Meet Elyse (of Shark Tank’s Bantam Bagels!)
How old are your kids and how long have you lived in Westport? I have two boys, 5 and 2 years old. My husband and I started both a business – Bantam Bagels – and a family at the same time (the business is just over 7 years old).
When we had our first, my husband and I were in the midst of building a new business, still working 12 hour days at our Bleecker Street shop, on our feet daily, and personally baking bagels to meet the needs of our growing QVC business. I was working the counter at the shop until the very end. In fact, a customer came in and asked me, “when are you due?” I looked at my phone and noticed the date. “Actually… I’m due today,” I replied. That moment totally defined the merge of work and life as an entrepreneur! We worked from the delivery room for the birth of both kids.
We moved to Westport about 3 years ago, once we felt confident in our Brooklyn-based co-manufacturing facility and could take a step back on the day to day. It’s been a welcome breath of fresh air!
How did you get to where you are now? After years of working on Wall Street, my husband and I were looking for a change. We were looking to control our own destiny and pour our hearts and souls into what we did every day. To that end, Nick would come up with ideas constantly… always pitching the next gadget or food or idea he’d come up with. One night, Nick came up with the idea for mini stuffed bagels in a dream. He woke up and noted the idea in his phone (thank goodness!). The next morning, Nick called me at the office, (and mind you this wasn’t the first time he’d called me with one of his ideas). But this time instead of my usual “go back to work” response, this idea was different in a good way. The idea was almost too simple – and too great – to be true! Immediately we did the next logical step – we googled “how to make a bagel” LOL. We made our first batch of bagel dough in our apartment kitchen in Brooklyn that night and from that first batch we were ALL IN. We made hundreds and hundreds of batches of bagels in that kitchen before we landed on the perfect bagel recipe. Simultaneously, we put together a business plan and set up meetings with everyone we knew on Wall Street, pitching at people’s apartments, in after-hour board rooms and even renting space in restaurants to get the necessary capital to open our shop.
Once the shop opened – and the idea for a new way to eat a bagel hit NYC, the response was explosive. Before we knew it, we were being featured live on the Today Show twice, in a full page spread in the WSJ, named Top Bagel in NYC by the Daily News and named to Oprah’s Favorite Things. With that kind of street cred came an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. The hustle had just begun! We made our way onto QVC, Shark Tank, re-invented our business model for food service (Starbucks), and learned the ropes of the grocery industry, personally criss-crossing the country to throw our hearts on the table and beg for a chance to sell into each individual grocery store Nationwide. Having kids in between all that, while certainly complicating life (especially when I was put on bed rest for 6 months), was genuinely what helped us stay grounded and sane, as we climbed the mountain of growing a business from scratch. Long story short, we are so grateful for the hustle that brought us here today!
What’s your favorite app? My favorite app right now is the Calm app! Living a lifestyle of extreme ups, downs, planes every week, and high pressure meetings while still desperately trying to stave off the guilt of not being at drop-off and pick-up every day is a lot! The classes and mental exercises on the Calm app help me step back a bit and re-center my perspective on both the work and the life stuff =).
What is one food you couldn’t live without? The food I could not live without is bagels! For real. 6 years after inventing the Bantam Bagel, I still eat Bantams every single morning with my kids. It’s one thing to do something fun and cool with an iconic food. But our mission from the start was to provide people with an alternative, fully satisfying, real-deal, delicious NYC bagel, while offering a smaller size and more portable format. Staying true to our product is one of the most important things we’ve done as we grow. I still get excited every morning when I eat the product we worked so hard to bring to market.
What are you most excited about in life right now? I’m most excited that I’m finally becoming part of the Westport community! I spent years living here without having the ability to really meet people and genuinely feel like we live here. Meeting people through my kids’ schools, or through WestportMoms has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a powerful collection of people.
What’s your most marked characteristic? One of my most marked characteristics is my competitive nature. Nick and I were both D1 Varsity athletes and we always say – We run the business the way we played sports: we get on the end line and sprint until we puke! It’s how we got the business to where it is in such a short period of time. While we try to chill out in our home life, if you’re ever at house you may get roped into a very competitive corn hole or Kan jam game!
What is your most memorable family vacation? The most memorable family vacation has to be last year – our FIRST family vacation after 6 years. I’ve never been so excited for something in my life – we did everything, the island, the meals, the sunsets, the squishie, cheek-filled, snuggly family quality time that I’d been dying for, in one of the most beautiful settings I’ve ever seen. After a heart-exploding week of late bed times, extra treats at every turn, and lasting memories made, my oldest had a field trip the Monday we got back. I saw him later that day and said “Chase! I missed you today! How was your field trip?” And then comes the most memorable thing of all: His reply: “Mom – you’re never the mom on the bus for field trips”…. LOL
What’s one thing you can’t you leave the house without? LIPSTICK! As a working mom who is totally frazzled most of the time while “balancing” both work and life, I am super careful to present as equal, put tougher and keeping up with the male-dominated industry. Lipstick is the easiest and quickest way to cover up that you haven’t had time to wash your hair yet this week or forgotten to bring that shirt to the dry cleaner!
Who in your life was – or is – the greatest inspiration for what you’re doing today? I genuinely have to say – my husband is one of the greatest inspirations for what I’m doing right now. It was his creativity that launched our idea to begin with. In the constant swirl of elation and panic of growing a business, the only thing that’s truly kept me sane has been someone to share the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with. His vision, his energy and his steady drive has been an inspiration to keep doing what I’m doing!