Recent finalists in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards for creativity and ingenuity in their business, Suzie Miller and Lizann Anderson, from Among Friends Bakery Mixes, know what it takes to be successful businesswomen and moms.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves, your families and Among Friends.
Suzie: We grew up in Toledo. I live in Toledo now and Lizann is now in Ann Arbor.
Lizann: We have dual citizenship in Ann Arbor and Toledo (laughs).
S: I’ve got three kids and they all have completely different personalities and we have baking mixes dedicated to them, which are reflective of that. You can’t really believe how much you love your children, it’s a wonderful thing.
L: I have three boys. Having three boys means that I always have hungry people around.
S: We were always baking. I came over with a delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe one day. Lizann would always remake my recipes and they would never taste like what I had made. I would ask, “What’d you put in this?” and she’d say, “Well, flax seed and whole wheat pastry flour,” and I finally said, “Okay, we need to back off a little from the flax seed.” It resulted in us going back and forth, replacing the sugar, completely replacing any form of white flour and we came up with a really simple recipe that our kids absolutely loved.
L: Suzie was an easy convert.
S: We looked at each other one day and knew we were on to something.
When I walk into Among Friends, what can I expect to see?
S: Our very first “world headquarters” was a licensed kitchen off of Lizann’s garage. Now, we’ve got a 10,000 square foot space, and we’ve got a warehouse and with two different facilities, one is gluten-free and the other whole-wheat. We manufacture everything ourselves.
Why are gluten-free, whole ingredients, etc., so important?
L: There is a great deal of confusion out there about what constitutes a whole grain. Part of the reason we first got interested in the gluten-free grains is because it became more available. Our intention was to expose people to really great recipes that are whole grain and gluten-free and that’s really what separates us in the marketplace.
What inspires you every day?
S: Our kids. Being an artist, I’m a highly visual person. I love every aspect of the creative process. We, no pun intended, feed off one another, spreading the love and changing the world one cookie at a time.
L: Outdoors, fresh air, and fresh experiences inspire me. I am a writer by trade, which makes us a fun verbal and visual team. We both have a passion for education: nutrition, healthy habits and lifestyle changes.
S: Yes, if you’re going to have a treat, why not get some nutrition out of it? There can be something nutritionally-redeeming about the treats we indulge in.
How do you balance being a full-time mom and business owner?
S: Some days are better than others. It’s a constant challenge. Remember what your priorities are, which I keep reminding myself of. Working hard and making sure that I take care of the most important things, which is of course family.
L: I probably have an easier time than Suzie because I do a lot of my work at home. Nevertheless, I come from a big family and my sister-in-law says, “There is no balance, there’s balance over a lifetime.” That’s helped me say no to things outside the home.
What is your vision or goal for Among Friends?
S: My personal vision is to change the world one baking mix at a time and educate everyone worldwide. I can see us going that big. I always thought, “If this gets big, people are going to love it and want to be a part of it.”
L: There are lots of changes you can make in your diet to become a healthier person. I would love to convince people that whole grains are an important part of that. We are so inundated in this country with adulterated wheat. People don’t even know what well-grown grain tastes like. I would love to be a part of the revolution to change that.
Suzie: I think the whole grain thing came naturally for both of us. I would eat wheat-germ out of the jar, which is a little weird, but Lizann was the same way!
Lizann: My kids still love white bread, unfortunately. They know I’m going out of town when there’s white bread on the counter (laughs). It’s my way to get them to do what they’re supposed to.
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