Chat with Sam from OatMeals
When I first moved to New York, the sheer culture shock and abundant energy kept me paralyzed from excitement and fear for a good month. I wandered everywhere I possibly could while staying as close to home as possible. The city offered more than I could possibly consume, and I didn't know how to process it all. Eventually, the journeys outside the apartment became further and further away from my comfort radius of the apartment. The upper east side gave way to the eclectic energy of the west village. Brooklyn didn't seem so far away. Queens became more than just the borough to the right of Manhattan (and it eventually became my home borough). I started to find my footing in the city of millions.
I stumbled into OatMeals early in the morning on a weekday right before a job interview. I was early for the interview and wanted a cozy place to collect my thoughts and expel my jitters. OatMeals was just the place. An oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and latte later (life isn't all about being Paleo, is it?), I confidently walked into my interview and walked out with a job! Since then, I have taken friends, family, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, and everyone I've ever hired to this place. It has become my little home in the vast expanse of the city.
So of course I was honored to know that the owner of my favorite shop in the city, Sam Stephens, agreed to be interviewed for my little blog. We talked about everything from oatmeal flavors to starting a small business and persevering in the most difficult situations. Read and enjoy!
What inspired you to work with oatmeal as your staple ingredient?
My first year in New York I gained 35 pounds. I love food! But I wanted to start eating healthy and get back in shape. I started eating oatmeal because I read how great it is for you. It really changed my life. I started eating it for breakfast and lunch with a sensible dinner. And sometimes I was eating it for breakfast and lunch AND dinner. I kept thinking, “this stuff is great! I feel full. I feel satisfied.”
When did you decide to make this shop a reality?
It was a long time coming. I didn’t know anybody in the food world or the food industry at all, so I didn’t know how to make it happen. Just like anybody I needed to make money, so I started working in the investment banking world as an executive assistant. In my own free time, I wanted to figure out how to make this happen.
Did you take any business classes to gain experience?
I took classes at NYU in food writing because I loved reading restaurant reviews. And I took a class on how to start your own small business and budgeting for small businesses. And I started making connections. Nights and weekends I was thinking about the menu and collecting oatmeal containers. I had this vision for the store. I did tons of research. I also looked at commercial real estate and found that in order to start being taken seriously, I needed to go to culinary school. So I went to the International Culinary Center (ICC).
How was culinary school?! That’s so awesome!
I worked from 7:00am-5:00pm and ran to class until 11:00pm! It was like a boot camp. It was really hard. But I made it happen. Then I felt like I really had the skills to make it happen. Everything fell into place at the right time.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own business?
Do your leg work. Speak to people. Go into business and ask questions. They say in New York it takes 2-3 years to break even and it does. Padding your budget is important by a lot. As hard as people tell you it is, it’s harder. My grandparents were entrepreneurs and they did very well for themselves with an antiques and collectibles business in the DC area. My grandmother gave me a chunk of money to start it.
What are your favorite oatmeal toppings?
I love goat cheese on oat meal. People don’t usually think about it, but it’s the coolest thing ever. I like funky stuff. Truffle oil. Saracha. Soy sauce. I like really savory things.
What advice do you have to those making health and wellness a priority?
Don’t beat yourself up about it! That’s one thing I really had to teach myself not to do. Think of it as a lifestyle change, and make smaller moves towards health and wellness. When we eat better, we feel better.
120 WEST 3RD STREET, LOWER MANHATTAN, NY, 10012