A Q&A with Heather Emerson, Founder of Prep To Your Door

Heather Emerson’s mission is to change food through strengthening local food systems so that everybody wins: the community, our health, our planet. In 2016, she founded Prep To Your Door in an effort to make that a reality. Prep To Your Door serves Austin and Houston organic, farm-to-table meals in zero-waste packaging. All products are plant-based, gluten and dairy free.

Heather has spent the last 15 years rebuilding her life after being incarcerated for one year. Her promise upon release was to grow, be honest, and do good things. She graduated from University of Texas with dual degrees in Mathematics and Linguistics, and in 2020 with her Masters from Harvard University. She is currently co-leads a team of 25 people.

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What inspired you to start a career in the food industry? What inspires you today?

My first introduction into eating a whole foods plant-based diet came when I started working at Whole Foods. I opened their flagship store in downtown Austin. I learned so much about the importance of quality ingredients and how food was harvested and sourced. To be honest, I was very angry to learn how we’ve been taught to eat based on a food pyramid and calorie counting vs eating fresh, nutrient dense, pesticide-free ingredients. I was fired up enough to try a plant-based diet, and it healed me in a lot of ways. I started feeling so much better, including some mental health and hormonal issues I was having.

It wasn’t until I was living in New York City with negative minutes and dollars to spare that I decided to start meal prepping. Every Sunday I would make salads and meals in mason jars. They lasted for the whole week because glass doesn’t oxidize the way plastic does. I felt so good taking those jars to work every day! I wanted to start it as a business back then, but was too paralyzed by fear to ever try. When I met my partner in grad school a few years later, he loved that i meal prepped like this. He is the reason we have Prep To Your Door today. If it wasn’t for his entrepreneurial spirit and encouragement, I more than likely would not have had the courage! I am beyond excited to play an active role in transforming our broken food system.

We are not defined by our past and every person deserves a second chance. I aim to help other women succeed in business because I’ve been blessed with advocates in this journey.

Did you have any formal food/restaurant training prior to starting your business? Did you have a business background?

I taught myself how to cook using meal kits from Hello Fresh, believe it or not. I had no idea how to cook for myself, so I subscribed to receive vegetarian recipes with pre-measured ingredients. Within a few weeks, I was getting creative with flavors and techniques, completely ignoring the recipe instructions… it came very naturally for me to cook. I was appalled at how much plastic was being thrown away each week, so I stopped eventually. While I had no formal training in business either, both of my parents owned small businesses growing up, so I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. 

What are some challenges you’ve experienced as a female founder?

I seize opportunities through positive self-affirmations. My biggest competitor is the voice inside that holds me back from reaching for the stars. As a formerly incarcerated woman, my self-worth was low for years and my trauma-response (fight or flight) can still be high. Being a leader in my company and community is an opportunity for me to destigmatize incarceration and rise above my self-destructive patterns. From prison to community leader. From a high school dropout to Harvard grad. I am so proud to have come this far and I hope I can be the reason that someone else doesn’t give up. We are not defined by our past and every person deserves a second chance. I aim to help other women succeed in business because I’ve been blessed with advocates in this journey.

Have you made any mistakes along the way that other female entrepreneurs can learn from?

My biggest mistake was believing that I had to do it alone. Being naturally independent, I dislike asking for help. However, leaning on other people in the community and trusting the process has been the most rewarding lesson. I wish I would have learned this skill earlier in life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, resources, and support from people. You will attract your tribe if you communicate your needs.

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Which skills do you think are imperative for someone looking to make her own name in the health/sustainability world?

Curiosity is the skill that will get you further than any other. The desire to learn and soak up knowledge and lessons will continually catapult us into new chapters of success. There is so much to learn! Try to meet as many people as possible and ask as many questions about their business and projects. Find out how you can be involved.

Do you have any tips on how us + our readers can also help/get involved with this cause? Do you have any favorite organizations working to eliminate food waste in the country?

My favorite organizations tackling food waste are:

  • Copia (diverting food waste to hungry people). 
  • Imperfect Produce (diverting almost expired food to consumers for pennies on the dollar)

If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?

Aside from putting out fires and problem solving bigger issues in the business with my partner, I try to ask myself every day: “What am I doing today to grow Prep To Your Door?” If I can’t answer that question, then I’m not being a good leader. 

On an average day, I meet with one to three other business owners in Texas to see how we can help each other in between meetings with my team. Every day looks different, but the one thing that stays constant is that I start and end each day walking my dogs. It’s our routine and it keeps my head clear. 

What is your favorite Prep To Your Door dish to date?

As much as I love our healthy options, I still love comfort food. I make a famous “Mac n Cheez” from quinoa pasta and tofu that even meat eaters love! We top it with roasted broccoli from the farm. It’s so comforting and perfect on a day when you want to splurge, but not feel bad afterwards.

How do you handle work/life balance?

I ask my assistant to make sure to book self-care activities into my day, otherwise I will work myself into the ground. In fact, hiring an assistant was one form of self care because it allowed me to let go of control and focus on bigger projects. I’m so grateful to have an army of people helping us on this mission to transform food systems. I could not do it without them.

The desire to learn and soak up knowledge and lessons will continually catapult us into new chapters of success. 

Where do you unwind after a long week in Austin?

Austin has miles and miles of hiking right in the heart of the city. I also enjoy alone time, yoga, and a nice refreshing drink with friends. I don’t get a lot of time outside of Prep To Your Door, so I really enjoy it when I have the opportunity.

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One thing you can’t live without?

Once or twice a week I spend 30 minutes in a sauna and 9 minutes in freezing cold water. It does wonders for sleep and draining the lymphatic system. When I don’t make time, my body craves it! Also, kale.

Learn more about Heather & Prep To Your Door by visiting their website. Use code BABESXO20 for $20 off your order!

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