Meet Suzi Sheffield: Founder of Beautiful Briny Sea Artisanal Dry Goods

Welcome to another episode of The Female Founder with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. The Female Founder is a show all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories and advice from female entrepreneurs to help you build and grow your business. This show is designed to inspire and motivate other female founders to be the best entrepreneurs they can be.

Today’s guest is an entrepreneur who started her own dry goods business in 2011. You can find her products in places like Williams-Sonoma and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, just to name a few. Joining the show, is Suzi Sheffield, Founder of Beautiful Briny Sea.

Transcription: 

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Suzi, thank you so much for joining us today.

Suzi Sheffield:
It’s a treat to be here. Thank you for having me.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. Now, let’s go back to when you were starting your restaurant, what’s your background? What’s your story there?

Suzi Sheffield:
When I graduated college, I wanted to go get a PhD and teach and read poetry for the rest of my life. Went home. My first job was in finance. And with every job that I had, really, all I cared about was like, what are we eating? Where are we having the holiday party? So I’ve always been drawn to food. Every job I’ve ever had since I was 11 was either working in restaurants, waiting tables. So I’ve always gravitated toward food and hospitality. And I move to Columbia, South Carolina to work on a thesis to get into grad school. And when I was there, two months into it, there was this old diner for sale. And 17 years later… I had a Mexican taqueria for 17 years. So I just never had any experience, just truly started-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Just dove right in.

Suzi Sheffield:
Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Suzi Sheffield:
And so when I was going to move back to Atlanta, my hometown, my dad was sick, and my sweetheart was there, and it was natural transition, but I was like, “No way I’m going to open a restaurant. I’ve had 17 years of chaos. Why continue?” I wanted to stay in food. Definitely wanted to stay in the food community, working with chefs, working with farmers, but without the chaos of the restaurant. So I thought what’s the most shelf stable thing I can think of, and stay in food, and work with these fantastic seasonal ingredients? And I was like, “Ah, salt, dry goods.” So that’s where it started.

Suzi Sheffield:
And what I like about that whole journey is that I started a community place where people could gather to eat outside of their homes. And now I’m making a product for people to use, to cook meals inside their homes, to sit around the table with family and friends. So feels good.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So different than the restaurant business is running the dry goods business. Now, what did you do to prepare for that not knowing, or you just dive in and learn as go?

Suzi Sheffield:
Same exact thing. Make it up as you go along, stay true to your mission, be kind to others, and hopefully, things fall into place.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. And speaking of that, your life has been very serendipitous. You are in Jeni’s Ice Creams. Tell us the story about how you got there.

Suzi Sheffield:
All of these relationships, like you mentioned, Williams-Sonoma and Jeni’s, Delta, all of these things completely organic. Jeni was in town. She was doing a tour with Ellen Marie Bennett of Hedley and Bennett. It was called an Aprons and Ice Cream tour. And they were two doors down with our friend, Sarah O’Brien, one of Jeni’s good friends that started Little Tart Bakeshop and Big Softie. And was like, “Oh yeah, Suzi’s a couple doors down.” I was there on a Sunday evening, working. They walked in, and it was within five minutes, we have a sprinkles cart where we do product development. We wheeled it out and she made these two blends, literally, less than three minutes. She just started grabbing ingredients, and a teaspoon, and then had these beautiful sprinkles blends. And then I just thought that was a fun encounter.

Suzi Sheffield:
I got a call the next week, and five years later, we are her sprinkle supplier.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That is great. Now, let’s go back when you started Beautiful Briny Sea. What advice would you give your younger self then that you know now? What advice would you give yourself?

Suzi Sheffield:
I’m very proud that you didn’t want to grow too fast and take every opportunity that came your way because there’s so many people that I started with at the same time that I think you get starstruck by these opportunities, but if you’re not equipped to handle them or navigate them, or if you’re chasing a profit that isn’t sustainable. So I’m proud that I took my time.

Suzi Sheffield:
We didn’t have a website for the first five years. I didn’t have enough brain space to handle that sales channel. So I would’ve said, “Hey, you know what? There are other people to bring on board. You don’t have to do everything yourself.” So learning how to pass on or delegate or bring in help, that would’ve… But five years later we did get our website, finally. Just little things like that. Knowing when to ask for help, knowing when to say yes, and definitely knowing when to say no.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So during those challenging times, how do you stay motivated and positive?

Suzi Sheffield:
Collaborations. Collaborations, working with your community, bringing in co-conspirators, if you will, to help. We wouldn’t be who we are, we wouldn’t have this product line if it weren’t for relationships, or opportunities, or doing markets with people, being a part of the community, farmer’s markets. I mean, farmer’s markets were my business partner in a sense. Working and being in the community, getting constant feedback, learning to talk about your product, learning to talk about questions like you’re asking me, “Why do I do what I do? What do you like about this?” So you’re constantly reinventing yourself, and your brand, and growing it in that sense.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes, absolutely. Now, what characteristics do you think it takes to be an entrepreneur?

Suzi Sheffield:
Thriving in constant chaos. Thriving in constant chaos and being able to reinvent yourself or just yes to everything, no to certain things.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
As entrepreneurs, we’re constantly in the day-to-day grind, and we don’t always take a minute to think about how far we’ve come. Can you talk about one of your most satisfying moments in entrepreneurship?

Suzi Sheffield:
Wow. Honestly, the pandemic, when it started, my industry, food and beverage and hospitality, was shattered. And we were not because we make products for people that are cooking at home, and we were an essential business. I didn’t know. We were online, looking up things. Dry goods was listed in one of the essential businesses. So we never closed. Our team, there are five of us. We all pledge to take care of each other. No one got sick. We didn’t shut down for one day, but oh my goodness, 400% up within a week, our online sales, our social media. And I’m not a social media person. I try. I know it’s important, but just engaging with the community that was at home and the orders, we did lose some sales channels, wholesale accounts and stuff because shelter in place, but our online sales, and getting feedback, and then having an opportunity to give back to the neighborhood and the industry.

Suzi Sheffield:
And a lot of female founders in food and beverage groups, I’m the only person making CPGs. Everybody else was in restaurant. So just having these weekly calls, it’s just like you’re devastated at what’s going on around you, but I’m just so proud of our team and the way… Well, as an entrepreneur, you’re constantly thinking, “How are we going to scale? Do we scale? Do we stay where we are? Do we dial it back a little bit?” Well, I was on the verge of, how are we going to go up, stay back? What’s going to happen? This answered it for us. No, we didn’t have to look for extra capital. We didn’t have to write a business plan. I didn’t have to think about it. It just happened naturally. So I’m so proud that… And we didn’t even know what was happening. You had to literally, 18 months later, step back and be like, “Oh my gosh, fourth quarter.” It didn’t even feel like fourth quarter because we had this crazy one, two, three right before it.

Suzi Sheffield:
So I think I’m most proud of the fact that all that happened without even having to think about it. But my goodness, what a great casty characters I work with.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Talk about thriving in chaos like you said before. I’m sure that was going up. That huge percentage is…

Suzi Sheffield:
Yeah. We were just like, “Oh my goodness.” Boxes, and tape, and shipping labels, and responding to emails, but humankind was pretty positive. I mean, just great feedback. And then, that wave that we were on, allowed us to give back and help with community endeavors as much as possible.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Suzi Sheffield:
Yeah, just great things.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Good, good. You must be very proud. So there’s a lot of women watching that are thinking about starting a business right now. What advice would you give those women?

Suzi Sheffield:
Do it. Do it. You hear people talk about side hustles all the time. I think that’s a good way of taking the stigma of, I have to stop what I’m doing to start this thing. Some of the better businesses have a story behind it. And that story is usually starting small or having an idea and trying it out and actually making it come to life. So just go. Go, see, do.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Don’t wait.

Suzi Sheffield:
Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So what is next for Suzi Sheffield and Beautiful Briny Sea?

Suzi Sheffield:
Oh goodness. I haven’t thought about that. Well, seeing that every day is different, more collaborations. It’s like hold on tight mode. Now that we’re on the other side of the pandemic, it’ll be nice to start making more product, doing some more collaborations. Starting an advisory board, I think, of regular customers, people that have been loyal or people that reach out. I would like to get some more community input and create some products in that sense. You don’t necessarily have to launch a new product, but having a release, or I’d like to start doing smaller runs and bringing on fresh voices.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. Now, you talked you don’t do a lot of social media right now. How do you get the word out? I know you have a huge community, but is there other ways?

Suzi Sheffield:
Well, and back to the pandemic, I’m sorry, but when we doubled our followers in two months, and I noticed that our sales were directly related to how much engagement we had on social media because that was the way people were connecting. You didn’t have farmer’s markets too. And I’m one of those people that it takes me 45 minutes to post. I just overthink everything. I don’t know Facebook, but I’m a Instagram person. So we do that. Or we are so fortunate that our studio is in the middle of a neighborhood. So we’ll just put a sign outside, have a popup, just all the untraditional ways.

Suzi Sheffield:
We worked within an amazing PR company, Blue Hominy. And Laura, we are teeny tiny. She represents all these fantastic people, but she’s wonderful to work with. When we are like, “Hey, we’re going to launch this goofy thing,” all of a sudden, we’re sending product to these fabulous influencers and dynamic people. So I don’t know. Like you said, all of these just serendipitous women in my life and these opportunities, I’m so grateful for all of it.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That is so great. Now, before I let you go, we have to talk about some of these products, and the really cool names and really cool flavors that you have. What’s your favorite?

Suzi Sheffield:
Well, French Picnic was my favorite for the longest time. It’s Dijon mustard, garlic, and herbs. And every flavor we have has a story behind it. So that is my… Was being interviewed when I had my restaurant years ago. They were like, “Describe your cooking style.” And I said, “Oh, French Picnic.” It’s like discipline of a French kitchen, but the playfulness of a picnic. And it’s everything I like, mustard, garlic, herbs. Hot Steve.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Got Hot Steve.

Suzi Sheffield:
Steve and Adrian were getting married. She wanted a sweet salt. He wanted something hot, and he would like it to be called Hot Steve. I was like, “We’ll make it, but I get to keep the name.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
There you go. It’s a great name. I love it.

Suzi Sheffield:
And the flavor, it’s like a spicy with some smokey and orange peel, a little bit orange peel in it. So it was orange Chipotle, which flavor we developed for Whole Foods years ago. I was like, “Oh, we’ll bring it in the family.” So thank you, Steve.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice. And are you still in Whole Foods as well?

Suzi Sheffield:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great. Great. What’s your most popular?

Suzi Sheffield:
Magic Unicorn. When we started, it was just a rosemary salt, a lavender salt, a mushroom salt, and pink pepper corn. And I was at the Edmond Park festival, and they had this renegade guy grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on his home grill outside. And so we were like, “Oh my goodness, let’s go.” We were so hungry. And we ordered one, and it was the best bite I had had. And I was like, “What is this? It’s smokey, and there was some herbs in here. This is so crazy. So I was like, I’m going to recreate that. So I went in the studio and then 10 minutes, a lot of things like sit in the production room for months, but this one, and so I was like, “All right, it’s got more than one ingredient. This is my first one. It’s got to have a crazy name.” And I think I woke up a couple mornings later and say Magic Unicorn.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I love it. Another crazy name is this one.

Suzi Sheffield:
Okay. So how we develop product? How these things happen? It’s either a food memory. It’s a flavor we’re trying to capture or we come up with a crazy name and then the product comes. That’s that case. I don’t know where Mr. Gigglepants came from. It came out of my mouth one day, and was like, “Oh my goodness.” Race through the computer, did a trademark search, grab the name, and then there’s… And if you look closely, you’ll see he has three little chest hairs.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
He does.

Suzi Sheffield:
And out of his trunk, it says, tee hee hee. He’s drinking champagne.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Suzi Sheffield:
The designers we work with, they’re old friends, restaurant customers.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Okay, nice.

Suzi Sheffield:
They were in college. And so I just text them, hot pink, elephant, champagne, Mr. Gigglepants.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
They nailed it. They nailed it.

Suzi Sheffield:
And that’s what happened. There were no changes whatsoever on it.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I love it. I love it. Well, Suzi Sheffield, Beautiful Briny Sea. Thank you so much for joining us.

Suzi Sheffield:
Thank you for having me.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
This has been such a pleasure.

Suzi Sheffield:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I can’t wait to try all of these.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
If you’d like to try some of these really cool flavors, like Mr. Gigglepants, be sure to check it out at beautifulbrinysea.com. Suzi, thank you so much for joining us today.

Suzi Sheffield:
Thank you so much.


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