From enterprise lawyer to waffle entrepreneur
By the time Emily Cole Groden, JD ’15, was 10 years old, she knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life: practice corporate law. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she was determined in her decision. “My father was an in-house lawyer and we are very close,” she explains. “And so I thought, you know, if he likes it, I’ll like it.” But after a few years in corporate law, Groden switched to a less well-trodden path: selling healthy, frozen waffles.
Groden went to Yale College, where she studied psychology and had ridden distances on the university’s swim team. She graduated in 2009, worked for a business consultancy for two years and then entered Harvard Law School, where she filled her schedule with all sorts of corporate law courses. “And by the time I got to my third year,” she recalls, “there were literally no other corporate law courses to take.” Satisfied with her tunnel vision goals, she looked around for some fun and opted for a Food seminar Law and Policy Clinic. “If you know how to swim, you burn calories all the time, so you’re always hungry,” she says. “So I was thinking, why not spend some time learning about food and law and linking my career to my long-term passion?” The class looked at everything from food waste and accessibility to the obesity epidemic. For the first time in law school, she was looking forward to class readings; when called coldly, she felt excitement instead of fear.
But eating was a passion, not a job. After graduating, she joined the corporate practice group at Kirkland & Ellis and worked in private equity and mergers & acquisitions in Chicago. Almost immediately she realized that the long-awaited job was not for her. “I didn’t jump out of bed in the morning, super excited to come to the office,” she jokes. “But what I was really looking forward to was going out of the office and into the kitchen.” After reading about preservatives in processed foods while studying law, she made as much of her own food as possible. If she wanted almond milk, she sifted it through a cheesecloth overnight. She entertained herself on food podcasts, books, TV shows, magazines, and movies. When she saw an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix in 2017, her career changed.
The episode was about Alinea, one of the top-rated restaurants in the world, which is just a few blocks from Groden’s apartment. “At the end of the episode, I was just blown away,” she says. She was inspired by the way the staff thought about food, questioning every aspect of the typical dining experience, and creating unique menus and presentations. (Her most famous dessert isn’t served on a plate, but spread out on a silicone tablecloth like a work of art.) “These chefs clearly had this passion that I didn’t have for corporate law,” she adds. When the episode ended, she emailed the co-founder asking if his restaurant group needed an in-house attorney. She did not expect an answer, but was discontinued shortly afterwards.
Her future changed again when she heard a podcast about the frozen breakfast market while driving from work. Pregnant with her first child, she knew that in a few years, frozen waffles could be part of her life. But she didn’t want to serve her daughter Eggos. She bought a mini waffle iron and started experimenting with recipes she enjoyed herself, adding fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains. After giving birth in 2018, she found she didn’t have time to work, take care of her daughter, and spend hours baking waffles. She asked her boss if she could work part-time at Alinea while she started a new breakfast business called Evergreen. Half-expected to be laughed at or fired, she was given the green light instead. At the end of 2019 she had a completely designed package, space in a large kitchen and her first sale at a corner market. In March 2020, Evergreen’s products in Whole Foods were launched across the Midwest, and a few months later she overcame her risk averse attorney tendencies and decided to devote herself entirely to her new business – turning her local business into a national one Household brand. Today the company makes tens of thousands of waffles a week with three full-time and two temporary workers in a suburb of Chicago. Packs of nine small waffles are $ 6.99. “I don’t know if it’s going to be super successful at the moment,” admits Groden. “But I know that it won’t be successful if I don’t give it more time and attention.”
Groden is delighted that their waffles are now being sold in the North Atlantic region by Whole Foods, which includes Cambridge. When she was in law, the River Street location was her “escape from college.” She remembers getting lost in the hallways, shopping too much and walking home with loads of bags. But what’s even more exciting is the fact that her daughter, now a toddler, actually enjoys Evergreen’s waffles. “We ask her what taste she would like and she says ‘zucchini-carrot'”, says Groden. “Nothing makes me happier than my two and a half year old who asks for vegetable waffles.”