With Greta crafting the recipes and Janet providing her holistic nutritionist expertise and quick wit, the two felt they had a unique offering the likes of which the market had never seen.
But launching the Looneyspoons cookbook wasn’t easy; it took the help of The Wealthy Barber author David Chilton to take off.
Janet sat down with OBJ to explain how it all began, how the sisters’ book competes with proliferating online recipe websites, and what’s next for the duo:
"It was 1996 when we came up with the idea for Looneyspoons. I worked at Corel and Greta was the assistant to the minister of revenue on Parliament Hill. We quit our jobs thinking we’d take over the country and get everyone on the healthy-eating bandwagon.
We were about $80,000 in debt at one point because we went 14 months with no income. We got rejection after rejection from publishers because they said our book was a break from tradition and that it would never work.
They said we shouldn’t quit our day jobs, but we already had.
It came to the point where we were so desperate, we had an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink garage sale. We dragged everything out of the house that wasn’t nailed down and we sold it. I even drove my car onto the front lawn, tied balloons on it and sold it for $5,000 because we desperately needed the money.
One day, an article appeared in our house about The Wealthy Barber and how David Chilton had self-published his book. We have no idea how it got there. The article was four pages long and stapled together in the left corner. We tacked it to the office wall and stared at it for inspiration.
I said, “That’s it, I’m going to call (Mr. Chilton).” Greta said, “You’re nuts.”
He answered and we chatted for 45 minutes. He probably thought I was a crazy person, but he invited Greta and I to Waterloo (where he worked). We took the train there because we’d sold the car in the yard sale.
I think he was intrigued by our passion and enthusiasm, and he became our partner. The three of us self-published. We did it on our computer on CorelDraw software because we couldn’t afford to hire anybody.
Looneyspoons went on to become the fastest-selling book in Canadian history. It sold 325,000 copies in its first year. Back then, there was no Internet really. It was all word of mouth. That book sold 850,000 copies, which in Canada is almost unheard of.
We took Looneyspoons out of print seven years ago because the nutritional information was out of date. Our newest book (The Looneyspoons Collection) takes the recipes that were so ’90s and revises them so they have better carbs, better fats, less sugar and with gluten-free options. Since publishing at the end of 2011, it’s already sold 300,000 copies."
"The feedback we get is that people actually like to hold onto a real book in the kitchen. They like to flip through it, they like to feel it, they like to have it right there as they’re making the recipe as opposed to just looking online.
Plus, our book has more than just recipes. With (our latest cookbook), people are saying they read it cover to cover like a novel. They’re taking it to bed, their husbands are reading it in the bathroom or wherever. They like to write in it and they spill stuff on it.
There is a lot of competition out there. It’s not like 1996 (when we published our first cookbook). We just have to adapt and try to do the things that other people are doing, like social media. It helps to keep your name out there so that people are reminded of you.
We send a newsletter with a new recipe every month. We have over 20,000 followers on Facebook. (A follower) will be in the middle of a recipe and post something, and Greta will answer. People like that we’re so accessible. I always think to myself, would Martha Stewart do that? Would Rachael Ray?
Over the years, people have come to trust our brand and trust that the recipes will work. They’re made with common, everyday ingredients that people have in their pantry. People don’t have to go to weirdo stores to get the things they need.
I think with (recipe) names like “Darth Tater” and “Lord of the Wings,” kids want to run into the kitchen to help their mothers. The idea is to get people back into the kitchen and prepare their own food."
"We’re launching our cookbook in the U.S. market this year after striking a partnership with Hay House Publishing in California. (The United States) is a tough market to crack. It’s so different from Canada and it’s like we’re starting over. No one knows us there. That’s very challenging.
We had a TV show called Eat, Shrink and Be Merry and we filmed three seasons. Lots of people have been requesting more, including the Food Network. We have ideas to do another TV show. I’d love to do a show where Greta and I travel the world and we explore wellness and nutrition in other cultures."