words by Silas Valentino
The truth is, Margot Hirsch was destined to get into the food business; it’s just that it took a few decades for her intended fate to materialize.
She currently puts the Margot in Margot’s Morsels, bite-sized snacks made from handmade sourdough bread she coats in a variety of flavors: garlic, sea salt, parmesan and rosemary. If you shop at Draeger’s, Bianchini’s or Roberts Markets, perhaps you’ve noticed these curious crunches popping up throughout the last year.
While akin to croutons, these morsels are no simple salad topper. Try keeping the sound of crunches down while reaching for another handful. The munch is proving versatile as several of Margot’s more zealous customers have integrated them into recipes such as “Mac and Cheese with Zing” or “Michela’s Savory Bread Pudding.”
For Margot, it’s a two-day process to bake and pack the snacks; however, getting to this point required a much greater investment in time.
Margo’s first flirtation with food enterprising happened in the 1980s on an entirely different coastal seaboard. Margot was born in New York but by then she was living in Boston. The foodie had the idea of blending an ice cream parlor with a nightclub:
“I wanted to start a nighttime dessert bar with music. I have a sweet tooth and I wanted a place with amazing desserts that also had an awesome atmosphere with wine and after-dinner drinks. I laugh now because I researched coffee a lot and this was in 1985… Starbucks came out and stole my idea!”
Jumping forward, after living in Portola Valley and Woodside for about a decade while working in sales, Margot’s hunger pains to launch her own food venture were not quelled. In fact, the daydreams were beginning to mesh with her day job.
“Food venture number two was a mix of my love of food and my sales background,” she begins. “Whenever you’re on a sales team, a lot of the team-building things you do are… not fun. I came up with an ‘edible event.’ It was a space where people could come together in a big kitchen and dining area to do corporate events. I got an SBA loan but then chickened out—I was doing it by myself so I pulled the plug.”
Instead, Margot joined the EdTech company Blackboard as its regional vice president for international sales before turning her focus to activism, establishing the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation in 2013 with a mission to address gun violence by fostering innovation in firearm safety.
But the bitter taste of an unchased dream remained. Fortunately for Margot, she was not alone the next time an edible idea struck.
“My husband Milt is incredibly supportive and Margot’s Morsels is a joint passion project. I may be making it but it’s his bread. We would never have started any of this if it wasn’t for Milt and his bread.”
Milt has been a serious bread-maker for close to 20 years. He studied at the San Francisco Baking Institute and learned from Tartine Bread’s Chad Roberts. When Milt bakes, he bakes. Sometimes more loaves than a single household can handle.
To compensate for the leftovers, Margot and Milt began making croutons with the unused loaves, dousing them in garlic and serving them as snacks. After friends started giving encouraging feedback, Margot decided to refocus her attention in early 2020.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own business,” she told herself. “No guts, no glory—that’s always been my mantra, so I better step it up and live it. It’s time to go for it.”
They started exploring flavor profiles. Milt is passionate about parmesan cheese (“He gets 36-month-aged parm because he feels that it’s much better than 24-month-aged,” Margot notes.) and they began sourcing cheese from the same purveyors who supply the likes of Arguello’s and Gary Danko. Margot collaborated with KitchenTown in San Mateo for nutrition analysis and coaching, and by June, they were ready to test their product at farmers markets for pure objective feedback.
“It’s like being in a live taste test,” Margot says of the markets. “I would hear things like, ‘My four-year-old son cannot live without his morsels.’ The great thing is that you get instant feedback and repeat business is indicative of how good the products are. What sustains you at farmers markets are your regulars; that’s at least half of my business. Michela is a perfect example; she said that she loved the morsels so much she made a bread pudding—who would have ever thought to do that?”
Margot now works out of a commercial kitchen where her lifelong dream is in full swing. She employs five part-time workers who help with cooking and packaging, sometimes producing upwards of 1,000 bags a month. She incorporates a social responsibility element into the business by working with a nearby nonprofit to hire folks with disabilities. Together, Margot and her team bake and package intermittently throughout the week; on Thursdays, she whips up hot chocolate with marshmallows as a special treat. Finally, Margot is running the show precisely as she always wanted.
“Being ‘the boss’ is totally overrated,” she deadpans. “I worked at Angel Investors with Ron Conway years ago and those were long hours and hard work. What I didn’t factor in is how much harder it is at this age; I’m schlepping 20 pounds of morsels! I just dropped eight 20-pound boxes of morsels at UPS earlier today.”
The reach of Margot’s Morsels expands every month as Margot flexes her techniques as a former Silicon Valley sales shark to nab more shelf space across the country. She recently landed a contract with the gift basket company Spoonful of Comfort and added markets in Georgia, Oregon and Wyoming to the list of retailers. Having successfully launched a growing business during a period of economic constraints, Margot gazes towards the future with optimism.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of new business out of 2020. People have to be resourceful; I had to find another way to make a livelihood, and I really believe we’ll see a positive side,” she reasons. “Food startups in particular will probably do well; everybody is home, and everybody is eating.”