The Profile Dossier: Stacy Madison, the Creator of a Pita Chip Empire
Stacy Madison's name is synonymous with one of the most popular snack brands in the country: Stacy's Pita Chips. But Stacy's pita chip empire wasn't an obvious success story.
Madison began her career as a social worker who worked at a shelter for homeless pregnant women struggling with drug addiction. When she began dating a psychologist named Mark Andrus, the pair decided to move from Boston to Hawaii. They worked out a deal with a roommate to pay lower rent in exchange for cooking her dinner every night.
Madison began working at a restaurant and helped management open a second location. She thought her career in the restaurant industry was taking off when she was abruptly fired. Devastated, she had a lightbulb moment: "Ultimately, I circled back and thought, 'If I can work this hard for someone else, then why can't I do it for myself?'"
Even though Andrus was getting his doctorate in clinical psychology, he told Madison he always wanted to be a chef. So they returned to Boston in 1996, got married the following year, and decided to try their hand at a venture in the food business.
They invested $5,000 into a food cart, registration, supplies, and signage. They began selling pita sandwiches from a converted hot dog cart that they named "Stacy's D'Lites." "It was basically a chicken caesar wrapped in a piece of pita bread," Madison says.
The sandwiches were a hit, largely thanks to the fresh pita bread they ordered from a local bakery every morning. At the end of the day, they asked themselves, "What should we do with all this extra bread we have left over?"
"We didn't want to use it a second day because it wasn't as pliable to roll the pita sandwiches, so we would cut it up and bake it into different-flavored chips," she says.
Initially, Madison and Andrus began giving away the chips for free in hopes of keeping customers happy as they waited in line at the food cart during the busy lunch rush. People loved the pita chips so much that they expressed interest in paying for them.
This is the moment when the two business partners discovered that they had a side hustle within a side hustle. They could package the pita chips, create a brand, and scale it into something meaningful.
That's how Stacy's Pita Chips were born. Madison and Andrus self-funded their small venture, and grew the brand from two people and $19,000 in annual revenue to 300 employees and $65 million in annual revenue in a matter of nine years.
That's when PepsiCo came knocking. The corporate behemoth acquired Stacy's Pita Chips for an eye-popping $250 million in 2005. How did she know it was the right time to sell the company?
"It was life-changing money," Madison says. "But even though we loved this business and we loved running it, at a point, the tables turn, and the business starts to run you. It was the perfect time to sell."
Here's what we can learn from Madison on the power of branding, the art of the pivot, and why big things often start really, really small.