It’s never too late to follow your dreams. Just ask Alison Cayne, mother of five (!), founder of a cooking school (that’s also an event space and cafe) and a new line of sauces sold in Whole Foods. Is she superwoman? Maybe. Does she still face challenges and grapple with doubts like the rest of us? Yes. Ahead, what it was like to build a business at 38, some mouthwatering talk about her sauces, and, of course, the Laundress essentials you’ll always find in her kitchen.
Tell us a little about your background and how it led to Haven’s Kitchen.
After college, I worked in urban development for the city. Then I stayed at home with five kids until I founded Haven’s Kitchen in 2012, while working towards a Master’s degree in Food Studies and teaching at Union Square Greenmarket. At 38, when I went back to school, I became passionate about the positive impact of home cooking. The more I learned, the more I came to understand that cooking from scratch is good for our personal health, our farmers, and our planet. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to make cooking easier, fun and delicious, which is why I created Haven’s Kitchen.
For those who don’t know, what is Haven’s Kitchen?
Haven’s Kitchen is a NYC-based recreational cooking school, café and private event space on a mission to change the way people feel about cooking. A beautiful gathering place in the middle of a chaotic city, Haven’s Kitchen continues to be a place for people to come and connect over great food and their own potential.
How would you describe your brand, in one sentence?
We’re a haven.
Why did you want to start a cooking school?
I’ve always loved the kitchen, and then when I learned how important cooking is, I was inspired to teach as many people as I could how to cook with confidence and joy. I wanted to design cooking classes that were made for everyone–from people who wanted to perfect their pie crust to those who’d never fried an egg. Turns out cooking together is great for group bonding, date nights, brand building, or a solo night out.
You recently launched sauces. Tell us about them! What makes them different from other sauce brands on the market? Did your customers play a part in the development process?
We launched Haven’s Kitchen’s sauces at Whole Foods and Fresh Direct in 2018 after years of listening to our students and their plea for fresh, quality, easy sauces that would help them cook more. Our first 3 flavors were based on recipes from our students’ favorite classes.
We wanted the packaging to be transparent (literally), easy and fun, just like our cooking classes, so we put them in these great squeezable pouches that remind me of finger painting. It can be used to drizzle, marinade, simmer, spread, or dip. We’re the only fresh, globally-inspired sauce on the shelves and the sauces are all non-GMO, vegan, kosher and gluten-free. They also contain no artificial ingredients or added sugars.
Inspired by cultures from around the world, Haven’s Kitchen’s Sauces are available in five flavors: Herby Chimichurri, Nutty Lemongrass, Zippy Chili Harissa, Gingery Miso and Red Pepper Romesco.
Ed note: The Laundress Stain Solution is excellent for getting out color-rich stains like sauces from clothing and table linens. Work it in with our Stain Brush.
It’s amazing that they’re sold in Whole Foods! Are you able to share a little bit about that process?
Our buyer at Whole Foods has been amazing since day one. He totally understood what we were trying to create and that our students were a microcosm of consumers in general—they want to cook more, they just need help! So he helped us figure out everything from distributors to corrugated boxes that keep the pouches upright on the shelf. When we were doing so well at the stores in NYC, he took us to 44 regional stores. Now we’re gearing up for a national launch to have Haven’s Kitchen Sauces be in 500 stores across the country.
Biggest challenge in your career?
I have been beyond fortunate in my career. Starting at 40, I felt that somehow I’d feel “behind,” but everyone in the food and beverage industry has been welcoming, supportive and overall amazing. There’s been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of lessons learned, but I’d say the biggest challenge is always battling the mean little voice in my head that every once in a while says, “you can’t do this… who do you think you are?” I know that’s a fairly universal issue for women and I’ve gotten better at combating it with, “you will figure it out, just take a deep breath…”
Advice to other small business founders?
Every challenge is truly an opportunity to learn something and make a plan to avoid the same thing from happening again. Lean hard into the stuff that feels hard: Excel, HR, legal—whatever your weak spot is exactly where you have a ton of opportunity to get some experience. Be curious, ask questions, keep learning!
There have been endless great moments, but seeing my team spend time together on the weekends, watching everyone grow and learn, is pretty spectacular. Also, nothing beats seeing a product you dreamed about actually on a shelf at a grocery store. Nothing.
Can you share your morning and night routines with us?
Morning: I wake up every morning and add a pack of Hydrant to a glass of water. It perks me up and I like the boost of electrolytes as I start my day, especially since most of us are somewhat dehydrated after 7-8 hours of sleep. I also love to gua sha my face while I drink my coffee, I have no idea if it really lifts and circulates, but it feels great!
Night: I work out or do yoga after work, then make dinner. My wind down is an epsom salt bath with a great book. After the tub, I slather on moisturizer and pretty much get right into bed. I try not to be working before bed and I’m usually asleep before 11pm every night. I am a huge believer in sleep and protect it fiercely.
Favorite Laundress products and why?
I love the Surface Cleaner. I use it on everything and love the scent. It feels like it’s cleaning without being chemical-y. LOVE it!