Mitchell Wolinsky (Chef Manolo) has been a Chili aficionado almost all his life. In 2011, when he and his wife, Yvette Donado were taste-testing Chilis from various brands all over the US, they found that almost all of them had some flaws to them. Some were expensive and bland, while others were cheap and would burn the stomach out. This drove them towards the idea of creating their own food. 

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(Photo of Chef Manolo’s Best Farmstand Chili. Courtesy of Mitchell Wolinsky)

To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.  

        Wolinsky came up with a formula that would satisfy the needs of every eater on the planet. He created his own plant-based versions of Chili soup which were vegan and free of the Big-8 allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, and soy) that are typically found in majority of the food choices available in the market these days and are automatically a big no-no for people allergic to them. Chef Manolo’s Best Farmstand Chili Original Cinnamon and Roasted Sweet Potato Soup are the perfect solutions for those looking to eat healthy, vegan, allergen-free, extremely low sodium, and intensely delicious food that can be consumed during anytime of the year. You can consume them like a standalone soup, have them with bread, rice, pasta, use them as a gravy base, and more. Vegans allergic to soy usually have a hard time finding food options in the market without soy. Well, Chef Manolo’s Chili Soups speak loud and clear - “Yo soy ‘No Soy!’”

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(Yo soy, “No soy”! Photo of Chef Manolo’s Best Farmstand Chili Original Cinnamon Chili and Roasted Sweet Potato Soup. Courtesy of Mitchell Wolinsky)

The Journey so far.

        Chef Manolo’s Journey takes us back in 1975 to the phase of his life when he was getting his business degree in Transportation & Management from the University of Maryland, College Park and was exploring different kinds of foods around. He and his friends were interesting in buying a food franchise but they figured that almost all the franchises back then were more expensive than their investment budget. This led him to wonder why there wasn’t any good franchise like McDonald’s that would serve Chili and be as popular as Italian or Mexican food to the masses. Decades later, when he came up with his own Chili recipes, his wife would take some of the food he made to her office and everyone around would be spellbound, getting lured towards the inviting aroma of the food. People would suggest him to make it for everyone and sell it. Initially skeptical about starting a business, Chef Manolo took his wife’s advice and started making Chili for charity campaigns. It picked up among the masses so quickly that they would sell one unit every minute. “As soon as I would set a table, it would sell,” said Wolinsky. This happened year after year and one day, he realized that although he loved doing it for charity, he did not find the challenge in it to keep him motivated for long. This was the moment when his wife challenged him to monetize it and make a business around it as he had always wanted to help more people and provide them with better health and nutrition. 

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(Photo of Mitchell Wolinsky with Chef Manolo’s Best Farmstand Chili. Courtesy of Mitchell Wolinsky)

        With the vision of making an affordable food option while using the best ingredients and having the greatest taste that would satisfy everyone’s nutritional needs, Mitchell Wolinsky started Chef Manolo’s Best. “You must have unwavering faith and belief in your vision,” said Wolinsky, “The first thing majority of the people do is lose faith in their own ability, in the intention of others, and primarily in their own will. I believe in what Jefferson said, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’”

The new needs friends.

    While Chef Manolo was laying out the foundations of his business, he went around making friends with people who would give him the essential feedback about his food and the venture. He was suggested by his consultant friends that he needed more experience and education about how a food business works. So he started attending food entrepreneurship seminars in New Jersey and went to places where he would get to see various entrepreneurs pitch to venture capitalists. He would hang out in food laboratories exploring and learning about the techniques that would help him commercialize his recipes. “You can’t take a recipe from home and scale it. You have to take it from home, do the commercial transition, and then test it so so many times that it becomes something you almost can’t enjoy. You have to make so many varieties and you have to make copious notes and records of everything. We created thirteen recipes. To taste thirteen is impossible. I did that every week for a year and a half. I rented these commercial kitchens and worked with so many different people. Working in balance with everyone is a big challenge,” Wolinsky said.

        In time, “Manolo’s Best” competed for the prepared foods section at the Whole Foods Market and eventually got in. “We celebrated that as our first victory. After that, I had to learn about merchandising. When you’re involved in the science and the creation and the cooking, you don’t think about how you merchandise it. So I went around and studied that,” said Wolinsky.

       In order to learn more about growing his business and building a brand, Wolinsky got in touch with Michael Dermer, legendary author of The Lonely Entrepreneur. “Michael put order out of the chaos of my life as an entrepreneur. He put the process into my company and built me up as a calm and organized entrepreneur,” said Wolinsky. He also got business advice from Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking and founder of The Oratory Project. “Matt raises my game in business. He’s so smart. When he advises, I value every word. He and Michael would call me every day when I was on the go delivering the food to so many stores across the States,” said Wolinsky.

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(Photo of Mitchell Wolinsky with his wife, Yvette Donado. Courtesy of Mitchell Wolinsky)

        Wolinsky credits all his success to his friends, employees, and family. He is very thankful to his wife for supporting him through everything and introducing him to a whole new world of diversity and inclusion. Also to his brothers who always inspired him to take risks and do his own thing and not to forget, his oldest friend who successfully fought cancer multiple times, and to the people who have given him so much love and support throughout his journey. “Never be afraid to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you are not an intelligent person. A sign of intelligence is the person who raises a question,” said Wolinsky.

Do good, and you’ll be good.

        Wolinsky believes in the power of giving and helping others. “Matt Eventoff always tells me to do good and I’ll always do good in life,” said Wolinsky, who is an avid supporter of the Yellow Ribbon Fund making journeys to Bethesda, Maryland to supply food to both veterans and their caregivers. Even during this time of the current pandemic, Wolinsky and his wife are on the front line of helping people and doing charity work. “Helping others doesn’t take anything away from my life. In fact, its additive. All you have to do is open your heart and mind to the world. Doesn’t cost you anything. It doesn’t take away food from your plate to help somebody.” 

Advice for the young food entrepreneurs.

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(Mom and kid sampling Chef Manolo’s Best Farmstand Chili at a Whole Foods store. Courtesy of Mitchell Wolinsky)

        When asked about the most important lesson that Wolinsky learned in Chef Manolo’s journey, he advised that people willing to start a food business should not be delusional and think that their food is going to be popular among the masses just because they and some of their friends and family members think its killer. “You have to be realistic and prove your concept. Give your food away for free and don’t take people’s opinions as personal. Be kind and giving and take feedback from others as much as possible, regardless of how positive or negative it is. Invest in dialog, take lessons from it, and improvise,” said Wolinsky, who still samples his food at over sixty Whole Foods stores on the East Coast that Chef Manolo’s Best is in. 

Wrapping it up.

        Mitchell Wolinsky is very friendly and down to earth. His story is very inspiring and he is still working during this time of the pandemic to make sure that people have healthy, nutritious, and tasty food options available to them. Chef Manolo’s Best Farmstand Chili Original Cinnamon and Roasted Sweet Potato Soup are definitely two of the best and versatile food options in the market that satisfy the essential needs of every eater. They are available to buy at over sixty Whole Foods Market stores on the East Coast and can be bought online via Amazon Prime (Whole Foods). If your residence is in the vicinity of a Whole Foods store, Amazon Prime delivers them within two hours after placing an order. Chef Manolo’s Best is certified by vegan.org and is also a member of the “Shop with your Heart” program by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty with Animals (ASPCA). When asked about the music he loves, he claimed to be a big fan of Neil Young, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Yes. “I’m all about energy,” Wolinsky said, “It gives me the juice to carry on.”