Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward passed on many traits to their daughter Nell-his lucent blue eyes, her sculpted blonde beauty, and the will to succeed on her own stage.
Nell Newman laughs as she unlocks the door of a 1993 SubaruTurbo Legacy wagon, her beloved beach car. "I took my surfboard outto make room for you," she says, brushing sand off the passengerseat. The 42-year-old founder of Newman's Own Organics: The SecondGeneration starts the motor, swerves onto Soquel Drive, and headsfor Carried Away. It's her favorite lunch-time hangout in thiscoastal town of Aptos, 60 miles south of San Francisco.
Over potato and beet salads, Nell revisits her path toward the1993 premiere of her organic-snack-foods sequel to Newman's Own,Inc. That's the Connecticut-based empire of salsas, saladdressings, and other savories introduced by her father, Paul, in1982.
"It started with birds, when I was about 10," Nell says. "Iloved birds?maybe because they could fly and I couldn't." Horrifiedthat the peregrine falcon was almost extinct because of DDTeffects, she began thinking about what people eat and absorb. Thatled her to the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, and aB.A. in human ecology. At this special school, students pickdiverse subjects from architecture to science, but all courses aretaught as social, biological, and technologicalinterrelationships.
Interested in food since childhood, Nell focused on how oursustenance is grown and processed. "I learned to cook from my mom,"she says, of Joanne Woodward, the highly acclaimed actress. "Wemade lollipops and molasses pulled taffy when I was little."
Maybe that explains the sweet-tooth leanings for Newman's OwnOrganics: chocolate bars, peanut butter cups, and the deliciouslyamusing Fig Newmans. But Nell's athletic looks speak favorably fororganic snacks. ("Organic" products are made with ingredients fromproducers who have not used artificial fertilizers or pesticidesfor at least three years.)
Still nature-oriented, Nell lives simply on an unassumingresidential street in Santa Cruz, about a half-mile from the oceanand a 15-minute drive from her Aptos office. Drought-resistantplantings thrive in front of her robin's-egg blue 1940s cottage.Blossoming fruit trees and ripening vegetables glisten in theCalifornia sun outside her curtainless back windows. Compost pailsstay at the ready in her creamy yellow kitchen.
A prolific cook, Nell spends a lot of time in this room. On thisafternoon, her nimble fingers fold grated dark chocolate-orangebars (Newman's Own Organics, of course) into snowy peaks of eggwhites. While her recipe for Dad's Favorite Chocolate Angel FoodCake bakes, she says that pleasing his taste buds was important tolaunching her company.
"I'd had this harebrained idea about organics for my dad'sbusiness," she says. So, at the family's Connecticut home?whereshe'd grown up fishing in the Aspetuck River out back and throwingrotting apples at reporters intruding on her childhood ("Wouldn'tyou?" she asks)?Nell prepared the 1992 Thanksgiving feast. Usingonly organically grown foods, she got her father's attention. "Heagreed to fund a year's research and told me to develop a plan,"she says.
She tapped friend Peter Meehan for his business background, andthe two hit the road. "We went to natural-food trade shows, figuredout what products people would buy, and lined up manufacturers,"Nell says. Organics' first product was pretzels?"easy to make, andone of Dad's favorite snacks."
Convinced, the patriarch funded his daughter's start-up costs,including the initial salaries. "Newman's Own Organics has paid himback," Nell says, happily.
Today, Peter directs sales, marketing, and product development.Nell's tongue-in-cheek business card reads, "Director/Daughter."She basically helps create new products and remains the chiefspokesperson.
But Nell doesn't speak about her own generosity," Peter says."Her mother is so generous, and her dad's philanthropy is wellknown. Nell gets it from them." Organic or not, "the apple doesn'tfall far from the tree," he says.
Like Newman's Own, Newman's Own Organics donates all after-taxprofits to charity. It has bestowed $2 million since 1994, itsfirst full year of business. Together,the companies have giftedwell over $100 million. Recipients include wildlife,organic-farming, and environmental causes. "I found out I likegiving money away a lot more than asking for it," Nell says.
She should know. Before starting Newman's Own Organics, sheraised funds for the Ventana Wilderness Sanctuary on the Big Surcoast. She also was executive director ("that means fund-raiser,"she says) for the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group. WithNewman's Own Organics and its charity, Nell has combined heraltruistic interests.
She also has cleverly leveraged the power of her family name.Who wouldn't be drawn to the packaging of her company's products?In the farm-fashion motif of Grant Wood's American Gothic painting,Nell and "Pa" mischievously smile from grocery store shelves,enticing shoppers to sample their homey, tasty treats.
But the real Nell does not go around in an austere black dressand prim apron. At least not this afternoon. The surfboard hasresumed its place in her Subaru, and she zips the beachmobile intoa nook on a seaside cliff. She pares down to her blue-and-whitePatagonia bikini, works her way into a wet suit, and bands hersilky hair into a tidy knot. She hoists her board, grabs hersurfing helmet, and hollers, "Gotta go." She vanishes down thestairs to the beach. On those high-rolling Pacific blue waves,maybe Nell Newman can fly.