“It’s OK To Start Underfinanced, As Long As You Have A Plan” Words of Wisdom with Ariane Daguin, CEO of D’Artagnan

“Unless your crowdfunding was wildly successful, or Jeff Bezos is a close friend, money will be tight. Make a sustainable plan on how to get out of the red, and stick to the timeline.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariane Daguin, CEO, Owner & Co-Founder of D’Artagnan, the nation’s leading purveyor of sustainable, humanely-raised meats, charcuterie, foie gras and mushrooms. The pioneer behind now-common food industry practices, such as organic, antibiotic-free, free-range and air chilling, Ariane is one of the mothers of the farm-to-table movement and her products are favored by chefs and consumers nationwide.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

As the 7th generation in a family of hotelier restaurateurs, I became immersed in the world of food and farming at a young age. In my hometown of Gascony, France, animals are raised with respect and factory farming is a foreign concept. This produces not only the healthiest, but the tastiest meat and poultry.

I moved to the U.S. to attend Barnard College and was shocked at the taste — or lack thereof — of the chicken that was so widely accepted by consumers. It was mushy, tasteless, ….. I realized right then the need for higher quality offerings in the American food system.

While working part-time for a New York pâté producer in the mid-1980s, I saw the opportunity to market the first domestically-produced foie gras, resulting in the launch of D’Artagnan. With a growing sophistication in American cuisine, I pioneered organic and humanely-raised meats, nine years before the USDA allowed the word “organic” on the label, and placed D’Artagnan at the forefront of the “farm-to-table” movement.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

At D’Artagnan, we are committed to innovation and experimenting with new and unique products to grow our robust portfolio of offerings. However, because you are working with animals and breeders, there comes a learning curve with developing an expertise around a new delicacy.

Years ago, I received a phone call from a snail breeder looking for a distributor. As a highly regarded delicacy in Europe, I thought this would nicely compliment D’Artagnan’s existing offerings and be well-received by American gastronomes.

However, we quickly realized the obstacles that come with handling an unfamiliar species. After leaving the snails in the fridge overnight, we returned to find them crawling all over the walls and ceiling the next morning. Needless to say, we didn’t continue down that road.

Yitzi: So how what exactly does your company help people?

D’Artagnan is the leading purveyor of sustainable, humanely-raised meats, charcuterie, foie gras and mushrooms in the United States. Since our founding in 1985, we have focused on redefining the meat industry through the distribution of organic, antibiotic and hormone-free to consumers and top chefs. The dedication to raising and distributing meats this way since inception has put D’Artagnan at the forefront of the “clean label” and farm-to-table movements that so many brands are taking note of today.

We’ve grown from a one truck, two employee business to a nationally recognized food brand Today, our products are sold at leading retailers, including King’s, Wegmans, ShopRite, Giant, Dean & Deluca, Stop and Shop, etc. and available nationwide online through our e-commerce business, which has more than doubled in the last five years. In addition, we’re also proud to serve our restaurant partners, as the brand of choice among America’s top chefs like Mario Batali, Barbara Lynch, Daniel Boulud, Daniel Humm, etc.

Yitzi: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are dedicated to putting only the finest meats on the tables of American cooks and people who are passionate about food. Our reputation and commitment to excellence at every level of our operation makes D’Artagnan stand out. Not only do we abide by a strict set of standards that guides how an animal is raised and which farmers we partner with, but our customer service is unparalleled.

Our drivers treat each delivery like a mission and will trek through extreme weather to ensure each customer’s happiness. In addition to morning and mid-day deliveries, D’Artagnan offers a “third run” where chefs can place emergency orders during the night for a morning delivery.

Yitzi: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

D’Artagnan’s success would not be possible without our president and my dear friend, Andy Wertheim. Andy joined our team the year after I bought out my partner to become the sole CEO of D’Artagnan which doubled my responsibilities for operating and marketing the company. Originally brought on as the Director of Sales, Andy very quickly leveraged his expertise to help guide the company and has become the true embodiment of D’Artagnan’s “All for one, and one for all” philosophy.

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a French immigrant and one of the few women in a male-dominated meat industry, I have overcome so many obstacles to get to where I am today. Information is power and I share the knowledge I’ve gained by mentoring aspiring female leaders on how to compete in the businessman’s world and reach executive-level roles in the United States.

I also head a committee with the French American Chamber of Commerce, dedicated to educating food, beverage and hospitality industry members on the commercialization between France and the US, discussing relevant trends, news, and legislation.

Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.

  1. A good night’s sleep is rare — Each day brings a thousand issues, some of which will keep you up at night. Take up stress management courses, learn how to meditate, and try to find peace in knowing you did what you believe to be right.
  2. It’s OK to start underfinanced, as long as you have a plan — Unless your crowdfunding was wildly successful, or Jeff Bezos is a close friend, money will be tight. Make a sustainable plan on how to get out of the red, and stick to the timeline.
  3. Keep your goals top of mind — You can and will lose the long-term vision if you don’t take time to look at it and realign on a regular basis.
  4. Learn how to be a good manager — Keep your team’s morale high, as well as their accountability. Learn to trust, but verify.
  5. Live by what makes you feel good — For me, it’s knowing that I have a team all working towards one goal. That’s why I’ve named my company D’Artagnan, after the beloved character from the Three Musketeers, and follow the motto “All for one, and one for all.”

Yitzi: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)

If I could dine with anyone, I would love to cook and share a meal with Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Marie Curie. Each are great innovators and life on earth is better today thanks to their creative minds and obstinacy. I’d love the opportunity to pick their brains and bring along my daughter Alix for the conversation. We would eat their favorite dishes, drink their favorite wines, and discuss how to leave our mark for generations to come.

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