Kerry Diamond has been a fan of journalism since she started her own newspaper in the third grade. After years of success in the beauty and fashion editorial space, she tapped into a latent passion for food and along with her partner, Chef Rob Newton, Kerry helped create the Brooklyn restaurants Wilma Jean, Nightingale 9 and Smith Canteen.
She also, with co-founder Claudia Wu, launched Cherry Bombe, an annual magazine that is a sort of love letter to both food and girl power.
Currently serving as the Editor in Chief of Yahoo Food, Kerry talked to me last week about being an entrepreneur, intra-preneurism within larger organizations and the joys of lugging boxes of magazines around our shared neighborhood of Carroll Gardens.
“If I’d thought too hard about any of this stuff, I never would’ve done it.”
You and I have been in this neighborhood for about ten years. A lot has changed since then.
I recently re-read the first book in the Little House on the Prairie series. They were churning their own butter, making their own bread, building their own furniture, and my first thought was, “Oh my god, it’s Brooklyn” (Laughs).
But seriously, it’s not just Brooklyn. It’s a really exciting time to be a maker, a do-er, an entrepreneur right now. This thing, this movement, is happening everywhere.
Where else are you seeing it, and why do you think it’s happening?
Rob is Southern and a chef, so we’ve spend a fair amount of time on the road going to different food events. We’ve stopped in a lot of these secondary and tertiary cities, places like Little Rock and Memphis and Birmingham, and people are re-claiming these abandoned downtowns and opening businesses, breathing life back into these places. There’s more opportunity in these cities than in a place like New York, where it’s so expensive and difficult. A lot of these new businesses we’ve seen happen to be food related.
Why do you think that is? Why is food playing such a big role in these cities?
Number one, food is easier to get into than other categories, relatively. If you want to make, say, handbags, it takes a lot of time, expensive materials, and a lot of skill to get to a finished product. On the other hand, if you want to make, say, vegan baked goods, you can do that by yourself at a low cost of entry and sell at a local market or pop-up. In that way, food is easier than other fields. It doesn’t take an army, it just takes time and dedication and a tasty product. Also, everyone eats.
And then you have millennials, who are changing everything. There was this fascinating research that said 50% of all college graduates today identify themselves as foodies. That wasn’t even a word that existed when you and I were coming of age. So they care about and think about food in a way that my generation didn’t.
How else are millennials changing food?
Young people aren’t interested in old school, unhealthy products anymore, and the big consumer packaged goods companies are responding by bringing out healthier products. Things like big soda are taking a beating.
The research also says millennials don’t want to buy as much stuff as previous generations. That whole sharing economy of Uber and Airbnb is make us rethink things that meant so much to us previously—“I’m going to grow up and have a car” or “I’m going to grow up and own a home.” But one thing people will always need is food.
Part of this blog is about where innovation comes from; I want to believe that a lot of it comes from people who are doing it on their own. But you’ve worked for larger companies while still running your own businesses separately.
It doesn’t matter if you work on your own or you work for a big company. Innovation always starts with one person with a good idea. You just need to be brave enough or crazy enough to share your idea or bring it to life. Some big companies don’t want individuals who think like entrepreneurs, but some really embrace those kinds of people. Not every idea I lobbied for or executed turned out great or was given the green light. One of my bosses, Glenda Bailey at Harper’s Bazaar, gave me the best piece of advice I ever received. She said, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” So if one of my maybe-not-so-brilliant ideas wasn’t working, I would go to my boss and own up. But I always had a backup idea! It’s good to operate that way if you work for yourself or someone else.
Let’s talk about Kickstarter; I haven’t interviewed anyone that’s gone that route yet. Why did you decide to go that route?
I’d rather cut my own arm off than ask someone for money. Some people are fine asking for money but I’m just not that way. Getting investors comes with certain obligations. You have to be comfortable with people telling you what to do. I still haven’t taken any outside money for my projects. Maybe one day. I didn’t feel bad about taking people’s money through Kickstarter because I knew they would get something in return.
So what was the inspiration for Cherry Bombe initially?
When Rob and I opened our first restaurant, I realized pretty quickly I had no mentors or support system in the food world. I had a pretty long career in beauty and fashion with a lot of mentors and mentees, but in food I didn’t. At the same time, I thought, “Where are all the girls?” There were no female chefs or restaurant owners in my neighborhood at that time. Now there are some, Zahra Tangorra at Brucie, Alex Raij at La Vara, our sous chef Morgan Jarrett, but it’s still mostly guys, especially in Carroll Gardens.
It was a crazy venture to launch a print magazine. When I look back, I’m like, “What were we thinking?” We’re just super fortunate that not only did we find an audience with Cherry Bombe, but our timing happened to be pretty good because there was this thing simmering under the surface of the food world among women. Resentment maybe? (Laughs)
Women were just tired of being passed over and left out of the conversation. Cherry Bombe has helped shift the conversation a bit and put a spotlight on some amazing women in this industry who are doing great things.
What do you see as the future?
I’m not sure! I do know the universe will push you towards things that you weren’t anticipating. You have to be open-minded enough to accept those things. I never thought I’d have a magazine or restaurants. I definitely would like to do something in the social enterprise area. Every business should be a social enterprise. Create jobs, make people’s lives better, make good products people actually need. Why not?
With all the challenges and hard work running your own thing entails, why do it? What makes it worthwhile?
Good question. There’s a ton of hard work you don’t anticipate. The schlepping of boxes filled with magazines; the working 24 hours a day. Most entrepreneurs are pretty driven people. They have an idea that means so much to them, they’re willing to put in all that time, risk their finances, etc. But most people have to work hard regardless of what they do. If you can do something you love that makes a tiny difference in people’s lives, you’re lucky.
What were some of the things that helped you get momentum? Did social media play a role?
Social media is such a blessing for a small business. It makes it so much easier to get the word out and to find an audience. It’s definitely contributed to how many new small projects and enterprises we’re seeing around the country, don’t you think? Our Kickstarter campaign was a big help for Cherry Bombe. We got huge momentum from that. As for the restaurants, media in general was extremely helpful in terms of momentum. We always received a lot of nice press for each location that we opened and that is so critical in a place like New York City. It’s easier to open your doors when people already know about you and get what you’re trying to do.
Was it a learned process for you, or did it come naturally?
I took to social media pretty naturally. I remember years ago when I worked at Lancôme and I put the brand on Facebook before any luxury beauty brand was on there. I got in big trouble for doing that. Things are very different today.
I like doing social media for my different businesses, but it is a time suck. If you’re successful enough to have your own social media person, I envy you!
What have been some of the big milestones for you?
I’m a big Francophile so seeing the magazine at the Colette boutique in Paris was a big deal for me.
Honestly though… everything has been a milestone. It’s a miracle to put something out into the world and find an audience. Cherry Bombe has been mentioned in a few New York Times stories. Knowing we’re part of the bigger cultural conversation and that people take us seriously means a lot. Someone told me that Smith Canteen, our coffee shop, was the center of her universe. I think she was half joking, but still. That made my year. And just any time someone walks through the door of one of our restaurants, I consider that a milestone. You have a lot of choice in New York, especially when it comes to eating out.
Anything that you haven’t achieved that you’re hoping for?
A day off! (Laughs)
Anything you’d like to see happen in the upcoming election that would benefit small business owners?
I’d love for one of the candidates I’m rooting for to propose a flat tax for businesses. The tax system is so complicated I can’t wrap my head around it. As a small businessperson, you have no choice but to hire bookkeepers and accountants and muddle your way through it if you don’t have a finance or business background, which I don’t. It’s almost impossible to do it on your own.
I don’t mind paying taxes. But I want to see something good happen with that tax money—good schools, the unfortunate being taken care of… I want a candidate focused on the right things, not just making the rich richer.
The system today favors corporations, not small businesses. We’re the backbone of all these communities. It would be awesome to have all of our elected officials be super pro-small business and talk them up all the time. Can you imagine?