Tasia Malakasis, 40
Fromagerie Belle Chèvre
The Goods: A high-powered executive moves home to Alabama to give gourmet goat cheese a down-to-earth makeover.
Her Aha Moment: Nine years into a career working with software start-ups on both coasts, Malakasis enrolled in classes at the Culinary Institute of America and began wondering how she could forge a new path for herself—in the food business. One day when she was in New York, she "popped in to Dean & DeLuca and picked up a tiny, special-looking cheese called Belle Chèvre," she says. "It said, 'Made in Elkmont, Alabama'"—15 miles from where Malakasis grew up and still had a home. "I took it as a sign," she says. "Maybe this is what I should do."
Her Fresh Start: Six years later, Malakasis finally made the change: She left her ailing marriage, quit her demanding job, and moved permanently back to Alabama with her young son, where the two lived off her savings. "I apprenticed for six months at the Belle Chèvre creamery for free, cleaning the floors and learning how to make cheese," she says. "The owner was in her 70s and ready to retire. After many long talks, I convinced her to sell the business to me."
Her Plan: As the newly minted big cheese, Malakasis wanted to expand aggressively. Belle Chèvre was already in the top gourmet shops in the country—but nowhere else. "I wanted to make goat cheese more accessible and fun," she says. "Something you'd find in an everyday supermarket, not buy once a year for a fancy wine and cheese party." Experimenting in her kitchen, she concocted a new line of "breakfast cheeses" in flavors like coffee, fig, and cinnamon and sugar, and pitched them to executives at big grocery chains. "Sometimes I think being the village idiot helps," she says. "When someone says, 'Oh, you're not supposed to call on the president of Costco or Kroger,' I say, 'Well, why not?'" Both stores now stock her cheese.