How Late July and Cape Cod Potato Chips Helped Shape Her Business Today
How Late July and Cape Cod Potato Chips Helped Shape Her Business Today

"The most important step in starting your company is just a step, but you have to start." 

- Nicole Dawes

Nicole Dawes is no stranger to revolutionizing the food industry. Growing up amidst her mother’s natural food store and her father’s Cape Cod Potato Chips factory in the 1970s, Nicole knew that she was destined to create a lasting impact in the natural products industry. In 2003, she founded Late July Snacks, pioneering one of the first brands to carry the USDA Organic seal, and adding an exciting option to the food industry that both tasted great and helped consumers live a healthier life.

In this discussion, Nicole talks to Elizabeth about her entrepreneurial journey, sharing the highs and lows of building Late July and navigating its eventual sale. She talks about her new business, Nixie, and what makes this sparkling water stand out from the crowd. She shares great advice about team building and creating a company culture, and how we can make organic and sustainable food and beverages more accessible, one refreshing sip at a time.



    Elizabeth Stein 00:00
    Hi everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Nicole Dawes. Founder and CEO of Late July and Nixie. Growing up on the counter of her mother's natural food store in the 1970s on the factory floor of her father's company, Cape Cod potato chips, Nicole knew that becoming a natural products entrepreneur was her destiny. In 2003, Nicole founded Late July Snacks, one of the first brands to carry the USDA Organic seal. Nicole has dedicated her life to transforming the food industry by creating delicious organic options. Now Nicole is proud to bring you Nixie so you can trust that the sparkling water you've been buying for you and your family isn't made with synthetic solvents, carriers, or artificial preservatives. In this episode, we talk all about Nicole's entrepreneurial journey from a young age to building in Late July and eventually selling to Snyder's. Nicole shares all about the roller coaster moments of her first business, working with her dad, what it was like selling and now starting the second time around. Tips for leading her team over the years and how she takes care of herself and her family while balancing it all. I had so much fun catching up with Nicole and hearing all of her stories, I could totally relate. Keep listening to learn more. If you haven't had the chance to try our grain-free granolas yet, head on over to Walmart to now find them in the gluten-free Healthy Living aisle and select Walmart locations. Our grain-free granola has crunchy clusters of nets, super fruit seeds, and creamy nut butter, all baked with organic coconut oil and sweetened with coconut sugar. They are gluten-free, paleo, and keto certified, use the link in the notes section to find Purely Elizabeth products at a Walmart store near you. Nicole, welcome to the podcast. It's so great to have you on as we were just saying before we started recording, it's so wonderful to speak with another founder and you are someone who I have just admired so much in the industry, you are an OG, one of the first brands in organic. And you've done it once. And now you're doing it again and just an incredible female founder and CEO. So, welcome.

    Nicole Dawes 02:40
    Oh, thank you so much for having me, I've been looking forward to this. It's just such a treat to get to talk to another founder. And obviously, I'm such a huge fan of yours. It makes this even more special.

    Elizabeth Stein 02:53
    So fun. We always start the podcast with your beginning journey. But your beginning journey started in childhood with both of your parents. So I'd love for you to take us back to your childhood and what it was like with a father in the food manufacturing business and a mother in the natural food space.

    Nicole Dawes 03:12
    I feel grateful for the background that I had because it influenced me in so many ways to do what I'm doing today. But my mom had a health food store in the 70s. So much of how I feel about my relationship with food and my relationship with sustainable food in particular, I got from those early days hanging out in my mom's natural food store. It's interesting, though, it influenced me in other profound ways, which was, my dad was a real foodie. He started Cape Cod potato chips. My dad was the person who would go to eight different stores if that's what it took to make whatever recipe that he was working on. And the one thing that I never could wrap my head around about my mom's natural food store was everything looked bland and tasted a little bit bland. The big treat in my childhood was carob-covered rice cakes and tempeh sandwiches.

    Elizabeth Stein 04:16
    And was your dad into eating all of that?

    Nicole Dawes 04:17
    No, he wasn't. He was supportive of my mom. He liked the idea of healthy food and caring about what you eat. But he loved to create different recipes. And he was really into the way the food tasted and how you combine different ingredients. And whereas my mom was more focused on just the health and sourcing. And we were macrobiotic, even for a while. It's just like they approach it from two very different places. Foodies in different ways. They had the same goals everyone wanted fresh, healthy food, but my mom was focused on health exclusively and my dad was more focused on taste and freshness. The other thing that I never really appreciated as a child was just because I want to eat organic and I want to eat healthy. That doesn’t mean I want my packaging to be bland and the graphics to look like round cardboard boxes. I appreciate fun packaging. I don't think those things have to be linked. For so many years in the natural product space, it's burlap and cardboard. And that's what natural products were associated with. As I look back at this combined experience from the counter of my mom's natural food store to my dad's potential company, my takeaway was to make foods healthy, make them organic, but also make them beautiful, and make them as delicious as possible, because there's nothing that sets back at the natural foods movement more than when products taste bad. That's a step in the wrong direction. So, I have built my career around making organic sustainable foods, and beverages as delicious as possible to try to bring more people into our movement. And because overall, that helps grow the mission. And people love the way it tastes.

    Elizabeth Stein 06:20
    Absolutely could not agree more. It's all about like not having that trade-off. Didn't have to be a trade-off.

    Nicole Dawes 06:25
    No, it absolutely shouldn't be a trade-off, because you're going to lose people in the long run.

    Elizabeth Stein 06:29
    Totally. And it's certainly in a much better place than it is today. Even when I started in 2009, my reasoning for getting into it was gluten-free. It was such a trade-off that you had to make with not only ingredients but taste and all the things.

    Nicole Dawes 06:48
    Oh, absolutely. And people settled for that because there was nothing else available. If you were trying to follow a specific diet or you were putting the environment first, you're willing to make those trade-offs. But to make that tent as big as possible, there can't be a trade-off.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:08
    Yeah. Was your dad always in food? Who started in the industry first? Your mom with the store, or your dad?

    Nicole Dawes 07:18
    My mom. My dad was somebody who was always going to be an entrepreneur of some kind. He was a really interesting person, he put himself through college working on a fishing boat, where he also was the cook on a fishing boat. He hitchhiked from Massachusetts to Alaska to work on another fishing boat. But then he ended up with this friend who didn't get the job. So instead of him doing the one fishing job and his friend doing a different job, they both just became firefighters.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:50
    Change of events.

    Nicole Dawes 07:52
    Yeah, he did not follow a straight line with his career path. But he was always interested in food. He loves to cook. And because my mom had the health food store, he saw the same thing I did, which is like everything in there was just bland and boring. And he felt potato chips were something that just should be natural. There's no reason to use a bad oil, there's no reason to add strange ingredients to it. The whole idea behind Cape Cod potato chips was that it was just all-natural, with very clean ingredients, a simple recipe, handmade, and the best potato chips. That was his whole idea. He wasn't guided by health necessarily, but he was guided by clean ingredients. And just simplifying the process of doing by hand and craft and putting that care into what the product tasted like. My mom was first in the food world. But my dad, again, was destined to be an entrepreneur. We didn't have any money. A small natural food store in the 70s was in the…

    Elizabeth Stein 09:12
    … Cape Cod, nonetheless.

    Nicole Dawes 09:15
    It was not. And my dad had done a bunch of different jobs when he got the harebrained idea to start a potato chip company. It was a terrible disaster at first. Honestly, it could have gone out of business at any moment in those first few months. And I'm pretty sure everyone in my family's life was convinced that this was the worst thing that my dad had ever done because they had a child, they had no money and he was now risking whatever little money they had on a potato chip company, which back then people didn't do that.

    Elizabeth Stein 09:52
    What year was this that he started?

    Nicole Dawes 09:55
    He launched on July 4th, 1980. It wasn't like there were a million little craft CPG companies back then, that just wasn't a thing that people did particularly also on Cape Cod. But it wasn't an overnight success, to say the least.

    Elizabeth Stein 10:16
    So was that part of the naming of Late July, having anything to do with that?

    Nicole Dawes 10:21
    My dad had another company called Chatham Village Foods, and he'd always use geographic names for his companies. And I love that because I love the Cape, it's where I'm from. It is where I am right now and consider myself an ocean person. And I feel very lucky that this is my home. But I also feel like part of what makes it special is it's summer. So when I was trying to encapsulate that feeling of what makes this such a special place to me, Late July was that moment. It's that sweet spot of summer. If you're a kid, you're not thinking to go back to school yet. But you're also in the groove of summer, so you're finally a little bit relaxed. My husband's from New Orleans, and we work together. And New Orleans doesn't have that same feeling about Late July, because it's hot. But as I was talking to him about it, even in a place like New Orleans in Late July, we're not talking Cape Cod level, in the weather department. But you're taking extra time off, you're spending more time with your family and friends, and if you're a kid, you're still out of school. So even if you don't have the Cape Cod summer experience, Late July is still a special moment for most people. That's why we went with it.

    Elizabeth Stein 11:37
    Absolutely. All right, so you are growing up in this foodie world. And from what age did you say to yourself, I'm going to start a food company? Or what was that like?

    Nicole Dawes 11:51
    In hindsight, I always knew it was what I wanted to do. Cape Cod potato chips, I think of it like a sibling I grew up with.

    Elizabeth Stein 12:04
    Did you grow up working there?

    Nicole Dawes 12:07
    I mean to the extent that a little kid would. I was there all time because my parents didn't have help with me. And they both worked there. Eventually, my mom went to work there, too. So it was just I was always there. I don't know I loved that place. It felt like home. So I had my first food company when I was 12. I started a cookie company with my best friend. And we had a customer, which is a deli in our town. You won’t believe is like a thing, but we used to deliver twice a week to this deli, and they would sell our chocolate chip cookies at the register. My dad helped me work out the margin. And we figured out what to charge, we kept all the books, I mean I had the P&L, the whole thing,

    Elizabeth Stein 12:57
    That's amazing.

    Nicole Dawes 12:58
    I don't know. I love the occasions around food. I feel like the fact that we can make a product that people go and enjoy with their family and friends and you're like a special part of their life, it's just such a cool thing. But that's what I get to do for my job. I don’t know if I always knew this is what I wanted to do, but I never seriously considered anything else.

    Elizabeth Stein 13:24
    Totally. Every time you go to the store and see your product on the shelf, do you still get excited by it?

    Nicole Dawes 13:30
    Yes. I get so excited. And the funny thing is my dad passed away quite a while ago now. But there are some stores where I'll go and I'll see Late July and Nixie and Cape Cod potato chips, and even Chatham village foods. It just makes me feel close to him. And if I ever see anyone buying one of my products, oh…

    Elizabeth Stein 13:58
    Do you say something to them? Or did you just watch it?

    Nicole Dawes 14:01
    If I have coupons with me, I do. Because I love to give people a coupon to get it for free and I happen to see it. But I don't think people realize how grateful as a founder we are for every single time someone purchases our product. I don’t take any single purchase for granted. Every time someone chooses to buy my product at the store, that is so huge. And if I see it, yes. I try not to be too much of a stalker, but…

    Elizabeth Stein 14:36
    but it is. I feel like every time you say it's like the first time that I've seen it like it's on the shelf. Oh my god. Someone's putting it in their cart.

    Nicole Dawes 14:45
    And honestly, I do that with friend companies too. If I see a big display for a friend or if I see somebody buying it, I'll text them. Even with Late July, even though I sold it, I'm so proud of that company. I still feel super proud every time I see it anywhere someone buying it.

    Elizabeth Stein 15:10
    As you should. It's an incredible business that you built and sold. Let's get into a little bit about the beginning of Late July. I didn't realize that you started with crackers. So I'm curious to hear because we too, did not start with granola and people are always surprised to hear, “Whoa, what did you start with?” So I'm curious to hear how or why you went from just doing crackers into chips becoming such a big piece of the business.

    Nicole Dawes 15:41
    It was a very interesting evolution. First of all, snack food and potato chips are obviously what I know. But my dad was very apprehensive about me going back into snacks. It's just a really tough business.

    Elizabeth Stein 15:56
    Was he like, what are you doing starting your own company, to begin with, or he was supportive?

    Nicole Dawes 16:01
    No, he was super supportive of that. But he was nervous. He liked the cracker category because it wasn't as competitive as chips, it was a little more forgiving. And the reason we started with crackers is I was pregnant with my son who's 21, this summer. I was living in New York City, and I was wandering around looking for crackers because I wanted organic saltines. In my neighborhood in New York, I had four natural food stores in very close proximity.

    Elizabeth Stein 16:33
    Where were you living?

    Nicole Dawes 16:35
    I was living on 13th Street, right in the Union Square area. None of them had organic crackers of any kind. I explored the category more in-depth. And not only did they not have organic, it was like the aisle that time forgot. It was like you walked around the perimeter. And there was all this beautiful organic produce and organic dairy, and then you walk down the cracker aisle. And it was I'd walked back into a time machine in my mom's 1970s natural food store. And I was like, what is happening in this aisle? Why does everything look and taste bad? And it's also not organic. They weren't even using organic anything. So, I realized that I'd stumbled into an opening. And as you know, the most important step in starting your company is just a step. You're gonna pivot, you're gonna evolve.

    Elizabeth Stein 17:36
    You don't need to have the whole business plan.

    Nicole Dawes 17:39
    Yeah. But you got to start. You somehow got to start. To me, this was my opportunity. It was a real need I had. And I figured, if I have this need, other people will too. So lucky for me, that was the thing people wanted. It was so funny, though, when we launched, we had this beautiful packaging, and our products I thought tasted like regular crackers that you would buy in the conventional aisle. They were crispy, and all the things that you wanted. And one of the first things people wrote about in Late July, was that column that used to be called supermarket sampler. And one of the people who were like the junk food junkie, half of the team, said, “What was Nicola Bernard Dawes thinking?” she named dropped me. And said, “No one who buys natural foods wants them to taste conventional. These should have hemp or ginseng in them or something. And I'm thinking, first of all, it's so insulting and completely unnecessary. I’m a new entrepreneur and I just started this company. But also, so not true.

    Elizabeth Stein 18:50
    Like the exact opposite.

    Nicole Dawes 18:53
    Yeah, just because I want to eat sustainably, doesn't mean that I don't want to taste delicious and look pretty. But honestly, was like, am I the only one? Does no one else feel this way?

    Elizabeth Stein 19:05
    Must’ve been pretty insulting early on.

    Nicole Dawes 19:09
    It was almost immediately. But then Florence Fabricant, who was the food writer at The New York Times did a big pretty piece on us. And I was, okay, not everyone agrees with that. And then the reason we pivoted into chips was because I had my second son, who ended up having some pretty serious food allergies. He was anaphylactic to peanuts and tree nuts. I'm also lactose intolerant. I felt like crackers could not be inclusive foods without doing things that they didn't want. You had to make some modifications that I thought made them taste bad. I thought it was very difficult to make them full food for everybody without doing things to them that I didn't like. Whereas when you use corn, you can easily make things gluten-free, you can easily make things allergy free. And to me, this felt like a great extension of what I wanted Late July to be, which was a company for everybody that cared about things I cared about. And it allowed me to make inclusive products, and almost anybody could eat. And it fits with our mission of being healthy, delicious, and also organic.

    Elizabeth Stein 20:36
    I've heard that you're one of the first brands to utilize the USDA Organic symbol. Especially corn tortillas having organic in that category must have been huge.

    Nicole Dawes 20:52
    Yeah, we launched with the seal. We didn't have the USDA Organic seal on our products. And it was interesting because when we first started, it was really hard to get certified organic ingredients. After all, we were launching all together with the seal. And it was very limited, we had to do a ton of intense R&D for things that should be simple, but wasn't because no one else was doing it. As a consumer, you wouldn't know how hard the R&D was, because it wasn't something you could see. But just like the dough conditioners, we couldn't use in flour, and organic flour changes its percentage of the whey protein present. Every batch is a little different, but you can't use a lot of the processing aids that conventional can use. But a consumer doesn't see that.

    Elizabeth Stein 21:51
    Or even understand how hard it is just to get the organic ingredient. Period.

    Nicole Dawes 21:57
    It's interesting because it was new. Organic is such a complicated concept for some people too. All naturals are easy to understand, even non-GMO is a little easier to understand. There was just so much confusion around what it meant initially. And I remember we were doing a parade one time, and we were handing out crackers. I heard a mom tell her kid, “Oh, no, we don't eat organic in our family.” It's just like a lot of that in the early days when they didn’t understand what it meant. And that's true with organic in general. We still have such a long way to go to help people understand why it's important, why to do it, and what it's for. Because it is a little bit of a tricky concept.

    Elizabeth Stein 22:44
    Yeah, it is. And now you're adding regenerative organic to it, which is also making it complicated and a whole other conversation.

    Nicole Dawes 22:53
    Yeah, I don't think we have time for this.

    Elizabeth Stein 22:56
    No. That's like a part two.

    Nicole Dawes 22:59
    Yeah, for sure.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:00
    Since the beginning, Purely Elizabeth has been committed to the healing power of food. We believe there's a direct connection between the health of our farms and soil and the health of our food. That is why I'm so excited to announce our newest product launching. Our number one selling original Ancient Grain Granola is now available in an 18-ounce value size made with regenerative organic certified coconut oil and coconut sugar. For those who are not familiar with regenerative agriculture, it focuses on improving soil health, which is known to help improve crop yields, biodiversity, carbon emissions, and water conservation. You can find our value size at your local Whole Foods Market or on our website at If you're interested in learning more about our sustainability journey and how it impacts the delicious food you enjoy, please visit purely Enjoy. So as you were building the brand, we were talking about this before we got started, was there a moment where there was a real pivotal point where you were like, we're gonna make it and this is going to be something massive? How are you envisioning it as you went along?

    Nicole Dawes 24:23
    As an entrepreneur, I tend to be very in the moment. Because you're in a constant state of triage. Every day, you just wake up and deal with whatever a million problems you have that day. You never know ahead of time. So that's why it's like literally you walk in and you're like, all right, let me see all the patients. At Late July, we had a lot of really early success right out of the gate, because we were the first. We got the national distribution of whole foods. Just so much stuff happened right away. And then not very similar to what we're experiencing now in this country, not pandemic. But we had a recession in 2009, and it was just a devastating year for Late July. Our growth slowed, almost stopped, and we had positive growth but it was a tough year. My father passed away, we had our loan call because of the death of a member clause in that loan. We weren't part of it. But there was a huge peanut butter recall. And because one of our products had peanut butter from shelves, it was one thing after another. One of our main ingredients burned in a warehouse fire. It just was every single possible thing that could go wrong in one year went wrong all in the same year.

    Elizabeth Stein 25:50
    And how did you deal with that?

    Nicole Dawes 25:54
    There's one thing that is just great entrepreneur advice. And how I dealt with that year, it was a Lincoln quote. It's like your commitment to success is what ultimately determines how successful you're going to be. And I put them in the same camp as you wake up every day and decide to have the day you want to have. Those are two things I live by. Even as bleak as it was that year, I don't think there was any moment where I ever said, we're done. Because I always knew that we would figure it out. We would just take the next step and the next step and the next step. And ultimately, we managed to get out of that year. That's when we decided to bet the entire company's future on the launch of the chips. And we honestly never looked back. It was like we went from our lowest point to our highest point within 12 months, essentially. You have to be like that to start a business, because so many terrible things happen daily, that you have to have that will to succeed. And you also cannot let the negativity ever take over. Because if you do, you're done.

    Elizabeth Stein 27:30
    It's almost like an American unrealistic optimism. But you have to be on the cusp of this crazy optimism that you just believe in it so strongly to your core that nothing standing in your way, like you said, it's just figuring out the next thing and the next thing.

    Nicole Dawes 27:50
    Yeah, it's true. I mean there's a little bit of delusional optimism, for sure. It's true. And the other thing, now that I'm on round two, is I realized that those instincts that we have. And whatever it is, you wake up, you solve your problems, whatever. Those aren't instincts anymore. You've been doing it for 14 years, I've been doing it for 20+ years. That's experience. We now have experience and it teaches us what to do next. Let's hope we've learned a thing or two. Because I also think that every entrepreneur year, it's like a dog year. I don't know if it's seven years, seven to one, but you pack it in in an entrepreneur year.

    Elizabeth Stein 28:42
    So you eventually go and sell the business and was that part of the plan? How did that happen? And what was that like for you selling your baby?

    Nicole Dawes 28:55
    It wasn't part of the plan. I never started a company with a plan to sell it. You shouldn't because you don't know what the future is gonna hold.

    Elizabeth Stein 29:02
    Did you have investors?

    Nicole Dawes 29:06
    We did. We had wonderful investors, just fantastic investors. We had a strategic investor, Snyder's the pretzel company. Then when they got bought by Campbell's, that was ultimately what precipitated our sale to Campbell's. I would have loved to keep the company, I love that company. And, when you sell a lot of times, you have to do a non-compete, but honestly, I don't even think they needed to let me do that because I didn't want to compete with that company. It's a perfect company. I want it to succeed. I don't want to make it not succeed. I root for it every single day. And it was such a strange transition to move on from Late July.

    Elizabeth Stein 29:54
    Did you move on right away or did you stay on…?

    Nicole Dawes 29:57
    I moved on pretty right away. That's what they want. I stayed for a couple of months, but…

    Elizabeth Stein 30:03
    Do you think that was easier looking back?

    Nicole Dawes 30:07
    Yeah. Because ultimately I'm probably not a big company person. They knew what they wanted to do.

    Elizabeth Stein 30:20
    I feel like it'd be so hard. In my head, I'm like, well, I want to stay on, but it would be so hard to see other people doing things with your baby.

    Nicole Dawes 30:28
    It depends on how you stay. If they want you to run it, that'd be one thing maybe. But if you're just more of a creative director, I think that’s when it gets tricky. As entrepreneurs, we have to recognize that we have strengths and weaknesses, and listening to other people might not be one of my strengths. I did start Nixie almost right away afterward. That's maybe the only thing I wish I'd waited taking a little bit of time off.

    Elizabeth Stein 30:57
    At what point did you have the idea for Nixie? And then how quickly after did you start?

    Nicole Dawes 31:01
    Almost right away. It took us a while to R&D and everything. But my husband and I have now worked together for so long. It's like you know all this stuff, it's I hate to waste. It took all these years to learn all these, I've made so many mistakes, I have to put those to work now. And a lot of our team, they weren't keeping either. We had some built-in employees. It took us a while to do the R&D and Nixie. We didn't hit shelves until December 2019, which was just in time. That was a fantastic little turn of events.

    Elizabeth Stein 31:51
    well, I love the brand that you have created. And I believe you guys use tarmac to do your design, which we use just to do our rebrand, a phenomenal job on that. It's a fabulous product that you have. Two things that you just said that I'd love to dive into. One is the mistakes and the lessons you've learned that you have now taken into Nixie. And the other one is about the team. And the fact that you've built an incredible business, built an incredible team and culture, and brought some of those people with you to Nixie, says so much about you. So, I'd love to hear that. Start with that, I'd love to hear about what you learned as a leader in Late July that you have brought to Nixie and any tips around leadership.

    Nicole Dawes 32:45
    It's such a different world than it used to be with hybrid work environments. One of the things I'm still trying to figure out is how you help nurture young talent in a hybrid environment.

    Elizabeth Stein 33:02
    what is your hybrid situation?

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