Determined to keep our home and our sanity, I needed to find a way to help keep our heads above water. I trialed a small variety of The Yummy Yank products, initially, at our local farmers’ market with about a dozen different types of bakes, all being authentically American. I designed a logo, had some banners and business cards printed and sold my products on a monthly basis. Slowly, people began to order outside of the market and business began to take off.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Gair.
Lisa is a 63-year-old American who has lived in the UK for the past 24 years. At the age of 48, and as a result of personal and business life changes, she decided to take her passion of all things food, particularly baking, to a commercial level. She is the founder of The Yummy Yank, a business that bakes authentic, American desserts — baking in the North of England but selling worldwide.
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?
My early childhood was spent in a very small town called Arnold, outside of Annapolis, Maryland, where my father owned the drugstore, my Mom worked alongside him and my older sister went to the local high school — and we literally lived above the store. There were people of all socio-economic backgrounds and colors at the time when social integration was happening, all living together in this one town which consisted of my Dad’s drugstore, three gas stations, a post office, a volunteer fire hall (where all things social happened) and a six room schoolhouse which I attended.
When I was 11, we moved to a suburb of Baltimore because the site of my father’s drugstore was being developed for a supermarket. My father took a job with Rite Aid while thinking about rebuilding in Arnold, but delays in building and discount chains opening, caused him to rethink and we remained in Baltimore.
When I was 16, my Dad had his first major heart attack, which he was lucky to survive. Thankfully, he had given up his three-pack-a-day habit five years earlier and that saved his life. As a “daddy’s girl” this had a huge impact on me, realizing that someone so important to me, could be taken away from me. As a result, I cut classes and partied hard. After high school, I took time off to live and work on a kibbutz, learning Hebrew in an Ulpan program. When I came back from Israel, I went to college, studying art education and art therapy. Looking back on my first 20 or so years, I gave my parents a run for their money. I had a very happy childhood with so many fond memories, good friends that I still have today and the best family that I could hope for. There were successes and certainly lows, but they have all helped to form the person that I am now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending” — C S Lewis. My journey has had various successes and failures, and all need to be learned from and even celebrated. A failure isn’t the end of the story, if anything, it’s the new beginning.
I also like to say “take a hot bath” — in my opinion, and one shared frequently with my family, it will fix anything!
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Life experience — going through a very bitter divorce, with three young children, and my only experiences being a mother and a wife. I needed to redefine my life and realized the only person looking after me was me.
Gift of the gab — my mother could sell ice to Eskimos and I seem to have inherited this trait. It serves me well. I build sincere relationships with everybody that I meet in my personal and business life. These are genuine and people know that I am very approachable, no matter the situation.
Belief in myself — as a person who never moved further than 5 miles away from her childhood home, I picked my life up, at the age of 39, and moved to a foreign country. Although the language is the same, the culture can be very different and I was determined to rebuild my life. Since making that huge move, I now know that I am capable of doing anything.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
When I first arrived in the UK, I worked in my now husband’s business, promoting the company’s professional audio products around the World at trade exhibitions. This would lead to “follow-ups” to build on those contacts and relationships made. Many years of this enabled the company (and me) to build strong bonds across the globe in an area of business of which I had no previous knowledge. I learned quickly, I believed in the company and my communication skills got put to good use.
Regrettably, the business was subject to insuperable competition from the Far East and also taken over by investors who had no desire to compete on the quality position that the company had endeavored to pursue. Having lent the company money on several occasions, and using our home as security, the principal shareholders worked very hard at destroying all that had been achieved and, shortly after we parted ways, the company went into liquidation. This was a painful lesson on my journey.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
Determined to keep our home and our sanity, I needed to find a way to help keep our heads above water. I trialed a small variety of The Yummy Yank products, initially, at our local farmers’ market with about a dozen different types of bakes, all being authentically American. I designed a logo, had some banners and business cards printed and sold my products on a monthly basis. Slowly, people began to order outside of the market and business began to take off. As this particular farmers’ market was slowing down, I decided to take on another farmers’ market the following day because I was tired of giving my husband leftover stock for his work colleagues! Upon doing the second farmers’ market, I was asked to take a stall at a market that had a three-year waiting list, because the market manager had never received such positive feedback about a producer before. The markets grew, sales grew and I now had a viable and successful, small business.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I was still baking everything in my home kitchen, which had been approved by local authority hygiene regulators. By this time, my product range had grown and working within the constraints of a home kitchen and available time, I had to make a decision. Being a person who, at the time, did not like to delegate and believing that no-one could do it like me, I went back and forth on the idea of finding a contract baker. I was already making a decent living but if I continued in my own kitchen my growth would come to a standstill. I physically could not do any more. I spoke with people in the food industry and, after various meetings and discussions, found a company that I was comfortable with, and confident about being able to take The Yummy Yank to the next level. The company that I now work with, is primarily a confectionery manufacturer, not a bakery. We worked together to create a full, professional kitchen/bakery in available space within their facility. They signed a confidentiality agreement which was so important to me as you cannot protect recipes. They are a BRC “AA” rated business which is a globally recognized food production standard. We shared the same ethos with regards to quality, sustainability and ethical sourcing. Everything is baked to my standards and specifications with training carried out by me. There are no compromises on the quality of the product or of the ingredients. What comes out of the facility is exactly as I would have produced it. Moving to this facility has enabled my business to satisfy any demands arising from my expansion into multiple, major food festivals across the UK, retail, wholesale and a sizeable online presence.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing?
I formalized my recipes, never having believed that baking was a science. Having previously measured ingredients with my eyes, I now had to ensure that every recipe was detailed precisely, down to the gram, so that they can now be picked up by any of the trained people at the facility to bake according to my exact specifications. By going through this process, I was able to get to grips with delegating something that had been solely my own effort in the past. I now work very closely with my team and together we are developing a new product to be launched in retail outlets across the country.
How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
Initially, I found this process challenging as it was so foreign to the way I did things previously. However, if I was going to be able to take my business to the next level, it was a “needs must.” I needed to listen to suggestions from other people regarding costs, scalable manufacturing, and legal requirements regarding food products. This was all a learning curve as I had not previously needed to deal with issues such as shelf-life testing and testing for microorganisms. Working together with a team that I trust enabled me to listen and learn.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
They are going really well!
Since working with a contract baker, our business has not been constrained in any way, allowing growth beyond my wildest dreams.
When COVID first struck, and lockdown was enforced, an “influencer” put one of my products on her Instagram story. I suddenly saw a surge of sales which made me believe I had been hacked! Once I realized what had happened, I was terrified as to how we would be able to fulfill these orders. If I had still been doing the baking myself it would never have been possible. Extra shifts were put into place and, despite having to slightly increase our turnaround time, every order was fulfilled in a timely fashion.
We are also in the process of developing a new product to launch throughout the UK and, hopefully, beyond. This has been in development for nearly two years, with advice from technical pertaining to water content and various issues that I would not have been aware of previously. Using equipment that would not have been available to me before, we have tweaked and tweaked and tweaked the recipe some more, until we finally reached the desired end result. These are truly exciting times.
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 can’t name just one person that has helped me, as there have been so many, but I can certainly pick out two. My husband and my factory manager.
My husband is my biggest advocate and truly believes that I can do anything that I set out to achieve. He is my accountant, my hard labor, my driver, my business coach and the one who tries to keep me reined in, with tries being the operative word. As someone who in a previous lifetime, was a financial director in the corporate world, he has embraced the name “Mr. Yummy” as given to him affectionately by our customers and staff.
I could not do without my factory manager. When we first met, he was completely against the idea of setting up a bakery within their facility. After sitting with the owner, accountants, technical and himself for more than eight hours, tasting what I had brought from my products, talking about my vision, hearing about what they do, I slowly watched his mind being changed. From being fairly negative regarding the whole idea, I could not ask for a better person to be on my side now. He is instrumental in the growth of my business and I am forever grateful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
All businesses seek to promote themselves to as wide an audience as possible. I was pleased to be asked to feature in Sainsbury’s Magazine (then the UK’s biggest food publication), as a woman in business. This feature covered two pages and included a link to a signature recipe online. A well-known photographer spent an entire day with me reenacting a day in the life of The Yummy Yank. A couple of years later the feature ran again in another one of their publications, specifically on baking. It was a testament to how far I had come.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Yes. After my first marriage failed, I felt, for a period of time, that I was a failure at life. I was made to believe, and as a result, did believe, that I was not capable of achieving anything worthwhile. The belief began to come back, when working with my now husband, that I could relate to people from all countries and cultures and understand completely a new world of technical manufacturing. When The Yummy Yank launched and its popularity grew, becoming a brand, people still look at me as if I am the only one behind it. They stand and look in wonder, like a child in a candy store. When people say that my desserts are the best that they have ever tasted, even Americans in America, you can’t help but believe that what you do is pretty special. I now realize that I am capable of taking on anything.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
My big change was moving to our facility with contract bakers. From first meeting the people involved, I knew that we could work together to build a future, calling on their manufacturing expertise combined with my own baking skills and personal recipes. Making this move involved a fairly large financial commitment which, at the time, we could not take on ourselves. They invested in, and paid for, equipment for The Yummy Yank, with me choosing what was needed. This was on the condition of 50% being repaid over time, against production quantities. Due to this support, The Yummy Yank sales were unlimited and the agreed 50% repayment was achieved within six months. Our production partners were very willing to happily carry the remaining 50% as their investment into the future. While you cannot be absolutely sure of this on day one, working together and calling on their specialist skills and knowledge has been the way that I have been able to grow my business and develop new products. Collaboration of this sort has been the only way to achieve this. Now, with a major new product launch imminent, again we are looking for another support system in a different capacity to the first time, as this is an even bigger leap than the first one taken. Production expertise, finance and manufacturing space are all new challenges that are about to be undertaken.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I had reached a point in my business where the potential for any more growth was not possible. As I have said previously, I could not physically produce any more products than was already being achieved. For several years, I was going back and forth trying to decide whether or not to take on a contract baker. One of the issues was that I was too small for a larger contract and, to find a smaller contractor, there was every possibility that they could steal my recipes. This did not sit well with me. The other major dilemma that I had, was that at this stage of my life, was I willing to take a major financial risk? One reaches a point where they are comfortable financially and know that the future is provided for, do I put that stability in jeopardy? After much hemming and hawing and discussions with my husband, I knew that The Yummy Yank had potential to be so much more. I then decided that I had to find that right company to work with and to help the business grow. When I called upon the people that I now work with, I did not expect them to take me on, as my business was not at all what they do. When the owner contacted me, within 30 minutes of my email, I truly expected him to give suggestions as to where to go for support. I did not foresee, for one second, that he would be willing to take on my venture.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. 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.
- That I would be working harder than I ever have before in my life!
From the beginning, being on my feet 14 hours a day baking, to being on my feet 14 hours a day at festivals and exhibitions has now changed to a constant mental challenge of creating new products, tweaking recipes, adapting equipment, learning and teaching new skills.
2. Stick to your guns — and you can still be a nice person.
I’m constantly reminded that I need to think of my team as employees, not as friends. It was, and still is, a challenge to let my team know if I’m disappointed in the way a product is produced or presented. I am not one who would treat anyone differently to the way I expect to be treated, so there is a fine line in getting my point across, but still doing it in a way that my team understands and respects. I think it’s important that my team feels valued and that I always have their backs. This can be done with humor and a smile and, yes, even friendship. As a result, I have a team that listens to what I say. I listen to what they say and we have a mutual respect for each other and for what we create.
3. Be adaptable and prepared for change.
I think we can all say that in this current climate. Never would I have thought that COVID would hit every industry so hard and so suddenly. This could have been a devastating time for my business but, thankfully, as we are a food production company, we weren’t forced to shut the doors when lockdown began over a year ago. As a business that had traveled the nation participating in various food festivals and exhibitions, we were faced with the terrifying concept that our business would halt, as all such events were canceled. We had to adapt our business and focus on our online potential, honing our social media and marketing skills. We did it and it proved to be one of our best years to date. As horrifying as this time has been, we rose to the challenge and learned how to change your business plans quickly in unprecedented times.
4. The value of delegation.
This has been my hardest challenge. I’ve always been one to think that no-one can do it as good as me! It was hard for me to get to grips with other people sharing the responsibility of my business. To me, it was like giving up a part of something you created. When my customer base first learned of my plans to expand by moving my production to a contract baker, I had one particular customer who declared that he would be able to tell the difference. As a person who had tried every single one of my products, he carried out his own taste test. When he came back admitting that the products were unchanged and just as delicious as always, I realized that the power of a good team is invaluable and necessary.
5. You’re never too old to live your dream.
Don’t let anyone tell you that once you’re beyond 50, your life is over, especially if you are a woman. In fact, in my opinion, it’s just beginning. Before I began The Yummy Yank, I can honestly say that I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up! I guess I grew up, because I’m living my dream and loving every minute of it. Belief and knowledge come with living and observing life and I am proof that anyone, at any age, can achieve whatever they want.
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?
Teach the World. I’d love to ensure that every person across the globe receives an education and is taught a skill to enable them to have self-belief, self-worth and self-sufficiency. I believe that, in the 21st century, no human should go hungry or be suppressed by culture, race, gender or religion. There isn’t anything in any one of us that isn’t as valuable as the next person. We all may have different skillsets but they are skillsets, nonetheless, and all should be allowed to be developed. This comes with education.
I’d also love to start a movement around age awareness and stop the editing of women of an age. Because a woman reaches a certain age does not mean that their zest, their creativity, their passion, their beauty, their knowledge and their contribution to business and society ceases. I want to bring awareness, especially to the media, to embrace age, particularly in women, as something that should be celebrated, not disguised.
We are very blessed that some very prominent 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Oprah Winfrey — Oprah is the epitome of success. She overcame so many barriers that could have prevented her from succeeding on so many levels. Failure, however, was not an option. Despite poverty and abuse, she had a good education, worked hard to get into media and achieved, and achieved, and achieved. Nothing could hold her back.
I first became aware of Oprah when she came to Baltimore to work at Channel 13 WJZ TV in the 1970s as a reporter. There were a couple of stories that she covered where I briefly met her. She then was a co-host on a local TV talk show, with a well known local TV anchorman. While she was co-hosting this show, I was a guest in the audience with my oldest daughter who was about 6–7 months old. The show was on parenting, the struggles, the challenges, the highs and the lows. The closing credits rolled with my daughter on Oprah’s lap. Even then, with Oprah being virtually unknown to the nation, you just knew that she had something special. She was smart, witty, warm and genuine.
To sit at a meal with Oprah would be awe-inspiring. I would love to hear what gave her the impetus to overcome her obstacles. I would like to discuss how she wants to live out the second half of her life. As a woman of a similar age, I would like to hear her views on women and their relationship with the media. I also would want to know how she manages to stay so grounded and how she handles being one of the most successful businesswomen in the world. We share so many passions — education for all, women’s rights, equality. Her philanthropy never ceases to amaze. Breakfast would not be enough, there is so much I’d want to ask her. She’d be invited for the weekend!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Website — www.theyummyyank.co.uk
Facebook — The Yummy Yank
Twitter — @theyummyyank
Instagram — @theyummyyank
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!