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Smiling Through The Storm: Embracing Challenges and Growth In the Fort Wayne Food Industry, Smile More Meal Prep and Catering’s Redemption Story

In the world of Entrepreneur these two owner learned how to run a growing company that started from nothing. Joanna Hersey and Terel Lynn are the founders and owner of Smile more meal prep and catering a Fort Wayne local Business.
Founder and Owner: Joanna Hersey and Terrel Lynn

The Entrepreneurial Story of Joanna Hersey & Terel Lynn

In the world of entrepreneurship, resilience is the key to overcoming adversity and achieving success. The journey from hardship to triumph is a test of character, where entrepreneurs must navigate the twists and turns of fate with unwavering commitment to their company. Terel Lynn and Joanna Hersey, the entrepreneurs behind Smile More Meal Prep and Catering, have experienced the peaks of success and the valleys of adversity throughout their entrepreneurial journey. At the inception of their business, they witnessed impeccable growth beyond their wildest dreams. However, with rapid growth, challenges are often lurking on the horizon. As they outgrew their shared commercial kitchen space and ventured into their own location, unforeseen construction delays plunged the company into financial hardship. Today, we embark on a journey into the story of Smile More Meal Prep and Catering, unraveling their trials and triumphs as they gear up for a remarkable comeback story like no other. As we explore their remarkable journey, it is essential that we take a look back at the formative years that shaped their passion for culinary excellence, business innovation, and resilience to keep pushing forward.

Terel Lynn is a successful entrepreneur in the food industry. Terel lynn start his food career when him and his partner decided to start Smile More Meal Prep and Catering located in Fort Wayne, Indiana!

Terel Lynn was born in Michigan, but at the age of three, his family moved to Fort Wayne. When describing what it was like for him growing up, he said,

"I came from a very messed up background. I was born in Michigan and moved to Fort Wayne when I was three. We were poor and lived in section 8 housing on the south side of town, where I've spent most of my life. I was always the fat kid and always wondered about my place in the world and where I fit in. I was never the popular kid, but everyone knew who I was because I hung out with everyone no matter who they were or what they looked like. Growing up was tough for me. There were six kids in our family in a single-mom household. We kind of raised ourselves because my mom had to work a lot to make sure we could pay the bills. I started working when I was 12 years old. I had a paper route, and I remember going through the streets of my neighborhood on the south side of town in the beautiful '07, doing my route and finding jobs wherever I could. I played sports at South Side High School like most kids, but at the end of the day, I've always loved cooking. Cooking has been my life. I remember sitting at family gatherings, watching my uncle or grandma cook for everybody, seeing everyone smile and laugh, and having a good time no matter what they were going through in life. From an early age, I told my friends that I would one day be a rock star or a chef; there was no option C."

After graduating from South Side, Terel went on to study communications at IPFW, now known as Purdue Fort Wayne (PFW). After receiving his degree, Lynn ventured into the world of sales, working for several companies before settling down at PFW as a recruiter. Around this time, Terel would meet Joanna for the first time, but before we get into the details of how they came together, let's take a moment to step back and explore Joanna's early years.

Joanna Hersey started her entrepreneur journey when her and her partner started Smile More Meal Prep and Catering. She started this company by taking the risk of going into the unknown. She bring tons of value when it comes to growing a business.

Joanna Hersey was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. When describing her childhood, she said,

"I grew up in the metro Detroit area until I was 15. I grew up with three other siblings in a conservative/religious household where my father was a pastor for 18 years, and a commission-only salesman, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. I was in and out of homeschool and private Christian schools. I was part of a home school band, art class, and math class which college professors taught in the evening. Homeschooling allowed me to excel in academics. When I was 15, going into my sophomore year of high school, my parents divorced, and I moved with my mom and two siblings to Huntington, Indiana. That was the biggest culture shock of my life. In the neighborhood I grew up in, I was the minority. Then I moved to this tiny town, which was completely different from anything I had ever experienced before. At the time, I was bitter and resentful for where my life had taken me, but looking back on it, it just opened up other doors that I'm really grateful for at this time of my life. For example, instead of enrolling me in Huntington North High School, my mother enrolled me in early entry classes at Huntington University. So, I did marching band at Huntington North High School, took a minimum of 2-3 college classes at Huntington University, and then homeschooled for whatever wasn't being covered. By doing that, when I graduated high school, I was already a sophomore in college. When we moved to Huntington, my mom had not worked in 18 years, so for a while, it was hard for her to find something to provide for us kids so I started working from a young age to help pay for my college education and books."

When Joanna was still in college, she got a job at Valbruna Slater Stainless Steel on Taylor Street as a storeroom attendant. After two years, Hersey changed careers and started working at Tippmann Sports. During her time at Tippmann Sports, Joanna was simultaneously working on her health. She explained that she had been working out after her shifts and then going home and trying to cook healthy meals. She was beginning to feel overwhelmed by how exhausting it was to think of new healthy meals after a long day of work and a session at the gym. This was when a coworker talked to her about meal prepping. The thought of only having to cook for one day a week and be prepared for the entire week ahead with pre-thought-out healthy meals was very appealing to her. She started to try it, which was around when she and Terel met.

Terel and Joanna's first encounter was through Tinder. After their first date, they hit it off and continued to see each other. Over time, Terel started to see Joanna's meal-prepping journey, and at this time, Joanna was primarily a vegetarian, so he would jokingly tell her after she made something that 'it needs some meat in it.' Soon, they combined forces and began to meal prep together every week, and that, combined with exercise, helped them both lose a significant amount of weight. Their friends and family began to notice what they were doing and asked Terel and Joanna to make meals for them too, and after trying their meals, they continued to hear comments like 'Oh, I would pay for a service like this!' With this seed planted in their heads and a vacation with friends planned, the concept of creating Smile More Meal Prep and Catering was just around the corner.

Joanna Hersey is a business owner that is growing her company in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The food industry is competitive in a growing city that loves its food. Smile More Meal Prep and Cater is making its mark when it come to the Fort Wayne food industry.

In May 2019, Joanna and Terel were on vacation with a group of friends in South Carolina at Hilton Head Island. One evening, during a heart-to-heart conversation, Terel expressed that he would be 30 soon and had always imagined that he would have his own business by then. Joanna responded by saying they should start the meal prep business, Terel should quit his job at PFW, and she would support them. At this time, Joanna was now working for Trinity Health, and she felt confident that they could start this business together. Two months later, on July 28th, 2019, Smile More Meal Prep was officially open for business.

In the two months leading up to their official opening date Terel and Joanna worked tirelessly to get the groundwork of the business ready. Terel came up with the name Smile More based on his childhood memories of going to family gatherings and seeing everyone so happy while eating good food. He said he used to wish he could bottle up all that joy and give it to others so they could 'smile more.' Joanna added that the name represented smiling more because of eating good food and the amount of time their clients would have back if they didn't have to plan for every meal they would have throughout their week. Next, they had their logo created, a website put together, and rented out a space at a shared commercial kitchen to get started. Within the first week after they launched the company, they already had 11 customers, which equated to 89 meals, and before they knew it, they were averaging 800 items per week. We asked them what the most challenging part was initially, and Terel said,

"Not knowing what we were doing, that was a big challenge. We were kind of winging it. We knew I was a good salesperson, we had a great working relationship, and we knew what the other person was good at. We did our best to continue to grow the business while trying to manage our relationship, and that was tough. Being in a relationship and running a business together is probably in the top three hardest things I've ever tried to do. You make so many sacrifices, and our relationship was a sacrifice we made for the business."

Joanna added to this by saying,

"There was no work-life balance. That was definitely a huge challenge, but when I think about those really early days of Smile More, a huge challenge was trying to find the most efficient way to do things because we launched it pretty quickly. We had this saying early on that we would do better the next week than the week prior. It was constant in the kitchen. After a weekend, we would debrief what went well and what didn't, talk with the team about ideas, and have them implemented the next week. We were growing quickly organically; we did not put a penny towards marketing. It was organic growth through social media and word of mouth, and we were growing constantly, so it was just trying to keep up. Building and adding to a team, training them, and creating tools for the business took hours upon hours to create."

Meal preping for the family or for yourself can be hard and time consuming. If you’re busy with work, have a family, or just want to take a break from cooking. Check out this local meal preparation that Smile More does in Fort Wayne, IN.

We asked what the business structure looked like when they first launched. Joanna told us that the menu they started with allowed customers to choose one protein and two sides from an established list for their meals, but they had to commit to three weeks at a time. As growth continued to rise, COVID quickly approached the United States, threatening to shut down all businesses worldwide. Once the COVID shutdown took place, Smile More was put on pause, and Terel and Joanna took that time to work on the company. Once they got back into the kitchen, they removed the three-week commitment portion of the business model and started allowing customers to purchase meals for however long they needed. With individually packaged meals becoming more popular due to COVID regulations, the company's growth continued to rise. As regulations started to loosen, Smile More was still growing, and at the peak of their success, they had 55 employees working with them to get meals to customers. Within that first year, they also started to offer catering services, which helped the company grow tremendously. With this growth, Terel and Joanna could do what they have always been passionate about: giving back to the community. They frequently gave out free meals to those in need, gave away leftover food to families, purchased backpacks and school supplies for kids, and adopted families to give them gifts during the holidays.

Although growth is essential in any industry, challenges are bound to follow when it happens rapidly. With the number of items they were creating and the space they needed to store their food, they were quickly outgrowing the shared commercial kitchen they were at. It was also getting costly and cutting into their profits. With this knowledge in mind, Joanna and Terel ventured out to look for a location they could call their own. They knew they needed a location for a large commercial kitchen, but they were also looking for a building that would allow them to offer a space for a community center. With their realtor's help, they found an old school building at the end of 2021 that they were able to lease a floor in to create the perfect new location for Smile More. The building is located at 2310 Weisser Park Ave. 

Trek Lynn is one of the owners of Smile More Meal Prep and Catering in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As he continues to learn the food industries he will continue to grow his company and be a competitor in Fort Wayne food.

Now that they had their new building, renovations began with the expectation that it would be ready for them to transfer from their current location to the new building within six months. Due to constant delays for various reasons, the construction process took two years. During that time, Terel and Joanna were paying not only for the new building but also their very high monthly rent at the shared kitchen, causing their funds to dwindle. As time progressed and delays continued, they were forced to put their meal prep services on hold and focus primarily on catering. With no additional funds available, they also had to stop giving back to the community, which was incredibly hard for them to do. Throughout this time, things became very hard for Terel and Joanna. They had to reduce staff drastically and oftentimes spend money from their personal accounts to keep the business going. On the brink of bankruptcy, Terel and Joanna refused to quit. They knew this business was everything they ever dreamed of, and if they kept pushing forward, they would eventually get back on top. Finally, in August 2023, they moved into their new building, and now it was time to start rebuilding their company from the ground up.

After getting into their kitchen, they relaunched their meal prep service with a new twist. When we asked what meal prep looks like today, Joanna said,

"I like to describe it like the Crumble Cookie method. Where it's a brand new menu every week with no guarantee that any meal will ever be repeated, so if you want to try this item, now may be your only chance. We have people order one of everything because they don't want to miss their opportunity."

Today, Smile More offers more than just meal prep and catering services. They are also incorporating cooking classes, providing affordable kitchen space to other culinary businesses, and finding new ways to best utilize their building to help the community. Although they can finally use their new space, several areas of the building still need to be completed due to needing more funds. To try to get the final renovations completed, Terel and Joanna launched an IndieGoGo campaign offering special perks to those willing to donate towards helping them complete the building.

When it come to the Fort Wayne food industry you have to competive to stand out. Smile more food is some of the best food in Fort Wayne for catering and Meal Prep. If your looking to plan your next meal for an event or wedding make sure to let Terel Lynn know how he can help if your located in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

When we asked Terel and Joanna what their hopes are for the company's future, Joanna said,

"The hope for the future is to once again have a profitable and thriving business that we both have a passion for. I think that was a problem in the beginning where we had something successful, very marketable, and something people wanted, but we lost our passion for it. That's why we started in the first place, to pursue our passions. I guess I just want my cake and eat it too. I want success, and I want to love doing it at the same time. We're branching out this year into stuff we've never done before. Such as our cooking classes, and we're planning to do cooking classes for kids. Getting into Lasus has been a fun and challenging journey because this is our first time in retail. I'm excited to keep looking for new, exciting, and challenging ventures for the business. We're not ready to give up."

Terel followed up by saying,

"I want to be able to continue doing what we're doing. I can't do 9-5. I just can't. I'm not built for it. I was just never fulfilled in a job, and this fulfills me. Having Joanna as a business partner, I would never want someone else. It's our ying and yang thing. Being such a dreamer, I need someone to help bring me down, and for her, she needs someone to come in and sprinkle a little bit of that fairy dust and say, 'Let's fly a little bit.' Ultimately, I want a space that gives back to the community. I want our spot to grow and continue doing what we do best: putting smiles on faces. What we're going through now is our minor setback for a major comeback, and that's what we are building. I'm not ready to die yet, and I feel like if this ends, a piece of me will die with the company, and I'm ready for one hell of a comeback story."

Meal Preparation is one of the hardest things of you are an entrepreneur, workaholic, or just have a growing family and just want some of your time back to the long days. Joanna Hersey owner of Smile More Meal is here to help if your looking to cater or meal prep in the Fort Wayne area.

Terel and Joanna's unwavering commitment to Smile More Meal Prep and Catering has been the driving force behind the company's resilience during the most challenging times. Their passion for what they have built together has fueled their determination for an incredible comeback. As entrepreneurs, they have embraced the inevitability of business hardships, using these challenges to refine their skills and emerge as exceptional business owners. Together, Terel and Joanna exemplify the power of perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity, showcasing that with determination and a shared vision, success is always within reach for Smile More. When we asked what advice they would give to other entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business, Terel said,

"I would tell them you have to want it. I know that sounds so cliche, but you have to want it more than anyone around you. It's hard, and you have to be disciplined. If the people around you want your success more than you do, you will fail. You have to want it for you. Every day you take a step forward is a step in a positive direction."

Joanna finished it out by saying,

"He's 100% right. There have been times when I've only kept going because of Terel, but what I've always told other people is that when something needs to get done, I just do it. You can't think about the hours. You can't. When I think back to my most miserable times in the business, I was counting my hours. You think, 'Oh my god, I've worked 85 hours this week,' and you immediately feel exhausted. So, if something needs to be done, do it and don't think about it. Being a business owner is a ton of work. You have to grind and grind and grind. Most small businesses don't turn a profit until their fifth year, so you have to think: are you prepared to grind for five years? The best thing to do is to not think about the hours you're doing, and hopefully, one day, you'll lift your head up and see what beautiful thing you've created."

Fort Wayne Business Journal shares stories of local business and entrepreneurs that are located in Fort Wayne, Indiana! We are a growing business hoping to help and inspire other founders or entrepreneurs that loves to growing businesses.

We want to send a huge thank you to Terel and Joanna. The vulnerability they had while sharing their story with us has forever left an impact on me. The passion and love they have for their company is what will guide them to their greatest comeback.

If you would like to donate towards their IndieGoGo campaign, click this link

to see what perks you can enjoy simply by supporting a local Fort Wayne business. We would also like to thank Nike with Creative Roots Media for capturing the photos you see throughout the article. If you would like to read more stories of the amazing entrepreneurs helping shape Fort Wayne, one business at a time, subscribe to our newsletter so you're always aware of what's happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal. 


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