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How to Start a Food Business

Before you get cooking, here are some tips from folks who built their business from scratch

Who: Eleanor Harren, 80

What: Aunt Aggie De's Pralines makes and sells all-natural candies.

Where: Sinton, Texas

Start: 1987

AARP: What's your advice for someone 50-plus who wants to start a food business?

EH: 1. Be sure you have a great product before you begin. I had catered for several years. No matter what kind of event I was catering — be it a fiesta or board meeting or wedding - the customers always insisted I serve my pralines. That's how I knew I had a winner.

2. Don't compromise on quality. There will always be people who try to talk you into increasing your profit margin by compromising on quality — adding preservatives, in my case. They aren't good for our bodies, and they aren't good for your product.

3. Don't go into debt. I began my company with $50 in ingredients and at first took pralines to only three stores. After age 50, we don't have the luxury of losing our savings because there may not be time to rebuild them. If you try to grow too quickly — borrowing for expansion — you may get caught without anything in the end.

AARP: What's one thing you know today that you wish you knew when you started out?

EH: I wish I had known more about technology and how important it would be. When I began, I didn't know how to use a computer. Even today, I wish I were more capable of using technology.

AARP: What was your best day at work?

EH: The most exciting day was when we got our first large order from Monterrey House, a wonderful chain of 30 Mexican restaurants. It needed to be filled the following Monday. That was the only Sunday we ever worked.

AARP: The worst?

EH: The worst days are when you have to let employees go because they just aren't doing their job as they should. This is the most painful part of running a business.

AARP: What is a pay range someone might expect?

EH: As owner, you should always pay yourself a reasonable salary so it's worth the long hours and hard work. With that said, the rest of the profit needs to go back into the business so it can grow.

Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.

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