For Hip Chick Farms Owners, 2016 Was ‘Everything 2015 Was Not’

By Christi Warren The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Serafina Palandech talks about the ups and downs she's faced since launching her organic frozen chicken product company, "Hip Chick Farms."

The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

For Jennifer Johnson and Serafina Palandech, co-owners of Sebastopol's Hip Chick Farms, the past two years have been staggering.

2015 brought Johnson a cancer diagnosis, a brain tumor and if that wasn't enough, the couple was faced with having to sell their West County farm just to pay back all the money they owed their friends as their business looked to be failing.

"There were months spent in uncertainty. Jen kept receiving one terrible diagnosis after another," Palandech said. "Having absolutely no money and being under that stress, we were really afraid. But I think ultimately everything we went through last year made our marriage much stronger."

The couple spoke before a crowd of about 200 Thursday night at Santa Rosa's Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. It was the third and final installment of this fall's Sonoma County Women in Conversation series, a production of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

Throughout the course of the evening, Palandech, a self-described "staunch old-school lesbian feminist," spoke to the crowd, as her wife, Johnson, a classically trained chef who got her start at Chez Panisse, watched from a seating area on stage.

Palandech talked about the ups and downs the two have faced since launching their organic frozen chicken product company.

She talked about trying to get their product into Whole Foods, only to mistakenly pitch the wrong buyer first. (It worked out in the end.)

She talked about the rampant sexism and misogyny she faced by would-be investors in trying to get their product funded. In one instance, Palandech flew all the way to Los Angeles to meet a potential business associate, only to be informed upon landing that he had booked the two of them a hotel room.

At the beginning of 2015, Hip Chick Farms products were in just 300 stores. They thought that was the end. Then, just after their daughter's fourth birthday party, everything started to turn around.

It started when one of Johnson's friends wrote them a generous check to keep the business afloat. In May, the two were named to Food & Wine and Fortune magazines' "Most Innovative Women in Food" list.

This July, they won $500,000 on the show "West Texas Investors Club." Then in October, Johnson was invited to cook at the White House for President Obama. By the end of this year, Hip Chick Farms products will be in more than 3,500 stores.

And, Johnson's health has returned.

"2016 has been everything 2015 was not," Palandech said.

Also Wednesday, Karleen Annink-Pate, chief revenue officer of Sonoma Media Investments, announced the lineup for the company's spring Sonoma County Women in Conversation series: Elizabeth Smart on Feb. 13, Gloria Steinem on March 6 and Laura Schroff on April 6. Tickets go on sale Nov. 23 to the general public, and on Nov. 18 for past ticket holders. They are available for purchase at socowomenevents.com.

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