Do you have a fantastic family recipe that you'd like to market? Jean is live at Harpo Studios in Chicago with two guests who did just that—Danny and Marie Lena, who took a cherished family recipe and turned it into a thriving business. Jean talks to Danny and Marie about Grandpa's Peppers and their recipe for success.
Known as Papa and Mama Lena in their hometown of Chicago, Danny and Marie say for years they worked as motivational speakers, helping others find their passion and promoting their book, Being Better Than My Best. After turning 50, the couple says they were ready for their second act but weren't sure which path to pursue.
Inspired by their mutual love of cooking and food, Danny and Marie say they got an idea to start a business using a secret family recipe for crispy veggie chips flavored with Italian-style peppers. Beginning at the age of 10, Danny says he spent three summers in a row living on his grandfather's farm in Des Plaines, Illinois, where he learned the special recipe that his family back in Italy had been making for generations.
To get started, Danny and Marie say they made a big batch of the chips and rented a booth at an Italian festival for four days. In the first hour of the first day, they completely sold out! Encouraged by the positive response for the chips, Danny and Marie sought out a patent attorney, who helped them patent the process.
Next, they moved operations from their home kitchen to a rented, shared-use kitchen. "You have all the equipment there and everything you need," Marie says. From packaging and UPC codes to figuring out the nutritional content of their product, the Lenas say there are experts at the shared-use kitchen that guided them through the entire process of getting their product to the public.
Today, the couple operates Papa Lena's Healthy Foods in Chicago, which makes chips from a wide array of vegetables, including red bell peppers, hot peppers, zucchini, elephant garlic, beets and sweet potatoes. It's a healthy and delicious food, Danny and Marie say—the chips are roasted in a convection oven and coated with olive oil. "Food itself is love because it energizes us, it invigorates us, it makes us who we are," Danny says.
Published on July 19, 2007