We had the good fortune of connecting with Jen and Warren Simmons and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jen and Warren, do you have a budget?
Since my husband and I are business partners, I have to answer this question on behalf of both of us, and we couldn’t be more different with our personal finances! To start, I should say that, honoring my request, Warren and I keep all of our personal finances and accounts separate, and that is indeed what we’ve done for our nearly 10 years of marriage. Also, neither one of us has any debt except for our mortgages which we are accelerating to finish much more quickly than the due date. So, onto how we make lifestyle and spending decisions . . .

I live and die by the YNAB (“You Need a Budget”) system and app, and I’ve been using it since 2015. Outside of the business that we own together, we are both Project Managers in our day jobs, and I firmly believe in the expression, “What gets measured, gets managed.” YNAB is an app that lets me budget into categories that I created (and I can edit, add, or delete), and input my expenditures from my phone, on-the-go, in real-time. Every dollar is accounted for, and if I go over in a category, I can quickly move money and shift priorities from one category to the next. Now, Warren finds this level of money management tedious, and his is done in his head. He somehow just has an internal meter that tells him out of his bank balance, how much he should be spending for groceries or clothes, etc . . . I guess my internal meter isn’t that strong, and I like to manage my spending to the dollar, individual category by individual category! I am also a fan of the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps, and I’m on Baby Step 6. Ironically, Warren is also on BS6, but he doesn’t think in terms of the Baby Steps.

I get really excited for budgeting my paycheck with YNAB every two weeks. It’s a fresh start, a chance to set priorities and put money behind those priorities. In essence, I have a conversation with myself and a look-ahead every two weeks, and then I budget within YNAB ​for what I know is coming down the pike, including putting money into savings.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Warren is a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech and a heck of an Engineer. He is a Project Manager in the Construction industry. I (Jen) have an MPH and an MBA, and I am a Project Manager at the CDC. We absolutely love our careers and don’t intend to leave them until retirement. However, in 2020, a year that brought surprises of all types, we took the leap to also become entrepreneurs with our side business, Charleston & Church and our Cheese Rounds.

We just came to market and started selling Cheese Rounds in May 2020, and I honestly think it’s been so smooth for us to learn everything we’ve had to learn quickly because of our experience as Project Managers. It’s really been integral to us being able to hit the ground running, moving from winning Flavor of Georgia in October 2020 to now being sold widely in the marketplace. Warren and I are both very organized, and used to running multiple projects and putting out fires daily in our careers. As an Engineer by training, Warren is much more detail-oriented than I am, and he’s the one keeping multiple spreadsheets with detailed formulas that make my head spin! My shade of Project Management focuses on relationship-building which sometimes is undervalued or overlooked at the expense of more technical skills. But to me, relationships are paramount to project management and to running a business. I do all of the communication with customers and all of the marketing.

The technical and financial sides of entrepreneurship have to be balanced with relationship-building. They operate synchronously for long-term success for both us and our customers. So, Warren and I bring our individual Project Management skills from our careers into this business, and we balance each other very nicely. Our Project Management skills that we’ve utilized for years have served us really well in this new space of food entrepreneurship. It’s actually been a lot easier than we thought it would be and has really felt very organic to us.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Exploring Atlanta–where to begin? Let’s start with food! For dinner, we’d have to treat a visitor to Atlanta’s classic restaurant, Bones. Also, we also love Petite Violette for amazing French food, so we’d go there one night for dinner, as well. For breakfast, Flying Biscuit is consistently yummy, and our new brunch favorite is Snooze A.M. For lunch, we’re dying to try Lamb Shack, which is a “ghost kitchen” out of Kyma that serves authentic Greek food, so we’d definitely hit up that spot one day!

One morning, we’d grab coffee at Banjo Coffee in Avondale Estates and head to the Beltine to get some steps. I’m sure once we get to Ponce City Market, we’d stop there to walk around and show them all the shops and the fun food hall.

If we should find ourselves on the North side of Atlanta, coffee at Cloudland Coffee in Johns Creek is a must. Then we’d head to the beautiful Avalon in Alpharetta to stroll around and shop.

For a taste of the Atlanta nightlife, we would have to bring friends to an Electric Avenue concert, which is our favorite 80’s tribute band, hands-down. When they say they provide “The MTV Experience,” they truly deliver. Also, because Warren and I met at 10 High, the tiny basement concert venue at Dark Horse Tavern in VAHi, we’d find a show to go to at 10 High since it’s near and dear to us!

Of course, we couldn’t let guests come to Atlanta and not experience a Braves game if it’s baseball season, so we also would take them to Truist Park.

Finally, if our guests brought dogs, as dog parents ourselves we would have to bring them to the “dog beach” at the Morningside Nature Preserve so they can roll around in the sand and then cool off in the water!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?

When we won the Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest in October 2020 with a great recipe but no actual business experience except testing the waters at one Farmer’s Market, we had to suddenly come to market which meants finding a production kitchen, making sales, figuring out fulfillment, bookkeeping, invoicing, marketing, and everything else you can think that needs to be done as an entrepreneur. Both Warren and I are W2 employees in our primary jobs. We have always worked for someone, but now we had to very quickly learn how to have and to manage own company. We want to shoutout to the following amazing​people and businesses for helping this happen:

* Warren’s grandmother, DeDe, who taught him to cook as a child and whose base recipe he worked from to tweak into our Cheese Round product. She passed in 2001, and we hope she is able to see our success from above and know that she is the reason for it.

* Dr. Sharon Kane and the rest of the fine folks at the University of Georgia who pulled off virtually hosting the Flavor of Georgia Contest even in an unprecedented Pandemic year. This contest​, and Dr. Kane’s mentorship throughout ​the application process to connecting us with sales channels after winning, has been invaluable!

* PREP Kitchens, our production facility who also assists with procurement and made our licensing process so easy.

* Aub Sauce, Banjo Coffee, Cloudland Coffee, Georgia Crafted, Maybird Confections, Regina’s Farm Kitchen–all fellow local Georgia small food and beverage entrepreneurs who always have answered questions we have, and we still continue to pick their brains!

* PKG, our packaging company for our beautiful stand-up pouches and for the graphic design assistance whenever needed.

* Elena Petrova, our photographer, for her gorgeous photos that almost make you taste our Cheese Rounds off of the photo alone!

* Our parents and siblings and other friends and family members who have been so supportive and proud of us throughout the whole process of winning the Flavor of Georgia, coming to market, and now being sold in 27 retail locations in the state and across the Southeast region.

Website: www.charlestonandchurch.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/charlestonandchurch

Image Credits
Elena Petrova (@petrovaelenaphoto)

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