Sydney Karmes-Wainer once had an unhealthy obsession with social media’s diet culture. Today, she’s on a mission to share real, nutritious, and delicious food with snack lovers everywhere.
French Squirrel began as a food-focused Instagram page where Sydney would share original recipes for protein-packed treats. Her “Berets” — coated in 100% pure cacao — captured the hearts and stomachs of scrollers around the world. With encouragement from family and colleagues, Sydney turned her popular bites into a full-fledged business.
Recently, we caught up with Sydney to learn more about her journey and hear her advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
01 Why did you start French Squirrel?
At the time, there were a lot of so-called healthy snacks that were still loaded with preservatives, emulsifiers, and stabilizers. I couldn’t find products made with real, whole food ingredients that didn’t compromise on quality, so I created my own.
After falling trap to diet culture and mixed messaging around health and wellness, I started my French Squirrel Instagram account, documenting my healing journey around food and exercise while studying in Bordeaux, France. While living in France, I learned the importance of quality foods and mindfulness around eating.
French Squirrel is named after my late French grandmother, Sarah. She would always pronounce the word “squirrel” in the cutest way. That’s how French Squirrel was born and it is my commitment to never compromise on quality, just like the French.
02 What obstacles did you face along the way?
Scaling – it’s a blessing and a curse. It is so amazing to see the growth that French Squirrel has had in such a small period of time. However, growth also brings challenges like wider distribution, freight, production increases, packaging changes, and more.
I am grateful for the obstacles because they are all learning lessons. As a small (but growing!) squirrel in the large food space, I am always explaining that French Squirrel does not compromise on quality. Quality is more important than price to us, and we’re always coming back to the why. Our goal is to make people happy with real, good-for-you ingredients, just like my French grandmother used to eat.
03 What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Enjoy the process and don’t forget to enjoy where you are. My mentor always reminds me that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Even when growth is slow, it’s important to uphold your standards for quality and stay true to your brand.
04 What’s on the horizon for French Squirrel?
There’s so much to come! We are launching a new product soon and we’re expanding to more retailers across the United States to give even more squirrels access to our products. Packaging changes are in the pipeline as well to reflect a more updated look. We are so excited and appreciative of all the support.
05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
Honestly, I am still working on this. I am so grateful that my work is my passion, and that my passion is my work. I never really feel like I am “working” when I am doing what I love. That being said, work/life balance is extremely important. Yoga helps me so much – the practice allows me to come back to myself and feel grounded.
Because of French Squirrel’s mission, I have met so many similar, young entrepreneurs with whom I have become good friends. We all are passionate about nutritious, good food and wellness activities like ice baths and group fitness classes. It is truly amazing!
I’m inspired by each and every customer message, email, and comment about how our products have changed their lives. It makes my day to hear people say that French Squirrel products like Berets and Bateaux are their favorite snacks. It never gets old and it is truly what motivates me and all of my friends in this space. We are disrupting the snack market in the USA with fresh, real food and that drives me every day.