When people talk about the US economy, they often point out that around 98% of our workforce is made up of small business. And that’s true. According to the Small Business Association, “small” is defined primarily as a business that has fewer than 500 employees. Well, not all small businesses are created equal. There are workplaces that have substantially fewer than 500 employees – all the way down to two. Or even one.

If you’re talking about a service business, like a plumber or IT support, you can imagine that a single person with a computer, or a couple of people with a van, could run a business. But when you’re talking manufacturing, and sales, it’s a bit more difficult to picture how one or two people alone can pull that off.

But that’s exactly what Peter’s lunch guests, Nikki Thompson and Patrick Hernandez, are both doing with their respective businesses.

Roulaison Rum's Patrick Hernandez

Roulaison Rum’s Patrick Hernandez

Patrick Hernandez and his partner Andrew Lohfeld are the only two employees of the company they co-founded, called Roulaison Rum, arum distillery, on Broad Street in New Orleans. One of the distillery’s distinguishing features is the kind of still that Patrick and Andrew use to make rum. It’s the oldest and least efficient type of still in the world. But it makes a specialty rum with complex flavors that rum drinkers are buying in 8 states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida and California.

Nikki Thompson’s company, Hood Cream, has 50% fewer employees than Roulaison Rum. At Hood Cream, it’s just Nikki.

Hood Cream's Nikki Thompson

Hood Cream’s Nikki Thompson

Hood Cream manufactures non-dairy, vegan ice cream. You might be thinking, “Non-dairy vegan ice cream is such a niche product, how could it support more than one person?” Well, to put the vegan ice cream market in some sort of context, Baskin Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s both make non-dairy ice cream. And in the past 12 months, Americans spent over $520m on vegan ice cream. That’s a significant market, and it’s estimated to be growing at 13% a year. At Nikki’s company, sales have grown to a point that will support opening a brick-and-mortar store, and hiring some employees.

Nikki Thompson, Patrick Hernandez and Peter Ricchiuti Out to Lunch at NOLA Pizza

Nikki Thompson, Patrick Hernandez and Peter Ricchiuti Out to Lunch at NOLA Pizza

Along with noting that “not all small businesses are created equal,” you can also note that imagination, creativity, vision, perseverance, and the ability to sell are not equally distributed among all small business owners. Once in a while, though, on Out to Lunch we meet people who embody these qualities in abundance, and are able to chart their own course. Folks like this don’t need business consultants to tell them to think outside the box, they live outside the box.

Nikki Thompson and Patrick Hernandez are both building businesses based on passion and quality. There’s always a market for quality. And there are certain products, like Hood Cream and Roulaison Rum, that passion seems to find its way into, in a way that drives sales.

This edition of Out to Lunch was recorded live over lunch at NOLA Pizza in the NOLA Brewing Taproom in New Orleans. Photos by Jill Lafleur. And catch up with the latest on New Orleans beer and DIY wine company Brewsy.

Realtor Tracey Moore