Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
As you know, I love sharing midlife reinvention stories that inspire women to live their best possible life over 50. Today Sabrina shares how she turned redundancy into an opportunity to follow her dream of setting up her own business .
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am Sabrina Zeif. I live with my husband and rascal rescue dog, Billy, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, for the past nineteen years. I am originally from Trinidad in the Caribbean and have lived in Texas, New Orleans, San Francisco and Switzerland. Our daughter just had her first baby. I am a very smitten “Nana”.
What were your main activities before turning 50?
Before turning 50, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 25 years. My last role was as a Business Development and Account manager.
What have been your main activities since turning 50?
I was made redundant at 51. I have focused on the food industry and now specialise in women’s health and nutrition, specifically for peri-menopausal and menopausal women, as The Midlife Food Guru.
What prompted you to start your business/ take up the challenge/follow your dream.
Redundancy and menopause kicked me up the butt! I have always dreamed of running my own business. Menopause had a profound effect on my life during my late 40’s and early 50’s. I wished I had known what I know now, and hence it has been my passion and drive to educate as many women as possible to navigate the hormonal upheaval which hits us at midlife.
Starting my first business at 52
How old were you when you started?
I started my first business at 52. After redundancy, to my family’s amusement, I told them that I was taking a gap year as I had never had one. Unbeknownst to me, I had been suffering from a plethora of menopause symptoms which only seem to get worse during my gap year. My year ‘off’ was spent taking business courses, networking and developing a business plan for my first business, Kitchen Thyme.
Did you have to take any courses or training to do this?
I took as many free courses on starting and setting up a business – How to start a business, Business Planning, and Social Media set up. I joined various Networking Groups. I took courses in Women’s health and Diet Specialist, followed by a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy. I am currently doing a diploma in Culinary Medicine, and because I am a glutton for punishment, I am studying for an Advanced Gut Restoration diploma.
What does your business / dream /job/challenge look like today?
Helping more women to understand the power of using food to support a healthy menopause. There’s a lot of buzz around menopause and midlife now, and that’s a fantastic thing. Social media is awash with food photography that looks so good you want to eat it. However, as a society, ready-made, processed foods have taken the place of real foods. My business challenge is to show how going back to basics and eating and preparing natural foods can make a massive difference in our lives. Our midlife is a perfect time to take stock of our diet and make meaningful changes to prepare for the best years yet to come. A little bit of knowledge is power.
Empowering women to make changes in their lives
What has been the best aspect of your journey so far?
Empowering women to make changes in their lives and hearing about the good results afterwards. It’s gratifying when I hear back from a client or someone from social media who have tired one of my tips or suggestions, and it changed the way they feel, eat, cook and even shop.
Realising that After 50 is fabulous!
What was /is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear was that at 51 that I was redundant in every sense of the word. Who was going to hire a 50 something? I questioned my skills and my inability to focus on a business idea right there and then. I look back now and know that redundancy was the best thing that could have happened to me after 50. It pushed me to take risks and challenged me into incredibly unknown depths; however, my inert determination pummeled me forward. Each time I fell, I got up, learnt from that experience and moved ahead.
Did anybody in particular inspire you?
My parents are the first people that come to mind. My Dad taught me to always get up when I fall down and never give up. He faced many challenges and obstacles, and he never gave up, even up to the day he died. My mother from whom I learnt the skills of cooking real food. She worked full time and always cooked from scratch using fresh ingredients, which my Dad and I would buy at the market every Sunday.
What difference has it made to your life?
It has prepared me for every stage in my life, particularly to not let failure get me down because it’s part of life and use it as a learning experience. The food aspect has always been powerful and a massive passion of mine, so to take that and turn it into something positive has been amazing. It’s vital that what I offer is meaningful, and it empowers and makes a difference to others.
The challenge of starting a new career over 50
What challenges did you initially face? How did you overcome them?
I was used to being Superwoman – managing family, work and life with clockwork precision. After redundancy with all the time on my hands, I was suddenly exhausted in the afternoons, and I was having trouble focusing. I had difficulty remembering what I had read five minutes before. I started to doubt my capabilities and my confidence. How on earth was I supposed to start a business? So my biggest challenge was starting a new career in my 50’s taking a passion for food and turning it into a viable business.
Educating myself about menopause and nutrition allowed me to make the changes I needed to get to grips with the hormone upheaval. I forged ahead with dogged determination and started my business with a Fine Dining Supper club, and the rest is history.
Imposter syndrome was another challenge that so many midlife women struggle with. I had to dig deep, believe in myself and overcome that feeling. If I fell that I lacked any knowledge or skill, then I found a course, person or opportunity to upskill myself. Sometimes I needed to be reminded that I already had that knowledge and expertise.
How did the opportunity come about?
I started where I knew I had good transferable experience from my 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry- networking and building relationships to create opportunities. I went looking for opportunities and used my skills and knowledge of networking and the art of selling myself to create new connections in the food industry.For example, I met a Chef who became my mentor; through networking and going to Food Speciality Shows, I met my Food Marketing Advisor, who got me signed on as a Simply Good Food TV Chef through my urging. Peter Sidwell, the founder of SGFTV, who as another Chef mentor, gave me the idea of working with women my age and The Menopause Chef was borne.
Initially, to fund my business, I tapped into business courses and Start-Up grants funded by the local council in partnership with the European Union.
What other opportunities have materialised as a result?
I’ve been very lucky that one thing has led to another over the past 6 years. Connections have led me to new endeavours and eventually to what I do now.
I’ve been a Chef on Simply Good Food TV and appeared on the chef stage at the BBC Children in Need Car Fest. I taught a cooking class at Google, and I have been a Judge at The Quality Food Awards and Grocers Own Food Awards. I have had the privilege to be a guest speaker at NHS Menopause day, have featured in magazines alongside menopause specialists, have been invited to BBC Radio Shropshire interviews, and created The Menopause Chef. My recipes have featured in Megs Menopause, and I have been a food expert for Live Better with Menopause. I have trained a nutritionist team for a menopause company, delivered nutrition talks at menopause retreats and provided the nutrition content for an online menopause course.
As the MidlifeFood Guru, I have written the nutrition section for the book Natural Menopause by Dr Anne Henderson, Consultant. I am the Food Expert for The Menopause Room on Instagram & Facebook.
Which of your previous experiences (if any) did you draw upon the most?
I have always challenged my self to do things that I have aspired too, even if they made me uncomfortable.
What are your next steps?
Writing a midlife and menopause cookbook. I am collaborating with a GP Menopause Specialist to provide Menopause Nutrition Clinics to Midlife women. I am also creating an online course to empower women around the world to take charge of their nutrition. If you’re interested in knowing more, get in touch for a chat. firstname.lastname@example.org
How have friends and family reacted?
My family and friends have been supportive.
I try not to have regrets but to look at things as an opportunity to learn and reflect. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and this is my time.
What 3 tips would you give other women over 50 looking to do something similar?
Believe in yourself and take the plunge. Sometimes in life, you have to take calculated risks.
Stop talking about your ideas start doing something about them.
DREAM BIG! Most women don’t dream big enough.
A little bit more about you……
I love to cook and entertain friends and family, so lockdown has been disastrous for me. I can spend a whole week planning a menu for guests and two days with shopping prep and cooking. I enjoy it. I cook when I am happy or frustrated. If my husband finds the house without food, then he knows he’s in some sort of trouble.
I am not a very good baker as I am prone to not follow recipes. I am an intuitive cook. Very difficult when you are trying to write a cookbook. I tell all my students and clients to use recipes as a guide and make that dish their own. Cooking with herbs and spices comes naturally to me as I have always been interested in other cultures, so I experiment with flavours. I love to empower others to take ordinary everyday food and make them unique.
I love Caribbean music and dancing in the street at Carnival time with a drink in hand, of course.
I believe my difference is my biggest asset.
All time favourite book or film?
I do not have a favourite book. Though I have a library of cookbooks, books on nutrition and menopause.
How would you describe your own style?
Easy going, Fun-loving, Spirited.
Three words that sum up your life over 50
Reinvented, Feisty, Confident.