Professor encourages healthy eating, self-reliance through small business

After launching Make Fresh Foods in July, local entrepreneur Nancy Rissler looks toward the future of her recipe-based business.

When Nancy Rissler saw a 15-year-old mother give Coca-Cola to her newborn baby, Rissler was not disgusted or judgmental. Instead, she was inspired. She refers to this experience as a moment that changed the course of her life. This moment instilled a desire in her to teach the world about food and how to nourish one’s body, which launched a career as a certified hospitality educator, Syracuse University professor, food scientist and, most recently, an entrepreneur.

Photo: Manmeet Sahni

Rissler, a Syracuse native, launched Make Fresh Food in July at the annual Finger Lakes Lavender Festival. Her business offers customers greeting cards that contain a recipe and a packet of culinary lavender to make the recipe. In just two days, Rissler, who trained at the New England Culinary Institute, earned back the $1,000 she invested into her business. Her products create a memorable experience and deliver a message: “You have what it takes.” Each user has the ability to create the dish, she said.

While teaching at SU, Rissler realized she wanted everyone, not just her students, to learn from her food ideology and self-reliant lifestyle. In order to reach audiences outside the university walls, Rissler said, she founded Make Fresh Food.

“My purpose in life is to give people life skills,” she said. "To know how to nurture ourselves, that’s a life skill.” Rissler’s next mission is to tell the world her message: Make fresh food.

Self-reliance is a crucial element to Rissler’s company. For Make Fresh Food, Rissler did everything. She created the recipes, designed all of the graphic elements, embossed and packaged the products, sewed the pieces together and marketed and sold the products.

Joanne Lenweaver, Rissler’s mentor and director of the WISE Women’s Business Center in Syracuse, said she believes Rissler’s well-rounded skill set will ensure she is successful.

“Nancy has got an attitude of ‘Nothing will stop me.’ She has a lot of self-confidence. She’s creative and has great taste,” Lenweaver said. “Combine all of those things into an entrepreneur, and you are going to get something that’s going to hit the marketplace and make a mark.”

Regardless of her success at the festival, Rissler is in no rush to succeed, said Mary Kiernan, a fellow culinary professor at SU and board chair for the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. “She will take it slow and steady and conservatively because she wants to love it,” Kiernan said.

Rissler faces challenges ahead, which include establishing more sale outlets and creating a digital presence.

“My next step is to find a partner because I know I need someone who can help me spread what this is all about,” she said.

Her products are sold at Imagine in Skaneateles, N.Y. She said she plans to extend her product line by offering customers recipe cards and sets in a series, featuring 12 different herbs and spices, one for each month of the year. Her next recipe set, which she said will come out in December, will feature chia.

Despite the challenges ahead, Rissler is confident in her company.

“There’s so much labor, it’s an art,” Rissler said. “It’s not a cheap thrill. It’s authentic. It’s real.”

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