How This NYCB Dancer Became a Snack Entrepreneur

Though Jenelle Manzi had a snack bar company in the works for years before the pandemic hit, the time has proven perfect for bringing her first product to market.

Photos courtesy Manzi

Dancer Jenelle Manzi did not start planning her new snack bar company Get Golden during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the worldwide shutdown—especially for performing arts professions—did accelerate bringing her product to market.

“It’s a little bit of a slice of guiding light,” says Manzi, in a year that she and her New York City Ballet colleagues have spent mostly offstage.

The kernel for Get Golden grew from Manzi’s gluten-free baking blog that she launched years ago. Baking healthy, gluten-free alternatives to her favorite treats crystallized into a formal business plan in the past two years, after one of her colleagues casually mentioned on a NYCB tour bus that Manzi should sell her popular snacks.

Fast-forward from that lightbulb moment: Get Golden launched its first product, a bar called “Savor,” in August 2020, and Manzi has big dreams for what’s next. Though she rarely talks about life post-dancing, she says she wants to slowly grow the company into a positive brand that reaches as many people as possible through its tasty, healthy products.

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From Blog to Business Plan: Manzi followed in female entrepreneurs’ footsteps. 

As the idea for Get Golden grew over the past several years, Manzi looked to other female entrepreneurs she met at trade events like Cherry Bombe magazine’s Jubilee, a daylong event with female founders and chefs hosting booths and panels. In fact, one of the panel speakers, Emshika Alberini, is now her mentor. Manzi is inspired by Cherry Bombe editorial director Kerry Diamond, and did plenty of homework on other entrepreneurs. “I’ve probably listened to every single founder podcast there is,” she says. “I find topics that I need to learn or want to know more about and I either sign up for newsletters or order books.”

Immersed in those podcasts, books and ideas, Manzi expanded a loose flowchart she had for potential business ideas into a formal, written business plan with a budget—a document that keeps evolving. “Every moment of starting a company is, you know what you’re doing for 30 seconds and all of a sudden there’s another fire alarm. And then you know what you’re doing again. It’s like a roller coaster,” she says.

Bake and Batch: Manzi tweaked her home recipe to box and sell at scale.

Manzi made the first iterations of the Savor bar—which is packed with tasty nuts and seeds that are held together by a delicious, sticky concoction she calls turmeric coconut butter “caramel”—in a toaster oven in her NYC home. “My oven was really temperamental in my old apartment. I didn’t have a functioning oven, which was hysterical because I’m a baker,” she says with a laugh.

While Manzi’s initial plan was to make the bars in batches at home and sell them at farmers markets, Manzi says that her long-term goals grew more ambitious when she raised funding from a friends-and-family round. “I wanted to be able to dance and make a product and create a brand. So the way to do that was find a facility and build a small team to be able to execute all the necessary things that need to be done,” she says.

Manzi signed the papers for her LLC two years ago and at that point started testing commercial kitchens, first using her own savings to travel and to order samples from those food-manufacturing facilities. In bringing her product to scale, she felt that keeping the whole, natural ingredients without any additives was a must. The only tweaks to her recipe ended up being altering the liquid and solid ratios, which she learned was not normally the case for home bakers turned entrepreneurs. “One of the guys that works in the kitchen at our facility just told me, ‘How did you make this formula? You did really well!’” she recalls.

Building a Team: Manzi curated a specialized support system.

With her initial funding round, Manzi was able to hire a support team: a product manager, a UX web developer, a product photographer, a social media manager, a creative director, an investor relations specialist and a San Francisco–based strategy team. From trademarking her brand to meeting necessary FDA label standards, she started with her own reading and research and called in necessary help when getting deeper into finances, taxes and legalities. “I would say having a good lawyer, an accountant and trusted financial advisors are all nonnegotiables when it comes to starting a business,” says Manzi.

The Road Ahead: Get Golden goes retail, with more to come.

Given the pandemic, Manzi didn’t plan any in-person events for her late-August launch date, instead opting for a direct-to-consumer online sales model. She branded goodies like stickers and artist-designed postcards to inspire positivity. “COVID has been shocking for everyone,” says Manzi, “so we wanted to make the unboxing experience similar to that of a care package.”

In October, the Savor bars hit their first retail shelf, at Pop Up Grocer in NYC’s Williamsburg neighborhood. “They are truly a one-stop shop for a ton of brands that I look up to, and I’m over the moon that Get Golden will now be included,” she says.

Without having to juggle a normally packed schedule of rehearsals, Manzi has more time than usual to focus on her business. NYCB canceled its remaining 2020 onstage programming—no fall season, no Nutcracker. But with the (hopeful) return of performances in 2021, Manzi plans to keep dancing while growing Get Golden through more sales channels and product lines. “My smile is stretched from ear to ear just thinking about it,” she says. “All I will say is, here we go!”

Hannah Foster is a dancer and an arts and culture writer in NYC.