January 13, 2023
Jen Pelka - Disrupting the Wine Industry with Values-Based Branding

Jen Pelka is a co-Founder and CEO with a passion for empowering women. Featuring world-class wines made by women, Jen has used values-based branding to build her business, Une Femme Wines, into the fastest growing sparkling ...


Jen Pelka is a co-Founder and CEO with a passion for empowering women. Featuring  world-class wines made by women, Jen has used values-based branding to build her business, Une Femme Wines, into the fastest growing sparkling wine brand in the US.

After finishing college, Jen began her career working for a hedge fund in New York and thought that was the start of a long-term career. However, she found herself completely taken with restaurants, chefs, and cooking, leading her to accept an internship at a Michelin-rated restaurant. This opened her up to the world of hospitality and restaurants that completely changed her career path.

Jen opened her first restaurant, a champagne bar called The Riddler, with capital she raised from 100% female investors in 2 locations - New York and San Francisco. Jen infused her passion for empowering women into her restaurants by attracting top-level female chefs and sommeliers and creating a pro-female atmosphere that they eventually became known for. As a result, she was able to build an incredible community of women.

Jen talks about how she originally started her current business, Une Femme Wines, as a side hustle that she and her brother decided to turn into a full-time venture. At Une Femme, Jen seized on an untapped niche that her customers were increasingly asking for - wines from female producers. That led to partnerships with female winemakers as well as giving back to female charities, all of which are aligned with Jen’s big passion for empowering women to start businesses and get better access to capital. 

Jen opens up about the very difficult decision to close The Riddler restaurants, as a result of the pandemic, and how she uses what she learned from that experience to inform her approach running Une Femme, including prioritizing balance and self-care to help her be the best leader she can be in her business.

Jen discusses landing a national partnership with a major airline that she says put Une Femme on the map and the demand she sees for value-based brands.  She goes on to discuss the biggest challenge for smaller wine brands who want to break into business and how brands like hers are helping to clear the way for small or unusual founders to get into the wine industry.

Jen describes how she was able to raise capital from all female investors for her businesses as well as her more recent Series A fundraising for Une Femme. She goes on to share her goals for the future of Une Femme such as expanding internationally, new product offerings in development, finding new ways to work with a community of women, and her exciting Hall of Femme program which recognizes women who are shattering the glass ceiling.

Finally, Jen reveals the difference between what we hear out in the business world compared to what’s real and provides valuable insights for other entrepreneurs. Break out your favorite glass of bubbly and prepare to be inspired by Jen’s passion for sparkling wine and empowering other women.

Find Jen  at:

Website: https://unefemmewines.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/unefemmewines/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unefemmewines/

Visit Stephanie at: https://stephaniehayes.biz/

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Transcript

Welcome to the Real People Real Business Show. My name is Stephanie Hayes and I'm a business strategist who loves to speak with like-minded entrepreneurs to share their real stories and the gritty details on building their businesses. On this show, you won't hear about the glamorized entrepreneurship journeys that you see online, and you won't be told how to make six figures in six weeks. Instead, you can expect to hear real, vulnerable and inspiring stories that you can relate to that have helped create the foundation for each of our guests' businesses. Goodbye, boss Babes. Hello, real life entrepreneurs today. I'm so excited to welcome Jen Pelka. Jen is now the CEO of Une Femme Wines born out of the Ridler bars. They were all women funded champagne bars, which is somewhere that I wanna go, which Jen founded and owned in San Francisco and New York City. Une Femme has grown to be the biggest growing sparkling wine brand in the US. Jen's famous. She's been named Forbes 30 under 30 for food and wine, Detail's Digital Maverick and a Cherry Bomb It girl. She was a recurring guest as a secret diner on season one of Bravo TV's Best New Restaurant and a guest on season six of Top Chef. Jen won an I A C P award winner for best culinary or brand site in 2012. And was a James Beard Award nominee for best food coverage in a food publication. She's an alum of Stanford University and the London School of Economics where she studied the philosophy of science. Welcome to the show. Jen. Thanks so much for being here and taking the time to share your story today, and I feel incredibly humbled after reading all those accolades, . Oh, well thanks so much for having me on. It's a joy to be here with you today. Okay, so, so let's dive right in. So you, you started at what philosophy is science? Yes. And then we ended up in wine, which I, I think is a fantastic journey. But I wanna hear all the details. Yeah. Tell us what you were here. Um, when I was, um, in school, in college, the one major my parents told me I could not major in was philosophy. So of course I majored in philosophy. Um, but it was a really great foundation for. Just, you know, examining hard questions, interesting questions, and, um, building a lot of really good foundation for thought and leadership, um, and inquisitiveness. So anyway, after I graduated from college, I moved to New York and I was working at a hedge fund. I thought I would be in the business world for a long time and really taking a traditional path somewhere between hedge funds. Uh, consulting or investment banking, but at the time I had really started falling in love with restaurants and chefs and cooking. I grew up in one of those houses where we always had dinner parties. Uh, my dad almost started a couple restaurants. His dad, um, had diners and delis in New Jersey, and um, actually he was the chef of the Ocean County New Jersey jail. Um, so my grandfather would come home from the jail with. Extra ingredients like bananas or he always had cream puffs with him, which were always like leftovers from the jail, which is pretty funny. But, um, we always had, um, a lot of buzz and entertainment happening around the house. Lots of food, lots of wine, lots of entertaining. And so when I was in New York, I. Started learning more about the opportunities to work in restaurants in the kitchen. And I ended up taking a position, um, on the line as an intern at Restaurant Danielle, which was a Michelin three star restaurant, New York Times four star restaurant at the time. Um, and was incredibly lucky to get to work many positions on the line and eventually became, um, the chef Danielle Belu his. Research assistant and I worked for him for about five years where I learned so much about the restaurant industry, um, and also exposure to all different kinds of special projects that he would work on. And an incredible collection of people from media to chefs to um, really cool corporate partners and beyond. And that kind of opened my eyes to the wide world of restaurants and hospitality and food and wine.. And then from there, uh, my career over about 20 years was pretty firmly rooted in somewhere between food and wine and then always a through line of entrepreneurship and marketing and women to a certain extent. And, um, I eventually ended up opening a restaurant of my own, The Ridler, as he said. Um, we had two locations. Our first was in San Francisco, our second in New York, and one of the most remarkable things about those bars, they were champagne bars. So all we served was champagne. Um, but all of our investors were women. And that was pretty unique. We had 33 investors in San Francisco, 40 in New York, all of whom were women. And that created just a really incredible community and vibe in these restaurants. We were able to attract amazing female talent from our chefs to our sommelier, um, and built a really cool community around that. And I love it. That was love. I, I wanna go there. I, I mean, I love everything that you're, you've said so far, and then your wine business. Is also Une Femme. Right? Which is exactly which is French for, for a, a woman. A lady. Yeah, absolutely. Like, it's the, the reason why we launched Une Femme was that, um, because we had so many guests who were coming to the Ridler who knew about our. Pro woman vibe. Um, so many guests would ask about women made wines. So we started featuring wines made by women explicitly on the list. And then guests would ask, if I'm going to a retail shop or to a restaurant and I wanna order a wine made by women, how, how can I know? And I was like, why is there not a brand for this where it's really explicit? It partners with female winemakers or give back, gives back to female centered charities. And so that's what we built. And um, you know, it's still very, very male dominated industry. Um, and I'm really passionate about this side of the business. Of course, I love champagne. I love sparkling wine. I love popping open a bottle and drinking a glass at the end of the night. But, um, probably. What motivates me more in this business is just a huge passion around empowering women to start businesses and getting capital into the hands of women. Um, whether it is any areas of entrepreneurialship, especially in food and wine. Food and beverage is a, is a difficult industry, right? It's, it's not something you kind of wanna dip your toe in without being fully committed. . Absolutely. Very tricky. . Yeah. Having, you know, having known quite a few entrepreneurs who have, you know, taken a stab at it. And we actually have a very strong wine region up here in BC and, um, my best friend is, uh, she's, so, she's capitalized on that. She's built an app for, You know, the wine regions and now it's being white labeled for different regions and so on and so forth. So, you know what's been interesting is going around with her and, and, um, being kind of marketing for her app and seeing who does own these wineries and Oh, yeah. Who's producing wine? What's the name of her app? Um, it, they changed the name. It's it's Taste Advisor, I believe. Oh, cool. Okay. I'll look it up. Uh, yeah, yeah, take a look at it. But, you know, I, I studied who was there, who was there pouring the wine, and who was there. , um, you know, getting their hands dirty. And I actually, I, I, I think it sort of occurred to me that there were a lot of women who were in wine and older women who had been through the industry and, you know, had decided to start up their own brands. And so I love, I love what you are promoting and I love what, you know, the brand that you've created. Tell me more about how Une Femme came to be, because it's, you know, certainly I know wasn't just a snap of your fingers. Uh, absolutely not. It, it's the first business I've ever launched that I launched without a business plan. It was truly like a side hustle for us at the Ridler. Um, you know, those two bars were my full-time focus. Um, I was commuting from San Francisco to New York and back constantly between two coasts and, you know, opening those two restaurants and at the time had been really thinking that we were gonna expand the restaurant group. beyond San Francisco and New York to places like London and Tokyo and Mexico City. Like we had big ambitions to grow a really big restaurant group. Um, but because of Covid we ended up closing both of those locations, um, which anybody who was running a business during Covid knows. How incredibly challenging it was. But the very, very lucky piece for us was that we had launched this brand in February of 2020, so right before the shutdown. and, um, it had been super popular at the bars and a lot of our friends in a couple of the cities, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, were starting to pick up the wines for their own restaurants. And after the dust settled and after the restaurants had closed, I said to my brother, who had been our CFO F at the Ridler, um, I was, Should we make Une Femme into a, a bigger business? Should we take this seriously? Should we think about growing this into a real company? And so he and I are co-founders of the brand. I lead everything on, um, you know, the, the front facing side of the business. So I work with the female winemakers. I'm obviously, um, Advocating for the brand out in the public. I lead the team. Um, and I think about everything on sales and marketing. He leads everything behind the scenes, so finances, ops, um, all of the hardcore, um, budgeting and all of the, the business pieces that are very technical as well as a lot of the logistics around the operations. The reason why we launched the brand really was because customers are asking for something like this. They were saying, I wanna know how I can walk into a store and reliably purchase a bottle of wine that is in alignment with my values. And that, um, is, is a brand that I know is going to support. . So the first wine we launched was a beautiful organic champagne, and the second wine we launched is the wine that really took off for us, which is our California sparkling rose. Mm-hmm. . Um, we were seeing consistently that our top selling wine in the bars was whatever was a great sparkling rose by the glass. And I wasn't finding a California sparkling rose that was at the right price point and. Dry, but also fruit forward. And so I reached out to one of my favorite female winemakers, Samantha Sheehan, and asked if we could team up on our rose. And that is truly the wine that put us on the map. Um, and that happened because we were incredibly lucky to connect with the team at Delta Airlines, and they featured that wine on board all of their planes in the month of October last year. For breast cancer research month, it's the Breast Cancer Awareness Month and they always feature pink products. So purely luck that we got connected with them. And I do think that success in business is a real combination of luck and a tremendous amount of hard work. Um, and that was very, very, very lucky. So they picked us up for that one month and then we worked with them very closely, hand in hand over. A period of many months to create a sparkling white wine in can, which is now, um, onboard every Delta plane in the US and it's in 55 Sky Club lounges, and we're on quite a few international planes as well. So they've become by far our, uh, biggest partner and, um, the way that we connect with our customers most directly and most consistently. Like anytime you fly a Delta plane, you can ask for a glass of sparkling wine and you will drink our wine, which is beyond. So amazing. Uh, and I think the theme that you're, you know, you're, um, you know, you're, you're talking about with all of your adventures has been around partnership. And to me, you know, as somebody who works with a lot of small and medium sized businesses, it's honestly the number one strategy that I advised to all of them to start with. So who can you find that's adjacent to you in your industry that is also serving your customers or. Would, you know, speak to your customers and how can you find a way for, to borrow their audiences? So I, you know, I love that this has been your strategy and I love that it's worked so well for you because it sounds like, you know, there's a lot of opportunities. I mean, first of all, it doesn't hurt that wine is hardly something we don't want. Right. . Right . It's not, it's not a tough business to be in, in terms of winning friends. For sure. I, I mean, I remember when I was in Collet, well university here, um, I, I had a job just schlepping Jagermeister or something, or schlepping wine at bars or at, at liquor stores in Elk. I had nobody said no. Right, right. so true. Yeah, so true. And so the values, I mean, who are you attracting as clients? I mean, is it just women? Are there other demographics that have surprised you? So I would say the way that we think about our customer base is twofold. There's the B2B piece. So really truly on that side, that's our distributors as well as the wine buyers at restaurants and the decision makers at retail stores and these big national partners like Delta. We have an amazing partnership with Marriott. We'll be launching, um, with. A lot of national retailers next year, et cetera. So that's one audience we have to first and foremost win over and build relationships and long-term partnerships with that community. Um, then the second component are consumers. The people who actually end up drinking the wine at the end of the day, and of course some of them access. Our wines through our website. Um, but many of them find us in restaurants and retail stores, and so they're both really important communities. I think on the B2B side, uh, we've just been so incredibly grateful and humbled by the level of commitment that there is amongst. Sommelier restaurant owners, retail shop owners, to diversifying the offerings of wines that are available on their wine lists and on their shelves. And this is, I've just seen such a dramatic movement proactively towards, um, BIPOC, L G B T Q, female led brands, uh, et cetera, et cetera, where in some cases there are corporate mandate. Around diversity and inclusion at, of course, like our bigger partners. And then for a lot of smaller partners, they just realize it's like the right thing to do. Mm-hmm. . And a lot of it is actually being driven by, by consumer interest. A lot more customers are walking into stores and asking for, um, brands that are really aligned with their, as I said, personal values. And I know personally when I shop, um, For me, it's almost always a tiebreaker. Like if I'm choosing between two equally priced, uh, equally, you know, cool brands and one is from an unusual founder, I will almost always go with the unusual founder because it's really important for us to be supporting, um, Those kinds of founders because there are, there's just so much, um, more work that needs to be done in terms of diversifying who has access to capital and access to customers. There's like eight things that you've just said that I wanna, I wanna talk to you about. So we'll see if I can actually remember all of them. Um, I know that here, at least where I live, um, And just happened to have some insight into the wine industry here. It's actually really, really difficult for small winemakers to, to become part of our provincial distribution channels because there is this cost associated with the volume that you need to, um, produce in order to be picked up by B C D L or the, the liquor distribution branch. And so a lot of the smaller winemakers can't actually even get into the liquor stores and the provincial system because. , they're trying to protect the quality of their wine and therefore, um, they can't produce at the, the levels unless they have the capital to expand. So tell me more about how you guys managed to, I'm assuming it's somewhat similar down there, and, and how have you managed to navigate some of those constraints? Well, Canada is very different and is a very, very unique market, um, because it's so heavily and completely monopolized by, um, the government. Um, It's a very, very interesting system. And actually we were speaking with somebody this week about the possibility of moving into Canada. So stay tuned. We would love to be up there. um, in the US it's different in that, um, every single state has their own set of regulations and you have to work with a distributor in every. In every state, and in some cases multiple distributors in a single state. And, um, I would say one of the most significant barriers for, let's call them unusual founders or smaller brands, is in order to make a significant impact, you do have to really break through with a big distributor. And, um, as you can imagine, they're pretty old school. Um, there has been a lot of progress in a lot of those areas. In fact, our. lead, distributor is a company called R N D C, and they've recently promoted for the first time a woman into the most senior leadership position running all of sales. She's amazing and she's a huge advocate of ours. Um, and each of the distributors has a big focus on diversity and inclusion broadly, but there are still a lot of deeply entrenched old school interests and. You know, we're just chipping away at it day in and day out, and each brand that can make a little bit of progress, um, has a big impact on the overall landscape of what's available. Yeah, I bet. And, um, are you, are you leading with sort of values first marketing because you know that that's, Making the difference on the buy. Um, you know, we certainly talk a lot about quality of the wines and where we make the wines, who our female winemaking partners are, um, and the style of the wines. So we make. Really awesome, fresh, delicious, um, we think highest quality California sparkling wines. Um, but there are a lot of great California sparkling wines out there and so my milk is watering right now. I know, right? I know. I wish. Do I have some upstairs? I think I need to , you know, so much, so much of the way that we all talk about wine in the industry, it can be a little convoluted I think for. Real people at the end of the day, and I always tell people, we always talked about this at the red layer, like, drink what you like, drink what you love. Um, it doesn't really matter what you might be able to identify on the nose or how you swirl it in the glass, like drink. What, what really resonates to you? This style of wine that we prefer is, um, I think a style that is really resonated with our customers at the Ridler, which was fresh, light, bright, mineral driven, high acidity, and really beautiful, importantly base wines. So, um, we focus primarily on champagne varietals, so Chardonnay and pinot noir predominantly. And all from whenever possible certified sustainable or organic vineyard. So of course those quality components to the wine, to me, are like table stakes. Like of course we're gonna make great wines that we want to drink, that we want other people to drink. Um, but I think one of the things that makes us really different is the fact that we only work with female winemakers and we always give back to charities that benefit women. Um, and I just know that that's something that matters to me. It matters to my friends. And, um, we're the kind of things. we saw our guests asking for at the Ridler. And so those are just core to our d n a. And I think, you know, it, um, there's been such an explosion of, um, new wineries in the last, you know, maybe couple of decades that drinking has become a very personalized thing. Right. And I don't know, I don't know enough about the process to be able to explain why so many different wineries can. The same wines that just still taste so different and, and you, you can't tell why you like wine or, or the other, more than one or the other. But I know there's one winery in Naramata that for some reason every single one of their wineries for me is, or their wines for me is just like, Amazing. And I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is about their wine. I don't know. It doesn't taste the same as any other winery to me, but it's, well, you know what? When you, when you find your brand, stick with it and keep supporting them and yeah, write them a letter. Tell them you love them , and they'll be their wine. Yeah, we've given them a lot of our money, but you have to actually, you have to go to the winery to get any of their wines because it's impossible to get it in any of the, the specialty stores. But, you know, given that it's such a personalized experience, I would imagine that that marketing has really turned to, um, something much different than how it tastes and, and what's in. Absolutely. I think for us, some of the things that we think about and talk about are how we want people to feel when they open these wines for somebody who's important to them or when they give them to someone as a gift. Um, I think Champagne for so long has been one of those status wines where it's like, oh, if I bring you. A bottle of, yeah, totally. It's like, Ooh, this person's fancy, or This person has money, or things like that. I don't really want people to associate those kinds of feelings with Une Femme. I want, I want it to mean when you open a bottle of un Femme that you are a woman who's I'm enamored with, who I think is so cool, who's so inspiring, who gets me excited about. Um, like being a woman and being a badass and, you know, sometimes I open these wines for my mom or a mentor or a friend or a junior person who's accomplished something. And, um, I think it's really important that we mark those moments in our lives of accomplishments with something that feels celebratory. You know, we all life is complicated and, uh, sometimes we don't take enough time to celebr. Little everyday accomplishments, and I think it's a really nice thing to do. And, uh, we as girlfriends, all of one another, I think are pretty good at supporting one another when, you know, sometimes it's a Friday we've gotten through the week and sometimes it's a promotion, sometimes it's a new job or a baby, or a wedding or a, you know, any of those, those kinds of things. Listen, I'm not gonna lie, I will open a champagne bottle for pretty much anything. It's a Tuesday, right? Yeah. Because it's just, I just like it and I, and you know, I think there's something about calling it a sparkling wine that makes it feel a little bit more okay to have it, you know, on a, on a Tuesday. But, uh, it, you know, you're right, you're breaking down the old school rules about when you drink champagne and when you drink sparkling wine. And it's, it's basically, you know, you go up to the Okanagan. any day, any summer day, and you will get sparkling wine anywhere because it just, absolutely. It's just, you know, it's just a thing now and it's just something that we choose to do. Um, so changing tack a little bit, which is not quite as fun as talking about sparkling wine, but you obviously, um, went for capital and you raised capital and you raised capital from women all from. Tell me a little bit more about how that happened and did you find that that experience was more challenging, was, you know, and how did you do it? So I've raised, uh, money a number of times for, um, a couple different businesses. So at the Ridler we raised only from women. That was something that was both really important to me and kind of natural. Um, the way that I raised for those two restaurants was I knew that I needed. To sort of crowdfund the money essentially from a group of, you know, 30 to 50 people. And so I put together a list. Literally, I went through my phone and my email and put together a list of anybody I knew who might have $5,000 or more, and reached out to all of them and took them all out for drinks or for coffee, and connected with them. Things that were happening in their lives, things that were important to them. And then by the end of it, they would say, oh wait, by the way, what are you working on, ? I would say, oh, oh yeah, I'm opening a champagne bar. I'd tell 'em all about that. They would get very excited about it, very supportive, obviously. And I would say, yeah, and it's, and I'm raising only from women and the minimum check size is $5,000. So if you know anyone who might be interested, let me know. And almost all of them said, well, I'm interested. So . You know that that process, I think bringing together a community of like-minded women, providing them opportunities to meet with each other and connect with each other was really exciting to all of them. But then when we went to raise money for Une Femme, we needed a larger amount of money. So we were incredibly fortunate. We had two lead investors who were interested in reinvesting, and they put in, uh, very large checks to get the brand started. And then over the following year, uh, we needed about another million dollars. And so that came from smaller checks, again, from a network of women who I. Through the restaurants, through entrepreneurial communities, et cetera. Um, and then most recently, um, we set out to do a much larger raise. So we decided to do a Series A and that was a much more traditional fundraising process. So speaking with, uh, VC firms, private equity family offices, , you know, really people who had check sizes of 5 million and above. And, uh, we were very, very happy to partner up with a private equity firm who we love. We love working with them. Um, and the, and we finalized a 10 million raise, um, which we closed in March of this past year. And that has enabled us to grow the team and also to meet our commitments with our very large national. So, you know, when you talk about the importance of getting capital into the hands of women, um, yeah. Still to this day, only 2% of series A funds go to women co-founded or founded companies. The numbers are even more challenging in beverage and I think there are many reasons why that is true, but I think fixing that and writing that is really important. Um, I have many friends who are women who have very successfully raised money and they are building awesome companies that are making significant impacts. And, um, it's just important that we as women keep talking about money. We talk about fundraising, we talk about how to value your company, how to build your team. Um, people have to get comfortable with all of the very, very technical aspects of fundraising. And many women are. Still not enough money is going to the hands of women. And so, um, there are lots of resources for all of us, and I think the most important thing that we can do is as a community help one another out, make introductions to additional, um, funding sources and keep supporting one another, whether it's us writing our own angel checks or, you know, helping with. And one of the other, I mean, one of the areas that I've been particularly interested in as of late and have been working on, um, as of late is, is that women don't think about the fact that they can exit. Right. Oh, sure. And the fact, yeah. And so we, we, we always build these businesses with the intention of this being our life's work. And when we start talking about exits, a lot of the women I speak to, um, you know, I'm launching a, a, a program where we prepare your business. For two to five years out, and we look at what it would take to create an asset-based business that can prepare you for either an exit where you sell your business or an exit where you know you're basically taking yourself out of the business. You retain ownership, but you're exiting. These are all viable options and I don't think a lot of women think about them, and so they don't think about, they're building their business as an. Absolutely. It's, you know, there really are two ways to think of your company. Either it can be a lifestyle company and mm-hmm , you're paying yourself whatever salary you want or you need, um, or you're building a really big business. And, um, my preference is certainly the second, you know, our goal is to become a, an internationally, Sparkling wine brand. And, um, there's a lot of value creation that happens in that process and mm-hmm. , I think the, the most important thing for any entrepreneur to think about is how, how much do they wanna scale and, Um, what's the team around them that they need to support that? Some of that's funding sources. Um, sometimes that is a co-founder who compliments your skillsets or your deficiencies. Um, and then a team of people who can help to execute the vision and, um, You know, anything's possible, like the, all of the things in the world exist because people created them, like all of the businesses. And, uh, all you have to do is dream and keep pushing. You have to be so, so, so resilient as an entrepreneur. Um, you have a lot of tough days. You have a lot of disappointments, you have a lot of failures along the way, but. as you experiencing, as you experience those challenging moments, you literally build the muscles to keep going. It's like being, uh, you know, a, an endurance athlete. Um, it takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication and focus, but, um, even though there are many stumbling blocks along the way, somehow it gets a little bit easier every day too. Well, I think we, you know, we also get so invested in our own business because, It's really like a child and, and the, the failures are the knock. Feel more personal, right? Mm-hmm. . And I think that's one, that's the dynamic of being an entrepreneur, that, you know, everything becomes reflected in such a personal way as well. And I know you've been through this a few times, and so I'm curious, like how have you managed to stay. Focused on, you know, what, what you're building and not get sort of bogged down and driven down by some of those, because obviously none of us go through this with a perfect track record, right? No, absolutely not. I mean, for me, the most challenging business experience I've gone through was the very arduous and difficult decision to close two, otherwise extremely successful restaurants. Where I. Investors, all of whom were an incredible community of women who trusted me with their investments. And also a team of people who I employed and who looked to me for leadership. And um, it's. For employment. And so having to close those two businesses was, I still to this day think about it. Like even talking about it is, you know, with two and a half years of distance from it, it's still incredibly hard. I still feel awful about it, but. . It's also the reality of what investors need to understand when they're investing in a private investment is that there is the possibility that it could go out of business or you could lose your money. Um, but I still personally feel very responsible for it. But what that means for me with this company is number one, um, I've made sure to pay myself. Um, in the case of the Ridler, I never paid myself and I'm still paying down. Some aspects of that company after five plus years of putting money into it. So I always advise entrepreneurs, make sure you pay yourself. Um, the second piece is that the bumps in the road, um, I think I'm a little bit more equipped to handle them, and I've also really surrounded myself with people who are experts in things that I'm not experts at and who love doing work that I dislike doing, um, And I've come to really realize that I can't do it all and. , um, that it's incredibly important for me as the leader of the company to take care of myself first and to make sure that I'm in a good physical and mental place to be able to carry the rest of the team. You know, you get to a point as an entrepreneur or as a CEO or as a co-founder or a founder, where you realize that there is nobody on the payroll whose job it is to fill your tank and. Nobody's really looking out for me. Ask, checking in with me to say, Hey, how you doing today, ? Um, my brother and I do it for each other because we're co-founders and we care very deeply about each other, and my husband does it for me. He is also an entrepreneur and he checks on on me. I check in on him, but it's not the rest of the team's responsibility to do so. And so I think it's really ultimately up to founders to make sure that they're taking care of themselves because it can. Tough out there, . And um, you know, if you're feeling down in other parts of your life, it's really hard to be strong for your team and you have to be cuz everybody's looking to you for the positivity, the optimism, the resilience, the joy. Um, and I just find that it's a lot better. It's a lot easier to do great work when I'm feeling great about other parts of my life too. And I think that when, you know, we can't guarantee that everything is always gonna be perfect in the rest of our lives too. And it really does have a massive effect on, on how you can show up every day. But I think just like a, you know, philosophy that I've had with my children is that I make sure they know I'm a human right? And we have open conversations about, and they can say to me, they're like, , you know, you were really shitty last night to us, and I can say, I, can I get it? like, yeah, you're right. I was, and having those open conversations, because when we grew up, I don't know how old you are, but I'm 47 and when we grew up, um, you know, we, we were, we expected our parents to, like, we were. Told that our parents are the sort of the be all, end all, and this is like your perfect representation of a human being. But they couldn't be human beings. They couldn't be themselves. They couldn't be, they didn't have that grace. And so I think even as an entrepreneur, you can show up as a human being and every now and then you're gonna show up and you're gonna be crap. Right? And you're, and you're gonna communicate that and your team will rally, you know, you absolutely, you set up, you set up the right dynamic with your team. They'll rally. It's so true. I think if you give them grace, they'll give it back to you and showing some level of vulnerability and yeah, being a real human person is incredibly important. Yeah. So what's next for Une Femme? . Well, definitely next year we're looking So I vote for, I vote for BC first. Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So we're looking at Canada, we're looking in Mexico and we're looking at some, some Asian countries. Um, All being markets that I care about and want to travel to. So, , uh, that's where I'm starting first. Um, we are also looking potentially to work with a champagne producer again and potentially, um, bring some Prosecco or some kava into the portfolio. So we are talking with a handful of incredible winemakers, um, in sparkling wine regions that really matter to us and that matter to our customers. And we are also. Thinking about ways that we can work more closely and intimately with our community of women, both the women wine buyers and sommelier and wine shop owners, and then also the customers who keep coming back to us again and again. We have an incredible program that we just wrapped the first year of, called The Hall of Femme. And the Hall of fam is so fun. We had such a great time with it. We nominated, um, from actually the community nominated 365 women for the year. Um, all of whom had shattered glass ceilings in some special way. And we sent them a crate of our wines with a sheet of, um, of, uh, shatterproof glass on the top and. Um, they like literally took a hammer to break through the glass and stunt glass is what it's called. So they, it's a sheet of stunt glass to like shatter through and get to their wine. And it was incredibly fun and it was all over social media and amazing to see women who had accomplished something really special in their lives to get to commemorate that moment by literally shattering a glass ceiling and then drinking, drinking some bubs. Oh, it was very cool. I love that. So we'll be doing some evolution on that next year. Um, that will probably be event based where we can meet with people in person and, um, get women talking to each other about how they've, uh, broken through in some way in their careers and in their lives. Um, and that's, you know, that's the piece of the business that I'm most passionate about is really about. Celebrating incredible women in so many different industries and, um, trying to find more opportunities for women to feel really empowered and remember that they have the power that they, um, that they have to break through in their own way. And everyone's different. Everybody has different goals. Everyone has different needs, but, um, I think it's just amazing when you get a group of women together to see what they can accomplish when they, especially when they encourage each other. Yep. I, uh, I'll be focusing on, on serving. Um, Women, sort of 45 plus the mature women entre entrepreneurs. Amazing. Yeah. We are a, we are an unseen demographic. Mm-hmm. , um, yep. We don't, we don't matter and we don't, we're not focused, we don't have a lot of focus from most of the industry just because we're not in bikinis and we're not, you know. The startup, the young, and up and comers. So I think that it's an, it's an incredible demographic and it's these, you know, solid, experienced, calm women who just, uh, are focused on the right things now. So I think that women are doing incredible things and they're just a force. But you know, like from a business perspective too. Being able to focus your attention and your, your work on something that you feel so strongly about is also just really good marketing, right? It's because it comes naturally. It is, you know, it's not intended to sell, it's intended to build community, and that's just incredibly effective. I love it. So I have a question that I ask everyone who's on the show. You know, the show is about being real and, you know, giving people, um, permission to, to be okay with a very real business. What's the difference between what we hear out there in the world, in the business world and what's real? I think it really comes down to this question of can you have it all? Like this notion that you can have it all or you can have it all, but not all at one time. , like, what does that even mean? Um, like I, I really don't think you can have it all. I think you have to make choices and you have to be intentional about it. It, it's not only in the really macro sense of how do you wanna spend your life or. Decade or your year, but really even how you wanna spend your day or your hour or the next couple minutes. And um, I think that it really is all about trade-offs at the end of the day. And, um, the women who I have seen, it doesn't have to be women entrepreneurs, I've seen. Who have been the most successful in their careers and also simultaneously happiest in their careers, are the ones who have been really intentional about those trade-offs. And, um, who get better and better at it every day. Doesn't mean it's perfect, um, but understands, you know, the things that we absolutely will choose to say no to, or, Very, very infrequently say yes to. And then the things that we do say yes to, like go, go all in on it. Um, and for me, the way that I try to tackle it is in a given workday, you know, every day I try to clear more stuff off my calendar, , and um, and if I get to a point in my day where I am feeling a little burnout. Close the computer and stop working and do something else that fills me back up. And then I go to bed and I get back up and I do it all again. And for me it's like so much about prioritizing time with my husband, time with my family. Um, Time with my executive team, with line level team members, um, and then also taking care of myself physically and emotionally. Um, and work is extremely important to me, but it's, it's not the singular priority, right? And, but I don't have it all. I mean , but here, but I love your answer too. But it, you know, it, the, the, and to that answer to me is that we always are expecting that there's some point in time, right? That there's something, there's gonna be some arrival that, where we can judge whether we have it all or we, we don't have it all. But like you said, . You know, today I might have everything I wanted and tomorrow I might not have everything that I wanted. And we have this ongoing fluidity and I think when people start to accept that, that's just the way it goes and that's what we can expect as a business owner, then it feels a lot le less like we have somehow failed or that we have, you know, somehow not. The, the milestone that we were shooting for, where if we really look, we kind of met that a long time ago when we just kept shooting . So true. If we look at, uh, the things that we were hoping we would have in our lives 10 years ago, and we look at what we have now, it's probably wildly in excess of what we ever had dreamt would be possible. But we as humans are not very good at just reveling in our gratitude for what we've accomplished now. We tend to continuously focus on how much further we can push, and it is really important to step back and, um, congratulate yourself on what you've accomplished, big and small, small and really, you know, enjoy the presence of, of being in those moments and, and enjoying the wins every day. I. Yeah, I love it and it's a work in progress for sure. We've been trained in a very different way for so long, and this is a conscious effort to try and peel back those layers. Jen, I wanna thank you so much for spending time with us today. Um, we're coming up on time, but can you tell all of our listeners how they can find you and find your wines? Absolutely the best place is on our website, which is Unefemmewines.com. Uh, we also are on Instagram and LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter. Um, you can also find us anytime you're flying on Delta, you can ask for Une Femme by name or you can ask for sparkling wine and specifically the sparkling wine in the can. Um, we're also by the glass at every Ritz Carlton in the. US, so next time you're traveling and you're treating yourself to a night at the Ritz, uh, feel free to order some moon femme and toast toasting to you virtually right now. , , uh, anybody who, who's at a point in their lives where they're going to the Ritz, they should feel pretty good about themselves. So, well, at the very least, I'm gonna make sure my next flight is a Delta flight, just so I can, there you go. Have some of your wine . There you go. I love it. Okay. But we'll include all of the links on the show notes so that you can find Jen. You can find her wines and you can find her story. And I've just absolutely enjoyed this conversation today. We're gonna wrap it up, and I'm so happy we had the opportunity to chat with Jen today to hear more about how her business came to be, her experiences along the way, and what the future of the business entails, and I hope it entails coming to Canada. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of The Real People Real Business Show, where we get the real entrepreneurial stories and journeys that you can relate to the show notes, resources and links from this episode are available on my website and social media platforms. And thank you again for joining us today. If you've liked today's content, I'd love for you to give us a review on whatever platform you're on to help us share these genuine stories with an even bigger audience. Til' next time, keep building, keep dreaming and keep being real.

Jen PelkaProfile Photo

Jen Pelka

Co-Founder and CEO

Jen’s career in restaurants began at Chef Daniel Boulud’s iconic New York Restaurant DANIEL, where she served for 5 years across a broad range of roles – kitchen stagier, Boulud’s Research Assistant, and eventually as the US Competition Director for the Bocuse d’Or under Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. She went on to lead influencer marketing, content strategy, and media relations in-house at OpenTable, Gilt Taste, and Tumblr.

Jen has been named Forbes “30 Under 30” for Food & Wine, Details “Digital Maverick”, and a Cherry Bombe “It Girl.” She was a recurring guest as a secret diner on Season 1 of Bravo TV’s “Best New Restaurant”, and a guest on Season 6 of “Top Chef.” Jen won an IACP Award Winner for Best Culinary or Brand Site in 2012, and was a James Beard Award nominee for Best Food Coverage in a Food Publication. She is an alumna of Stanford University and the London School of Economics, where she studied the Philosophy of Science.

Jen is now the CEO of Une Femme Wines, born out of “The Riddler” bars (the all-women funded Champagne bars which Jen founded and owned in San Francisco and New York City). Une Femme is the fastest growing sparkling wine brand in the US.