Q&A With Culinary Entrepreneur Michelle Battista

Sep 10 2018


Michelle Battista does not believe in failure. She believes in experience – and in bringing people together. She began her career in fashion, built a reputation in the design and marketing industry, and found herself consulting with prominent chefs. She eventually brought together her love of food, creativity and community, launching The Nightwood Society – a kitchen, creative incubator and event space, comprised exclusively of women. You have to admire someone with that type of vision and resiliency. I visited with her recently to talk about her career, her approach to business, and her knack for always moving forward.

Q: Entrepreneurs wear many hats and can become overwhelmed with worry. How do you avoid this?
A: I’ve never been risk averse but I am practical and thoughtful in my decision-making process. It’s a balance. I am a taker of risks by nature but that doesn’t save me from stress and worry. Fear is real and it’s part of being an entrepreneur. You have to tune into yourself and your needs, find ways to care for yourself, discover outlets to relieve stress, lean on people when you need to verbalize your process. You have to find ways to adapt and live with the worry instead of fighting against it. My therapist suggested I assign 10 minutes of worry time each day to worry about everything you can think of — but at the end, stop and move on. Paralysis won’t help you or your business. You have to be effective with your worry.

Q: What does failing forward mean to you?
A: Failing forward means that we learn and grow from our experiences. There are no mistakes or failures, just opportunities for growth and change.

Q: In your career you have gone from fashion to restaurants. How did that happen?
A: I started my career in New York in fashion and design. That brought me to Oregon where I fell in love with food. I met a chef and fell in love. I helped run his restaurant and we opened a gathering hall together. When that fell apart last March I felt like my work in food and hospitality wasn’t done so I opened a kitchen, creative incubator and private event space made up of all women. It’s pretty bad-ass.

Q: What’s your creative process?
A: It’s like a puzzle. I start with the outside edges to create a framework and then I work into the center. It’s like building a house. I built a career that allows me to add services and products and experiences so I am not boxed into a corner. The market is constantly changing and I enjoy evolving with them.

Q: You’ve mentioned the importance of role models, mentors and tribes. How do you define them in your life?
A: A role model is who you look up to and aspire to be. A mentor is your most trusted advisor. Your tribe is a group of women you trust who keep you buoyant. And then you have to pass it on. You have to model behavior for other women so they can aspire to be like you. You need to build a community of women and invest in that community.

Q: How important do you think it is that companies move beyond basic philanthropy and get involved in advocating for and making the lives of their customers better?
A: Building a positive corporate culture is the most important thing you can do. I believe it all starts with your own human resources. If you can create a positive environment and culture in your workplace they will pass that on to your customers and consumers. My dear friend Lindsey always says, “Get on purpose with your purpose.” Lead with values first.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given from a female mentor?
A: Money comes and money goes; it ebbs and flows like the tide. Don’t get attached to it or what it provides. It’s a lesson to lead from your values and not your wallet and have faith in the process.

Q: I think you are a rock star in the business world. If you were an actual rock star, what would be your stage (or band) name?
A: Birdie Callahan (my alter ego).