Nancy and Viviana Sisneros, Knotty Chix
During the early days of the pandemic, Nancy and Viviana Sisneros founded their pretzel company, "Knotty Chix," sparked by a random craving of Nancy's. After three attempts, they perfected their first creation: the Hot Cheeto pretzel. Encouraged by the positive feedback of Facebook friends, they started selling their pretzels to the public. Today, three years down the line, Knotty Chix thrives as a flourishing company.
Episode 19 – Nancy and Viviana Sisneros, Knotty Chix
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Today we're speaking to Viviana and Nancy Sisneros, the founders of Knotty Chix, a pretzel company they founded in 2020 after discovering their love for baking pretzels in different flavors. After receiving positive feedback and offering them on Facebook, the company launched in Selma, California. Nancy and Viviana, welcome to the show.
[00:01:16] Viviana Sisneros: Hi. Thank you for having us.
[00:01:18] Sanjay Parekh: So, I'm excited to talk to you guys because pretzels are interesting, right? It's such a niche product. And to go all in on a niche product I think is a fascinating move. But I think we've often seen other companies that do that kind of thing too. Before we get into that, can both of you give us a two-minute background on each of you and what got you guys here today?
[00:01:46] Viviana Sisneros: Okay, my name is Viviana. I, honestly, I always wanted to open up a food business. I just didn't know what food business it would be. During the pandemic, my wife was craving a pretzel and that's how we came to fruition. But prior to all that, I was in the service, I did long term subbing, and then I worked with special education. So, it went from one field all the way to the other.
[00:02:16] Sanjay Parekh: That's awesome. Nancy?
[00:02:19] Nancy Sisneros: I actually was working at Valley Children's Hospital in the finance department. I was with accounts payable, so I was there for eight years going on nine. And like my wife said, I was craving a pretzel when the malls were closed. But I didn't want just any pretzel. I don't know why for that for some reason on that day I was just like, I want a hot Cheeto pretzel. I was like, we're going to make this happen. And yeah, we found a recipe, my wife tweaked it, and we pretty much made our first pretzel and we posted it up on Facebook to ask our friends like, who would want to buy a pretzel from us?
[00:03:02] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, how long did it take to make that first pretzel? How many, was it like in one go you made it after you found the recipe, or was there some trial?
[00:03:12] Viviana Sisneros: Three goes. It was three goes.
[00:03:14] Sanjay Parekh: Three goes, okay. So, was that one day or is that multiple days?
[00:03:18] Viviana Sisneros: Yeah, pretty much in one day.
[00:03:20] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Okay. So, your craving got fulfilled in that day, because when you said three goes, I thought that might be multiple days.
[00:03:27] Viviana Sisneros: Oh no, it was in one day.
[00:03:30] Nancy Sisneros: And then we tried different things. We actually tried to incorporate the Hot Cheeto in with the dough, but you couldn't even taste the Hot Cheeto. And that's when I was like, that's what I was missing. I was like, no, I want to taste the pretzel and the hot Cheeto at the same time. How are you going to make this happen? So, we ended up actually just coating the...
[00:03:50] Viviana Sisneros: Doing it El Loco style.
[00:03:52] Nancy Sisneros: Yeah, like an El Loco style, coating the pretzel in mayonnaise and we grounded up the Hot Cheeto puff. Because we tried like the two different Hot Cheetos that there are. Like the regular Hot Cheetos and then the Hot Cheeto puffs. And we found out the Hot Cheeto Puffs, it's a lot more of a powder, so that'll stick a lot easier. And we're like, okay, this works, and it tastes good.
[00:04:15] Sanjay Parekh: Huh, interesting. That sounds like a lot of fun experimentation there. Did you guys have all the ingredients at home already? Or was this like running out to the store to get all this stuff?
[00:04:29] Viviana Sisneros: Running out to the store, grabbing the stuff, coming home and going from there. Mayonnaise, we already had, I think we had regular Hot Cheetos and it was the puffs that we had to go get too, just to see which would stick better. And then my mom was pretty much our taste tester too as well.
[00:04:50] Sanjay Parekh: Pretty patient mom there to taste that through all that stuff, especially hot Cheetos. So, Viviana, you had mentioned something you'd always wanted to open up a food business. Had you done entrepreneurial things when you were younger at all?
[00:05:05] Viviana Sisneros: No, not at all. I just knew that I wanted to work for myself and capitalize on myself.
[00:05:13] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. What about you, Nancy? Have you ever done any, is this the first entrepreneurial thing or was there stuff before?
[00:05:19] Nancy Sisneros: This is, no, this is a first. I honestly thought I was going to retire from Valley Children's Hospital, working indoors. Monday through Friday type of job, holidays off.
[00:05:35] Sanjay Parekh: And you're like, let's trade that in for working all the time and going everywhere and crazy. Yeah. That sounds sane. That sounds, honestly, that sounds like every entrepreneur right there. We do crazy things to make these dreams come true. So, that's great. For both of you, has there been anybody in your families that's been entrepreneurs that you've seen go through this process or anything? Or are you guys the first ones in both of your families?
[00:06:05] Viviana Sisneros: You know what, my brother, I don't know, about 10 years ago, he had opened up his own moving company. But I didn't really follow what he did or how he went about it. I just knew he had his own business. And I did know that he did work a lot of hours, so I knew hours of time were going to be behind it. I just didn't know the extent of it, per se.
[00:06:32] Sanjay Parekh: And so, then after you guys have started this, have you talked with him about startup stuff? Entrepreneur stuff, business stuff?
[00:06:42] Viviana Sisneros: No. I know he tried to give me some tippers, right when we first started but I didn't really think that they were parallel, as you will, because he was moving furniture and whatnot. So, he actually got subcontracted through a big company. And so, it just, it is a little different. So, we didn't really dabble much into talking about it anymore, other than what he tried to give and then he was realizing, okay, moving furniture and delivery driving is a little different than the food aspect.
[00:07:22] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. There's no subcontracting for pretzels, I imagine. That's not really a thing. So, when you guys got started with this, you posted on Facebook. What was your next step? Did you start just selling it to friends at first or did you actually start an official company? Like how did you go about it?
[00:07:45] Viviana Sisneros: So, we honestly would post pictures and then we just asked who would buy it. And then people started giving in their input of oh, you guys should try this style, flavor pretzel. And so, we did it and then we would give out sample boxes to people. And then then we asked like, how much people would, we'd ask how much they would pay. And then it just started going from there. And then we just started working from home. And then we saved up some money, got a food tent, an oven, and then we ventured out to being a mobile concessionaire. And that's where we're at right now.
[00:08:19] Sanjay Parekh: So, when you started this, both of you were still working. At what point did you decide, and was it both of you quitting at the same time or did you stagger it? Like how did you figure out that process?
[00:08:31] Viviana Sisneros: We staggered it. How did it go?
[00:08:36] Nancy Sisneros: I quit my job to help with your dad?
[00:08:38] Viviana Sisneros: Oh yeah, so she quit her... Okay. So, we'll have to back up a little bit. So how it happened, we ended up moving in with my parents to take care of my father. He ended up being diagnosed with leukemia and then he had in 2019 he had a major stroke. And we were actually camping at the time. And the doctors had stated, either he goes into a facility, or he needs a 24/7 caregiver. So, I didn't want him to go into a home. So, I moved in with my parents and of course I was missing my wife and my two kids. So, my mom said, hey, why don't you guys just all move in?
So, she stayed with her job and then it ended up getting a little too hard for me to just take care of my dad, 24/7. So, she ended up quitting her job and then that's pretty much, once he passed, then we said, okay let's do the whole business. But prior to my dad passing, we had already thought of a business to do, but we put it on hold, which my dad, he knew, we were putting on hold just to take care of him. But I had promised him that I would get my business going. Isn't the business that I had told him I was going to do, but nonetheless it was a business. And pretzels it is, due to her craving.
[00:10:06] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I am sorry for your loss there, Viviana. But I'm sure your dad is very proud of the business that you guys are building and the things that you're doing, so that's great. When you guys decided to make this jump, all this happened and you decide, okay, we're going to start this pretzel business. Is there anything about it that made you nervous or concerned, or worried, or did you think about, oh, we should just go get jobs again? What was your thought process in that?
[00:10:39] Viviana Sisneros: Honestly, I'll take risks, I guess that was due to being in the service. You move from place to place, and you never know what you're getting into or what place you're getting into. So, to me, I wasn't really scared. I was just more worried of, okay, now we have to hustle because we have to continue to make money. So, I don't necessarily, I don't necessarily know if it was scared, it was just more like okay, I had to have that hustle. And as far as my wife.
[00:11:09] Nancy Sisneros: I like the whole job security. But honestly, I wouldn't trade our business for anything. I love what we do, but yes, I was, because I've always had a stable job, what I consider a stable job. So, like having that and knowing I'm going to have my set hours and I'm getting paid, that was very nice to have and comforting. So, I did, I would get nervous, especially because when we first started, we did start from home. So, we would get orders called in or through our Instagram page or Facebook page. As long as we kept on getting orders, that made us happy. So, I think that was more of the scary part for me.
[00:11:59] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah, so when you guys left your jobs, what level of revenue were you at that point?
[00:12:10] Viviana Sisneros: Nowhere compared to what we have now. I think when I was doing my full-time subbing and I say full-time, it's because I had a long-term position for seventh grade math, and the school was paying like a hundred, I think 130 a day.
So, I worked, Monday through Friday. So, I think my take home was maybe a little shy of 3000 and then whatever she made. And then I had my military pension. My VA, I think we were making about seven grand a month.
[00:12:47] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Yeah. And so, what was, in the beginning, what was Knotty Chix making for you?
[00:12:53] Viviana Sisneros: I think it was about the same or just a little less. So, we were just like, okay, this is okay. And then now it's way, it's different now.
[00:13:06] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. So that was like a good, okay, if we quit, like we basically have replacements of our salaries. And so now, it's been a couple of years. Where are you guys at now in terms of revenue and what was the main driver of expanding that to get to the point that you're at now?
[00:13:29] Viviana Sisneros: Where we're at right now, according to our bookkeeper, we're like one $115 to $119,000 a year. I think the only fallback is, so with the regular job, you don't have to buy supplies. Other than your clothes and you go to work. This one here, you have to be like oh, I have this money. But with that comes repairs on equipment, and then buying your supplies and stuff, right? It’s definitely, money comes in, money goes out. So, it's a revolving door. And if we don't work, we don't make money.
[00:14:07] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. When you got into this, did you sit down and actually write up a business plan and think through the numbers? Nancy, you said you were in accounting, so I'm thinking that you maybe had a hand in that.
[00:14:21] Nancy Sisneros: No, we honestly didn't. No, we did not make a business plan. Our business plan was just like, sell as much as we can. Just get out there.
[00:14:29] Sanjay Parekh: Make sure you sell for more than a cost to make. That's a pretty important tenet.
[00:14:36] Viviana Sisneros: Oh yeah, definitely. We do that. I figured out those numbers after we bought the supplies to do it, and I was like, okay, so we're definitely profiting.
[00:14:47] Nancy Sisneros: She figures out a lot like what our overhead is. And she calculates everything like, in regard to like our price when we make our pricing for the types of pretzels we're selling. So, she's really good at that.
[00:15:03] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. That's an interesting question there. So how do you figure out so initially you asked customers what they'd be willing to pay. But now you're not going to ask customers, I would think. So, as you introduce new products, new types of pretzels, how are you figuring out the price points that make sense in the market?
[00:15:24] Viviana Sisneros: Honestly our prices have jumped twice within these past two years. Okay, so honestly a big factor is gas. So, gas is one of the main contributing factors because gas fluctuates, but of course my prices aren't going to fluctuate in the sense of if gas is down, my prices go down. No, it just, it'll stay either stagnant or if, you know, the gases jump up again, then of course my price will probably jump up. But so has product. I think our flour has jumped up in the two years, it's jumped up $4 in price. But still, even though it's jumped up about $4, I'm still profiting in, in the sense of okay, I can stay at this price with a pretzel, and then I figure out like how many pretzels I can make out of one bag or a batch. And then same thing with milk. And so, since we do get ours at a distribution company, like some of the prices are cheaper. Except still, hands down, I think Costco has like the cheapest milk, but so I did. That's how I play into it. So even though we're selling our pretzels at a certain price, I know I'm still profiting even though prices are going up. So, as long as I can make at least 4 or $5 off of pretzel, I'm happy.
[00:16:46] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. That's interesting. So, looking forward, right now, you guys are still you don't have any kind of like food truck or anything else like that, right? You're going to places and selling pretzels. How do you see the business growing over time?
[00:17:04] Viviana Sisneros: We still go to places. It's just that it's more places that accept food tents. So, we still go like to farmer's markets. We do a lot of school events, sporting events, back to school night. Breweries...
[00:14:47] Nancy Sisneros: Lunch festivals at schools and stuff.
[00:17:04] Viviana Sisneros: Lunch, yes. So, we still figure out to get into certain places that will accept a food tent. And then there's not many mobile pretzel companies where we actually roll them out right there in front of people. And I, we roll them out, we bake them right there. So, they are like legit fresh pretzels.
[00:17:45] Sanjay Parekh: Now that you're saying that I don't know that I've ever seen one where there's been food tents and things like that. I've never seen fresh pretzels like that, that's awesome.
[00:17:58] Viviana Sisneros: And ours are different too, so.
[00:18:00] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, absolutely. With all the different flavors. So, how do you scale this business, or how are you thinking about scaling this business then?
[00:18:11] Viviana Sisneros: Honestly, our dream goal is honestly to try to get into a stadium if we can sell at a football stadium and be like their staple pretzel just like how Dodgers have their Dodger dog. I want to stadium to be like, wow, these are the best pretzels and we need them in our football stadium. So, that's a goal. And I don't care what football stadium, although I'm a big KC fan, she's a Raider fan, but I'm like, if the Niners pick us up, oh, I'll be a Niner fan that day.
[00:18:48] Sanjay Parekh: The allegiance is flexible depending on who's the client. Like every good entrepreneur right there.
[00:19:00] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox, committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:19:21] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the stress and how you guys deal with the stress of managing a business. You both talked about, you guys have two kids and then, working is basically, hey, I've got to go drive out and set up a tent and, be there the whole time. You can't even hang around and enjoy the event really, because you're serving pretzels all the time. So how do you manage the stress of owning a business like this and making everything else work in life.
[00:19:54] Viviana Sisneros: Sometimes you just, you have to weigh out, like what's more important. Our daughter, she moved out already, so she's on her own, but we still have our son who's 14. I know, during one of his parades for Christmas, I believe it was the year before last, honestly, we just closed down the booth and we just said, sorry, we're going to go watch our son. People weren't happy, but I mean, I don't know if it really affected our sales. Because when we were there, we still had a line.
[00:20:26] Nancy Sisneros: No, you had that. You had gone, you went, I stayed.
[00:20:29] Viviana Sisneros: Oh, never mind. She stayed. I went.
[00:20:34] Nancy Sisneros: We just like, pretty much we, we talk about okay, who's going to do what? So, we really try to work things out when it comes to like our kids. And if we're able to like, get away for a little bit.
[00:20:46] Viviana Sisneros: The Brewfest we closed down. Yeah. So, there was a Brewfest too because I mean we had customers, our line was super long. And I was just like, we didn't have a break. We hadn't gone to the restroom. We were the only food vendor until the other food trucks showed up. So, we were just like, I'm sorry we're closed. We need self-care, as well when I say self-care, at least go sprinkle some water on our face, go utilize the restroom and whatnot, and we came back, people were still there, so sometimes you just have to stop, and people have to understand hey, we're human as well.
[00:21:23] Sanjay Parekh: So yeah. You can't expect somebody not to pee at some point. We're all people, it's going to happen. And the fact that they were still there obviously means that you have a good product. Or maybe it's that at that moment in time you had a monopoly because nobody else was there, which is, that's a good thing to do too. So, like that a lot. How do you guys deal with sleep and all the other kind of wellness stuff? Do you have any routines? Like how do you fit those into the day? Because...
[00:21:56] Nancy Sisneros: What's sleep?
[00:21:58] Sanjay Parekh: What’s sleep? Sounds about right. I was going to say, being founders, it's easy for work to overwhelm everything else, right? Honestly, you could not sleep and there's always something to do. So how do you fit those things in? How do you think about those things?
[00:22:18] Viviana Sisneros: I don't know, other than the fact that we just really love what we do. We do sleep. Sometimes it's three hours. Sometimes it's four hours. Today I got the most sleep ever. It was great, but I think it was like, what, seven hours of sleep? That was a good day.
[00:22:33] Sanjay Parekh: I was almost ready for you to say five hours. You were like, ah, it was five hours. It was great.
[00:22:38] Viviana Sisneros: But we just make time. You just have to learn to make time. There's times there's events where, ooh, it's our day off, but that looks like a good event. Let's do it. In that sense, because we own it, we pick and choose the events we want, sometimes if it's super-hot I know in this past few weeks, we actually didn't go to two events just because we're like, it's like a hundred and something degrees and we're like, yeah, it's 108. And we're just like, nope it's not going to happen. I'm not going to do it to ourselves. I'm prone to getting heat stroke, so I'm just like I'm not going to kill myself today. Yeah, today's not the day.
[00:23:13] Sanjay Parekh: It's not worth it. And plus imagine if you had a line of people at your tent and then something happens to one of them standing in line for a pretzel? That's just not a good scene for anybody. It's it has been incredibly hot lately. So, that is completely understandable.
[00:23:29] Nancy Sisneros: No, but you know what? We've actually had a situation where she did, okay, this was a Swedish festival that we did in Kingsburg. My wife actually had a heat stroke. So, during that time we had a long line. We stopped for a little bit. She actually got carried away to the hospital. But, my son, myself, and then we actually had one of our customers come in and help us. So, we were still like going, still going because my wife is, no, you still keep on going. You work. So, we sold out that day, thankfully. Yeah, she was good afterwards, but yeah, we just, we keep on going as much as we can.
[00:24:09] Sanjay Parekh: Man, that sounds like you have customer number one right there. Oh, you know what? You're shorthanded. Let me just get back behind there.
[00:24:15] Viviana Sisneros: And she's amazing. Yes.
[00:24:18] Nancy Sisneros: She's amazing. We're still friends with her.
[00:24:20] Viviana Sisneros: Yes. She's super sweet.
[00:24:22] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, that's great. That is great. So, you've been doing this now for a few years. If you could go back in time, is there anything that you would do differently? And if so, what?
[00:24:35] Viviana Sisneros: Keep our jobs so we can pull out a loan for a food truck.
[00:24:40] Sanjay Parekh: That's one. Yeah. Anything else that hits high of oh yeah, we should have done this differently?
[00:24:48] Viviana Sisneros: That's honestly really it. Oh, we were going to go into a brick and mortar. I honestly, I think I would've just, instead of going into a brick and mortar and spending money to do so, I would've just kept our money to plug into a food truck or food trailer.
[00:25:08] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, it was a little bit of, so you did do that brick and mortar, and it didn't work out for you.
[00:25:14] Viviana Sisneros: We never even got to open the brick and mortar. We just pumped money into it to try to get it going, and it just didn't pan out as expected. And yeah, honestly, any person that plans on going into a brick and mortar, definitely look to see how old the building is, look to see if it's even doable. Unless you have a ton of money, and you can pump money into a building. Then go for it. But we didn't have that type of money.
[00:25:41] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Okay I think we talked about this a little bit, but I want to push on this question a little bit more. Talk about setting boundaries. So, you talked about boundaries just a minute ago. You're not going to do 108-degree event, that's a boundary of limits of human capabilities, but are there other boundaries that you set? In terms of, making sure that you guys both stay happy and sane and, the business doesn't overwhelm you.
[00:26:12] Nancy Sisneros: Like on our days off, I know sometimes like our days off aren't really days off. We have to go buy supplies or it's always something with the business. But we do try to take at least a day, like a family day, go watch a movie just to relax and decompress. Just take time for ourselves.
[00:26:36] Viviana Sisneros: Yeah. Especially our son, because he works with us as well. So, we have a 14-year-old, it's like any 14-year-old, he is working, but he is getting those, life skills. But we try to make sure it's fun for him, so we try to do stuff. We take him and his friend places and whatnot. So, he sees the rewards of working as well.
[00:27:00] Nancy Sisneros: We're not just working just to work. We're able to do certain things because of the work that, or the job that we have. Not job, our business.
[00:27:11] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Do you have other rules like, hey no talking about pretzels at the dinner table, or anything like that?
[00:27:19] Viviana Sisneros: You know what we try on our days off not to talk about business, but sometimes it's so hard. And then there's times where we're like, you know what? Just leave it. We're not going to deal with it. We're on vacation. It'll be there when we come back. And if it's not, they'll be another gig.
[00:27:36] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Are you tempted when you're on vacation and see somebody else that makes pretzels to go and try them out and see how they are compared to yours?
[00:27:45] Viviana Sisneros: Yes. Yeah, of course. But there's really not any here in the valley. You have your typical Wetzel and Auntie Anne's, but Auntie Anne's kind of flushed out of the 559 area. So, honestly, I don't even want to say competitor, but the only other pretzel company around here is Wetzel. But they're a big old franchise, so we're just a minnow compared to them. I can't really say there's a pretzel company out there that I'm like, ooh, I'm going to go try you guys. Because there really isn't one. Yeah. Unless we go back east, but we haven't gone back east, so.
[00:28:26] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Do you like go shopping when you're out? Do you go shopping for like unusual flavors and you're like, hey, maybe this would be good on a pretzel?
[00:28:34] Viviana Sisneros: Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah, honestly, I think people probably like, and people probably think we're like potheads or something, because some of the flavors we come up with and it's on the fly and I'm just like, promise you I'm not. I just, I like food.
[00:28:49] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, I love that. Yeah, it's a great business if you love food, and I love food too, so that's awesome. Okay, last question for y'all. What would you tell somebody who's thinking about launching a side hustle or like you guys taking a side hustle and making it into a full-time business? What advice would you give them?
[00:29:08] Viviana Sisneros: Do it. Because honestly, you're going to sit there and you're going to wonder, oh, what if I would've done it? Or, oh, I should have, or, I thought of. No, just take a leap of faith and do it. And like I tell my wife, if God forbid this ever flopped, I know I can go to back to teaching and they'll take her back at the hospital to work. I know we have jobs to fall back on, but you'll never know unless you take that leap of faith.
[00:29:36] Sanjay Parekh: And if you need to bribe them, you know how to make some pretzels that are really good and you can take them in and be like, hey, you really should rehire me. So, there you go. Nancy, Viviana, this has been fantastic and a lot of fun. Where can our listeners find and connect with you guys?
[00:29:56] Nancy Sisneros: You can find us on Instagram under our business page, which is @Knotty_Chix and just make sure you spell Knotty the correct way, because then you'll get something else. So, it's K N O T T Y underscore C H I X. And then on Facebook we're @KnottyChix it's all one.
[00:30:22] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. That's great. So, thanks so much for coming on the show today. Thank you.
[00:30:26] Viviana Sisneros: Thank you for having us.
[00:30:29] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit www.hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter at @sanjay or on my website at www.sanjayparekh.com.