In seventh grade, Maggie Skarich Joos dreamed of owning a restaurant. But years later, after studying hospitality management and working in several restaurants, Skarich Joos realized the long evenings weren’t a good fit for her. She decided to channel her passion for food into creating The Real Good Life, a meal delivery business serving the Milwaukee area. What started as a one-person cooking operation in a church basement has since expanded to a bigger organization with its own kitchen, more than 30 employees and a rotating weekly menu including a soup, salad, entrée and—as a nod to its founder’s love of chocolate—an indulgent dessert. We spoke with Skarich Joos about how she got started, what challenges she faced and how she balances work, family and self-care.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you decide to start The Real Good Life?
Maggie Skarich Joos: I was staying at home with my first daughter, doing food marketing. I met a woman who was a lunch lady by day. At night she would cook food for her colleagues and bring it back the next day, and they would pay her for it. And I thought, Well, I could do that!
Your kids were really young when you launched your business. What was that like?
MSJ: I have great support at home; my husband is definitely an equal partner. At the start, it was very overwhelming. Our second child was born in May 2016, and our first meal delivery was that September. I remember being in that church basement thinking, This is all crazy; this is way too much. There were probably two years when I had a New Year’s resolution that every week, I was going to take at least one day off. I had varying degrees of success with that.
What factors helped you grow your business?
MSJ: I am an only child, and I thought I wanted to work by myself forever, but I knew I couldn’t grow that way. With the first person I hired, we clicked so well that I realized delegating is OK and safe. I was also in a really fortunate position in that I didn’t have the stress of bringing in money to make sure the lights stayed on in our house or we had food to eat; my husband was able to support us through that beginning time.
How has owning a business impacted you as a parent?
MSJ: I will never forget the moment when we moved to the new kitchen. I brought my husband and the girls, and my oldest daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, this is your kitchen?” It hit me that she was recognizing her mom was a business owner. For my kids to see they can be whatever they want, and see it happening in real life, that’s been so important.
Your business donates a portion of sales to Hunger Task Force, Milwaukee’s local food bank. Tell us more about why you wanted to give back.
MSJ: Anything we can do to help other families have an easier time getting to the table is our goal. Our vision is full bellies and happy hearts all across southeastern Wisconsin, whether they’re customers of ours or not. Dinnertime is when people should be with the ones they love or get to do the things they love.
We have to ask: What is your favorite entrée and dessert in The Real Good Life’s rotation?
MSJ: We have a very good chicken tikka masala, but we decided one week to try a vegetarian version. Just the spice level of it and getting the vegetables with the chickpeas… it tastes amazing! And then dessert—that is like picking a favorite kid, but I would have to say it’s The Real Good Life bars, which is our take on Twix bars, with the shortbread, caramel and chocolate on top.
How do you cope with uncertainty about the future?
MSJ: We’re very much at that price point where if anyone needed to start cutting corners, our service would be a really easy thing to let go of, unfortunately. I always have that in the back of my head. But for the most part, we have enough systems and people in place that if I ever end up having a moment of panic, there’s always someone who can say, “We have the solution for that problem.” And in turn, I am that person for people on our team.
What does self-care look like for you?
MSJ: One of the things I learned from COVID is that I do need to work out in some form or fashion every weekday morning at least. It doesn’t need to be hard, crazy things, but I need to start my day by moving my body and having that alone time. Also, just being slower and more in the moment is sometimes the most important thing to do… and having chocolate at the end of the day!
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by ©Lindsay Stayton Photography; Lisa Mathewson Photography/courtesy of The Real Good Life