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“Stay in the Game” Words of Wisdom with Alex and Sonja From A Couple Cooks

Going full-time as writer / photographer authors and podcasters is a true dream, but we’ve wanted to quit about 1,000 times over the 8 years we’ve been in the field. When we speak, we always say “Stay in the game!” If you’re passionate about something, you’ve got to hang in for the long haul. This means persevering when the going gets rough.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex and Sonja from the beloved food blog A Couple Cooks and authors of the hottest new vegetarian cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking. Sonja and Alex have garnered a worldwide following for their delicious vegetarian recipes and sustainable approach to cooking and eating well. Their award-nominated blog has been featured in national print and online publications, including the Washington Post, Huffington Post and People.com, and they develop recipes for major national brands including ALDI, Sub-Zero and Stonyfield. They are co-hosts and producers of the A Couple Cooks Podcast and run the wildly popular A Couple Cooks Instagram account.

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

We’re college sweethearts: we met the first day of freshman year in college. Little did we imagine that someday we’d be running our own business together!

After we got married 10 years ago, we bought a house and wanted to host a dinner party. We realized that our standard diet of fast and frozen food wouldn’t cut it for dinner guests, so we cracked open a cookbook. One of Julia Child’s cookbooks was the first that we opened, and we fell in love with her encouraging personality and the way she explained that anyone could learn to cook, even us! We tried some recipes, and fell in love with the process. That started a cascade effect of cooking more and more.

Around the same time, we read the book Food Matters by Mark Bittman, which challenged us to clean up our diet, start cooking non-processed foods at home, and incorporate more vegetables into our diet. We started doing so and found it was incredibly delicious and fun to cook vegetarian meals together. We loved the “baby step” approach of simply cooking more and eating more vegetables: not trying to have it all figured out at once.

At the time in 2010, we had a personal blog and noticed it started to be flooded with photos of food. We decided to start a separate space to post these new recipes we were trying and loving, and we called it A Couple Cooks.

Fast forward 7 years (almost 8!), and the internet is a very different place. Our recipe development skills and photography have grown immensely, and food brands started to reach out ot us to feature their products. We now develop recipes for major national brands, and A Couple Cooks became a business.

In the midst of all of that, we decided to write a book about our journey! Pretty Simple Cooking is our new book that shares our top 100 vegetarian recipes for eating more vegetables, and it shares our life lessons for a sustainable approach to the kitchen that can make it “pretty simple” to fit into your lifestyle.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

A Couple Cooks started as a hobby. It was never our goal to make our side hustle into a main hustle, but as of 2018 Alex and I are 100% working for ourselves! It’s the most incredible dream to work together as a husband and wife team. It’s scary not knowing quite where the industry will head, but exciting to have a job that is flexible and allows us to explore our passions, while parenting our 1 year old son.

Many people tell us we’re living the millennial dream: I guess we are! We’re at the old end of the millennial spectrum (some would call us Xennials), so we had a very traditional approach to our careers for the first 13 years of our professional lives. Many people don’t know how many hours we invested in our first careers (I was VP at a technical writing firm and Alex was project manager), since they only saw the A Couple Cooks side! It’s been a complete dream to be able to work as husband and wife business partners, and we hope it can continue.

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

We’re a company of two people (well three, now that our son Larson was born!). Currently we have no employees, and I think we’d like to keep it that way for a while. Our personalities & passions are what drive A Couple Cooks, and we hope that’s what you’ll find when you follow our blog or social media, or read our book. We’re two real people who fell in love with food, and we LOVE connecting with people and inviting them to our virtual kitchen and table. We’re a family business about two people who fell in love with food and each other, and every day we get to help people find recipes they love and approach to the kitchen that works for them. We love making these personal connections as “real people” and not a generic,faceless business.

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? Can you share a story?

There are so many kind people who have paved the way before us. From the food blog perspective, Annie from Annie’s Eats was key in helping us start our food blog. And for the book, so many people served as mentors: Jessica Murnane of One Part Plant connected us to our literary agent. So many other authors had calls with us and helped us understand the process: Ashley Rodriguez, Jessica Murnane, Molly Yeh, Erin Loechner, Lily Diamond, Zoe Francois, Cheryl Sternman Rule, Kristin Donnelly, Sarah Copeland: so many incredible mentors generously helped us walk through the process. There is no way we’d be where we are today without the help of these wonderful humans who truly live out the “abundance” versus “scarcity” mentality.

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

The entire ethos behind A Couple Cooks is about doing good for yourself, your community, and the world around you. A big part of why we started what we’re doing in the first place is that we realized the way that food could be used as a force for good. Not only does it nourish our physical bodies, cooking and eating well can nourish us mentally and spiritually too! At the same time, it can connect us to our friends and families and the community around us. And every food choice we make can have a positive effect on the environment when we’re thoughtful about our food choices.

Food can be a complex issue, but it can also be approached in a “pretty simple” way of being mindful about the way we eat and the way it can do good in the world. That’s why we wrote Pretty Simple Cooking and do what we do today.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Networking is #1. Business is all about authentically connecting with people, and the right people at that. You could be doing the greatest thing in the world, but if no one knows about it, your business won’t prosper. Also, you can learn LOADS about your own business from other professionals in your field. Connecting and networking with other professionals is one of the number 1 things that has helped us do what we do.
  2. Stay in the game. Going full-time as writer / photographer authors and podcasters is a true dream, but we’ve wanted to quit about 1,000 times over the 8 years we’ve been in the field. When we speak, we always say “Stay in the game!” If you’re passionate about something, you’ve got to hang in for the long haul. This means persevering when the going gets rough.
  3. Work your strengths. There are a lot of ways to run an online business. For us, we wanted to be less about email marketing and gaming Pinterest or Facebook and more about true personal connections with our readers and creating very high quality content. It’s been slow growth for us, but we’ve been able to create a business based on doing what we love.
  4. Stay organized. Though we work for ourselves, we’re very, very focused when it comes to our work. We manage the heck out of our inboxes and use the free Asana app to stay on top of our To Do’s. Luckily working with your best friend, we’ve become a well-oiled team. We make sure to hustle during the week so we can relax on weekends.
  5. Have fun. Especially in the online world, people are drawn to your business when you’re having fun with it! As crazy hard as we work, what we do gives us the most delight and joy, and that’s what we want to communicate about our brand: warmth, love, and fun.

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 see this. :-)

Let’s see, we have so many business and cooking inspirations! Let’s say Jamie Oliver. He’s an incredible chef who exudes fun with everything he touches, and he has some amazing initiatives to help people all over the world to eat well.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!