Lesley Stracks-Mullem Tackles a Tricky Work Life Balance

Last Updated March 26, 2018

Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours is the next stop on our tour of kick-ass women creating amazing experiences. Behind this growing company offering tours in nine different cities is Lesley Stracks-Mullem, leading 20 employees year round. You might think there couldn’t possibly be time for anything else in her schedule, but she’s also leading a young family.

So take notes, because Lesley knows keeping work and life in balance isn’t easy, but she’ll inspire you to give 100% day in, day out.

Taste CarolinaTell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
I have a background in hospitality but on the recreation side, like organizing sports leagues, fitness, art, and music classes, and planning events. I took my love of making people happy – by helping them play and learn – to food. It’s sort of the same concept… showing people a super fun time, but this time by feeding them delicious food and sharing information about where they are. After getting an MBA at UNC-Chapel Hill I wasn’t able to find a job. It was the 2008 recession, so I created this idea from scratch. I thought I was the first to think of it! Then I found out it existed all over the place, but mostly back then in larger cities. What started as a hobby, taking a couple of people around on food tours, has turned into a nine city venture all over North Carolina with 20 employees, almost all of whom are part-time tour guides. I grew up in Chicago and lived in Williamsburg, Virginia and Washington, DC before moving to Durham, North Carolina in 2006. My husband, Jeremy, teaches at Duke University, and we have one young son.

Being at the centre of a growing business can make the work/life balance a challenge for any business owner. We noticed on your social media that you have both. What advice would you give those who might be considering having both the business, and the family?

zekeThat’s a great question. I have one 7 year old son, and I’m lucky that I get to make my own schedule so that I can walk him to school and pick him up after school. I can also travel with my family without worrying too much about what I’m missing in the office. I always took the office with me on the road, and I still do, but now that I have a full-time employee I’m not as tied to it and can be more present on vacations. I have learned that it’s rare that I’m feeling good about both the time I’m spending on the business and with my family. One seems to suffer when the other gets busy. But I’m used to that now so I don’t beat myself up over it like I used to. The craziest example of this was when my husband suggested that I stay at work because there was a large tour that night. I said no, I wanted to be done with my planning and leave the office in time to pick up our son at camp. Then I totally forgot to pick him up. I always enjoyed working, and I still do, so I do the best I can while prioritizing my family. And I am responsible for the vibe of my company, so I expect that Taste Carolina employees will do the same with their own families.

Do you have any favourite time management hacks to share with our Eztix partner community?
No, can y’all share those with me?? I feel like I’m constantly flying without a time management plan.

Ok! We’ll add some time management hacks to our content plan!
Where do you see your business going next?
For the next couple of years I’m going to get used to running a larger business than what Taste Carolina was just six months ago. That means delegating more and being better organized by planning in advance. I’m constantly trying to put pieces together so that I’m more of an overall vision kind of leader rather than being responsible for day to day details. And my full-time employee, Sam Dinner (yes that’s her real last name!), has helped with that tremendously. After that I’ll consider expanding to two other cities I have in mind.

If you could sit down for coffee with any experience operator in the world, who would that be and what would you ask them?
I’d love to be able to have coffee regularly with Angela at Savor Seattle! She’s so much fun, and we have a lot in common in terms of running a business and having young kids, and I always enjoy catching up with her. Her incredible words of wisdom when I launched Taste Carolina nine years ago were invaluable, and every time I reach out to her about business she has the right answer to give me. What would I ask her if we could get together tomorrow? I’d ask her whether I should continue to invest in growing the business or concentrate more on making sure it’s currently stable and profitable.

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