Joy Rubey | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Joy Rubey


ACME Farms + Kitchen was launched in Bellingham, Wash., in 2011, with the simple mission of improving access to local food, and making mealtimes easier and more engaging for busy families. Today ACME boasts additional locations in Seattle and Portland.

The Mistake:

We started with a mission to make access to local food simple, fun and delicious. At the time, we were both working moms, we were both architects, and we both had toddlers. We also wanted someone to make it easy for us to feed our families real food without hauling our kids to the farmers market or co-op and doing meal planning on the fly.

Our company evolved quickly from an online farmers market model to a model that involved us curating boxes of local food and delivering them to customers' doorsteps. This was prior to other meal delivery services such as Plated or Blue Apron. The most significant differences between us and other meal delivery services are that we are rooted in the communities we serve, our food is produced with sustainable organic practices, and because our boxes don’t travel far, we have very little packaging.

We thought we had a great idea, and people agreed. The business took off, and we were nearly drowning in work as we were growing. We were working 80 to 100 hours a week. We had started this side company to make our lives easier, but that was clearly not the case.

We now like to think of it as learning Business 101. We were taking on all the roles in the company, and our numbers were escalating quicker than we could keep up with. We had a freezer, then we needed a bigger freezer. We secured a warehouse; too soon, we needed another warehouse. To say we were floundering is probably an understatement.

We had started this side company to make our lives easier, but that was clearly not the case.

The Lesson:

Without a doubt, the biggest shift in our company took place after both my business partner and I took the time to read the book “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber. That was about two years into building the company, when we were drowning in week-to-week logistics, system building, operations, etc.

Once we read that book, we became hyper-focused on building systems that didn’t require us to be so involved on a daily basis. It allowed us enough distance from the company to actually see what was working, what wasn’t working, and what we needed to do to keep growing the company.

Taking a step back not only takes some of the stress off your back, it improves the culture of the company because employees can now take ownership of their roles in moving large amounts of local food.  Our employees believe passionately in our mission to build a strong local food community, and it shows in their work. When we step back, we begin to see opportunities for growth, we feel creative, and it makes us love what we do.

The next step for us is finalizing our franchise model so that we can see the impact that our company has had locally on a national level. We are excited to share everything that we have learned with new entrepreneurs and get communities producing more food.

Follow ACME Farms + Kitchen on Twitter at: @AcmeFarmKitchen 

Pictured: Joy Rubey | Photo courtesy of Joy Rubey

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