Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest, owners of successful sausage company J&E SmallGoods, share their best tips for launching a business and juggling finances—all while becoming parents and weathering challenging times.

By Chrissy King
August 27, 2020
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Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest never imagined they would be the owners of a small-batch sausage company, shipping all-natural, antibiotic- and hormone-free meat to customers all over the United States. However, the couple, who together parent their almost 2-year-old daughter, is now running a successful business, J&E SmallGoods, a sausage and deli meat company, primarily focused on consumer packaged goods sold through e-commerce and grocery store purchasing.

It was a winding road for them to get there, though. Nakamura, a former line cook was, in her own words, "kind of terrible [at being on the line]. I wasn't really ever good at it, but I've always been really into working with food." Because of that, Nakamura frequently got kicked off the line and ordered to cut meat in the other room. This became a safe space for Nakamura, who went on to become an apprentice at the renowned butcher shop Fleishers in upstate New York before moving to Los Angeles to open a successful butcher shop in its own right.

Meanwhile, Guest was a former writer who, at 28, decided to change careers and planned to go to culinary school. She heard about a woman-owned butcher shop in L.A. and decided to call and ask if she could come to be an apprentice. "I was terrible and I loved it," she says. "I went to work at a bunch of different places and learned even more about butchering."

The two ultimately moved back to New York City, with Nakamura serving as protein consultant and butcher partner for food industry big wigs. Within a year, the couple made the decision to move to upstate New York, got married, and welcomed a baby girl, Nina. That's also when they started preparing to open J&E SmallGoods—phew! While the couple worked tirelessly to care for Nina and get the business off the ground, they picked up side gigs as butchers at different restaurants to support themselves and to keep them financially afloat while they while planned and strategized the launch of their business.

Here, Nakamura and Guest share the key attributes that kept their ship running, even when they were exhausted and that landed the business to where it ultimately is today.

Motherhood Can Be Motivating

Nakamura and Guest both attribute much of their success to their daughter. Nakamura says, "Motherhood has really allowed us to develop a successful mindset in our business that much more. It's really given us the desire to push ourselves forward in a way that we wouldn't have had, had we not become parents."

The couple is eager to grow J&E SmallGoods in a way that allows them to spend time with Nina. "We're in the middle of trying to grow [the business] in a way that ensures that it does not take away from our personal lives," Nakamura continues. "Our goal is to set up a system that functions with or without us. Obviously, we'll be involved, but we also want the ability to step away a little bit because things are working so well. That will allow us to have more time for our family and Nina."

Allow Yourself to Ask for Help

It's no small feat to be running a business and juggling mom life. Adding to the stress, neither women had stable work while they were preparing to launch the business, though they acquired as many part-time opportunities as they could. "We have a really incredible village around us," Guest says. "Take Erika's mom, for example. One of the reasons we moved out of the city is [to be closer to her mother]. Grandma saves the day all the time. She's our primary child care—she watches Nina two days a week."

In the beginning stages of launching J&E SmallGoods, the couple also relied heavily on friends. Since they were one of the first in their friend group to have a child, many of their friends volunteered to babysit their daughter—the couple wasn't shy about asking for help when they needed it. The two got creative in reaching out to their support system, Nakamura explains. "We had a mailing list actually going to all of our friends who we thought would be interested in helping out," she says. "We would literally blast [an email] out and say 'Here's the next month's schedule. We need help with child care on these days, from this time to this time.' People would sign up and then we'd juggle [the scheduling]. Our village is really incredible. Sometimes, we'd be dropping Nina off at like a friend's house at like 5 or 6 in the morning."

It's Possible to Eat Sustainably on a Budget

While through their work the couple has access to an abundance of fresh, all-natural meats, they also picked up crucial tips to eating sustainably while on a budget. Buying meat can get expensive, especially if you have a larger family. Guest suggests getting creative to reduce costs. "Replace half of your meat consumption with things like mushrooms or veggies," she says. "It really helps with the price point. But also the more things you buy whole, the less expensive—like if you buy a whole chicken [you'll ultimately save money], for example."

Even though the two are in the business of selling meat, Nakamura points out that you don't necessarily need to include meat at every meal, especially if you're on a budget. "One of the things that Jocelyn and I have always been a big proponent of is that you don't need to eat meat at every meal and you don't really need to eat meat every day. So yes, we are butchers, but this is still what we tell people," she says. "We encourage people to focus on getting enough high-quality protein, which is like a fist size or a deck of cards, at least a few times a week. Then you can focus on filling in the rest of your diet with other nutrient-dense things like vegetables, ancient grains, or beans."

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