Meet award-winning restaurateurs Amber Caudle, Cindy Van Pelt, and Beth Hannemann, the founders of Source Collab, a restaurant group in the South Bay region of Los Angeles. Source Collab is the umbrella company to Nine24 Kitchen and Source Café. What started out as a simple concept of bringing a healthier alternative to food turned into a larger mission to share the knowledge of healing through food. Each partner brings a different perspective and asset to the business. Chef Amber Caudle brings the core identity to Source Collab. She combines her drive to use food to heal the mind and body with her classical culinary training. Beth Hannemann is the Chief Financial Officer at Source Collab. She combines her love of food, numbers, real estate, and project management into a dream come true. Cindy Van Pelt is the Lead Pastry Chef and Chief Operating Officer. She fuses her passion for health, creativity and baking to bring the delightful cakes of Source Collab to life.
How I balance my work life:
This is something that is very important to us. We constantly remind ourselves and each other the importance of taking care of ourselves and taking time off. Running 3 businesses can be overwhelming at times and also take all of our time and energy. What has really helped me stay balanced is setting boundaries around days off and self-care days. I block 2 days each week to be away from the restaurants. One of those days, I block it as a self-care day and allow myself to rest more, get a massage, go for a hike or allow myself to do nothing! Another tool I use to stay balanced is my meditation practice. This keeps me centered, grounded and in faith. Meditation has been a game-changer in the quality of my life and is my number one non-negotiable daily. I also do not look at my phone immediately when I wake up. I take the first hour for myself to meditate, journal, set my intentions for the day and stretch before I jump into any work stuff. Also at least an hour or more before bed, I turn off my phone. I used to burn the candle at both ends by checking emails immediately upon waking up and in my bed until I went to sleep. This is something that took practice to cut out, but when I did, I have less stress and anxiety and sleep better. Work-life balance is daily work and takes awareness for me to realize when I am becoming out of balance.
Setbacks and challenges and epiphanies:
I believe all setbacks and failures are part of the journey towards success. Without failures, I would not be where I am today. I am grateful for the setbacks, lessons and challenges along the way because it has only made me and my team stronger. The best way to move forward and to grow is to learn from our mistakes/failures and to see how we can do better next time. I used to beat myself up anytime I had a massive business failure, but I am now grateful every time. These failures have led to massive growth and more success and so many great lessons and insights.
I could write books on all of the setbacks and challenges in the past 20 years in the restaurant business. One of my top setbacks was around investing in a new space and then realizing that the electrical was all wrong. This was a hard lesson and we did lose quite a bit of money. But now everytime my partners and I go into a new location to assess, we really do our due diligence and our eyes are wide open.
To be honest, most of my challenges are around employee retention and hiring the right employee. Currently, our major challenges are mostly around staffing issues. It has still been so challenging to find the right employees coming out of Covid. This has led to a decrease in business and sales because we have to close on certain days or close the restaurants earlier depending on what staff we have for that day. This is still something that is a challenge today and we are persevering and trusting the right people will come.
A major epiphany along the way was that I realized not to be scared to take risks, even when I had just fallen on my face. I used to be scared of failing and never took risks. But as soon as I changed my mentality and realized that risks are seriously the way towards growth and success and that failures are part of the journey, I became a total 100% risk taker! It is actually so freeing and empowering to take risks, let go of outside voices that might be telling you that you are crazy and to let go of your own inner insecurities of making the wrong decision. There are no wrong decisions. All choices are part of the journey and this is what makes life so exciting!
What do I attribute to my success:
I believe that loving what you do and what lights you up leads to true success. I have always held my vision so clearly these last 10 years. I am so passionate about making a difference in people’s lives through food and inspiring people that what we put into our bodies matters now. I believe my success has come from the joy I feel when I see the difference I get to make daily in people’s lives.
Also surrounding myself with an amazing team and business partners has been key. I am blessed to have two powerful women by my side as we grow our businesses. Another thing that has led to success is constantly investing time and energy into my employees and showing them I really care. Really connecting with my employees over the years and having team meetings and team morale events has been huge. The employees are everything to my businesses. Without them, I would have no success. And even when times are tough and scary and hard, I stick to faith and remember my vision and what my purpose is here now.
Tips on how to be a happy and health person:
This topic is dear to my heart and was one of the reasons I opened up my first restaurant, The Source Cafe, 10 years ago. I was not happy in my current restaurant. And my health had taken a toll. One of my biggest motivators was that I wanted to feel happy and healthy and alive again. Doing what you love is so vital in our overall health and vitality. No matter how much money you make, if you are miserable in your job, it is impossible to take care of your mind, body and soul. So first, do what brings you joy and lights you up! Second, when I feel strong and healthy, and I am fueling my body with the right foods, I am immediately more energized, confident and happy. Our gut and brain are so connected. If you are eating the wrong foods for your body, it will definitely have an impact on your overall mood.
On my journey to becoming a happier and healthier person, I needed to start to put myself first and start to create some personal and work boundaries. I really started to pay attention to who I spent my time with and who I gave my energy to. I also started a non-negotiable spiritual practice that is the most important part of my day. My morning routine is my favorite part of my day which includes meditation, journaling, visualization, affirmations and gratitude. This helps set my day up for success and get grounded and stay in faith. When I am honoring my body with the right foods and also honoring my mind with positive thoughts, I feel so blessed, alive, vibrant, healthy and happy! This journey has not been all roses and rainbows! And it still is a daily practice to put my health and needs first. I have learned when I am taking care of myself, I can show up and really be of service to my family, friends, employees and business partners.
Tell us about your work. How did you decide to take the leap to work for yourself? Greatest accomplishments and any challenges before going out solo
I opened up my first restaurant, The Source Cafe, 10 years ago in Hermosa Beach, California. I had hit a rock bottom with my health and was desperate to feel better in my body. I was working a chef job at the time, working 80 hours a week, and was inflamed, in pain, overweight, depressed, fatigued and over all unhappy. I was so unhappy with my current job, and it was taking a toll on my health and mental health. I was desperate for change and knew it was time to heal myself with food. This was my drive to open up The Source Cafe and take the leap to open my own business and work for myself. My mission today is still the same: to make a paradigm shift in people’s lives through food and to show that what we put into our bodies matters now. The Source Cafe serves organic salads, paninis, smoothies, superfood treats, baked goods and coffees and teas. All of the food is made with integrity and with love. We use the highest quality ingredients and source from organic and sustainable vendors. The Source Cafe is known for healing, creative and delicious food.
I opened up my second restaurant in 2020 in Manhattan Beach called Nine24 Kitchen. This restaurant is an elevated experience with a more chef driven atmosphere and menu. We use the same integrity when it comes to the quality of the ingredients and the intention we put into the food. The menu is a fusion of my Southern Italian training combined with California cuisine. My food is exciting, creative, sexy and delicious and I only use the cleanest ingredients and oils. We do not use any vegetable oils in our cooking. Our menu is gluten free and dairy free and we roll our own pastas, make our own breads, baked goods and desserts. We serve bio dynamic wine and mocktails.
Nine24 kitchen has delicious beautiful food that will make you feel amazing without feeling deprived of your favorite dishes.
Working for myself has not always been easy! And it would not have been possible without the help of my business partners, Cindy Van Pelt (COO) and Beth Hannemann (CFO). Most important thing to consider before going into business for yourself is to surround yourself with supportive people. It would not have been possible to do this solo. I had so much support in my early years and this support has led to continuing to build this brand. After we opened our second restaurant, we decided to name our restaurant group, The Source Collab. Under The Source Collab we also have a new cake program called Sweetrise. This was a huge passion project of Cindy’s and am so proud of her accomplishment! Our group keeps expanding and growing and am grateful to have these ladies by my side.
I would say the greatest accomplishments these past couple of years have been opening Nine24 Kitchen during Covid and the launch of Sweetrise. I also am releasing a cookbook next month called: Sexy Nourishing Food to Fuel your body, mind and soul. And on June 1st, my cooking show, Wholicious, launched! Both of these were huge passion projects and I am so proud and grateful for them. And I am proud and excited to share these with the world to continue to make a difference in people’s lives through food.
From Cindy Van Pelt COO The Source Collab. Did you plan your career and your business path?
My path into the restaurant industry started at 16. As a youngster working at a restaurant is such an awesome gig: flexible hours, incredible money, great friends. For a long time it was just a job. It was easy to bartend a few days a week while going to college, traveling… living. With a theater scholarship and an eventual MA in Religious Studies I never would’ve guessed my passion would take me back to where it all began. But as all things of the heart do, passion always wins.
I was always into baking, it was literally my jam. I was the girl who you always knew would be bringing dessert. It was so much fun to sift, rise, bake and create something new. At the time my roommate (now business partner) Chef Amber Caudle encouraged me to take my love of baking to the next level. I went on to get my baking credentials and in turn The Sweetest Sin A Bake Shop was created. A few years later when Chef Amber was thinking about opening The Source Cafe she invited me to join to expand and grow the baking department. This year we will celebrate 10 years of The Source Cafe.
I’m also so beyond excited that after many years in the baking we just launched Sweetrise our custom cake company, a personal dream come true for me. I’m so excited to share Sweetrise and watch it grow and bring joy to dessert lovers everywhere! Although the plan was not intentional, looking back now the path and the journey were always evident.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since becoming an entrepreneur?
There are a multitude of challenges from a professional level to being an entrepreneur. Staffing for instance has been beyond difficult these last 3 years, it’s unlike anything I have seen in my 30 years in this industry. The shift during the pandemic created a plethora of job vacancies and quite simply not enough applicants. A lot of corporate companies were able to raise wages and offer an abundance of signing bonuses just to fill the void. What that has now created are predetermined expectations from new candidates. Someone who was making $20/hr with a $500 signing bonus working at a fast food job simply and understandably now wants to make more money. For a small business such as ours that simply isn’t sustainable.
This year in particular inflation has become incredibly taxing. Our vendors continue to raise prices. Unlike most traditional companies there are things we are just not willing to compromise on. We are extremely intentional in the ingredients we source. If our vendor can’t get organic strawberries for example we wouldn’t just substitute conventional strawberries. This leaves us at the will of the vendors ever increasing and continuously fluctuating prices. As challenging as it is, our commitment to the best quality of ingredients is precisely what sets us apart.
Far and beyond the most challenging thing I have faced as an entrepreneur and as an operating team has been opening our second location Nine24 Kitchen. We were approved for opening literally days before Covid shut down the world. We had to pause actually opening not for days or weeks but for months. As a brand new business with no income coming in you can imagine the stress and anxiety attached to that scenario. When we finally saw a window to open our doors we had to pivot our entire perspective. The elevated sit down experience we had worked on for 2 years was unavailable. We had to rotate our business plan and introduce ourselves solely on a take out basis. We were open well over a year before we had our first guests sit down and eat inside the restaurant. Today we are about to celebrate 2 years since that opening day and all I can think is if we can make it through that we can overcome any challenges that come our way !
What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?
My pride point list is abundant. I’m proud to be a woman-owned company. I’m proud of our food. I’m proud of my sweet creations. I’m proud of the intention we put in our menus. I’m proud of the culture we have created for our team. I’m proud of the relationships with my business partners. I’m proud to be a resource for the community.
Above all, I’m proud of our team. When Source Cafe first opened we were a very small team. Many of our OG team members had worked with Chef Amber at her previous restaurant. They took a leap of faith and I’m happy to say many of them are still with us today. Over the last 10 years we have grown from a small team at this little cafe to a second team at our commissary kitchen and now the third team at our restaurant Nine24 Kitchen. We recently had a team get-together, the first time since Covid that we were all able to be together, some team members meeting others for the very first time. It was a blissful night full of family and pure joy. I remember looking out among the room and feeling such an abundance of gratitude. Some of our team members started out as dishwashers, moved up to managers and were now there married and with new babies. Some of our team members started with us in high school and were now first generations graduating college. The definition of growth was everywhere I looked.
My heart filled with such love seeing what started as a small team at a cafe a decade ago which has grown into almost 50 employees. The fact that our company Source Collab has been able to allow almost 50 families to thrive and live and to do something they love while providing nourishment to the community, is truly the greatest gift!
What is a personal strength that has been useful to you in your career? How can new graduates develop their own strengths to further their careers?
For me, I had an incredibly hard time learning how to let go of the fear that I had to do everything. It was that unsettling feeling that if I wanted things done quickly I just needed to do it myself. It took a long time and a lot of internal work to begin to delegate responsibility to others and to feel confident that they can do the task just as well if not better than I could. My business partner Chef Amber & I have both worked for way too many bosses throughout the years who were, to be kind let’s just say they were not very nice people. We vowed that as a women owned business we would never be the kind of bosses who yell, belittle or undervalue our team. It’s in that spirit that I began to understand and appreciate the benefits that come from letting your co-workers shine in their own light. We are not ones to micro-manage. We have faith and confidence that when we allow our team to make their own decisions they learn the best lessons. We may not always agree with the choices they make but we will always support their decisions.
Each of us has a superpower and a genius unique to ourselves. When you empower others to be able to do what they do best you get the most productive results. Embracing the truth that each person shines best while on their own path has allowed me to accomplish so much more than the days when I simply didn’t accept that I needed the help. I’d encourage you to surrender to the truth that you do not need to be the best at everything you do as long as you are able to find what it is that you do best and bask in the glow of your own worth.
If you could sum up your career in three words, what would they be?
Passionate, Intentional, Evolving