Today we’d like to introduce you to Chelse Prejean.
Hi Chelse, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today.
I went vegan 6 years ago and I am a chemical engineer from Houston, Texas, I’ve been in chemical manufacturing for the last 10 years, and being usually the only woman and especially woman of color, I was never expected to be the most knowledgeable or most capable in the engineering space.
There was usually a steep curve in many spaces to prove myself but when successful I could usually gain the respect of most of the people I worked with and was even what the company expect in my field. I finally got my dream job in downtown Boston and felt like I had gotten to the pinnacle of my career.
My hopes for this to be the career to stay in for years to come got derailed in the COVID-19 pandemic as like many people I started to realize what was important to me and that I didn’t want to spend my years at a corporate job that I didn’t like providing my knowledge and expertise for someone else’s profit. I loved chemistry yes, I loved manufacturing yes, but… I love to cook and really wanted to bring quality natural vegan food to people’s dinner plates. I quit my corporate job to start my first business Smoky Mmm Eats selling vegan BBQ.
I started a farmers market in the Summer of 2021 and to my surprise, people loved my vegan BBQ. I had a great summer and even got some interest in selling in grocery stores. My husband and I then moved to DC in 2022 and it took me a while to find a kitchen. In my downtime I did what I do every winter to protect my skin from the harsh cold dryness of the New England winter, I made body butter.
My husband encouraged me to sell body butter while I find a kitchen and get licensed to sell food in DC. I figured I would also sell the flax seed gel I made to keep my curly hair in place in the summer. I spent hours detangling my hair in the shower and doing 30 min long deep conditioners but I decided to try to make my own conditioner and finally got my hair effortlessly tangle free so I wanted to bring this conditioner to other natural girls.
This started my product line and I wanted to tie my beauty business to my Smoky Mmm Eats food business and keep everything looking delicious even though it wasn’t food. Mmm, beauty is an all-natural nontoxic beauty brand with plant-based ingredients. I am Chelse, a small business owner, Texan, engineer, and vegan.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I have a minor in entrepreneurship so I’d always thought about starting a company one day but in my first few months I was definitely lacking having a good foundation to get started, I didn’t know where to source ingredients reliably. I had issues with packaging and had to quickly learn how to go from being a home cook to a chef almost overnight.
I got overwhelmed with orders and markets to attend and meetings. It was all too much too fast. I thankfully paused during my relocation from Rhode Island to DC and began to research pricing, food storage, and inventory management.
The much-needed pause gave me the tools to reset and be ready when it came time to relaunch in a new city.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am a chemical engineer and I specialize in the safety of manufacturing. This at first seemed drastically different from making vegan food or beauty products however in my job I would always emphasize how important it was to have an operational discipline to prevent incidents and downtime.
This was a set of principles in how you manufacture so that the process can be consistent and well operated. This is exactly the set of principles that I needed to run a small business and realizing this helped me in my plan to relaunch.
I wanted consistency, minimal lost time, and key performance indicators to improve over time to keep my businesses in smooth operation and be reliable for my customers.
So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
I am always looking for farmers’ markets and other vegan food businesses to collaborate with so that I can host joint events and natural hair salons that would like to try my products.
- Website: www.smokymmmeats.com
- Instagram: @smokymmmeats
Marianne Lee Photography