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Raquel Tavares was first bitten by the entrepreneurial bug when she was nine. As a child, she went door to door selling cherries. Tavares sewed clothes and hats as a teenager and gave them away to friends. By the time she was 19, she had sketched out her own yoga clothing line. She briefly tried to embrace a conventional career by working for a fiber optic network, but couldn’t escape the call of entrepreneurship.
Her entrepreneurial journey then took a turn for the tasty. Born in Brazil, Tavares came to the United States as a young child and grew up cooking alongside her mother and grandmother. After her mother introduced her to ghee, a butter and oil alternative, Tavares made the superfood from home. It set off a lightbulb moment within her. Why not start an artisanal ghee business?
A few years of recipe formulation and ideation later, ghee manufacturer 4th & Heart launched in 2016. 4th & Heart is on a mission to upgrade pantries with grass-fed ghee, leading to healthier and more balanced lifestyles. As the title of this post might suggest, CEO Tavares loves being in the business of ghee. She spoke to me about what makes ghee a superfood, how to stake a place in a niche industry and the influence of yoga in starting a small business.
Deborah Sweeney: Raquel, how did you decide on artisanal ghee as your business offering of choice?
Raquel Tavares: I’m a quintessential Californian girl even though I was born in Brazil. I grew up cooking with my mother and grandmothers in their kitchens. My mother was born to foreign diplomats who worked for A.I.D. (American International Development) so she grew up abroad and lived in several different countries before moving to the United States permanently with me. Her experiences abroad sparked her curiosity about food and diets which led her to become a Registered Dietician and Ayurvedic Practitioner. While almost every country has their own form of ghee, my mother introduced it to me in my early twenties and I’ve made it at home ever since!
I chose ghee because I’d spent the better part of a year deciding what type of company I was going to start and through the process of elimination chose ghee. Ghee fulfilled many of the critical components to launching and succeeding in the food industry, some of which were authenticity, shelf stability, familiarity and innovative.
After I’d made the decision, true to the statement, follow your bliss and the world will conspire to help you, I soon began running into several serendipitous situations that continued to nudge me toward ghee as the platform ingredient which would truly define my future and 4th & Heart’s. Ghee continues to be the golden thread in our product rollouts and a staple ingredient in our entire portfolio.
Sweeney: For those that don’t know, what is ghee?
Tavares: Ghee is lactose-free butter without milk solids. It is made by using either cream or butter. When using cream, the fat is extracted through a process using a centrifuge. The other method which 4th & Heart uses is with milk and kettles. This is a process where we slowly cook the butter until the milk solids crisp and the water evaporates, then filter it thrice through a sieve to ensure the removal of the milk solids.
Sweeney: What are ghee’s health benefits over traditional butter?
Tavares: Ghee is a condensed version of traditional butter without all the fillers (milk solids, butter fat and water). Interestingly enough, it’s the feed (grass versus grain) and the type of cow that indicate the butter’s and therefore the ghee’s vitamin profile, fat profile and the color of butter/ghee! You’ll find all of the omega-fatty acid profiles in ghee, but what makes it special is the butyrate it possesses that isn’t found in coconut oil, margarines or other everyday vegetable oils. While it’s still in butter, it is more concentrated in ghee as we are removing about 20 to 30% of water and milk solids out of butter to make the ghee. Butyrate is a fatty acid found in the lining of your gut which gets removed through the excessive consumption of processed oils used in most restaurants. Ghee essentially replaces the butyrate in your gut. This helps you digest food, while delivering vitamins and gives your gut some arsenal to help it do the hard job of digesting food.
Sweeney: Were you concerned it would be tough to break into such a niche industry?
Tavares: I once read, “To worry is to pray for something you don’t want because every thought is a prayer.” I worried, but constantly came back to the thought of is this worry helping me and made every attempt to stop myself from going into that rabbit hole. I planned well by writing a business plan, did a considerable amount of reading on food and the business of consumer foods and felt pretty confident a shelf stable, lactose free butter would have demand. Honestly, it’s like parenthood. You can prepare all you want, but you can’t be 100% prepared because you always come across the unexpected.
Sweeney: What were some of the biggest hurdles you dealt with and overcame during your first year in business?
Tavares: Some of the biggest challenges were primarily educating, getting into our first 100 stores and raising money in order to keep the ball rolling. The biggest challenges weren’t even in the first year in business. Those came in year three. They say if you make it past three, it’s likely you’ll get to five years, but when you’re past the fifth year, you have a real chance of making it.
Sweeney: How does making and selling ghee work, exactly?
Tavares: We now have 20 SKUs, so not only are we making and selling ghee, we are also making oils, chocolate spreads and (soon) ghee fueled bars!
We make our ghee in Sonoma County, California. Our chocolate spreads are made on the East Coast and we ship it all to Utah where it’s picked up by five different distributors whom then get it to the distribution centers across the country. I believe we sit in approximately 30 distribution centers, across five distributors throughout the country. We sell to stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Ahold, Kroger, Wegman’s, Fresh Thyme, Erewhon in Los Angeles and on Thrive Market and Amazon.
Sweeney: What are some of your biggest success stories?
Tavares: Our biggest success stories are certainly getting into stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts and Kroger, but the real success comes when we go to Instagram and see young mom’s using ghee and Chocti instead of traditional butter. It’s intense to watch the love we’ve been able to achieve from our community of ghee lovers. My eyes well up when I talk about it – no joke.
Sweeney: I heard that your yoga practice helped you start 4th & Heart. Tell me more about that.
Tavares: Yes! My yoga practice has been instrumental in my life balance and in business acumen. I’ve practiced Ashtanga yoga for 20 years and it’s a highly disciplined practice. Effectively, it’s a step-by-step process where you learn it pose by pose and have the opportunity to get through up to four series of postures.
The practice is so physically challenging it brings appreciation, humility, physical endurance, focus and discipline into your everyday actions. With regular practice, you inevitably mature and take these practices out into life. The basic act of waking up early, often 4:30 AM for me, came from yoga. The understanding I’m not the end all, be all, came from Ashtanga yoga. The body becomes flexible and so does the mind. It has taught me to be able to see situations from an acute awareness but also from a very high-level perspective, so in decision making, I ask myself what are the long term and short term effects of said decision, then I will adjust my actions accordingly. It has ultimately given me the gifts of discipline, awareness, consistency and the willingness to show up, even when the going gets tough. As they say, get up, dress up, show up.
Sweeney: What does the future hold for 4th & Heart — and you as an entrepreneur?
Tavares: 4th & Heart’s plan is to continue to launch better-for-you pantry staples and expand the brand to other aisles of the grocery store. We will continue to put every ounce of passion and love into every aspect of our product. By doing this, we hope we will inspire others to live their best life, by eating well and understanding that the result is only as good as the ingredients you put in.
It’s safe to say that I’m always working, either literally or thinking about what’s next and how 4th & Heart will continue to innovate, educate and prosper. My plan is to put all I have into this brand and support my team. I want to continue to study and improve on the art of being a Founder/CEO and surround myself with people who not only admire me but aren’t afraid to challenge me either. On a personal note, I want to continue following my bliss, learning, traveling, reading and remind myself to never settle. At risk of sounding cliché, to walk the line and live full throttle in hopes that I inspire my kids to do the same – to live life as if every day is a new journey.
March 6, 2019 at 08:58AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs