From Corporate Lawyer to Waffle Entrepreneur
By the time Emily Cole Groden, J.D. ’15, was 10 years old, she knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life: practice corporate law. She didn’t know exactly what that entailed, but she was resolute in her decision. “My dad was a corporate lawyer, and we are very close,” she explains. “And so I figured, you know, if he likes it, I’ll like it.” But after a few years in corporate law, Groden switched to a less-trodden path: selling healthy, frozen waffles.
Groden went to Yale College, where she studied psychology and raced distance events on the varsity swim team. She graduated in 2009, worked at an economic consulting firm for two years, then entered Harvard Law School, where she packed her schedule with every corporate law class possible. “And by the time I got to my third year,” she recalls, “there were literally no other corporate law classes for me to take.” With her tunnel-vision goals sated, she looked around for something fun to do and decided on a seminar offered by the Food Law and Policy Clinic. “If you know anything about swimming, you’re constantly burning calories, and therefore constantly hungry,” she says. “So I figured, why not spend some time learning about food and law, combining what I thought was going to be my career with my long-term passion?” The class studied everything from food waste and accessibility to the obesity epidemic. For the first time in law school, she looked forward to a course’s readings; when she was cold-called, she felt excitement instead of dread.
But food was a passion, not a career. She joined the corporate-practice group at Kirkland & Ellis after graduation, working in private equity and mergers and acquisitions in Chicago. Almost immediately, she realized the long-anticipated job wasn’t for her. “I was not jumping out of bed in the morning, super excited to get into the office,” she jokes. “But what I was really excited to do was get out of the office and into the kitchen.” Having read about preservatives in processed foods during law school, she made as much food as she could from scratch. If she wanted almond milk, she strained it through a cheesecloth overnight. She entertained herself with food podcasts, books, TV shows, magazines, and movies. It was while watching an episode of “Chef’s Table” on Netflix in 2017 that her career trajectory changed.
The episode was about Alinea, one of the world’s top-rated restaurants, and located just a few blocks from Groden’s apartment. “By the end of the episode, I was just blown away,” she says. She was inspired by how the staff thought about food, questioning each aspect of the typical dining experience and creating unique menu items and presentations. (Their most famous dessert is served not on a plate, but spread out like a work of art on a silicon tablecloth.) “These chefs clearly had this passion that I did not have for corporate law,” she adds. When the episode ended, she sent an email to the co-founder, asking if his restaurant group needed an in-house lawyer. She didn’t expect a reply, but was hired shortly after.
Her future shifted again when she listened to a podcast about the frozen-breakfast market as she drove from work. Pregnant with her first child, she knew that in a few years, frozen waffles might be a part of her life. But she didn’t want to serve her daughter Eggos. She bought a mini waffle iron and began experimenting with recipes that she herself enjoyed, mixing in fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains. After giving birth in 2018, she realized that she didn’t have time to work, take care of her daughter, and spend hours a day making waffles. She asked her boss if she could work at Alinea part-time as she developed a new breakfast business, Evergreen. Half-expecting to be laughed at or fired, she was instead given the go-ahead. By the end of 2019, she had a fully designed package, space in a commercial kitchen, and her first sale to a corner market. In March 2020, Evergreen’s products launched in Whole Foods all over the Midwest, and a few months later, she overcame her “risk-averse lawyer” tendencies and decided to devote herself to her new company full-time—trying to turn her regional business into a national household brand. Now with three full-time employees and two temporary ones, the company makes tens of thousands of waffles a week out of a production facility in suburban Chicago. Packs of nine small waffles sell for $6.99. “I don’t know if it’s going to be super successful at this point,” Groden admits. “But I know it won’t be successful if I don’t give it more of my time and attention.”
Groden is excited that her waffles are now sold in Whole Foods’ North Atlantic region, which includes Cambridge. When she was a law student, its River Street location was her “escape from studying.” She remembers getting lost in the aisles, buying too much, and trudging home with numerous bags. But even more thrilling is the fact that her daughter, now a toddler, actually enjoys Evergreen’s waffles. “We ask her what flavor she wants, and she says ‘Zucchini Carrot’” Groden says. “Nothing makes me happier than my two-and-a-half-year-old asking for vegetable waffles.”