This is Stephanie Acurio, the founder of The Rollin’ Oat, a mobile oatmeal bar that is committed to redefining the way consumers think about this staple breakfast item. Born in Peru, Stephanie moved to Miami, Florida with her family when she was 13 years old after her father retired from the Peruvian Navy. Independent from a young age, she started working in the restaurant industry as a bus girl when she was 15 but really got involved in hospitality while she was in school for interior design at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Over the course of her program, she worked in many different positions at a lot of different restaurants, from Asian fusion to seafood to Italian, and started getting more involved in food, cooking a lot and researching recipes for different cuisines to use the skills that she was learning at each place. She says that it was during this time that she really fell in love with food and working in diverse establishments made her appreciate different types of food and their unique flavors. Stephanie was also very much in love with New York, where she had access to so many cuisines all in one place. She visited every chance she got because she loved the fast-paced vibe and that each day you were able to interact with new people and see new places. She felt that she was getting comfortable in Miami and wanted to challenge herself to do something new so she decided to move to New York by herself in the summer of 2016. As she began working in New York, she found that during her commute there were a lot of breakfast items, like bagels and scones, that were full of carbs and sugars, but nothing healthy and filling, like oatmeal, that she could take on the go. It was out of this realization that The Rollin’ Oat was born. This mobile business has not only revolutionized oatmeal, proving that a “fast food” item can be unique, healthy and delicious, it’s also made oatmeal more approachable for adults with sweet and savory options that make you see breakfast from a new perspective.

Although Stephanie had a heavy background in food, when she moved to New York she decided to switch careers and go into sales. She got hired at Equinox and worked there for the next two and a half years. Working at Equinox introduced her to the health and fitness industry and made her realize the importance of combining exercise and clean eating to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She found herself trying to balance her foodie habits with eating healthy, which was especially difficult when it came to breakfast given her fast-paced lifestyle. She loved oatmeal because it was tasty and full of health benefits but whenever she bought it, she found that it was always loaded with milk and sugar and had the same boring toppings. She began asking herself, “What are my options here? How can I take this to work?” In 2018 she left Equinox and started working in a corporate role in the financial district in Jersey City. And although this building had a food hall on first floor with a ton of options for lunch, there were no breakfast options. Again she had run into the same issue of where she could go to get a healthy breakfast. She thought that if someone could just open a portable oatmeal bar with different fruits and toppings, they would do so well because there was so much foot traffic in the area between people commuting to and from the city- it was a huge, untapped market to sell to. At this point she had already realized that her new job wasn’t working out for her because it wasn’t the role that she was expecting and she didn’t like to sit behind a desk, so she started playing around with oatmeal and putting different toppings on it. Since she had already had the idea in her head and felt like she had enough money saved to get the business off the ground, she decided to create it herself. She had always wanted to be her own boss and knew at some point that she would run her own business, so she trusted herself and took a leap of faith. She quit her corporate job in October and by the end of February, she had her first event booked.

From the very beginning Stephanie had a vision of what her business would be and who she would sell to: health conscious adults that could see the value in the nutrition factor of the oatmeal but could also appreciate the uniqueness of the product. However, figuring out the logistics to get the business up and running was much more difficult than she expected. Although she wanted her idea to come to life and be successful, after five months in business Stephanie admits that the most challenging part of the business so far has been creating it by herself. Since no one had created a concept like this before, she had no frame of reference of where to get started and she didn’t have any connections in the food industry in New York to ask for help or advice. She realized that she would have to figure everything out on her own and started doing tons of research, staying glued to her computer for hours every day. She began examining other food cart concepts in the U.S. and internationally and ended up getting her cart from a company in Seattle. But since she needed both hot and cold compartments in the cart (hot for oatmeal, cold for toppings) she had to further customize the cart to what she needed. After figuring out the measurements through trial and error, she was able to create a space for a cooler on one side of the cart and then drilled two holes for the pots of oatmeal on the other. Once she had the cart ready, she learned that she was required to cook all of the food in a commercial kitchen in order to be able to sell from a cart. She needed to be in a space with the proper cleaning supplies and equipment to make sure that her food was being held to the same standards as a restaurant’s food would be, so she began renting a commercial kitchen space in Jersey City. After renting the kitchen, she thought she just had to get permits for the cart to move it wherever she wanted to sell. However, after calling a ton of people and asking a lot of questions, she found out that a permit is required in each city that you sell in unless you’re doing a private event. With this information, she was able to get a permit to sell in Jersey City. But, as her business expands, she’ll need to start the process over again in each city that she wants to sell in.

Rollin Oat Cart

The positive side of building the business on her own is the fact that Stephanie is now in control of every aspect of it, from the menu to the logo/branding to her social media, all of it comes from her. With only one hourly employee who helps her with big events and her boyfriend who helps her with networking, she truly is a one woman operation. She came up with all of the recipes for her pre-made bowl options (bananas foster, s’mores and margherita, just to name a few) and is continually thinking of new recipes to taste test or new offerings that she can provide to improve her customers’ experience. Although her business started with the oatmeal bar as it’s only product and her events were going well, she felt that things were beginning to slow down as the summer approached. She realized that consumers may not want hot oatmeal in the summer so she came up with her overnight oats, which she pitched as a new summer product and sampled at companies where she had already done events. She now has a delivery service set up so that clients can order their overnight oats on Friday for the following week and stock them in their fridge at the office. Another new product that she launched for the summer is her oat milk. She realized that she was buying a lot of oat milk to make the overnight oats and decided to cut out the middle man and start making it herself. She looked up a recipe and made it over and over again until she figured out her own flavor and recipe that she could generate in large quantities. For Stephanie, the most rewarding part of the business has been feedback from the customers. When things get stressful or she gets worried that a recipe won’t work but then she hears customers raving about the food or the business concept itself, that to her is priceless. Which is why it’s important to her that The Rollin’ Oat always has something new and exciting for customers to be surprised by and look forward to. She’s always been a person who looks for and embraces change so she doesn’t want to keep just the same five or ten bowls on the menu. She wants to keep it fresh and change up the bowls every month so that she can continue expanding the idea of what oatmeal can be. And when times get tough, the feedback from customers is what keeps her going because it lets her know that her business idea is going to work.

Stephanie says that jumping into the fitness industry at Equinox and getting that sales training was so beneficial because it really prepared her for owning her own business. As a business owner, you have to be able to sell your own product and due to her sales training, she knows the questions to ask when people are interested in the product and she knows how to get people to see the value in what she’s selling. The Rollin’ Oat has allowed her to use her background in sales, food and design to create a unique product that shows people that oatmeal doesn’t have to be boring or plain. It can be fun and different while also being good for you. Moving forward, Stephanie plans to permanently station a cart in Jersey City and then open another cart in Manhattan and continue to grow the business from there, eventually having multiple carts in multiple locations between New York and New Jersey. But as of right now, just being able to run her own food business is deeply rewarding for her because food is her passion and seeing her vision come to life after always believing that she would do it one day motivates her to keep working harder to make her plan a reality. She wants the business to be successful because she knows that it can be but also because she needs it to work. This business is her future, so she’ll continue to think of new recipes and products and do research and hustle and promote the business because it’s up to her to keep things going. But, she says, “when you love what you’re doing, you don’t ever stop”.

 

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