Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle’s friendship began in a seventh grade math class over the exchange of a pencil. While they didn’t know it then, the girls were destined to become lifelong friends, and business partners in a food program called Sakara Life, which would revolutionize the way people eat.
Growing up in Sedona Arizona, both Whitney and Danielle were introduced to health foods, and learned about the mind, body, and food connection at a very young age. “There was a huge emphasis on health food and food as medicine”. They both describe their hometown as a pretty spiritual place and remember spending a lot of their free time at their local heath foods store. “Our health foods store was the coolest thing. As a kid it was the place to go.” Recalls Danielle. “They had their own farms and sold their own produce, it was really ahead of its time in that way.” Whitney adds.
While both girls subscribe to a “food as nourishment” lifestyle, they were brought up in households that operated by very different approaches to health. Whitney’s childhood memories include an early understanding of where food comes from in the form of label education. “My mom taught me how to read an ingredients label as soon as I could read. I was the kid that came to school with the homemade peanut butter with all the twigs and berries… I could never eat the fruit snacks that my classmates ate. Danielle’s mom, not originally from Sedona, did not impart the same health education on her daughter. However, learning about whole foods, what constitutes organic, and the importance of knowing where ingredients come from, was a direct result of “hanging out with girls like Whitney…my mom couldn’t understand why white flour and steak weren’t considered ‘healthy’”.
Our health foods store was the coolest thing. As a kid it was the place to go!
When they both decided to move to New York to pursue different careers, Danielle as a pre-med student, and Whitney as a financier on Wall Street, they were taken aback by the shift they experienced, coming from a town which emphasized a holistic and natural lifestyle, to a city where apartments housed the “tiniest kitchens” and had unlimited access to takeout. This forced the girls to reestablish their relationship with healthy eating.
Although their upbringing emphasized a positive association with food, Danielle struggled, as many women do, with maintaining that healthy relationship as a young woman. “I didn’t love my body. I was a chubby kid and in high school that never leaves you. Food was always the enemy. So I would go through these extremes, one minute I was vegan, then I wanted to be a raw foodist, I would do numerous master cleanses…” After moving to New York Danielle’s extreme approach culminated in a trip to what she now references as “death camp”. “I went to this retreat in Southern Arizona where you camp for 21 days. The first 7 days you are on a water-only fast. Then the following 2 weeks you live off the land. It was really cool concept, but I didn’t go there to experience this spiritual transformation, I really went there to get skinny. It was a hateful move. And I got so sick when I was there. When I got back to New York, I tried to naturally heal myself, but with Danielle’s encouragement, I finally went to a doctor who told me I had severe pneumonia.”
Meanwhile, Whitney was in New York working 80-hour workweeks and feeling the physical depletion in her body. “It was always someone’s birthday…cupcakes, pizza days, going out for drinks after work. I gained 15 pounds right off the bat and had cystic acne. I tried creams, antibiotics, hormone peels and lasers…I looked like a burn victim. Nothing was working. Everyone told me I had to do Accutane again, for a second time. That’s when I decided I’m not going to do that to my body. It was time to get back to my roots.”
Going through simultaneous health challenges inspired the initial idea for Sakara. “It was kind of the perfect storm of Whitney and I going through the trials of what it means to be a young woman in New York City. It was also a big wake up call, about how extremes don’t work. We decided to figure out the ideal way we wanted to eat. We needed to figure out what our lifestyle would be: nutrient dense, organic, non-processed, hydrating whole foods. It was cleansing. It was about balance.”
It was time to get back to my roots
Sakara started as a side project for the duo in Danielle’s Brooklyn apartment. “It kind of just happened. All of the research and development was just us hanging out, and figuring out what we wanted.” Danielle explains. “There was a lot of research involved. I was pre-med but quit because I realized I didn’t want to work in a hospital. I wanted to figure out a new way to heal people. So I enrolled in nutrition school. We took our free time and put what we knew down on paper. We wrote out long lists of hundreds of foods that we wanted to eat and thought about how we could combine them in interesting ways and keep people satiated.”
“We started the company by throwing a party. We had no money and we wanted to raise a little! We did all raw food paired with wine. After all was said and done, we made $700. We bought the domain name and made our own website. That’s how Sakara started! We were cooking in Danielle’s kitchen in Brooklyn and delivering on our bikes. Our first clients were the producers of NBC’s “Smash”. They found our card in a café, called and said they wanted to try our program. So we would make the food everyday and drop it off in Greenpoint.”
“The biggest moment for us was when we were going through business cards we had collected and found the card of a girl that worked at Daily Candy. At the time she gave us her card, she was pretty junior, but we kept that card and by the time we emailed her she was the main editor for NYC. We didn’t know her but we emailed and asked if she would be willing to try Sakara. She tried it, loved it, and she wrote about us. I remember that morning, because I woke up and Danielle called me and said ‘have you seen the emails?’ I thought someone had food poisoning or something horrible, but it was just page after page of people wanting to sign up. Hundreds of people wanting our program and what we had created. At the time we were still working out of Danielle’s kitchen in Brooklyn. We thought, ‘how would we serve that many people?’ This is our little secret, but we told everyone we were sold out for two weeks, we put everyone on the wait list. People were waiting for up to a month or longer to do this. We used that time to hire delivery people, found a commercial kitchen, built a team and we were in the kitchen at 3am every night. On our first morning of deliveries, we had hired all these delivery guys off of Craigslist and only one of them showed up. So we got in a cab, and did door to door delivery. People thought it was some sort of special promotion when they were greeted by us!”
Our philosophy extends past food. It’s about clean living
With the influx of interest in the Sakara Life program, the girls worked day and night to fulfill orders and find ways to scale their business. During these times, they remember facing challenges of a food startup. “One of the worst horror stories of our food experimentation was learning how to make a really great kale salad and learning what not to do too. When we make our kale we cut it into ribbons, we massage the olive oil into the kale to start breaking down the fibers and making it more tender. When we do it at home, we add salt and rub that into it. So when we first started, that’s what we were doing. We put it in the box, and it would get delivered to the clients the next morning. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable and by adding salt, it ferments it. We realized we were sending our clients “fart-bombs”, it’s really healthy, it just smelled like farts! We had to do a recall on that one.”
Although they dealt with some initial food preparation mishaps, Whitney and Danielle never second-guessed their company and how their program would ultimately help people establish a healthier and more balanced relationship with food and wellness. They even credit much of the success of their business to their youth. “Part of the benefit to starting a company at a young age is that you are naïve and you don’t realize how hard it is going to be… there is no ego involved.” The days of “blood sweat and tears, and years of being broke” have paid off for the partners, who look now to develop the lifestyle aspect of their business. “Our philosophy extends past food. It’s about clean living.” It is after all, the Sakara LIFE!
THE FOOD LIFE Q&A
W: Sedona, AZ
W: New York City
W: Co-founder/Co-CEO of Sakara Life
D: Co founder/Co CEO or Sakara Life
Last thing you ate
W: Sakara Rolled Oat and Pecan Breakfast Bar
D: R&D Sakara Smoothies
Tastiest thing you have ever made
W: Thai Coconut soup with lemon grass from our CSA
D: Kale and garlic salad
Cookbooks & recipes? Or improvisation
W: Combo of improv and Martha Stewart recipe I googled on my phone (her recipes are a great base to start from before adding in creative license).
Soundtrack in your kitchen
W: World Beats station on Pandora
D: Sly and the family stone
Favorite food city
W: Tulum, Mexico
I always have _______ in my kitchen
W: Black truffle oil– makes anything taste gourmet
D: Hot sauce
What is your kitchen "uniform"
W: Sakara apron, clothing underneath optional
D: A chunky sweater and undies
What is your food "kryptonite"
f you could eat a meal prepared by anyone in the world who would it be
W: Louise Hay, just so I could hang out with her while she cooks ☺
D: My man
Weirdest/most adventurous thing you have ever eaten
W: Navajas in Spain
D: Rattle Snake
If you had to be the spokesperson for a food or beverage what would it be
W: Sakara Life, duh
Drink of choice (what's your poison?)
W: Anything tequila
D: Old Fashioned
Are there any family recipes or food traditions that have been handed down to you
W: Magnesium! From food and supplements – it’s a cure all.
D: Feel sexy in the kitchen, no matter what you’re making
If it's true 'you are what you eat' - what are you
W: A whole lot of plant-life energy! With a croissant thrown in there every now and then ☺
D: Fresh vibrant hydrating organic veggies!
What is the "recipe" for success according to you
W: work hard + play hard
D: Whole food, plant based, superfood-filled diet
W: A big ol country-style breakfast
D: Cauliflower Flatbread and roasted sweet potatoes
What's your food philosophy
W: Eat clean, eat whole.
D: Food should make you feel sexy
What’s your comfort food
Favorite childhood snack
W: A spoon of natural peanut butter
Favorite part of your job
W: Thinking of new ideas and seeing them come to life.
What are some of the diet trends you have tried in the past? How did you finally come up with The Sakara philosophy to finally get healthy and happy?
W: Tried plenty of juice cleanses in my day that left me hungry, cranky, and empty. It wasn’t until I got back to eating real whole foods that come from the earth that I was able to finally get healthy and happy – for good.
D: I’ve done every diet trend you can think of. Sakara was the only thing that helped me feel powerful and in control of my body again.