How the Co-Founder Behind the Famous Vegan Restaurant Chain By Chloe Moved Forward After a Lawsuit, Online Harassment, and a Miscarriage
In the Women Entrepreneur series My Worst Moment, female founders provide a firsthand account of the most difficult, gut-wrenching, almost-made-them-give-up experience they’ve had while building their business -- and how they recovered.
A lawsuit and a miscarriage marked the beginning of a tumultuous two years for Samantha Wasser, fast-casual restaurant developer and co-founder of the famous vegan chain By Chloe. The restaurant recently received $31 million to fuel its U.S. and international expansion, but that wasn’t the only reason it made headlines. The legal battles between Wasser and her former partner have played out both in the courts and the media. Wasser tells us how the lawsuit affected her both personally and professionally -- and how she moved forward.
What follows is a first-person account of this person’s experience. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The last two years were extremely difficult for me both personally and professionally. It started with what should’ve been the happiest time, which was seeing By Chloe open with lines around the block and rave reviews from press, our friends and fans. I dedicated my career and poured my heart into building and growing the brand for almost three years before we even opened our first location. To the public, it appeared like we had it all -- a successful millennial brand built by two women -- but behind the curtain, it was anything but.
While people were congratulating me and telling me how much of a By Chloe fan they were, I had conflicting emotions that I still struggle with today. I wanted to stay positive and to protect the brand, but in reality, it was incredibly difficult to maintain the perfect picture.
My worst moment came in June 2016, when my former partner filed a lawsuit against us. I was at my office when I found out, and I had to go to the courthouse immediately to meet with lawyers. I was shell shocked -- it was a total whirlwind of trying to figure out, Is this actually happening? At the same time, I was going through a lot of emotional difficulty in my personal life. I had suffered a miscarriage right around the same exact time.
I immediately thought, What does this mean for my staff? followed by, What does this mean for the brand? At this time, I sat down with my father, who is the CEO of E2 Hospitality (By Chloe’s parent company at the time). He asked me if I wanted to sell By Chloe and move on. Without hesitation I said I couldn’t imagine walking away from the brand I love and the staff who helped make it what it is today, all of whom are depending on us for their livelihood and families. I remember saying, 'I believe in what we’re doing, and it would kill me not to support the brand mission.'
When the lawsuit came out publicly, I had people on my personal Instagram making horrible comments and sending me threatening messages. They posted nasty comments asking me how I could live with myself, how I could do something like this and what’s wrong with me. The messages criticized my character, which is what hurt the most. Never in my life did I think I would be personally attacked; I never signed up to be in the public eye. It’s one thing if someone is saying, 'My meal wasn’t amazing,' but it’s very different when people who actually don’t know me or my character ask me, 'How can you wake up in the morning and look yourself in the mirror?'
I allowed myself one day to be a total wreck -- where I didn’t speak to anyone and cried my eyes out until I couldn’t see straight. The next day, I got dressed, puffy face and all, and shut it down. It was back to work. I had to refocus and think about what I had to do because I knew if I didn’t stand up for what I believed in, it wasn’t going to get done. When you run a business, you quickly realize you now hold the destiny of a lot of people’s lives in your hand -- how they put food on their tables, pay for school and support their families.
Words can definitely hurt, but I kept telling myself that I was acting in the best interest of the brand and focused on keeping myself distracted. I blocked a ton of people from my social media profiles, and I stopped Googling what other people were saying.
A few months later, we started a 12-day arbitration process as part of the lawsuit. When your lawyers are arguing your different points, it’s kind of like being in court. That was extremely stressful, and it was difficult for me to just sit there, unable to defend myself. On the 10th day of the arbitration, I found out I was pregnant again, and I thought, I can’t do this to myself again. If something happens, I don’t think I can handle it. There was a lot going on in the company – we were opening our Williamsburg store, our first bakery, Sweets by Chloe, as well as our first location in Boston -- but I decided to put my health first and let our lawyers handle the remaining days of arbitration. I think it was the first time I’ve ever put myself first like that, but I knew I had to refocus my energy.
Unfortunately, I suffered another miscarriage following the arbitration and a slew of other fertility letdowns in the following year. However, I am happy to say my husband and I are expecting a baby boy this December through an incredible surrogate. It was a major decision and the road to get here was not easy, but we are beyond excited for this next step in our lives.
My advice to others facing a similar situation in business or in their personal life is to set a goal for yourself, keep pushing towards it and tune out the noise. You can get so wrapped up in what other people think that it can consume you. Bumps in the road are inevitable and a seemingly never-ending black hole that carries with it a huge emotional toll. Shit happens. And when it does, you just need to trust yourself and most importantly, be yourself.
For a while, I was scared to share anything on social media, but I realized I had to live my life and it’s no one’s choice but my own to share it -- the good and the bad. I was punishing myself for both personal and professional woes, afraid to put myself out there and that’s no way to live! One day, it occurred to me: F*ck it. I won’t let anyone stand in my way of what I set out to do, which is to open amazing restaurants and continue to grow a brand that stands for positive change and impacts people lives for the better."