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From Mergers and Acquisitions to Frozen Waffles

Emily Groden was handling mergers and acquisitions at a Chicago law firm when an episode of Netflix ’s “Chef’s Table” got her thinking about a whole new career path.

Ms. Groden, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2015, had always been interested in healthy eating. “Chef’s Table,” along with a passion for food, inspired her to leave the firm to become general counsel of a restaurant company and then to commit full time to her frozen waffle business, Evergreen, in September.

An avid athlete—she swam competitively at Yale as an undergraduate, and has since completed an Ironman race and qualified for the Boston Marathon—Ms. Groden, now 33 years old, has been on a lifelong search for healthy snacks to fuel tough workouts. When she was a law student, a course on food law and policy piqued her interest in food security, food waste and the obesity epidemic in America. She ignored an itch to pursue working in food and law and instead joined Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago, where she focused on private-equity deals.

She loved the work, she says, “but I found myself more excited to get out of the office and into the kitchen than I was to be sitting in front of my computer.” On her own time, Ms. Groden kept researching obesity through books, TV shows and podcasts, learning about the sugar and preservatives in packaged food. She came to distrust big brands and devoted herself to making foods from scratch, working with sourdough starters, rolling her own pasta and curing salmon.

One night, she was moved by a “Chef’s Table” episode featuring Alinea, the three-Michelin Star restaurant in Chicago just blocks from her home at the time. “By the time it was done I was so inspired by how beautiful the food was and how passionate the chefs were,” she says. “I opened my computer, Googled the owner, Nick Kokonas, and sent him a cold email asking if he needed a corporate lawyer.” Two weeks later she was offered the general counsel gig at Alinea’s parent group and Tock, a reservations-system company also owned by Mr. Kokonas.

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