Tasia Malakasis, Belle Chevre, Woman Entrepreneur
I have had a relationship with Circle Up since they launched. It began with a company, Willa Skincare, that I was investing that used Circle Up as the platform to raise the money. I had several conversations with the Circle Up entrepreneurs. Then Ricks Picks raised some money on Circle Up too. In between both of those transactions Union Square Ventures (Fred’s venture partnership) invested in the growth of Circle Up. I am also investing in Phin and Phebes on the Circle Up platform. My “point” person there introduced me to Tasia Malakasis of Belle Chevre. Another interesting woman who has set her entrepreneurial stake in the ground.
Tasia grew up in Huntsville Alabama knowing that all she wanted to do was leave Alabama. Her father is a professor from Greece. He came to the states to go to college where he met Tasia’s mom. She was one of his students. He teaches history and political science. Her mom is an editor in technology writing. Her parents got divorced when she was 2 so her father returned to Greece so she traveled back and forth her whole life spending many a summer in Greece.
She graduated from high school and ended up going to college in Alabama. She met a guy. So much for heading to George Washington instead she shifted gears and stayed where he was. They got married when she was 25. After graduating college Taisa headed to Emory for graduate school in Atlanta. She took a job in the interim before school started in a start-up internet company around market research. It was 1995 and just the start of the internet. She loved it so much that she put off graduate school and in the end never went. She was really good at it and they asked her to open another office in Huntsville Alabama. She stayed for three years and became the number one sales person.
Taisa moved on and took another job at a company that was just starting their internet division. She did sales and consulting for them until moving to Message Media to become the VP of sales. The company was acquired by Doubleclick so she decided to leave. She went to another company doing something similar doing email marketing. The main office of that company was in Silicon Valley. She ran her area from Huntsville. She stayed two years and then she got pregnant and decided to take some time off.
While Taisa took that little break she was pregnant and went up to NYC and did continuing education classes at the Culinary Institute. It was an area that always interested her and so she figured this was a good time to delve in. She got certified as a chef and went back to have her child in Huntsville.
Taisa realized she was happiest when she was in the kitchen, cooking with friends, drinking wine etc. She didn’t realize people could actually have jobs that were their passion too. She decided she should do a little exploring into the food world. While she was in culinary school she was at Dean and Deluca one day and noticed a goat cheese from Huntsville Alabama called Belle Chevre. She decided she did not want to be a chef but the thought of owning something in the food industry excited her. She began to write business plans around food companies until she got a call from a headhunter reeling her back into the industry she had left.
She got a job in Philadelphia working for a guy she worked with at Doubleclick. She got an apartment up there and went back and forth to Alabama. She was running a global product team there and eventually ended up taking over the marketing team too. Taisa would go back and forth every two weeks with her son and nanny in tow. It was tricky and certainly hard on her marriage. The company ended up being acquired by Gannett and she decided it was time to move on.
She called the owner of Belle Chevre and said I am going to come work for you. It was not easy even getting the owner on the phone but she eventually did. She spent six months there working for free. She decided her agenda would be to buy that company. The woman who owned the company was 70 at this point. She was just an apprentice but eventually they began to have a conversation of what it would be like if Taisa bought the company. She began her diligence.
In the six months from quitting the job in Philly she had bought a company, got a divorce and and built a house. Her son was 4 and it was 2006. Life was in need of a major change. She has now owned the business for seven years. Of course she tried to do as much diligence as possible before buying the company but the reality is you never know everything. It was a passion driven pursuit.
Her goal was to build rebuilt the brand. She spent the first year getting the lay of the land. She redid the packaging, the goals and the strategy for growing Belle Chevre into a larger company. She did not want to mess with the legacy of the brand by misaligning the history of the company. It was just time for a fresh face. The second year she added a few new products. Since then she had added eight new products. They have all been gold winners at the Fancy Food Show. They have even moved into making cheesecake. There are now 18 people who work for her full time.
She boot strapped the entire purchase and rebrand herself. It is an interesting entry point for an entrepreneur. Taisa knew what she wanted and instead of starting from scratch she bought something from someone who was ready to pass the wand. She is still in Alabama where she wanted to leave but at this point it just works being her own cheese maker.
Love the myriad paths women take in finding their own niche within entrepreneurship. Thanks for sharing another inspiring story, Joanne.
Ballsy. Committed. Determined. Love the story. Wish the USDA would allow her to make raw milk cheese.
Tasia, your story inspires me every time I hear it!! Love what you keep building (and love the breakfast cheese!)