Elisa Lyew: “Make sure your brand is unique and easy to remember”

Taste your product and continue developing until you are 100% happy with it. Go back to the drawing board as many times as necessary — do not skip or half-ass this step. Then test it with friends and family to get their feedback. Use this data to define your concept. My Bangin’ Chocolate Chip Cookies were born […]

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Taste your product and continue developing until you are 100% happy with it. Go back to the drawing board as many times as necessary — do not skip or half-ass this step. Then test it with friends and family to get their feedback. Use this data to define your concept. My Bangin’ Chocolate Chip Cookies were born from my desire to create an ideal chocolate chip cookie (not too big, not too crunchy, not too chewy, not too sweet), as well as feedback from these informal “focus groups”!

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elisa Lyew.

Elisa is a New York-based pastry chef and owner of Elisa’s Love Bites Dessert Atelier, a gluten-free bakery focused on innovative desserts made with wholesome ingredients. Prior to opening her own business, Lyew was a pastry chef at several NYC restaurants including Emporio, The Flatiron Room, and Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano. Her career as a traditional pastry chef inspired Elisa to begin producing a dessert line that eliminated refined sugar and unhealthy ingredients. This endeavor eventually evolved into Elisa’s Love Bites.

Lyew is dedicated to giving back to the community and is involved in many advocacy programs. She is an active member of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, an organization that works to advance culinary education and leadership for women, and RAISE — High Road Restaurants, a group of chefs and restaurateurs who work to promote higher standards and worker rights across all areas of the restaurant industry. Through the Young Center for Immigrant Children, Lyew advocates for the wellbeing and best interest of children in immigration detention facilities who have been separated from their families at the southern border.

Born and raised in Panama City, Panama, Elisa speaks Spanish fluently and travels to her home country frequently. Elisa commends her maternal grandparents, who owned a farm where they grew, raised, and prepared most of the food they ate, for nurturing her love for and obsession with real food.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

My upbringing plays a huge part in my career! Growing up in Panama City, Panama, I was a city kid who adored my family’s frequent visits to my grandparents’ farm. I found myself influenced most by watching and learning all about growing and making your own food. Even at a young age, being on the farm really cemented my belief that natural and minimally processed food was the way to go. Watching my grandmother bake bread and desserts was a huge inspiration and it must be in my DNA because I started doing it myself from a very young age, without any formal training.

As a teenager, when I wasn’t satisfied with the allowance my father used to give me (he was super strict with money!), I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands. I used to bake cookies, brownies, and muffins and sold them at school. I would sell to my classmates and also pop into the teachers’ lounge during recess and make a killing!

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

In 2010. I was working as a pastry chef at an Italian restaurant in New York. While I had the opportunity to work alongside incredible talents in the kitchen, I felt a sense of guilt about the product that I was turning out to guests — desserts with unhealthy ingredients. It got me thinking about how I could create something better. I knew then that I didn’t want to serve items with low-quality fats, refined sugar or fake ingredients moving forward. I knew there was a better way to make desserts without feeding people in an unhealthy way, and knew I had found my path.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know how funny this is — but looking back, I sometimes laugh at that slightly younger version of myself that thought she could do this without sacrificing her own finances. I would go back and tell myself that starting out without having a financial stake is a potential for disappointment. Even as the “founder,” you still have to make others happy with your work. That being said, I’m glad things turned out the way they did and that I have full control and decision-making power.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

When people try to be the “next” this, or the “next” that, it rarely goes well. I have seen people fail because they try to recreate someone else’s successful idea rather than creating something unique. Not having a marketing strategy is a huge mistake as well. What good is a great product if no one knows about it? Know your market and make a plan to reach your audience — this is key! Even less-than-stellar products or ideas can reach success when marketed cleverly and strategically.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Talk to as many entrepreneurs as you can! These conversations are so valuable; we all have different insights and experiences with developing our own products and brands, and these little tips add up to help you carve your own path. Also, it always makes things easier if you work in the industry you want to break into. Even if it might not be your ideal job or situation, work under people who are doing what you want to achieve, and learn from their successes and failures. And of course, study your competition! Figure out where there are voids that need to be filled and design your product to fill those voids. A thoughtful SWOT Analysis goes a long way.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Your product or service must have one purpose (a why!) — to make someone’s life easier. Most people build a business plan thinking about a target market to sell to, but skip over how they will make life easier for this market. Before you figure out anything else, you must figure out whose life you’re making easier and how. If you can clearly answer this question, you’re on the right path!

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I think there’s more value in carving out your own path than paying someone to do it for you. It makes for a more authentic brand, and authenticity sells.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I think it varies! When I was first talking to friends about my business idea, everyone told me the way to go is to get investors and to “never use your own money.” I tried that route, put together a comprehensive business plan, pitched it to several potential investors, and had plenty of meetings. Out of all of the meetings, the one that truly shaped my path was with executives at Verlinvest who told me the best way for my project to be successful was to self-fund it, start online rather than with a retail location, and grow it organically. I followed their advice and discovered that self-funding my business and retaining full control was the best approach for me.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

I spent hours upon hours talking to other business owners and creators, asking questions, getting recommendations, and taking notes. Also, the internet is your friend! All the different processes and resources you need can be found by searching online. You can also reach out and build networks on social media with like-minded individuals who can be helpful resources (Facebook groups are great for this).

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1- Make sure your brand is unique and easy to remember

Make sure the branding is attractive to consumers but also personal and true to your concept. This came in handy when Carnie Wilson’s company sent me a cease-and-desist letter claiming I was copying her company, “Love Bites by Carnie”. Girl, please. I had done my research from the very beginning and knew my name was not in use. Plus, my logo is my face, which no one would confuse with “that lady” from Wilson Phillips. So no, I neither ceased nor desisted.

Also, you want consumers to confidently talk about your product, so make sure the name is something that makes an impression!

2- Taste and test

Taste your product and continue developing until you are 100% happy with it. Go back to the drawing board as many times as necessary — do not skip or half-ass this step. Then test it with friends and family to get their feedback. Use this data to define your concept. My Bangin’ Chocolate Chip Cookies were born from my desire to create an ideal chocolate chip cookie (not too big, not too crunchy, not too chewy, not too sweet), as well as feedback from these informal “focus groups”!

3- Research production options

Decide whether it makes sense to handle production yourself or outsource it to a manufacturer. If self-producing, look at equipment costs and whether it makes more sense for your business to rent your own space or a shared commercial kitchen. These are important decisions that will impact your business model and the final cost of your product, so spend a lot of time researching this! I decided early on that I needed my own space in order to have full control of the process and quality, as well as to be able to ensure my products, which are 100% gluten-free, would not be at risk of cross-contamination.

4- Develop a marketing strategy

Even if you don’t have a marketing budget, you MUST have a marketing plan. Who needs to learn about your product, and how will you reach them? There are affordable ways to retain the services of marketing professionals, such as through websites like or hiring experienced college students as interns. There are also many ways to get in front of your audience, and it’s up to you to identify what works best for your products. When I first started, I made the mistake of thinking my product was so unique, people would flock to my website and I didn’t need to do much more than post on Instagram occasionally. I was absolutely wrong! Marketing is essential, so make sure to include it in your budget.

5- Be your own cheerleader

Loving and knowing your own product inside-out is the best advertising you can buy. Be your own spokesperson and let people know why you’re passionate about your creation. Look at Elon Musk — Tesla may not be as influential if it weren’t for his own conviction in the product and how it can change lives. I adore my product and consume it all the time!

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Start with a name and build from there — make sure the name you choose is not already in use, as well as available for use online and on social media (this will help avoid confusion and clunky URLs with dashes or underscores). Once you have a name and concept, define what you want this product to achieve and (here I go again!) whose life it will make easier and how. Next, define the attributes that will turn consumers into fans, and how you will reach them to make sure they know about and love the product. Marketing is key! Great messaging not only creates awareness but trains consumers to love the product.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

By feeding people nutritious desserts, I am helping my customers make better choices about their health. This seems small, but can have a ripple effect that helps create healthier, happier families and communities.

As a business owner, I am able to have full control of my time and make sure to carve out time to dedicate to causes that are near and dear to me. I volunteer with an organization that works to provide companionship and legal support to immigrant children from Central America who have been separated from their families at the southern border.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love for our government to sponsor home gardens, particularly in communities that have restricted access to fresh food. Just imagine…how much healthier we would be as a nation if we all grew at least some of our own food, and how great it would be for the environment.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Elon Musk! I am absolutely obsessed with his brilliance. I believe the world would be a much safer place if we removed the human component from motor vehicles, and am an avid supporter of everything he’s trying to achieve through automated vehicles. The benefits would be massive — for humanity and the environment — and it’s a change I hope to be able to see in my lifetime. I would love to spend a day chatting with him about all of this!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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