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What the Buck? Snack Food Gets a Healthy Makeover: Leeann Rybakov

We recently chatted with Leeann Rybakov, owner of BuckWHAT! Foods, a Brooklyn, New York-based startup that “bucked” the unhealthy snack food trend by turning to the humble buckwheat seed. This surprising superfood is gluten-free, low in calories, and high in fiber and protein. Leann spoke about work/life challenges and how she copes with running a business as a busy new mom.

What led you to start your business?
I have always had a passion for the culinary world. After receiving my degree from the International Culinary Center in 2014, I realized I didn’t want to be a restaurant chef. Instead, I directed my passion toward a food company. I combined my love of cooking, health, and buckwheat to create products that are nutritious and delicious. As an avid snacker, I was always on the hunt for a product that didn’t have added sugar and only ingredients I could pronounce. My search often came up empty, so I took matters into my own hands. Now there is a product on the market made with the amazing buckwheat seed and absolutely no added sugar. BuckWHAT Foods!

Why should women business owners buy your snacks?
A woman business owner is typically juggling a hundred things at once and running from one meeting to the next. My snacks are portable, healthy, delicious, and clean. They give a woman options, since she will always have something in her bag to tide her over from one meal to the next.

How long ago did you launch?
I developed the concept for BuckWHAT about 2 years ago. I tested the product at farmers’ markets, and began producing in a commercial kitchen to sell to stores in March 2016.

Any surprises?
LOTS! I am learning every step of the way. It’s stressful and rewarding at the same time.

Your biggest triumph to date?
Getting into Whole Foods.

Any low points? How did you deal with them?
I had a shelf-life issue, so I took deep breaths and invested in laboratory testing.

How do you balance your day job, your new business, and the rest of your life demands?
It’s a daily challenge, accompanied by a lot of guilt. I’m a new mom and part-owner of another company. I often have to choose between spending time with my daughter and doing an event or producing for BuckWHAT Foods. I feel like I’m constantly running from one place to the next, trying to fit 26 hours of work into a 24-hour day.

To manage, I’ve set certain rules for myself. Between the time I get home and the time I put my daughter to bed, I put my phone away. This is our time together. Once she is down, it’s back to business.

I also make sure I’m there to get her out of bed when she’s up. I might be out the door ten minutes later, but her face is my drive for the day. Small things make a big difference.

I am always reminding myself that I’m not the only one making these sacrifices and I am doing the best I can. A glass of red wine at the end of the day doesn’t hurt either.

Any advice for other women entrepreneurs?
Allow room for mistakes. They are unavoidable and part of the process.

What do you see in your future?
I hope to see my company grow nationally and internationally. I’d like to get out of the kitchen and have a co-manufacturer produce my products. I’m hoping the latter is in the near, near future.

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