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

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Monday, June 14, 2010; 27

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.

WHY SHE'S SUCCESSFUL

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."

FIRST JOB

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

BEST JOB

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."

SMARTEST MOVES

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."

A MAJOR OBSTACLE SHE OVERCAME

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."

HER PET PEEVE

Adults who allow their children to be uncooperative about eating healthy. "I love speaking to kids ... I say to the children, 'How many think you are a picky eater or someone has called you that?' Every single hand goes up. Then I say, 'What makes you a picky eater?' One kid will always say 'mushrooms.' Another kid will always say, 'I hate fish!' Then I will say, 'Well, I don't think I would look good in a purple shirt. Am I a picky dresser?' They say, 'No.' And then I say, 'I respect your right not to like mushrooms. It doesn't make you a picky eater. It just makes you not like mushrooms.' I bring all these foods for the kids to try. I have them try artichokes, fish, mushrooms and all kinds of exotic things, and they eat it all."

WHAT INSPIRES HER

"I'm inspired by my children. They teach me to keep going and to do what I think is the very best and to have high standards. I want to set an example. I want them to know that ... things are hard many times, but you keep going."

WHAT'S NEXT

"I like training people to learn and to do better and to think through and to organize. I love speaking to groups. I've had a number of people tell me that I should go out on the inspirational speakers tour. I've even thought about writing a book."

ADVICE TO THE ASPIRING

"Particularly women need to learn that if somebody tells you no that something can't be done, that if you believe in your heart that it can be, you have to find a way and you have to keep trying. You may have to rearrange it, you may have to find different ways to look at it, think about it ... It's all a big jigsaw puzzle. If you don't have the corner piece today, work on the other corner. You will come around to it and it will be more obvious."

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