1994: Tofu cheese and rock ‘n’ roll

Tofu cheese and rock ‘n’ roll

Santa Rosa Press Democrat Business section, Sept 18 1994, by Brad Bollinger.

What can you make of a guy who has an MBA, hair down below his shoulders and plays guest guitar with a band called the Pink Flamingos?

          A budding business star, according to Inc. magazine.

          The gleam in Inc.’s eye is Richard Rose, founder and chief executive of the $3 million Sharon’s Finest, maker of TofuRella (“tastes, melts, and stretches just like real cheese”).

          Inc. featured the story of Rose and his Santa Rosa company as part of its cover feature on “America’s leading bootstrappers —  great companies started with less than $1,000.” (Sharon’s Finest was started with $400).

          The magazine recalled that a few years ago Rose’s company was picked by a Sonoma County business group to receive a year’s worth of banking, marketing, accounting and management advice for free. Rose put on a tie for the occasion. But, as the magazine, since sales of his tofu-based alternative cheeses have taken off, so has the tie.

          “I cut off my hair and wore suits and stuff for a couple of years,” Rose told the September issue of Inc. “I thought I needed to do that to make it in the business world. And it didn’t work. So I went back to plan B, and that was to be myself. And it’s working fine.”

          So what does it mean to “be myself?”

          It means getting a gorgeous photograph taken for a national business magazine in a purple tank top and shorts, electric guitar slung over the shoulder. The full-page exposure has people in the health-food industry proclaiming Rose as their “poster boy.”

          It means telling the world what a shameless ploy you used to drum up business. For Rose, it was stuffing suggestion boxes at health food stores asking for more, more, more TofuRella. “Friends were (and are) expected to do the same,” Rose said.

          Finally, it means living your dreams — one of which was to play guitar in a band.

          He found the band. Having once sat in on guitar for the Pink Flamingos, the chemistry between him and the band clicked. So Rose joined the 14-piece show band for a recent 3½ week tour.

          Of course, it’s not the Rolling Stones tour. The Pinks Flamingos played at the New Hampshire Auto dealers convention. But as Rose probably knows, dreams like being a rock ‘n’ roll star seldom come to people exactly as they imagine them. So he’s just going with it — and having the time of his life.

          “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to play with a bunch of good musicians,” he said.

          Beyond practicing his guitar licks, playing with the Pink Flamingos has had some unexpected side benefits to his business.

          One practical result: Rose figures he saved $4,000 on the design and construction of a Sharon’s Finest trade show booth because of lighting and other staging techniques he learned from the Pink Flamingos.

          Less tangible was the “energy and increased focus” he had after the 3½ weeks on the road. The result, Rose said, was a quick roll out of Sharon’s Finest’s newest product, HempRella made from hemp seeds.

          Rose said the experience taught him that when you’re stuck in a rut, break out. Do something — anything. Go sit on top of Half Dome. Drive a race car. Sky dive. But just don’t do what you’ve always done.

          “The tour shifted my typical thought patterns.”

          When you’re in business, Rose has found, it’s better to search out your own new perspectives. Otherwise, when you least expect it, your competitors might provide them for you.

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