What It Takes: She quit Wall Street to start stores that help families serve healthy meals

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Monday, June 14, 2010

Elizabeth Marcotte worked on Wall Street as an investment banker before jumping off the fast track to raise her children. An avid cook, she believed the dinner table was the key to keeping her family close. So when she was approached with a business opportunity that focused on family dinners in 2004, she signed on. Seven years later, she co-owns five Let's Dish stores, which last year grossed more than $5 million. Consumers "dish" by selecting items, including meats, vegetables, sides and seasonings, from posted menus and measurement guides to make nutritious meals later at home. Marcotte, who has the gene that makes her more likely to contract breast or ovarian cancer, is also active in programs to help women avoid and overcome cancer. She is married, has two teenage children and lives in Great Falls.


Marcotte worked her way through Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., with summer jobs in New York City. "It gave me a real sense of the hustle and bustle of and taste of success."


Shining her father's shoes as a young child. "I think I made 50 cents per pair."


She had two offers when she graduated from college, at Drexel Burnham, then at the top of the financial giants, and Merrill Lynch, still up and coming. A college professor urged her to try Merrill Lynch. "The most interesting day was my first day of work when I walked into this big conference room in the World Financial Center, in my new suit, and my attache case in my hand, and I came face to face with a room full of really smart looking Ivy League graduates. I thought, 'How can I do this?' and then this woman came in the room and she took the podium and she said, 'Welcome to Wall Street. There are 96 of you in this room. You have been chosen from 11,000 résumés. This is the hardest job you will ever have in your life, but those of you who work hard, follow directions and ask good questions, will succeed ... It was a tremendous experience. I was one of 15 of that original group who were asked to stay for a third year."


Quitting Merrill Lynch when her son was 8 months old, which also gave her time to spend with her mother, who was suffering from terminal breast cancer, and becoming a Let's Dish co-owner. "It had all the makings. It had the business. It had the food. It appeals to families. I was the target customer at that time, knowing what I know about how to cook and how to take care of a family. The family structure is so important to me, and I think a lot of it is supported by the family dinner. I feel very strongly that the dinner table is ... the heart of the home, where it all happens. So this business sort of catered to everything that was important to me and matched my skills."


Dealing with bureaucracy in starting her business. "I like to tell the story with my first meeting with the Loudoun County Health Department. This was very early on. I went to them and I said, 'Here's this great business, so let's do this.' I explained the whole thing and they were just silent. They just looked at me and one of them said, 'Is it a store or a restaurant?'... It was one roadblock after another. I [later] went back to those two men ... and I worked with them to figure out what they were most concerned about and how we could meet their standards."


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company