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IN GOOD COMPANY WITH:

MAMAN

Founded by Elisa Marshall and her husband Benjamin Sormonte, Maman has become a French café staple throughout New York and four other lucky cities. To bring together the essence of both our French-American brands, we planned a date with Elisa and her two sons over croissants — here’s where the conversation took us, from creative inspiration to motherhood.

@_MAMANNYC_

Tell us a little bit about yourself! When did you start Maman? What made you want to launch the brand?

My name is Elisa Marshall and I live in Soho, NYC with my two sons, Rêve (8 months) & Yves (3.5 years) along with my husband & business partner Ben, and our wonderful little rescue dog, Crumpet. The journey to maman has been a fun one and it is so interesting to see how every aspect in my life has come together to bring me here. Ultimately, the concept was born from a love and passion of one too many things. I couldn’t find enough hours in the day to do all the things that I loved, nor could I find that ‘perfect’ job, so I invented it! I started my career in the fashion industry and juggled a 9 to 5 fashion PR job while planning weddings and events and running a wedding catering business on the side. Eventually, I met Ben, my now life & business partner. He was an exceptionally skilled corporate lawyer from France, and I remember on our second date he told me how he wanted to leave it all & open a restaurant. After living overseas for a few years and working together in the restaurant & hospitality industry, we decided to open up a coffeeshop & bakery in New York City. “Maman” means mother in french, but for us, it also represents a place of refuge & a home away from home—which is especially important in a city that can feel quite overwhelming. At the time of our first café’s opening in 2014, New York was filled with trendy & sleek coffee shops, but offered little in the way of a cozy spot to curl up to a good book with, gather over a meal with friends, or simply escape the hustle and bustle of the city. given that the strongest bonds are often formed around the dining table, we sought out to create a place where our customers could build a real sense of community—family even. 29+ cafés across NYC, NJ, DC, & PA, 155k+ instagram followers, one cookbook, & hundreds of press features later, maman has evolved from a small cozy neighbourhood spot to a thriving food, beverage & lifestyle brand!

Where do you gather inspiration from?

I gather inspiration from all over. I am a lover of all things beautiful and always look to find the beauty in everything. I get lots of inspiration form the usual places like instagram & pinterest, but I also love to travel and find much inspiration when my mind is on 'vacation'. This is everything from decor & design ideas, to food to marketing.

Did you always know that you wanted to be in the food industry?

No, I never imagined to be so heavily into it. Food was always a passion of mine, and something I loved, but I never envisioned it as a career. When exploring many different career paths in my 20's it seemed to me the one link that brought them all together, and also an industry that will never die and always be in demand and evolving, so fortunately I was able to make it the center of my career while building my other passions around it!

If you had to pick a career highlight, what would it be and why?

Within our first week of opening maman, we were organically named ‘the best cookie in NYC’ by Grub Street, New York Times and a few other publications where editors happened to come by & try our cookies. That was a huge surprise for us and really helped to put us on the map. Having our nutty chocolate chip cookie featured on Oprah’s favorite things list back in 2017 was another huge highlight resulting in us having to kick start a huge e-commerce business and sell & ship all over the country! Writing and releasing our cookbook in 2021 was another dream come true for me as i was so excited to finally be able to share some of my most treasured recipes in a book & capture the essence of maman in print for those who couldn't visit us in person!

If you had to pick a role model who inspires you the most, who would you choose and why?

My maman, who the book is named after! She is the most beautiful person in side & out I have ever met, and she radiates positive. Her glass is always half full and she will always find the best in any situation. She has guided and taught me so much inside and outside of the kitchen and I wouldn't be the maman I am today, work wise or personally without her!

How does motherhood collide with your work? How do you blend those two worlds?

I think the key word here is blend. So many refer to it as balance, but I find the balance very difficult. When I started working part-time after my first son Yves was born, I felt like I was giving only 50 percent of my time and energy to my son, and 50 percent to my career. I was struggling to merge these two areas of my life, as in my mind they were very separate and could not be done in combination with one another. Then, a simple phrase from my friend Jenna gave me a fresh perspective: She referred to a work/life blend as opposed to a work/life balance, helping me realize I had to change my ways to allow parenthood and business to coexist with one another. I had to accept that it’s OK to step out of a meeting when my nanny calls, and OK to answer emails on the couch while Yves is enjoying solo play time. I gave myself permission to do two things at once, and that for me was the best advice in juggling a career while being a mom!

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What advice would you give to your younger self?

My parents always encouraged me to be an individual and be unique and in all I did and they encouraged me never to follow the crowd & that it’s ok to take risks. Be unique, be different and don't do what everyone else is doing. Minimize negativity My mother is the most positive person I have ever met & can find a ray of sunshine in the rainiest or darkest day. She has been my light and inspiration to always have a positive outlook and pushed me to surround myself with likeminded people and see positivity in every situation. Go with the flow I love to plan, have things all lined up, goals to hit and things to work towards, but more and more I am realizing how in the big picture of life, how unrealistic that is. Goals of course are always important, but you have to be open to the fact that things may not go exactly the way you have planned it - that’s ok. You can’t predict the future so don’t get too caught up and waste too much time planning for later. Find your passion There is nothing better for me than waking up every day getting to do what I love & doing it beside the person I love. I was struggling for a while, as I couldn’t pin point that one thing I wanted to do, or that ‘perfect’ job, so in reality I knew I had to create it. I had to get my hands dirty in so many different industries and various jobs until I was able to really shape my path, identify my strengths and weaknesses & ultimately figure out what I liked and didn’t like. It’s okay to not be perfect We all have our strengths and oftentimes it is very easy to point those out and know exactly what you excel at, but it is also very important to identify your weaknesses and what you are NOT good at, especially when you are starting a business, and that’s ok. We are not perfect & never will be. When going into business, no matter the industry our strengths are what will make us shine but our weaknesses will drag us down. It is very important to identify those traits and ensure you have help & support in those areas. For me math was never my thing, and if I looked after the books or numbers in this business we would have closed down after the first month. It was realizing that and owning that I am horrible with numbers that allowed me hand that over to Ben to look after (ironically that is one of his strengths). Identify your weaknesses, find a yin to your yang, and don’t think that you can do it all yourself!

What advice would you give to fellow mom-preneurs?

I think it's really important to let go of the super mom mindset. You cannot be a perfect mother and businesswoman at the same time and it's ok to ask for help! The power of community: Having childcare has been the biggest help in running a business alongside motherhood– someone I can trust who allows me to step back. We all have that “super mom” mentality that says we can do everything and juggle it all. But asking for help and leaning on my community has been the most important thing to ensure I have time for work. On turn-taking with my spouse: My husband and I each have our designated tasks that we look after when it comes to parenting and work, (our strengths, as we often call them). Of course, we are always there to help each other out when needed. However, Ben looks after wake-up, morning snacks, diaper changes, and more while I sleep in. Once I’m up, I take over while he gets ready and walks the dog. We also have a nice routine for evenings: Ben makes dinner, while I sit and feed Yves & Rêve. Ben looks after playtime and pre-bedtime with Yves while I put the little one down, then we take turns for storytime & putting Yves to bed.We naturally fell into this routine and it really helps us to plan out our mornings and evenings, while allowing for time to ourselves once they are both asleep.

What quote or saying do you try to live by?

“I am going to make everything around me beautiful, and that will be my life”- My fav quote from Else De Wolfe

What’s your favorite item from the Oeuf Franglais line?

What’s your favorite menu item from maman?

Our maman homemade oreo and a large americano with a splash of whole milk ;)

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