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This blog post was written by Ellie Gershenwald (Steinhardt '22) based on an interview with July 2022 Founder of the Month Ashley Xie (Steinhardt '20), Co-Founder of Rooted Fare.
Rooted Fare makes fun, modern Chinese-American pantry staples that are nostalgic yet novel.
Ashley Xie has been immersed in the food industry since she was young. She remembers observing her mom cook traditional Chinese dishes at her restaurant and constantly watching Iron Chef America on Food Network after coming home from school. As she grew up, Ashley questioned whether this love for food was just a passion or something she saw as the core of her future career. After stating that she wanted to become a chef, her mom dissuaded her from choosing this path because she knew how grueling the industry can be. Ashley decided to take her mom’s advice, however, she remained involved in food-related extracurricular opportunities and clubs while studying Public Health and Biology at Johns Hopkins University.
By this point, Ashley realized that her passion for food was more than just a sideline interest. After graduating, she pursued internships that enabled her to follow her deep interest in food. She worked at Meadow Lark Farm Dinners in Boulder and the Good Food Foundation in San Francisco before deciding to go to graduate school. In 2018, she headed to New York City to pursue her Masters in Food Studies at NYU Steinhardt to immerse herself thoroughly in the industry. While she initially planned to focus on food policy, and even interned at the New York Department of Health to work on their healthy food initiative, her path changed after taking an elective food business class with Professor Hans Taparia. Her initial idea for Rooted Fare was sparked in this class and she has never looked back.
The original concept for Rooted Fare was to partner and profit-share with immigrant chefs by selling products using their recipes. Ashley had developed three products with a chef and after selling a few jars at a friend’s party, she turned to the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute to explore how to grow Rooted Fare beyond a semester-long class project. She recalls how valuable it was to participate in the entire Startup Accelerator Series – the Startup Bootcamp, the Startup Sprint, and the Summer Launchpad – alongside her Co-Founder Hedy Yu. As someone without a background in business, Ashley was able to learn crucial best practices, including the importance of interviewing customers and testing every assumption. The Startup Sprint provided the co-founders with the opportunity to focus their full attention on Rooted Fare for the first time, enabling them to gather meaningful feedback from their target customers: Asian-American consumers. The 9-week Summer Launchpad pushed the startup even further by emulating how a real business functions and expanding their network of entrepreneurs and mentors. Ashley has continued her involvement with the Institute through the Female Founders Fellowship, an initiative that provides community support, training, mentorship, networking, and grant opportunities to entrepreneurs at NYU who are committed to advancing gender equity in entrepreneurship.
Ashley has relied on the critical skills she learned through these programs as Rooted Fare has grown, especially the importance of testing your assumptions. Through many tastings, she and Hedy recognized that customers cared more about the recipes than the social mission that was initially central to the company. To address this, Rooted Fare has now pivoted into a brand that provides Chinese-American pantry staples with a fun, modern twist. They also began to face challenges with growing pains in the manufacturing process because Ashley was making all of the sauces herself. Since their Black Sesame Crunchy Butter was the overwhelming favorite among customers, they decided to discontinue the other products and to scale the brand by focusing on the specific item consumers were craving most. Ashley is dedicated to providing fellow Chinese-American consumers with nostalgic flavors that make them feel more recognized through food. Her most rewarding moments as a founder have come while observing customers’ emotional reactions at tastings.
Looking back, Ashley notes how important it is to be coachable and eager to learn. She started with a blank slate and a level of naïveté that did not hold her back from asking questions and taking risks. Her advice for aspiring founders is to put yourself out there because at a minimum, you’ll learn something new and there is always a community of founders and mentors to provide support!