After Hiatus, Nancy Fink’s Spoon Optional Bounces Back

It’s never an easy decision to pause the business you built from the ground up, but Nancy Fink knew that was what she was going to have to do to ultimately make Spoon Optional successful. And after a 10-month hiatus, Fink has found a path to sustainability – and perhaps – more success.

“I was in the [Sabes] JCC kitchen making the soup and it was a great response but super labor intensive to make,” Fink said. “There was no efficiency. Knowing that it needed a longer shelf-life and finding a co-packer was what needed to happen and I was the one who needed to make that happen and my time and resources were limited.

“It was horrible. It was such a stressful thing. I was so nervous about disappointing people, about the stores that had taken a chance on me that I was going to pull my product. Ultimately I recognized that my time and financial resources were limited. It was a really hard decision, but it felt like it would allow me to get to that next step.”

In the 10-month interval, Fink found a co-packer in Milwaukee who makes the soups to Fink’s carefully developed recipes. Unlike the first iteration of Spoon Optional, the soup is High-Pressure Processing (HPP) ready. HPP is a way to use pressure rather than heat to inactivate pathogens in the soup and extend shelf life, without additives that would be on the label. This required different packaging than the last time: A smaller, narrow-mouth bottle rather than the 16-ounce, wide-mouth Mason jar than the last time. The HPP plant is also in Milwaukee, and are distributed from there after undergoing the process.

“There were so many food science things I had to understand and learn,” Fink said. She hired a food scientist, Linda Baggio, who had been at General Mills, who helped Fink understand what she needed to make the product scalable. “We worked in my kitchen every day for six months. It would’ve been easy to throw preservatives in or put in citric acid. But for me, it was all about the clean label and what we needed to do to achieve while maintaining the integrity of flavors.”

Fink cut the number of flavors to four – Garden Tomato Basil, Carrot Ginger Tumeric, Savory Super Greens, and Beet Cucumber Gazpacho. The latter is the newest flavor, which Fink said was created on a whim – she loves beets and it adds color to the soup. Three are OU-certified Kosher – the Savory Super Greens is not; Fink learned that kosher and organic can be at odds, especially with leafy greens.

Fink said the scale this time around is much greater than the first time.

“Our first production [this time] was 800 pound batches, which is small by co-packing standards,” she said. “Last time we were making 50 or 100 [pound batches]. The second we did a 2,000-pound batch. When I started I could wrap my hands around the business. Now it’s so much bigger.”

Fink has Spoon Option 20 stores in the Twin Cities and growing, and has gotten into some Milwaukee shops – which is her hometown.

“The reset has enabled us to get in more stores,” she said. “I’m trying to be strategic about how we grow. We’re trying to learn who our tribe is. We want to understand that before going too big too fast.”

Fink is hoping to add seasonable offerings, but faces challenges of the timing of production and getting the product out.

“We had to have the year-round ones right and make sure we can execute on those,” she said. “I’m itching to get back to the kitchen. What energizes me is the recipes.”