Chez Marie, the healthy food company from Wilsonville, was the winner of the 2012 Angel Oregon conference. We caught up with founder Marie Jensen Osmunson to find out about her journey as an entrepreneur. Like many other success stories, Marie’s story is indicative of the entrepreneurial spirit that builds companies and strengthens our economy. Here’s the excerpt of our interview with Marie.
Interview conducted by OEN volunteer, Aditi Vyas
Tell us about your company – how and when did it start and where are you at today?
I founded Chez Marie in 2007 after making healthy, all-natural veggie burgers to satisfy my entire family—and their dietary needs. I’ve always loved cooking and with my children and grandchildren experiencing intolerances to gluten, dairy and eggs, I discovered a need for simple, clean, and nutritious foods. With the encouragement of friends and family, I took the leap and began working with the Food Innovation Center to prepare my veggie burgers for the market. Chez Marie, Inc. hand-crafts healthy vegetarian burgers, sliders and tots. I take pride in using simple ingredients that provide wholesome nutrition. Our ingredients “read like a recipe” and include many verified GMO-free, vegan and gluten-free items.
Five years later, Chez Marie ranks **8th in the nation in the natural retail veggie burger category. Our line of veggie burgers are available in more than 150 retail grocery locations including Zupans, Whole Foods, Fred Meyer, Market of Choice, and New Seasons, and many restaurants in the Pacific Northwest including Burgerville, Little Big Burger, and Sharis. Our company provides jobs in the local community and has recently added four full-time positions and four part-time positions as the company continues to grow. With the recent funding from Angel Oregon, we expect to expand its availability in retail grocery stores and foodservice restaurants and institutions along the west coast.
** According to SPINS (the AC Neilson of the natural food category), for the 52 week period ending January 2012.
Tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur – did being an entrepreneur find you or did you choose to become one?
I chose to become an entrepreneur. I’m the first to admit to an eclectic background – from being a dairy farmer, to running a Dairy Queen, to “counting beans” and now I’m making bean burgers. After college, my father became ill, so I purchased and ran the family dairy farm. Then I purchased and operated a Dairy Queen for 6 years. I worked for an accounting firm while pursuing my accounting degree. From there, I managed and helped grow two start-up dental practices. In 2007, I planted the seed that has now flourished into Chez Marie.
My philosophy — I look for the fertile soil where new seeds can sprout and blossom.
How and when did you first learn about OEN?
I learned about OEN from Keith Kullberg, founder of Better Beans, a few years ago.
Tell us how your involvement with OEN has helped your company through any or all of the following ways: networking, education, mentoring, local recognition, funding, etc.
The networking has been extremely helpful. OEN is filled with smart, experienced and well connected individuals who all want to help you and your business succeed. Shelley Gunton has been instrumental in helping our business thrive. I also attended some classes and workshops that were beneficial. The local recognition through Angel Oregon and the funding is taking our company to the next level.
In your view, what are the top 3 ways OEN helps entrepreneurs?
1. Networking and connecting to experienced people: Especially for early stage companies, the resources from OEN help point you in the right direction.
2. Sharing Ideas: The willingness of members to listen and offer their advice and share their experiences with members.
3. The Angels: Truly a gift from above! The investment support can and will change the course of a company.
If you had to describe OEN to another entrepreneur, what would you say?
I would highly recommend becoming a member. OEN is a great organization that will help you and your business grow.