New Jersey is home to many ambitious and talented women who juggle family, career, and home. A select few of these women are also extremely busy building their own companies to help better manage the balance of work and family. At NJMOM, we want to highlight these extraordinary women who build businesses in New Jersey, and learn the secret to their success.
Chef and Owner of Relish Your Chef
& NJMOMpreneur: Marcy Ragan
After enduring challenging shift changes and thankless salary cuts, Marcy Ragan‘s frustration with the traditional restaurant model inspired her to take business into her own hands. That’s when she became a personal chef and launched Relish Your Chef. Today, Marcy supports her children by doing what she loves most – developing delicious and creative menus, and making family mealtimes easier in the process. Whether her inspiration comes from her children”s favorite dishes, her culinary restlessness, or watching her own mother run a successful local business, Chef Marcy Ragan’s success lies in her ability to continuously reinvent herself and her work.
NJMOM had the honor of learning Marcy’s story of dark times that required her to roll up her sleeves and start her own business. Plus, words of wisdom from her mother and family members, and her family’s favorite places to eat in New Jersey.
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Marcy: I provide my clients with delicious, custom meals with white glove service. I know my clients personally and I have learned in my years of service to anticipate their needs. When I interview a new client, I find out what makes them tick: food likes, dislikes, favorite meals from growing up, favorite restaurant, and even dietary goals. Sometimes it’s just about getting a handmade meal on the table that is fresh and not full of preservatives. Other times my clients’ goals are to eat more nutritionally balanced meals, have their children try new things, or get out of their same old dinner rut. Because I am a professional chef and a mom, I have the unique ability to understand everyone’s needs. I suggest a menu to my clients every week and those menu items are always varied. I am culinarily restless; I, for one, like eating a varied diet so I am constantly looking for new recipe and meal inspiration. That being said, if my client is really craving my Salmon Salad with Arugula, Herbed Roasted Beets, Hard Cooked Eggs with a Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette, they can request it. Everyone is different.
I also offer catering services. I love a party – from the brainstorming to the execution of every single element and ingredient. My parties are tailored to suit on every level. I’m fueled by modern culinary trends as well as traditions, and love the planning that takes each gathering from an amorphous good idea to an epic event. I bring my experiences, menu ideas, and the knowledge of a classically trained chef to the mix.
NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Marcy: Starting a personal chef business was created out of a need to support my children. About give years ago, I endured many painful life shifts and I had to go back to work to support my children. I went back to work as a restaurant chef, and, after a few months, that restaurant wanted to change my hours to all nights and cut my pay. I said, “No, thank you.” I figured that I had already lost so much, why not go out and start my own business? A friend asked me to cook for her, and my personal chef service was born. Being a personal chef in this day and age makes sense, where the restaurant model is not really showing that it’s sustainable anymore. The profit margins are so slim, many chefs such as Barbara Lynch and David Chang are looking for more sustainable and profitable food service businesses. I believe that people directly ordering exactly what they want from their personal chef cuts out a lot of the guesswork and waste.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Marcy: I love being able to take care of moms. As mothers, we do so much for our children and families. There are so many responsibilities like busy sports schedules, laundry, work, and last but not least, school! Parents trust me and know that I will take care of and say yes to their needs. I really do love it when I get emails, phone calls, notes, or texts from new clients after they’ve had their first meal from Relish Your Chef. It’s really exciting to receive messages like, “You nailed it,” “My spouse was so happy to come home to a delicious dinner tonight,” or “My kids tried everything!” I can’t tell you how much I love that. It’s very satisfying, I take pride in that. The fact that I get to take care of busy parents and that they take the time out of those hectic lives to message me means the world.
NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Marcy: I am a chef trained in the Classic Culinary Arts from The International Culinary Center. I also spent time learning to cook in Perugia, Italy before I went to culinary school. That was a time where food adventure brought me to another country and changed my whole life in regards to eating, dining, and lifestyle. It was a game changer. I also graduated Rutgers Douglass College with a BA in Psychology. That psychology major comes in handy every day; I love people, they fascinate me.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Marcy: I am very proud that in 2016 I won the Monmouth and Ocean Small Business Development Center’s Success Award. When I started my business, the first few months were challenging: I made no money, long hours in customizing menus, personal service, prep, cooking, and delivery for less than minimum wage wasn’t really cutting it. I went to the MOSBDC and learned so much there, such as how to structure my business, the utility of my business, the power of social media – everything just gelled for me there. The continued support that I receive from the center is priceless. I encourage anyone who is starting a business, or who has a current business to check it out.
I am also really proud when my sons tell people that “my mom is a professional chef.” If we go out to eat, I usually like to keep that on the down low, but sometimes my younger son just loves telling people that. It’s awesome. He has also told people that I make the best buttered toast, which I think is adorable and hilarious.
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Marcy: I absolutely consume live music when I can, and I even used to be a bit of a jam-band junkie. I worked for a band in college and I’ll try to get to the Brooklyn Bowl any chance that I can. I find that food and music make sense to me in a similar way. There is something about the combo of personal memories, understanding history and genre, context, and ways to experiment that works in both. Music and food follow a template; there are rules, but with room to explore and endless variations of derivation and creativity. I think in food and song lyrics. I just love a good jam. I am also an amazing singer, by myself, in the car!
NJMOM: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2017?
Marcy: I have a lot going on! I am currently redeveloping my website, with a relaunch hopefully in the new year. My website has proven to be a very helpful business tool, designed by another NJMOMpreneur, Sandra Scaiano. She’s an absolute guru on the back-end searchable coding on my site, which is huge for my SEO. On my redesigned website, I am launching a service called “Relish Express.” On the new version of the site, I will enable online ordering for bespoke clients and Express clients alike. It’s an idea that I’ve had for a long time. My business is about helping people eat better with real food and make it easy for them, and this will help achieve that goal. In 2015, American spending on prepared food surpassed raw ingredient grocery sales for the first time ever. People are looking to spend their dollar on prepared meals, but want the convenience of ordering from their homes to accommodate their diets and schedules. My clients will be able to get the same Relish Your Chef menu items, but with the ease of online ordering.
NJMOM: What cause are you most passionate about?
Marcy: I recently got involved in the JBJ Soul Kitchen of Red Bank and Toms River. This is an organization that I really believe in and am doing a “guest chef” dinner there this fall with all proceeds to benefit the Soul Kitchen. There was a time that I just had the threat of being food insecure. Just the threat of that caused anxiety and stress. I made it through with the help of family and friends, but not everyone is lucky to have a support system like that. Tough times can happen to anyone. The JBJ Soul Kitchen enables people to feed themselves with dignity, no questions asked. Work one hour and you can earn a dining certificate to feed a family of five at a three course meal. I look forward to working with them more in the future.
Having a full belly or pantry can help make you feel safe. When you feel safe, you can take on the world.
Tangentially speaking, I am also interested in getting young children to eat better. I am currently writing a step by step guidebook for this. I hear too often that “my child won’t eat that” or “how do I get my child to eat something other than chicken fingers?” I think there’s a real need to address this huge pain point, no matter what economic bracket you fall into. Eating should be fun and not stressful. With the right attitude, patience and willingness to accommodate, feeding your kids nutritionally balanced, delicious meals is possible. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet of whole, real foods now will aid in good health for the future.
NJMOM: Who is your role model?
Marcy: I have a lot of role models and they are all in my family. My mother was a strong woman who ran her own cleaning business in a straightforward way, with dignity and grace. She always had the time to cook for us, play with us, and go on walks. I miss her so much. Even though she wasn’t a very worldly woman, she was very wise. She always did what she had to to get by to support me and my sister. I love my dad’s great attention to detail. Being thorough and precise is the “Truska” way (my maiden name). My Aunt Janet and Uncle Mike have successfully owned and operated two businesses in Sussex County for decades. They are practical, no-nonsense people with a good sense of humor that I can always look to for advice. My stepmom Cindy is a high business achiever who somehow always finds a way to get everything done. She’s miraculous. Her work ethic is bar none. My sister Jessica, who is an amazing third grade teacher, taught me how to be a mom. She’s a great aunt to my boys and has wonderful children of her own. She and my mom showed me how to parent through a different lens and have some fun with it! All of these people are on my personal “board of directors” who help me shape who I am and my business.
The support from people you trust and admire, who will tell it to you straight, is invaluable.
NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice your mom ever gave to you?
Marcy: My mother was a cleaning lady who kept clients for decades by making them feel at ease. She truly enjoyed taking care of them. My mother always told me that it was a privilege to take care of people, and that, is a great piece of advice, find dignity in taking care of your fellow person. About a week before my mother passed, she told me out of the blue, “Marcy, you are a nurturer, always remember that”. This was before I had a personal chef business or anything of the like. I try to remember this every day.
NJMOM: Do you have a favorite quote you live by?
Marcy: “Dig deep because you never know when your roots will need it.” This sentiment is also from my mother, who always told us that we could dig deeper, work harder, and survive. I had some painful life shifts about five years ago, things that I thought would never happen to me. I had a husband, two beautiful boys, I was building a house on the Navesink River, and I thought life was all figured out. However, all of that crumbled, his gaslighting exposed, and the fancy house and “dependable” husband were all a mirage. That now ex-husband, answered only to his demons at that time and eventually went to jail. He left me with two boys, an eviction notice, no money or security, and I had no job. I was forced to get my act together and through that time, I had my family to support me and show me that I had the power within me to dig deeper. I truly believe now that this was meant to happen. Life has a funny way of showing you that it’s not done with you yet. The heavens above were telling me that I had more to do with my life, and ripped my false sense of security away. I went back to what I loved, feeding people. I am happier for it and I have a successful business to show for it. My boys are happy and healthy and I am remarried to a great guy who is an amazing husband and stepdad. My mother passed unexpectedly, so she never got to see my business grow, but she knows we were a happy family.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Marcy: I love the Autumn in New Jersey. I just adore it. Summer is amazing at the Jersey Shore, just being near the water in Monmouth and Ocean counties is therapeutic. I love visiting all of the parks in the area and going on walks with my boys and husband. We always find something interesting to look at or talk about. I love, no surprise, taking everyone on food adventures. It’s great that my boys can see how other people eat and experience new foods in a fun, no-pressure environment. Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace in Edgewater is great for that. Asbury Park is also great with so many restaurants to choose from and fun activities – just walking the boardwalk is a treat.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Marcy: I love that my boys do not see the world in a cynical way. It’s helped me adjust my own thinking. They are also always trying to make me laugh, and they are hilarious. They have helped me become a better person. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be.
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Marcy: I love shopping at Sickles Market in Little Silver; their cheese department is my favorite, plus they have great speciality items and a beautiful nursery. I love to grab some cheese, fruit, bread, maybe even a boxed kids lunch and take it to their great playground with the boys. Of course I love Rook Coffee, I even brew it at home. In order to stay sane and fit for my job, I love exercising at Perspirology in Sea Bright. It’s a dance-based workout that is challenging but also helps me take my mind off of work. If I’m concentrating on my funky fresh (just kidding) dance moves, I can clear my head and it’s such a great workout. When I was going through my tough time, Christian of EvenFlow Yoga was my guiding light. His yoga classes are very clever and provide balance for body and mind. I wouldn’t be where I am now if he wasn’t so generous. We all love Cookman Creamery in Asbury Park; they have very tasty vegan options as well, which is great for my lactose intolerant son. I don’t get to eat out often at restaurants because of catering, but when I do, I like to visit my friends at The Grand Tavern in Neptune City. The owners are Asbury Park restaurant alums that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Their classy-yet-homey restaurant has delicious drinks and the food is outstanding. I miss living in Long Branch; we loved the various cuisines that all of the restaurants offer – Ada’s Latin Flavor, the Ethiopian and Dominican place was our favorite take-out.
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Marcy: We just moved to Brick in Ocean County to a house that we are fixing up before moving on. It’s nice to be near the Metedeconk River; my aunt just told me that her grandfather grew up on this river. I can now put the stories together of when my mom and her siblings went to visit their grandparents. Windward Beach Park is so pretty and our street is flat dead-end, which is perfect for bike riding. Just being at the Jersey Shore, Monmouth and Ocean Counties when it’s warm is a delight. My in-laws house is in Sea Girt and it’s just so beautiful there, it is like being on vacation. I also love going back up North to Sussex County, where my aunt and uncle still reside. It’s like the Jersey I remember from growing up in Lake Edenwald: open space, lakes, streams, mountainous terrain.
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Marcy: Go for it! And be flexible! Say yes to everything at first to test your market. Sometimes, you might have an idea for a business, but another, more viable one, pops up instead. My business has definitely morphed over time. If you are aware and flexible, you can move with the market and take advantage of business opportunities. And if you have a business idea, go to your local small business development center. They have low cost, engaging classes that really help and are taught by experts.
NJMOM: Anything else you’d like to tell moms in New Jersey?
Marcy: Moms are so supportive to each other. I love the support that I give and get from friends and fellow women entrepreneurs. Women supporting women is a huge part of my success. I just love talking with people who get it, there’s a comfort zone in women supporting other women in business. You can bounce ideas off of each other without fear of failure. I love to support other women owned businesses.