Shandee Chernow is the CEO of Certistar, a service that helps restaurants accommodate customers with food allergies safely using their dedicated platform. She’s also the host of ShandeeLand, an entertaining and informative podcast that explores food allergies, business, and life’s moments.
I met Shandee a number of years ago at FABlogCon where we both had the opportunity to learn about the other’s platforms and strategies to address issues facing the food allergy community.
After having had the pleasure of guesting on her podcast, I thought our readership would be interested in learning more about Certistar, ShandeeLand, and the woman behind the company.
Here’s our interview:
Dave: Thanks for taking the time out to discuss all things Shandee! The work you’re doing is of incredible importance to the community we both serve. Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be interested in serving people coping with food allergies.
Shandee: I have food allergies that onset when I was 28 and one is outside of the top 8. I very quickly realized that it’s an incredibly difficult situation, that many people don’t know enough about being food allergic and that there aren’t many places where dining away from home is easy. I decided that, with my background in data and software, I was in a bit of a unique situation to be able to alleviate the stress on both the food allergic diner as well as the restaurant trying to serve them.
We both have computer science degrees and have geeked out on your podcast. Tell me about your background and how you decided to enter a field that was (and still is) largely dominated by men.
Even in high school, I remember being one of the only women in my AP Computer Science class. In college, I was the only woman my year who majored in Computer Science. So entering the work force was not a different situation for me, although that doesn’t make it any easier. You quickly learn that you’re going to get attention for the wrong reasons and that it, unfortunately, often falls on you to switch the attention to be for the right, brainy reasons. Now, as I have the opportunity to hire, I intentionally create a diverse team both internally and in the vendors that we choose to use.
We met at a Food Allergy Bloggers Conference years ago not long after you had launched Certistar. Tell us what your company is all about and how it benefits the allergic community.
CertiStar essentially takes the guesswork out of dining out. We create a fact-based, data-based, individualized menu specifically for the diner’s set of allergens. We cover any food or any category of food and in any combination. The top 8 or 9 allergen menus provided by many restaurants don’t cover other allergens and they often don’t take cross-contamination into consideration. Diners often rely on the knowledge of the server, staff, or chef during service to be safe. We keep the personal conversation touch, but provide factual data underneath that, keeping everyone’s peace of mind and safety.
What’s next for CertiStar and how can the allergic community help you help them?
CertiStar has been hunkered down and waiting out the pandemic, like your readers and our restaurant customers. We’re super excited to get over to the other side of this mountain and get back to normal!
The allergic community would really benefit when they’re dining out with restaurants and hospitality companies, so sharing our solution with their favorite places to eat out would really help us to expand our customer base and help more of the allergic community.
My wife and I love your podcast, ShandeeLand. It’s unique in that you cover food allergies -and-. What was the impetus behind launching the podcast and how do you decide which guests to invite and what topics to engage in?
I really appreciate your saying that. Mostly I’m looking for interesting people who have some shared experiences with me. That’s why I focus on more than one topic: food allergies and entrepreneurs and chefs and artists. So when people have a story to tell and the conversation flows easily, it makes for a good episode.
If you had to recommend one podcast episode for our readers to try, which would it be?
The episodes with you, of course! If I were to choose a different one, I’d point the allergy moms to Crystal Golden’s episode or the folks who want to know more about what’s happening in the medical community to Ilana Golant’s.
We love the work Alana is doing with the Food Allergy Fund and I heartily recommend our readers listen to that episode to learn more about FAF.
What advice would you give our readers who might be interested in starting a food allergy related business?
I would say to follow your passions, wherever they may lead. If there’s a problem that’s not being solved today and you have a solution, build it and they will come. Just know that no one who’s starting their first business knows what they’re doing, so ask for advice early and often from anyone who’s willing to help you. Don’t try to do it all on your own and don’t be overwhelmed by the things you don’t know. There’s always resources to assist you along the way. Just ask!
You’re an artist! I was wowed by your online portfolio. How do you fit art in with your busy schedule being an entrepreneur, a podcast host, and a mom?
Thank you so much! I love to paint, and the amount of time I spend on it varies wildly throughout the year. Sometimes I’ve been pretty prolific and other times there’s months in between paintings. Right now it feels like I do more painting for my kids school projects than I do for me. There’s a lot of canvases around my house – I just paint as an outlet for me as I need it. It’s difficult to send them to the galleries and not know where they may go from there, although it’s an incredible thrill when someone buys one!
It’s been wonderful spending time with you in person, on your podcast, and here in this forum to learn more about you and your endeavors. My hope is that we find ways for our respective businesses to collaborate to the benefit the allergic community.
What is the most important thing you’d like our readership to take away from meeting you?
I’d love for your readers to take away that people are not just one thing. I talk about food allergies ad nauseum, but those of us with food allergies are also a million other things as well. It seems to become a focus of friend and family gatherings, of going out to eat and any social gathering, for obvious reasons. But that focus can be to the detriment of all of the other contributions we can make. Also, I’d love for them to check out and listen to the podcast, ShandeeLand (especially the Snack Safely episodes) and to take a look at CertiStar and share both with anyone they think we could help or be of interest to!