By Bess Weyandt

AI couldn't have written this

On Getting Started

When I talk about scaling a plant-based milk business, I always say “it’s like going from kindergarten to college”. We learned a lot in those early days of Treehouse, and still are learning. Kate and I had no business experience when we started. We were just two bright-eyed friends who shared a love of food and a desire to connect with our community. And we were crazy enough to go after a vision to make our world a little better.

I vividly remember the day we stood in Kate’s kitchen, back in the summer of 2015. We’d been playing around for a few weeks with all the nuts and blends and sweeteners (for the record, molasses sounds good in theory but…). Kate called me over to try the new pecans + honey she’d whipped up the night before. It was love at first taste. “Why isn’t this a thing? This needs to be a thing!”: that aha-moment when you feel like you’ve discovered something that no one else has.

We went on to make something like 10 different types of nutmilks with various flavors so that there was something for everyone. But our first wholesale customer and actual Day-One, Spiller Park, immediately got onboard with the pecan milk, so we knew we had something good. 

When we weren’t making, delivering or selling our products at farmers markets, we were working all the angles to figure out how to get this pecan milk out into the world. Our shelf-life was just 5 days, and we learned quickly that getting over that hump was like, well, going from kindergarten to college. 

We made call after call to those who knew more than we did – founders of some of the first successful raw juice companies, universities with food science programs, manufacturers – it felt like everyone. We got told “no” a lot. Or we got told "yes" only to be told "no". We got crash courses in things like pH and hedging pecan groves. We chased our tail until we felt like we grabbed it, only for it to wiggle its way out of our grasp again. 

That cycle repeated for years. We benefited from not knowing what we didn’t know, until we knew it, which might be the secret ingredient for any venture in life. But we did know that we had something that tasted amazing, and the more we learned about how valuable this humble little nut is to a sustainable future, and all the health benefits it contains, the more we wanted to pursue it. 

On Building During a Pandemic

In late 2019, the lease was up on our kitchen space, and we were naively confident that we were getting closer to producing our new product, so we put the business on “pause.” After rounds of testing, we had a formula that was close to being just-right and a way to produce it. Maybe. 

In February of 2020, I was making visits to a lab and what I thought would be our manufacturer, to start to solidify our new pecan milk product. But you know what happened next. That March, two weeks into lockdown, I called a friend and advisor and asked him what to do. “Wait. Don’t do anything.” 

Those next months are a blur, marked by a lot of walks and Zoom calls and puzzles. Talks with other small business owners experiencing comparable existential crises (note: I hope that one day we as a society will talk openly about what this time did to us individually and collectively, but I’m going to keep the story moving for now).

I picked up talks with a manufacturer again, only to eventually be told that we needed to produce 1 million units to work with them. I could see all this hard work, and money, going down the drain, along with everything else happening in the world. 

On Root Networks

I kept hope alive, and more months went by, until one person connected me with another person who had not only the technical expertise, but the kind of compassionate, honest interest in what we were doing, to help us actually move forward. It was a complete game-changer. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for her.

From there, we refined the formula and process, and a year and a half later (or 6 years after we started this project), we did our first production run with great success. 

The “founder story” is big right now, especially in the food space. We connect through food; food is personal. So, it’s only natural to be captivated by the story of the person who made it. At the same time, our culture of individualism (made 1000x worse by social media) misses the point entirely -- we can only live and thrive in community. Just like the trees.

There’s a lot of serendipity, luck, and timing in business, but you can't do it without the kindness and goodwill of folks in your corner, often below the surface, anchoring it all. It turns out, if you stick with a crazy idea for long enough, eventually you will find the right people who can help you with the right way to make things happen. 

So, here's to food, to community, to trees, and to the root network*, literal and figurative. For reminders that we are all, in fact, in this ever-shifting and spiraling world, connected. 

People gathered around a table tasting and review nutmilk samples

Our very root system: the friends and family that came to our milk and cookies party to give feedback on our recipes before we launched in 2015.

*There are too many to name, but if you're reading this, you are indeed a part of it. Thank you.

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