made with gluten, she broke down and cried."
So the tale is told on the back of Skinny Crisps' designer packaging of "How Skinny Crisps Were Born." The true-life tale features Cheryl, now 39, showing up in tears in the kitchen of her neighbor, Myrna, now 65.
Myrna, a couture fashion designer who earlier relocated from Miami to be closer to her adult daughter in Boulder, set about designing a recipe for snack crackers that her new best female friend and neighbor, Cheryl, could enjoy.
Be it kismet or just fantastic luck, Cheryl, too, is a fashion designer so the two new neighbors bonded. Indeed, Myrna, down on her luck, took to sewing for Cheryl's fashion business as a means of supplementing her income.
What Myrna baked up, however, changed both their lives. Myrna's ambition was to develop a healthy, natural cracker that was crispy. The ones she baked in her kitchen oven came close. But when she purchased a convection oven and installed it in her garage, she achieved her desired crunch level.
Day in and day out Myrna and Cheryl teamed to mix the dough in Myrna's kitchen, bake it in her garage and then ship it from her home to online customers and independent stores. Skinny Crisp landed its first retailer in November 2007 and continued to add a new shop on average about once a month.
Their big break came when the two women pitched their product to Whole Foods' Rocky Mountain region representatives who just ate the samples up - literally and figuratively.
Sharing a telephone interview, Myrna and Cheryl come across as two high school friends who are just thrilled to be partners in a rapidly growing business. "It's so much fun," Myrna says, noting that she loves the challenge and the interactions with customers. "I'm a people person."
Myrna, the CEO, handles much of the sales responsibilities while Cheryl, the COO, oversees production and distribution. Most strategic decisions are planned and approved jointly.
On their drawing board are new products and new packaging. Cheese crackers are likely to be next and a pancake mix is also in the offing. The duo also plans to sell their existing cracker lines in 100-calorie containers for noshers on the go.
Because success has come rapidly to Myrna and Cheryl, they seem eager to continue to expand their business with both new products and new retail outlets.
But after spending nearly an hour speaking with them on the phone, it is hard to imagine how they could be any more successful: they are already doing work they love, making money at it, and doing well by their customers.