Tell us a bit about you -- your story, how you are “on the RISE”
My name is Debra Ponzek and I am the co-founder along with my husband Greg of Aux Delices Gourmet Foods. I was born in Morristown NJ, and lived most of my life there. After high school I attended Boston University to study biomedical engineering but quickly realized that that course of study really wasn't something that I was all that passionate about! When I was growing up there weren’t really any celebrity chefs, and not much was written about what it was like to become a professional chef. As a kid I had always liked to cook-making my way through cookbooks and recipe files, but never considered it as a career. With the advice from some friends (who were chefs), I decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America. I really enjoyed my experience there and after graduation I began my career as a restaurant chef working in New Jersey and New York City. I loved working in the city but after a number of years decided I wanted to personally RISE more and pursue a different type of career in the food business. Aux Delices was founded in 1995 on the premise of providing innovative meals to the families in our area. When we opened our first store, I was pregnant with our first child so it was a really crazy time for us! Over the next few years we had two more children and opened four more shops! I loved cooking for our clients in those early years because they really helped shape Aux Delices and what it would become. The way we RISE is by being involved in our community and supporting local causes, especially those that involve hunger and the needs of children.
My day starts early and I look to RISE to help me get started! I don’t drink cows milk so I love that the lattes are made with oat milk. My fridge at home always has Oat Milk Mocha, Oat Milk Vanilla lattes as well as London Fog. At work we have RISE on tap, and literally everyone that I recommended it to loves it! A personal favorite is RISE over a non dairy ice cream for a really good affogato!
What has surprised you most about your work?
I think the thing that has surprised me the most, is that for one we are still doing it after 25 years! I think my initial vision was something like a 5 year plan! I guess the main thing that surprises me is how much I still love getting up and going to work every day. I love what a creative role I have and I really enjoy inspiring our awesome team everyday! I think I have learned to become more flexible over the years and I think that has worked to our advantage-you have to be willing to change with the times.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs or up and coming folks looking to get into your space?
I would say it’s an amazing field to get into-and for me it’s been a really rewarding career and a fun adventure.The food business is great because there are so many different avenues to pursue. I would advise a newcomer to talk to as many people as you can, and try to get as much advice as possible. Most people really want to share what they have learned and pass on advice-I know I do!
What are some of the things you are most proud of?
Honestly, I think I am most proud of maintaining a successful business along with maintaining a very happy marriage and 3 great kids. It's a lot to juggle at times but owning your own business is a great thing because it gives you control over your life and choices and how you spend your time.