Ground Up: How nut butter empowers Portland women

Multnomah County

Julie Sullivan, Carolyn Cesario do well by doing good

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For 2 years beginning in 2013, Julie Sullivan was in Uganda overseeing a training program for women. That’s when she saw the power in giving opportunities and what that can do in someone’s life.

She moved back to Portland, wanting to do something similar. First, Sullivan started meeting with different organizations in the city. Seeing that homelessness is a major issue in Portland, she wanted to do something about it — and be apart of the change.​

Julie Sullivan spent 2 years in Uganda beginning in 2013 (Courtesy: Julie Sullivan)

Next, Sullivan began collaborating with a number of non-profits and realized how she could help. ​

“Women may be motivated to work, but lack the skills, confidence or experience to be hired by an employer,” she said. ​
Sullivan, 29, realized if she could come up with a business that could provide job opportunities she could help women in major life transitions fill in the gaps on their resumes.​

“But I didn’t have a product at that point,” Sullivan said. ​

She actually started with a business idea to make heart-shaped sugar cubes, but that didn’t last more than a week. ​

“(The sugar cubes) smashed in my car on my way to a meeting,” Sullivan said. “I realized I had to throw that idea out.”​

That’s when she met her now-business partner Carolyn Cesario.

Cesario, 30, was making delicious alternative nut butters at home as a side hobby. Her concoctions were creative yet remained peanut- and oil-free without any added sugars to accommodate her doctor-mandated diet.

Sullivan had one taste and was ready to go into business together.

That’s how in 2016 Ground Up nut butter came to life.

“We just met at the right time,” Cesario said. “We made nut butter in my kitchen one night, stayed up till midnight and realized it could be the product for her employment training program. Then we hit the ground running.”​

Those humble beginnings in Cesario’s kitchen led, 3 years later, to a warehouse where their business now provides a 6-9 month job training program working with women overcoming adversities like homelessness, mental illness, a criminal past or breaking out of the sex industry.

“On a personal level, I’ve learned that a lot of people end up in places in life where they never expected to be,” Cesario said. “Everyone has their hardships that they’re battling through.”​

Ground Up partners with non-profits locally who refer women who are ready to work, but can’t quite find that next step. Their primary partners include the Portland Rescue Mission, Central City Concern, Outside In and Cupcake Girls.

“We work with women to give them the job skills and confidence they need to transition into their next phase,” Cesario said. ​

At Ground Up, women learn skills from sales and marketing to working in a commercial kitchen. Eventually they move up at Ground Up or move on to other full-time employment.

Julie Sullivan and Carolyn Cesario started Ground Up nut butter as a way to empower women, like this woman, and do good on a broader scale, July 11, 2019 (KOIN)

Ground Up often works with New Seasons, which offers next job opportunities for their employees.

“One of the coolest things is our team dynamic,” Sullivan said. “Seeing the community that’s formed amongst all the women who have joined our team and the way they support each other truly inspires Carolyn and I every day.”​

Beyond the job opportunity and learned skills, these entrepreneurs offer women something priceless — a confidence boost.

Ground Up nut butter is available at grocery stores in the Portland metro.

“By purchasing a jar of our nut butter you can be a part of this bigger picture and story,” Sullivan said. ​

You get to be part of making a difference, Sullivan said, a chance to spread some good.

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