Giada De Laurentiis Shares How She Busted Down Doors and Became a Big Name in the Food World
In this series, Open Every Door, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.
For Giada De Laurentiis, her philosophy around opportunity is simple: Don’t be afraid to say yes to chances to stretch yourself.
This mentality has led to her major presence on the Food Network -- with eight shows with her name in the title -- as well as regular appearances on the Today show. She’s the author of nine cookbooks and a series of kids' novels called Recipe for Adventure. In 2014, she opened her first restaurant, Giada, at the Cromwell Hotel in Las Vegas. In 2016, she launched a lifestyle website called Giadzy.
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But even accomplished chefs sometimes have trouble finding food that will work for their most discerning customers: children. Inspired by her daughter Jade, De Laurentiis teamed up with snack company Simply7 to make a line of popcorn that she wouldn’t worry about feeding her 10-year-old.
De Laurentiis wanted to make something that she could stand behind, not just with the taste, but how it was made -- specifically who was growing the ingredients. Which is how the Fund Her Farm initiative was developed.
She wanted to source the corn from solely female farmers but soon realized that women farmers in the space didn’t have operations large enough to fill the need.
The initiative aims to give these farmers the tools and support to wade through all the paperwork and bureaucracy to grow to new heights, in collaboration with organizations including Annie’s Project and the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN).
“It is a very exciting project for me because it feels like I'm not only creating a great snack, but I'm also giving back to a community and building a community,” De Laurentiis tells Entrepreneur. "That, to me, means the world."
De Laurentiis shared her insights about taking big leaps and finding an enduring support system.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me about a time that you needed to create an opportunity for yourself or others?
Probably my biggest learning experience in business was my first restaurant, Giada, at the Cromwell Hotel in Las Vegas. I went from being a television chef who worked in restaurants and went to culinary school -- but had never opened a restaurant -- to having a restaurant on the busiest corner in Las Vegas with 275 seats. I don't know that I created the opportunity, but I think the opportunity sort of created itself. When I jumped in, I realized, Oh God, I think I've bit off way more than I can chew, and I had many times where I felt like I should back out and give this to someone who had more experience.
But in doing that, I would have been letting go of a dream and also an opportunity that I felt was once in a lifetime, because there aren't many opportunities in Las Vegas to build a restaurant from scratch. I relied on my partnership with Caesars Palace and I relied on my team. Together they picked me up and kept me going. The secret is having a team that supports you and having a group of people around you that you can lean on. Don't be afraid to ask for support.
What was at stake for you in this moment?
The opportunity was such a big one. I realized that especially in Las Vegas, there really weren't many female-branded chef restaurants and I was going to be one of very few. I felt like I was part of a very small group of women that could sustain a business on the strip. What keeps a lot of us from doing what we really want to do or from making our dreams come true is the fear of failure. I had to overcome the fear of failure.
I just thought, if I fail, I failed big, and I'll realize that this is not my world and that I should go back to what I'm good at, which is television. But every once in a while you have to risk something in this life or you don't move forward. I never want to look back and have regret. So I did my best and put out a good product. I still work at it every day. It's been four years and I would say that we're very successful. We are at a very small hotel and yet we do great business. It's hard work and truly I think we have to persist. You have to have that ability to move forward regardless of your fears and face them.
What personal traits or strategies do you rely on to identify opportunity for yourself and others?
I go with my gut and I rely a lot on my family in the sense that I always realize that this job is not just me in it, but it's my entire family in it. It's probably because my grandfather built a very big business in the entertainment world and the first time I started on Food Network, he warned me, please don't do anything that is going to disparage the name or or make it less than it is.
In the back of my mind, every decision I make it is based on whether my grandfather and my family would be proud of that decision. It's also determination. I feel like I've been given an opportunity and I need to basically grab hold of it and make the best of it. I have a drive within me to keep going and to pick myself up even when it's a difficult time. A lot of times that strength comes from the people around you.
When you experience a setback, what do you do to keep going? How do you get unstuck?
As much as I'd love to say that I try to avoid as many setbacks as possible by doing my homework, things happen and it's impossible sometimes to avoid them. But that again depends on who you're in business with. The reason I'll have three restaurants open with Caesars Palace is because over the past four years, I feel like our relationship is one where we both look out for each other. That's really important. I also rely heavily on my own personal team to go through all of the pros and cons of decisions that we make and setbacks that happen.
I tend to sweat the small stuff sometimes and then I started to realize over time that I need to let go a little bit. And also that I need to start to prioritize what I fight for and what I don't. My daughter has taught me this as well. You have to pick your battles with your children. You can't fight them on every single thing. It's the same in business. You just can't fight everybody and every single thing. Figure out what really means something to you, fight for those big things and let the little thing fly.
People who want to advocate for themselves don't know always know how. What are actionable steps they can take to make themselves heard? What steps do you take?
Hopefully you've picked something that you truly are good at and that you can figure out whatever your niche is in that business and figure out what sets you apart from everyone else. What gifts and talents do you have that you don't see in your area, and then highlight those things. A lot of it comes from self-confidence that you can do what it is that you say you can do. You'll see that people who believe they can do something regardless of whether they can do it or not, they somehow convince others they can do it. No one will sell you the way you do. And work your tail off.Related: This Young Entrepreneur Shares the 3-Step Strategy She Uses to Banish Self-Doubt
Has there been a counterintuitive or surprising way you've opened doors for yourself?
I always tell everybody that I need to be in the room to convince people that I can do it. I am my own best salesperson and I open doors for myself that other people aren't always able to see. People in my field usually just stay within the food realm. Being able to have made deals with companies outside of the food world is a way I have opened doors in an area that usually isn't possible. But you just keep pushing and I keep meeting with people and I keep working at it and I keep talking to everybody about it. And little by little things just happen. You have to be your best advocate.
Was there a blind spot you had about leadership and opportunity you worked to change within yourself?
When I first started in this business, no one wanted to believe I could cook, and no one wanted to believe I was for real. In the beginning I was upset and frustrated with it. I tried to fight it, and then I realized I was just wasting my energy. I can't change what they believe of me. But what I can do is work really hard to little by little get rid of the stereotypes of a person looking a certain way and not fitting the model that we believe is what [a chef] should look like. I decided that I was going figure out what my brand was, work really hard and deliver some good products, whether it was television shows or recipes or cookbooks. Over the past 15 years, I've been doing that.
It's constant, it's every day and I focus on being on brand all day long, every day. And if it feels like it's off brand, I don't do it. I feel like that consistency has led me to where I am today, where people take me a lot more seriously than they used to. It's definitely a long journey. I'm not in it for the quick flash in the pan -- I'm trying to stay here for the long haul.