Gloria Athanis has been passionate about healthy nutrition for a long time. Indeed, she was able to apply her studies in Integrated Marketing and Communications Strategy at Kellogg School of Management with a certificate in Plant-based Nutrition from Cornell University when forging a vibrant career. By the time she determined to found Phyter with Chef David Choi Jr and Jeff Adeszko, she had already served as a member of Dr. Oz’s Chicago Health Expo Team and led a series of healthy lifestyle programs featuring Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study. So what motivated her along this fascinating path? We sat down with her to find out.
Q: Have you always considered yourself an entrepreneur?
GLORIA: I always have because I’ve been in sales my whole life, where your paycheck is contingent upon your ability to sell. You have to think of it like it’s your own little business, and I feel like that mindset of having to make it rain on your own has always been in my DNA.
Q: Tell us a bit about how Phyter came about.
GLORIA: I’ve known David’s family for 30 years. I would go to his restaurant and then we became friends with their family and they invited us to learn more about meditation and Buddhism. I believed in what they were doing and in their restaurant. It wasn’t just people going there to eat the food, it was people going in there to get healed. Eat something delicious, but eat something that’s really good for you. I didn’t necessarily want to start a business. I wanted to start a movement. Chef David and I first decided, let’s start by teaching people to live a healthy lifestyle by adding more plants to their diet.
Q: Has there been a single moment during this Phyter journey where you’ve been like “Yes, I did this” or “I’ve made it”?
GLORIA: Making the decision to put 100% of my effort into this was the ‘a-ha’ moment for me. None of this business is done ‘in my spare time’. I went all in, and it was hard for me to give everything up. It was a financial burden, and I was raising a kid, alone. It was a really big moment in my life when I decided to do it. I decided to dedicate all my energy, all my passion, and my life into creating this mission and this company.
Q: What has been the most unexpected thing you’ve encountered while starting Phyter?
GLORIA: How much money it takes. But I also learned to expect the unexpected. The old me would have worried about everything, and you learn to let yourself go. You learn to live in the moment, and don’t freak out over it. Learn from it and move it.
Q: How has owning a business changed you as a human?
GLORIA: So many things that I thought were important, just aren’t. From “How am I going to pay my mortgage?” to “How am I going to pay for my kids’ college?” – it all works out. You just have to keep believing in your mission and yourself. And don’t be afraid to raise your hand for help. People will be there. And don’t wait too long to ask, either.
Q: How do you start each day?
GLORIA: I wake up around 4:30a every day, and I do NOT look at my phone right away. First I thank God for giving me another day of life. And THEN I look at my phone. *Laughs* Working out in the morning is also an integral part of my daily routine, and I usually do a combination of yoga, spin, and swimming before starting each workday.
Q: Have you always been an extrovert?
GLORIA: I think my extroverted nature comes from having five sisters and needing to vie for my parents’ attention. My 8th grade teacher, Sister Nina, told my parents I was “too extroverted”, and my mom told me, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Growing up, I’d walk home every single day to have lunch with my mother. And that was my special time to have my mom all to myself.
Q: How have you managed to run a business, and still take care of yourself?
GLORIA: I’ve learned a long time ago from a very intelligent person, Chef Dave (Chef David’s father), that before anything else, you have to put yourself first, or nothing will fall into place. And you get scared about that in the beginning because you think something not going to get done, but you realize it’s ok to let some things go. The world’s not going to fall apart if you don’t get something done by five o’clock. Have a fresh perspective and do it in the morning.
Q: What’s been the most rewarding thing you’ve encountered about owning a business?
GLORIA: It’s not so much about the company, it’s that you feel so good that you have a reason that you’ve been put on this earth. And there’s a passion and a fire inside of you, and it’s matured and you’ve been able to do something with it. Everyone has that, you just have to figure out what it is.
Q: Do you think your experience in starting Phyter as a woman has been different because of your gender?
GLORIA: There is still a stigma of being a strong woman versus being a strong man. I’m very outspoken. I speak my mind. And sometimes I get feedback that I’m too bold. I take that as a compliment.
Q: What advice would you give other budding entrepreneurs?
GLORIA: First of all, make sure this is something that you’re really passionate about. Don’t even put your foot forward if you’re not. And ask for help. Don’t think you have all the answers. Meet as many people as you can that can help you. Talk to them. Interview them. Do your homework.
Q: How do you go about raising an entrepreneur?
GLORIA: Leading by example. I never thought twice that I couldn’t do something. My father raised us from the get-go that if you want to be a rocket scientist, be a rocket scientist. If you want to be a carpenter, be a carpenter. He NEVER made us do something we didn’t want to do. The one thing he did make us do was go to college and he did make us pay for our own education. He taught us to figure out what we want to do, educate yourself on it, and then just do it.