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Yum! In The News

How a Yum! corporate communications manager turned an experiment into a beauty business

Valerie Gritton thought her first product was a mere gift for her sister, but it also served as the spark for her side hustle, Cleopatra’s Garden.

Cleopatra's Garden products

Image provided by Valerie Gritton

Published on November 03, 2022

Two years before Valerie Gritton started her career in Yum! internal communications, she created a massage oil for her sister. The happenstance creation — Gritton admits to simply being bored and needing a creative outlet — has turned into a fully-fledged business for the Louisville, Kentucky, native called Cleopatra’s Garden, featuring body, bath and beard oils available to online customers, and yes, even her coworkers. 

“After using Valerie’s products, I soon became a fan,” said Andrea Whitney, Yum! vice president of social impact and corporate communications. "In just a short time, she has made a great impact on our team and my skin. Cleopatra's Garden products are some of my favorite things, already solving some of my holiday conundrums."

Gritton has a 14-year-old son who will be helping her fill those holiday order soon. Juggling his active schedule, a beauty business and a full-time job of communicating essential messages to employees is a fun challenge that Gritton relishes because, she says, her side hustle fuels her soul, knowing that her products help others feel good about themselves. 

Here is her story.  

Image provided by Valerie Gritton

Where did the name Cleopatra’s Garden come from? 

As a kid, I was infatuated with the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. She had a mystique about her. I read about the baths that she took and the luxuries she had. After I made the body oil for my sister, I thought, “olive oil, blood orange peel, cardamom and vanilla — this smells like Cleopatra’s Garden.” She was the first person I had read about who really knew how to honor herself through self-care. 

Many entrepreneurs have someone or something that opens a door and provides guidance. Did you experience that? 

Yes. My mom is a genius at spreadsheets. I had ingredients on pieces of paper and recipes on notecards that I carried around in this green notebook forever. My mom took everything and created order out of the chaos. She created the formulas for calculating wholesale costs and retail costs. I had the creativity, but my mom provided organization and logistics to help Cleopatra’s Garden blossom into a business.  

I also connected to a local entrepreneur who helped me when I hit roadblocks. I developed products for his retail CBD company. He provides guidance (and is still a customer) to this day! 

Image provided by Valerie Gritton

You started in your home kitchen, but are you still making products next to your Crockpot and coffeemaker? 

I was given the opportunity to travel to the Emmys in 2021 to include Cleopatra’s Garden products in the event gift bags. I don’t think they would have believed me if I told them some of these products started at the same place where I make dinner! But now I operate out of a collective commercial kitchen in West Louisville called Chef Space that is home to about 30 businesses; most are caterers, bakers and food trucks. You can rent space by the hour, or you can be a member. That space is one of the best things about Louisville because it provides so many opportunities for people. And it provided me with a space to use when I needed to get my Kentucky manufacturer’s license to make products for retail.  

What’s your favorite Cleopatra’s Garden product? 

It changes with the seasons. When it is cold and dark in the winter, I like to make and use floral products that remind me of summer. As summer ends, I gravitate toward products that have more of a musky smell – such as frankincense and myrrh – that smell more like fall. With beard oils, I connect more with the stories I created for each scent. For one oil called Blackbeard’s Revenge, I had an image in my mind of the Blackbeard pirate sitting on a beach smoking a pipe and drinking a pina colada, while everyone else thought he was dead.  

How do you balance working at Yum! with your side hustle at Cleopatra’s Garden? 

Before Cleopatra’s Garden, I was a journalist, so when I spotted the opportunity at Yum!, I couldn’t apply fast enough. While my work at Yum! is my primary focus, I can still do craft shows on the weekends, and the year-round half-day Fridays mean I can head to Chef Space if I need to work on products. It has given me great flexibility in terms of managing my time and doing what I need to do for the business. I am on a great team at Yum!, full of people who work well together. But Cleopatra’s Garden is my personal outlet where I can spend time on a passion and accomplish my goals alone.  

Image by Laura Standard, provided by Valerie Gritton.

Has your time at Yum! taught you anything about Cleopatra’s Garden? Or vice versa? 

My time at Yum! is still in the early stages as I’ve been here for less than a year; however, it has taught me about how to better craft the story behind Cleopatra’s Garden and operate under a better business structure. I’ve received great advice from my coworkers and having peers to talk with about the business has been a blessing. 

What is it about Cleopatra’s Garden that motivates you to keep pursuing it?  

I have a strong belief in my products. When I make them, I hug them. It's the one thing that I do where my head and my heart are connected. My son is my biggest motivator; he has even come up with some great product ideas. I launched the business because I was determined for him to see me achieve my goals so he would be motivated to work toward and achieve his own.  

Cleopatra’s Garden products are sold direct-to-consumer via its website. Louisville residents can also find Cleopatra’s Garden at local markets and fairs a few times per year.  

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