Nicole Cogan turned her dietary restrictions into a business opportunity.
While working in finance at JP Morgan, Cogan loved to take clients out to eat. However, she struggled to find items on menus that fit her gluten-, dairy- and soy-free dietary limits.
Realizing others probably had the same problem, she started Instagramming menu items that fit her diet. When her posts blew up in popularity (this fall @nobreadnyc has about 10,000 Instagram followers with roughly 400 new ones per week), she started a blog to share restrictive diet menu options she found around New York City.
Cogan, 25, enjoyed her job at JP Morgan, but she knew she found her true calling and left finance this past June to pursue it full-time.
"Once I realized that I'd rather be in restaurants than at a desk, I knew I had to change," Cogan said. "And then I saw the traction that NOBREAD was getting on social media and the growth on my blog and I realized, 'Wow, I really do have a great idea.'"
The gluten-free movement has exploded in recent years, thanks in part to more people realizing the protein, which is prevalent in breads, pastas and processed foods, makes them feel sick, Cogan said.
"For people like myself who are allergic or intolerant to it, the body's response to gluten is just to be enflamed and in a state of shock," Cogan explained.
To find gluten-free options, Cogan started reaching out to New York restaurants to ask about their menus. Then she hired a web developer in Las Vegas to build a website to share what she found. On Oct. 1st, she launched NOBREADNYC.com.
Among its features, NOBREAD offers customized gluten-free menus along with restaurant profiles and reviews. Since its debut, the website averages about 1,000-2,000 page views a day.
Beyond New York, Cogan also started expanding NOBREAD to the Hamptons and Montauk, and she plans to launch in Los Angeles in the next six months.
Despite this quick success, starting a business is not without its challenges. Unlike many startups which rely on investor funding, Cogan paid for hers with money she saved while working in finance. To turn a profit, she does consulting for gluten-free brands and hospitality groups.
While at JP Morgan she could call up an IT Desk with technical problems, Cogan now has to solve problems herself and work around a three-hour time difference from her web developer.
But when she's sitting around a table with CEOs and CFOs of worldwide hospitality groups, the challenges are worth it, she said.
"I think my favorite part is the fact that I'm doing it alone," Cogan said. "And the response in New York has been so great and so overwhelming that I want to get [NOBREAD] in as many cities as possible, as soon as possible."