Miyoko Schinner is a woman of many talents. From celebrated chef to author of several cookbooks, Miyoko is changing the way people think about vegan food through her handcrafted artisanal approach to creamy vegan cheeses and butters. Read on to discover more about her background, how she launched her career, and what’s in store for Miyoko’s Kitchen.

ForceBrands: You have an interesting background in that you didn’t set out with the intention of creating a food brand. Tell us more about how Miyoko’s Kitchen came to be.
Miyoko Schinner: Ever since becoming a vegetarian at the age of 12, I’ve dedicated my whole life to convincing people that there is a different way to eat. I realized that taste was the biggest way to change the way people think about vegan cuisine. The goal in my 20s, when I became a vegan, was to create the best tasting vegan recipes out there and that’s been the driving purpose of my life ever since.

FB: Tell us about the first few years starting Miyoko’s Kitchen. When did you know you were truly onto something?
MS: I did want to create an empire, but I didn’t admit that to anyone in the earlier stages of development. I knew that we were onto something though when we launched into ecommerce in September of 2014. We had four employees at the time and were instantly inundated with orders. Within a month or so, we had to hire ten more people and we’ve been playing catch up with ourselves ever since.

FB: You have about 65 employees now — what do you look for in successful hires?
MS: The biggest thing is cultural fit and finding people who believe in your mission and want to promote that mission. That’s such a big issue. Some people just want to make and sell products and forget about the mission behind them. Behind every product is a story. We’re selling a lifestyle with a mission. The best employees go ‘yes’ and believe in that mission and that makes them a good cultural fit.

FB: Do you have any mentors?
MS: A lot of people. I’ve kind of always been an entrepreneur and throughout every step of the way, I’ve found people who helped guide me on my journey. When I had my first food company back in the 1990s, one of the founders of Rice Dream was on our board and helped me to understand the industry and the financial aspects of it. I also have a wonderful group of seasoned professionals on our board now who have been able to provide me with helpful advice and guidance.

FB: What do you find challenging about your role as CEO?
MS: Being CEO is all about learning what my role is. As you get bigger, you have to delegate more. You have to always be conscious about what you assign and how much you should manage and oversee. Stepping into the role as CEO is definitely a learning experience.

FB: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to launch their own food brand?
MS: Don’t forget about your mission.

You’re selling more than a brand — you’re selling the story, the mission, and the lifestyle. Always put that first and foremost.

FB: Being a female CEO in any industry is incredibly powerful. Have there been any moments when you were made aware of the food industry’s gender gap? And are there any initiatives you’ve taken to encourage more women to take on leadership roles?
MS: We definitely need more women in leadership roles. They have a certain openness that men don’t. I’ve participated in a lot of panels and speaking engagements where I’ve been the token woman, and I’ve been in situations at trade shows, for example, when I’ve had someone say to me, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize you’re the CEO.’ I’ve had some awkward moments for sure but what’s most important for me is to lead by example and to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s important to not be afraid and to become stronger in your abilities on a daily basis.

FB: Looking ahead, where do you see Miyoko’s Kitchen in the next 10 years? What do you hope people take away and gain from it?
MS: Our goal is to succeed in mainstream America so that people understand plant-based dairy. And in doing so, we hope to establish ourselves as leaders in the category. Miyoko‘s Kitchen is dedicated to producing deliciously innovative products that help people see the power of their plate in creating a more peaceful, compassionate planet.