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Tammy Levent of Heavenly Puffs: “Build Slowly & Save”

Build Slowly & Save. Once you start making a profit, save your money, and invest in yourself, you are always your best investment! As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy Levent. TV Travel […]

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Build Slowly & Save. Once you start making a profit, save your money, and invest in yourself, you are always your best investment!


As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy Levent.

TV Travel Correspondent and serial entrepreneur Tammy Levent ran a flourishing travel enterprise until COVID hit and travel declined. During lockdown, she and her husband began working full-time at their weekend side hustle: Heavenly Puffs, a Tampa-based food truck serving up “Loukoumades” (aka Greek donuts). Now she has turned these sweet confections into a nationally distributed enterprise.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/2475f9c1c01ec280d1978d28ca38d907


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Well, I’m the daughter of immigrants. My grandfather was in Greece during World War II and he moved my grandmother and mother to the U.S. when my mother was seven years old. I had a very family-oriented upbringing. Our whole family always got together for dinner on Sundays. It was a lot like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” I went to a private Greek school and there was a very strict “speak Greek only” rule in my house. We eventually moved to Florida where I attended a rather liberal open-class school. It was geared for self-starters. It was a hard transition. You were forced to be self-disciplined. Me being the over-achiever that I am, ended up finishing fifth grade in two months and eventually graduated from high school at sixteen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Though No one can go back and make a brand new start. Anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending,” by Carl Bard. My life has been a rollercoaster of unfortunate events that have somehow transformed into greatness. I have rebounded from child abuse, depression, homelessness, and a massive fire that destroyed everything I owned. An armed assault destroyed my marriage, leaving me with a brain-injured husband and mountains of debt and bankruptcy. I lost my grandmother in a car crash that severely injured my children. On top of everything, I battled cancer and survived a botched surgery. When you have so many tragic events happen in your life, you either crumble or take what you have left and you live in the present. If you stop looking back, the only other option is to look forward.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. I truly believe we manifest and control our destiny if we really focus on it. Not just in words, but in actions.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

I would say I’ve achieved my greatest professional success with my travel company, Elite Travel. I’ve been able to take a dream job and turn it into an incredibly successful business that has allotted me many great opportunities. Prior to that, we used to own a large shipping company. I initially wanted to partner with my husband’s uncle, but he wanted total control, so we started our own. We eventually sold the company and opened a jewelry store. Five years after the business opened, we had an armed robbery. My husband received fifty to sixty blows to the head. For more than two years afterward, he had trouble doing nearly everything. It was an incredibly difficult time. The insurance company didn’t cover the loss of all of our jewelry, so we had nothing. We had some money in savings, but that can only last for so long. My husband was not able to work, so I took a telemarketing job, working twelve hours a day. My grandmother was watching our kids for us, and one day she had an incident while she was driving and passed out at the wheel. My daughter tried to take control of the car but wasn’t able to, and they crashed into a house, killing my grandmother instantly. Both of my children ended up in intensive care.

One of the days that I was in the hospital, a nurse asked me what I would be doing if money wasn’t an issue, which was hard to think about because everything was about money at the time. I didn’t know how we were going to survive. But I answered that I would travel the world, and she said, “Then that’s what you should be doing. You need to get into travel.” I thought she was absolutely crazy, but the following day, she gave me a newspaper and I found a job in travel. I had never worked for anyone before, so I was quite demanding as far as what I needed and how I was going to work, but the owner was OK with that. I worked there until the owner retired, at which point I took over the company. In addition to Elite Travel, I also founded It’s My Bag, a non-profit organization that donates suitcases, to children in foster care.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Elite Travel was doing incredibly well prior to the pandemic. We had started Heavenly Puffs, which is a food truck selling Greek donuts called Loukoumades, as a side business on the weekends. No one else had a Loukoumades truck. Every weekend we would do festivals and events all over the place. Business was flourishing until COVID. Travel obviously declined rapidly, but so did the truck food business. A friend of mine suggested that we try to make the Loukoumades frozen since no one else in the world was selling them frozen. I was throwing out five hundred at a time because I just couldn’t get them to work. I finally took a step back and analyzed all the ingredients and made it work to perfection. After that, I was able to sell them to businesses like Greek markets and local restaurants, and it took off from there.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I had nothing but time during quarantine, and while others were becoming more and more miserable as time progressed, I kept thinking of innovative ways to create. That and making comfort food. Heavenly Puffs was a perfect combination.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Incredible. I’m still in disbelief that I invented this. We had gotten to the point where we were having trouble keeping up with demand. We were attempting to freeze the dough, but Loukoumade dough has a very specific texture, which freezing changed. Making sure the Loukoumades were made in the authentic style with yeast so that they could keep their trademark texture was incredibly important. My husband and I were eventually able to develop a unique recipe for the puffs so they could be made in advance, frozen and fried on-demand. After we started distributing to local restaurants, word spread, leading to a national rollout. Now we ship wholesale nationwide to grocery stores, diners, restaurants, catering companies, wedding vendors, schools, and more.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I was lucky to have some very strong women influences in my life. My mom was an entrepreneur. She was a very hard worker. That’s something I inherited from her. My parents owned restaurants and properties in New York and they really believed in strategic partnerships. They never had a partner on paper, but they always had people to help guide them. That’s something I took away from them in regard to how to do business. I even wrote a book about it called “How to Build a Business with Strategic Partnerships.” Everything is based on relationships. That’s how it was done in Europe. Business was done with a handshake.

My grandmother was an incredibly positive personal influence. My father was very abusive. He was incredibly controlling. My mother was very positive toward me, but my father told me on a daily basis that I wouldn’t amount to anything in life. I was self-driven just to prove him wrong. He took everything and left us when I was twelve years old, and I went to live with my grandmother. That’s when things began to change. Everything she said was supportive and inspiring. I don’t think I would be where I am now if it wasn’t for my grandmother changing my mindset.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I’m afraid to answer my phone or emails. It’s always a new client with an order. It reminds me of Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory. It’s all good but crazy.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

How much capital you really need and be realistic. Our estimations were definitely low on this.

How many hours you put into working it. You can hire more people, but if you don’t do the work yourself as well, then you can’t set a good example.

How many people want to ride on your coattails now that you’re successful. I’m getting calls from people that I haven’t heard from in twenty years. “Hey Tammy, I saw your new business on Facebook. You need the product or service we have?”

The need to invent a handbook on permits and requirements alone. I thought I was done with the first ten permits, but then there was more. And more. Then you call the state and they don’t know what specific requirements are. Then there are more inspections and more money. It makes you afraid to make any mistakes.

Build Slowly & Save. Once you start making a profit, save your money, and invest in yourself, you are always your best investment!

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

To start, I have a medical marijuana card. That goes a long way for mental wellness. I also take one day at a time and prioritize what is most important. I make a point to not take everything on. I will say no and I will delegate what I do take on.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’m incredibly proud of a charitable organization I founded called It’s My Bag, which provides suitcases, travel bags, and duffel bags to foster children. Back in 2014, I visited a foster care home and I noticed that the children in these homes had to carry their belongings in large black garbage bags, which sends a very damaging message to these kids and teens that they are as disposable as their belongings. So, I created It’s My Bag to encourage communities to donate suitcases and bags so that each child could have a place to store their clothes and belongings. We have drop-off locations around the U.S. and in Canada, which you can find at itsmybag.cool.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I would love to have lunch with either Madonna or Michelle Obama, though I know those are two incredible extremes. I love that Madonna has continued to reinvent herself over the years. I also love her ‘fuck you’ attitude. I’m very much like that. She did a lot of controversial things over her career, but now she is family-oriented and stays out of the spotlight. I respect her for keeping a private life. She’s also just so talented. And I would love to just ask Michelle Obama if she was the backbone being Barack’s presidency.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can visit my website at tammylevent.com. as well as heavenlypuffs.com. On social media, you can find Heavenly Puffs on Facebook at HeavenlyPuffs and on Instagram @heavenly.puffs.

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