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Photo courtesy of Julianne Gauron.
Photo courtesy of Julianne Gauron.

Balanced Hustler: Meet Emily Kanter of Cambridge Naturals

7 min read

Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.

The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.

To kick it off, I chatted with Emily Kanter, second generation co-owner of Boston-based Cambridge Naturals. I asked her how she manages working with her husband on their business, and what sacrifices she’s made to make it all succeed. I think you’ll be inspired by her answers and get some tips for your journey as well!

From L: Michael Kanter and Elizabeth Stagl, the original founders of Cambridge Naturals (and Emily Kanter’s parents), in front of the shop’s first location with Emily and her husband Caleb Dean, the second-generation co-owners.

Fast Facts: Emily Kanter

When did you launch your business?

My parents started Cambridge Naturals in 1974. My husband Caleb and I opened the second location in 2018.

In one sentence, tell us why you started Cambridge Naturals.

My parents founded Cambridge Naturals to provide resources for deep health and wellness to their local community and to be part of the movement building a more fair and equitable world.

Are you growing your business to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?

We are not growing our business to sell. The business has grown as our passion for the work we do has grown. Being locally owned and independent is very important to who we are as a business and a large part of why people love shopping with us. That being said, we would certainly consider options down the road, including ESOP [employee stock ownership plan] models.

This is one of my many dream jobs. Someday I’d also love to be a writer, a podcast host and a farmer. My goal, since my early 20s, has always been to have a career that challenges me on a daily basis to learn and grow and become a better leader in whatever role I inhabit—and my job at Cambridge Naturals is just that, every single day.

How many hours a week do you work when you started vs now?

Four years ago when we first moved back [to Boston to take over the business] it was 80+; now it’s closer to 40-50+.

How many employees do you have?

35 including Caleb and I, and my parents.

What two business goals do you have for 2019?

Invest in the tools and systems to begin Open Book Management with our team. Streamline the operations of two locations.

Emily and Caleb in front of the second Cambridge Naturals location in Boston Landing.

How Emily Balances the Hustle

Emily, you and your husband just opened up a second location for Cambridge Naturals. Why now?

For years, we’ve had customers asking us to open up closer to their neighborhood. At the same time, we had amazing and dedicated employees asking for opportunities to grow with us as an organization. We felt that the timing was right to begin building the business outwards in order to continue to thrive and build on our 45-year-old brand.

You have two businesses open seven days a week. Are you able to take time off on a weekly basis?

Yes and no. Time “off” is sometimes a misnomer—when we’re home (or even in the middle of the woods) we may still be working, if an urgent call comes in, or if there’s a time-sensitive challenge we need to discuss. We do try to take one day a week to really pull away from the daily needs of the business, and on a daily basis we try to get a few hours to ourselves to not talk about work.

How did you balance sustaining the business of Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square (original location) while building out, designing and opening up CN in Boston Landing?

We’re lucky to have a truly incredible team. Our managers really stepped up to make sure that Porter Square was running smoothly and that the team was fully supported. There were hiccups along the way, but we felt very confident that we would get through the rough spots because of our team. Lesson? Invest in your people.

Being so busy with two retail locations… something has got to give. What is something you are determined to improve?

Fitness, for sure. Walking every day is so important to me (both for physical and mental health) and there were weeks at a time during the second store opening when I didn’t have the opportunity to get out for a walk. Recently, I’ve re-prioritized that personal health time, and also time to spend on creative side projects.

Your husband is also your business partner. How are you able to separate personal from professional? What boundaries have you put in place to try to keep both relationships healthy?

We have a “no talking about difficult work situations after dinner” rule. We (I) have a tendency to worry and endlessly process challenging situations and interactions. Especially if it’s an employee who’s unhappy or a difficult customer interaction that went wrong.

So Caleb instituted this rule and it’s been incredibly helpful. We try to keep the evenings for relaxation time. We also don’t talk about work when we’re out to dinner or on a date, unless it’s talking about exciting and/or creative ideas for the future.

I think being an entrepreneur takes a lot of mental stamina. It can be very emotional building something you are so passionate about. How do you stay sane and emotionally healthy on a journey filled with ups and downs?

I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout my adult life, and running a business with my family (while totally wonderful! exciting! amazing!) hasn’t exactly always been a walk in the park, so over the years I’ve developed a pretty solid toolkit for managing my personal stress levels. There are several things that I find incredibly helpful to balancing the ups and downs:

  1. Kava Kava. This herb (it’s a root actually) is an incredibly powerful stress support supplement. No joke, I carry a bottle with me nearly everywhere I go, and take a dropper-full when I’m feeling an acute sense of anxiety, including spiraling thoughts. It tastes pretty terrible, and works like a charm.
  2. Long walks. This is my exercise of choice, and I find it the most effective tool for relaxing my body and mind.
  3. Listening to podcasts or reading books that are funny, fascinating and totally unrelated to my work! Taking a step outside my work-life and my industry has helped me reframe the challenges I’m facing and gives me a broader perspective.
Cambridge Naturals’ co-owners with Boston’s mayor, Marty Walsh, at the grand opening of the Boston Landing store.

Emily’s Tips for Entrepreneurs

What is something I didn’t ask you about being an entrepreneur, about the journey/hustle that you wish I had?

Being an entrepreneur and/or business owner is almost always a choice, and in many ways, it’s a privilege. Nobody forced me to take this path. While it may be an incredibly challenging, lonely and exhausting job, I try to keep that in perspective and remind myself of the amazing privilege it is to do this work.

What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

Find a business coach and/or build a team of trusted advisors with experience outside your industry!

I pride myself on my hustle, my girt, my perseverance. It’s something that has served me well as an entrepreneur, and has helped me manage success. However, being in the wellness industry, I know how important it is to try to balance all that passion and drive with self-care and down time to recoup. I have to balance the hustle. I believe in the hustle, but my journey (and research ;-)) has taught me I need to be balanced with it. What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?

I try to keep in mind Benjamin Zander’s Rule Number 6: Not taking myself too f*cking seriously. 😉


Looking for more tips from female founders? Check out our Women We’re Watching series.


About The Author

Gianne Doherty

Gianne Doherty

Gianne Doherty is an inspirational and educational speaker, clean beauty advocate, co-founder of Organic Bath Co. and founder of WELL Summit. You can find her on Instagram @wellsummit and @giannedoherty. Her weekly series, Balanced Hustler, on WELL Insiders is a deep dive into entrepreneurship.

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