In 2008, Sara Forte was feeling uninspired at her desk job when her husband Hugh gave her a rather unexpected birthday gift to help her tap into her creativity again. That gift was a food blog called Sprouted Kitchen, and they’ve been building it together ever since. Today, The Sprouted Kitchen is a well-known brand focused on healthy, wholesome foods that includes not just the site but also two related cookbooks, The Sprouted Kitchen and The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon. While Hugh focuses on the photography, Sara keeps the blog up to date, does freelance work, book events and catering jobs and raises her two babies Curran and Cleo as well.
Read on to learn more about Sprouted Kitchen and find out when and why Sara turned her side hustle into a full time career.
When did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I was working at a high-end hotel when Hugh, my photographer and husband, designed Sprouted Kitchen. For awhile, it was just a hobby, something I could do alongside my full-time job. A couple years into it, we were offered a book deal and I decided I would quit and dedicate more time towards that and waitress on the side. I was scared, but more freelance work came about due to that leap of faith.
What drew you to entrepreneurship over going the more traditional path of working for someone else?
To be honest, I still question if it’s for me. Both Hugh and I are self-employed and now that we have a mortgage and kids that decision bears more weight than it did when we were 25. Of course, I love the flexibility and schedule, but I miss the healthcare and consistent paycheck and 401k. There is always a trade off and greener grass depending on who you talk to and on what day. That said, the schedules we have because of this have allowed us to care for our kids nearly full time and that is important to us in this season of our lives.
How would you describe the work you do?
I don’t have a 50-hour work week dedicated to Sprouted Kitchen at the moment. We try to do a weekly blog post. I do freelance recipe writing jobs. I have a few brand partnerships where we do recipes, photos and marketing for both our site and the brands. I do occasional events or signings for our cookbooks and cooking classes and catering small dinner parties if it’s the right fit. I’m kind of all over the place. Which explains why I’m always a little flustered.
What does a day in your working life look like?
We are breakfast people so the day starts with coffee and breakfast – something sweet for Hugh and something savory for me. The kids eat a little of both. Hugh and I try to alternate days of one of us exercising in the morning. We are taking a cookbook break at the moment so do not have a big project we’re working on per se.
Right now, we try to dedicate two days to Sprouted Kitchen. I’ll have picked a recipe to share and have done the shopping the night before. I check emails just to see what’s happening, then we’ll get to the post. If we have another freelance job that day, we try to do all the cooking on one day while we’re making the mess and have all our props out. It’s kind of a messy job, though it may not look like it through the photos Hugh takes. Then he edits the photos and sends them to me for certain clients and I do all the emails to organize existing jobs or talk with potential ones.
I pick up my son from preschool and put him down for a nap so I have two more hours to throw toys at my 9 month old and write recipes and emails. I try to do something on social media though I’m not great at it. After 3ish, I’m a mom and try to just be with the kids instead of multi-tasking. Everyone is happier when I can wear one hat. We do normal family things like going to the park, seeing friends, making dinner and such. I’ll work on stuff again after the kids are in bed if I need to.
What hats do you personally wear in your business and where do you have support from someone else?
Because Hugh and I have done the work for the blog and cookbooks together, we have our roles. Hugh does all the photography and back end stuff. (He puts the photos in the posts and does any technical stuff, etc.). He proofreads my posts but that is sort of the blind leading the blind with grammar. He is so supportive with all things technical and also with watching the kids when I need just an hour of quiet to knock some things out. I do the writing, cooking, testing, social media, emails, cookbook logistics, events and dishes – basically everything else. We hired someone to help with the design last year and I would still love to have someone polish how it functions.
What makes you uniquely suited to do the work you do?
I am learning as I go, I care about eating real food and enjoy sharing what I know if it could help other people enjoy their time in the kitchen. I didn’t go to cooking school or have a big ego about being a “chef” – I just want to be the girl who perhaps has a good salad idea for your barbecue this weekend. I like to make things that are colorful and simple and healthy or maybe decadent sometimes. I hope to make people feel like they have a friend in the kitchen who is just giving them another perspective.
In those first few months of business (or maybe even years), what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?
We came into the blogging scene at the same time social media was taking off so it was hard to figure out who I was in all of that. It is hard to be vulnerable and relatable while also keeping some things personal or close to the chest. I don’t think I really knew how to jump in with both feet.
How did you overcome those challenges to find your version of success?
I think I found a place that feels comfortable for me, both in writing and how often I am online. I love the response and emails I get when I let people in, but also want to respect my own privacy as needed. I would still like to be better about social media stuff but with the kids around, I try to not be on my phone all the time so it’s a little tricky.
What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to your business, even when it’s hard? Put another way: what’s the motivation behind what you do?
I think people use the recipes, and that makes me feel like I am helping people. We also make money from it at this point, so of course I have to make a living. I like it and I have to do it, that’s about as concise an answer I can come up with.
Let’s talk about failure. How have you learned to deal with failure in your life as an entrepreneur?
I don’t know if I’d consider it a “failure” necessarily but our second book didn’t really turn out how I’d have liked. I had big ideas and then got pregnant and we bought a home that needed a lot of fixing up and I had another part time job. It was hard to keep up with it all. I want to be a ‘yes’ person and take on as much as I can, but I was stretched too thin. I think that is still the failure I struggle with – giving some things up for the sake of other successes. The quality of my work is compromised when I do too much.
What’s the best investment you’ve made in your business or self-development so far? What’s the next investment you want to make?
Oh man, I’m not sure how to answer that. We’ve hired lawyers to help with contracts when we didn’t understand things and invested in a pretty decent prop selection. Both of those things have been helpful. I’d love an assistant or more help with the kids so I can focus on what I’m doing.
What advice do you have for women who are working hard to get their business off the ground and are concerned it’s not actually going to amount to anything?
It may not amount to anything is the thing. There is a big risk in being an entrepreneur and not all of them are successful. It sounds cliché but if you really, really believe in what you’re doing and do it because it is good and worthy of other people’s time and money, then I think it usually works. I also think it’s so valuable to be encouraging and promote other entrepreneurs. We only have each other, not a staff around us, so be generous and positive.
If you are starting something just because you think you’ll make money and there is no heart in it, it’ll be tough to get the support you need because people are more empathetic than you think. They want to root for the person whose heart is in it!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers or any requests you have of them?
It seems to me that less people are reading blogs these days as so much information is available on Instagram, etc. But in either place, comment on peoples’ work, whether it is writing or photographing, blogging or they are just an Instagram person you really like. It’s vulnerable to put yourself out there in any of these places and it’s nice to hear back from people who are following along. Feedback and affirmation is so helpful!
Where can my community learn more about your work (and get access to your amazing recipes too)?
We are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all under @sproutedkitchen.
Photo credits: Hugh Forte and Roger Ellsworth.