Giving Back With Love -- and Chocolate: An Interview With Jennifer Russell

By Randi Zuckerberg

August 8, 2017 6 min read

I met Jennifer Russell in New York and was immediately drawn to her passion for philanthropy. But it was when I tried her creations at Treat House that I was truly blown away!

That's why I support this woman's work.

Jennifer Russell is the co-founder and co-creator of Treat House, which has been delighting kids and adults with a rotating selection of up to 18 different varieties of treats since 2013. Treat House currently has two retail locations in New York City and has strong e-commerce and business-to-business sales.

1) What was missing in the dessert and pastry industry that you saw needed filling?

There were so many oversized cupcakes, cookies and macaroons and no gourmet crispy rice treat company. At the same time, the country was becoming more health-conscious.

We felt a mini dessert that offered gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, kosher and nut-free options was missing in the dessert industry.

Our Treaters at Treat House create and artistically decorate every small crispy rice treat by hand — one by one by one. Homemade, handmade, with real ingredients — an embrace of nostalgia from your childhood kitchen, reimagined in a big way into little bites with adult flavors for the most discerning kid in each of us.

What started as a charity bake sale by our two boys, then-8-year-old Daniel and then-5-year-old Eli, has blossomed into a now-six-year family-of-love adventure, a treat business based on passion and compassion.

2) When should outside perspectives be taken into account when starting your own business?

When it has never been done before. You want to make sure you listen to your potential customers. Before we opened our doors, we had a big tasting with our friends and family. We gave all of them anonymous questionnaires and told everyone to be brutally honest. They all loved the treats, but the one thing they all said was to do the treats even smaller, so we listened. That is how we got to the size that we did. You always need to listen to your customer. We also tasted about 50 flavors and kept the fan favorites. The caramel sea salt, birthday cake, M&M and cookies and cream are still on our menu today.

3) How important was it to align your personal values with those of Treat House?

Very important. Giveback is a part of the Treat House ethos, with a charitable mission to give back by treating it forward — inspiring adults and kids alike to treat themselves and others less fortunate with love.

Our company started with a bake sale where our children were raising money for athletic equipment for children in Africa. When we started Treat House, we partnered with the Food Bank For New York City and gave 10 cents of each treat to the Food Bank. In the last two years, we have worked with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, where we partner with our customers and send 12-packs of treats to low-income patients suffering with blood cancer. They are sent with notes written by our children and others in the community.

We are not treating cancer, but we hope to cheer up people's days with some delicious treats.

4) You work with your husband, Chris, running Treat House. What advice do you have to married couples thinking of going out on their own venture together?

It is definitely not easy working together when you are married. Most people think we are crazy! My advice is to do your best to keep work at work and home at home. Listen and be open to each other's ideas about the business, whether you agree or not. Always remember that love is what brought you in the office together, and try to acknowledge and kindle it every day. Although Chris and I have certainly disagreed and had a fair share of arguments, it has only been helpful to growing a successful business. It is also important to laugh together and not take each other too seriously sometimes. We both have our strengths, and we balance each other perfectly.

And you always need to be able to pivot as a couple when you have a small business, as well. That is the secret ingredient to running a successful business.

5) How do you stay creative while running a small business?

Small business is all about creativity and mobility. You need to stay current and relevant and keep yourself top of mind for your current and future customers.

We believe food is art. We are proud and passionate to cater to our customers. Centered on creative expression, artistry, customization, individualization, our treats are your blank canvas to create on. Use colors, patterns, creativity, photos of your puppy, your husband, your friends, company logo, child, anything. We love to share our love with others. Sink your teeth into our deliciously edible art.

Randi Zuckerberg is the founder of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a weekly business show on SiriusXM, "Dot Complicated." To find out more about Randi Zuckerberg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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