Elisa Marshall: The Journey to Maman
When we first stumbled upon Maman Soho, we knew we had found something special. From the rustic decorations to the bunny printed cups to the rich smell of cheese that immediately greets you upon walking in, there is an undeniable warmth about this cafe (and not to mention our favorite Almond Matcha Latte in the entire city). With another stunning location in TriBeCa, and a couple more on the horizon, it's safe to say we're not the only ones who can't stay away (side note: even our girls Gisele and Karlie Kloss have been spotted recently). So who are the brains and beauties behind this home away from home for so many New Yorkers? A couple whose love is so rich, we're petty sure that's why everything in the cafe tastes, smells, and feels so good.
"I started off studying fashion. Growing up, I never had that what do you want to be kind of thing. It was always a mixture of a hundred things, from a fashion designer, to a baker, to an event planner, to interior designer. I always loved to touch on many different elements, all which were in more creative fields. I ended up pursuing fashion, because that was a big passion of mine during school, and I studied fashion business and fashion management design, and I really fell in love with the marketing and branding aspect of things. I headed more into that direction, which led me into PR and communications. From there, I got into a lot of events. I was doing brand launches, fashion shows, store openings, you name it. Then doing a lot of press events and press previews, and I really had a knack for that and quite enjoyed it.
That led me into planning other personal events. I fell into planning weddings for a friend of mine. Then, that was kind of my calling. I loved doing that. I loved touching into the more personal events, because it was a little bit more rewarding than money. You know, when you can be part of someone's best day ever, and they come to you at the end of the day and say, ‘This was the best day of my life, and it was all thanks to you.’ It made it all so much more special. At this point, I still had a nine to five fashion job, which was paying the bills. Then, my evenings and weekends were devoted to wedding planning."
"I always grew up baking. My mom was a big baker. I was attached to her hip in the kitchen. So that was just another little side project or passion that I loved to do. During the weddings, I remember, I had one wedding planner say, ‘Do you know anyone who does sweet tables?’ Because she wanted all these little cupcakes and cakes. I was like, ‘Sure, I know someone who does it…’ And it was me. I’m always a yes person. I’ll always say yes to everything. And so I did it, and it turned out fabulous. It was a big hit of the event.
Then I met Ben — my partner in Maman. He was a corporate lawyer at the time, and on our first date he said, ‘I want to get into the food industry. I want to open up a restaurant one day. The corporate world is not for me.’ I'm like, ‘That's so funny, because I want to open up a bakery that's an event venue, that ties everything that I love together.’
During that time, we both had a cool opportunity presented to us. His best friends growing up was a part of the Experimental Group and they asked Ben if he would want to join them on a project for a restaurant in Ibiza, Spain. We started talking about it, and we were both kind of sick of our lives. I was doing a little bit of everything, but nothing too seriously. He was doing everything very seriously, as a lawyer, working crazy hours in a job that was just not very fun. Once we talked about it, we learned that the venue was one of the top wedding destinations on the island. It was amazing.
We said, ‘You know what. Forget it. Let's do it. We both want to get more into the food industry.’ It was a perfect stepping stone for me, because it was a wedding venue, and event venue. We could really work for ourselves and combine all of our passions. We dropped everything, picked up and moved over to Ibiza. We did that for two years.
But I still had this passion to ultimately do…this — Maman."
OPENING THE DOORS
"We found a location when we weren’t even really looking. I was speaking to a landlord saying ‘I have this dream and I have this concept. I want to create a cute little event venue and I want a bakery and really good home-cooked food, and a lot of attention to details, and basically just everything I love, under one roof.’
I saw the SoHo location, which was a poster store at the time. It had these vintage aged floors, distressed brick walls, tin ceilings. It was such a perfect foundation for the vision I had. Across the street is one of the most prestigious buildings in the city. You feel like you're in Europe looking out at that place. Upon research, it turned out the space was going to be available shortly, and I thought, 'Oh my god, this is really happening.'"
WHAT MAKES MAMAN DIFFERENT (OR IN OUR OPINION, THE BEST)?
"It’s the uniqueness that makes it special, and keeps it homey. I'm super detail oriented when it comes to the packaging — I think of every little thing, and how to make things a little different. I like to always do things with a little twist. Maybe it's the attention to detail, and the fact that we’re not just another run of the mill coffee shop. It's not cookie cutter. There's not anything else out there like it. I want it to be a family business. We've talked about expanding, and we've had opportunities to franchise, but I'm scared to do that, because I don’t want it to lose it’s charm."
WORKING IN LOVE
"A lot of people think that I'm lying, but honestly, it is incredible. And fortunately, outside of work, we match very well. I think that when you do work with someone you’re in love with, it’s important to be a good balance. Everything that I suck at, he is amazing at, and vise versa (although, he's shockingly good at everything). He'll look after the accounting, the numbers, the math, the invoicing…and that's from his legal background. Then, I mostly take care of more of the creativity, the marketing, the branding. Our roles in the company were never really defined, we just took them on our own. Even in the kitchen with menu development, I oversee the baking side of things, he looks after the cooking side of things. It's really fun to be with someone, everyday, all the time, and it's not like we go home and sit down at the table and be like, ‘So…how was your day today?’ There’s always something to talk about. We’re in it together."
L’INFLUENCE DE MAMAN
"Our mom's are incredible. They take turns being here. Ben’s mom is here now, and mine was here for the first three weeks we opened the Tribeca location. They’ve helped build the counter, they’ve sanded things down, and painted 80% of what you see in here. So they’re really awesome, and physically hands on.
I think I get a lot of my attention to details and skills from my mom. She's there cutting menus, and arts and crafts, and gluing, and pasting things. The cooking side of things, too. Of course, a lot of the recipes we have are family recipes, and that's the original concept we wanted to bring to life.
We named all of our salads, all of our sandwiches, after people, as well. The the egg salad sandwich is something classic I grew up with, and that's called the Janice, after my mom. He stepped it up a few notches and added dill and avocado to it, and played around with the recipes more. Our moms have just been amazing…they’re the reason we’re here. We named it after them, because they’re our inspiration in life, and in everything."
THE FUTURE OF MAMAN
"We're definitely going do more expansion in the New York area. If you asked Ben this, he’d be like, ‘Oh, we're going to have a hundred, all around the world!’ I see it still staying as a family business. We're definitely going to be expanding in New York. We've been entertaining the idea of expanding, and going a little bit more west coast. Like I said, I don't want it to lose its charm, and its details, and what makes it special.
I really want to expand the brand itself. I want to do more retail elements. I want to do more packaged goods. I want to start packaging and selling our cookie doughs. I want to do our own granolas.
My far out dream? I'd love to do Maman The Market and have a place where you can come in and it's a complete marketplace, because our menu is like that. We have a sweets station, we have great coffee, and in the summer we do awesome ice cream. I'd love to have a really big space, and there'd be a florist there, as well. I'd also love to have a Maman Pour Bebe, and do a baby collection, and baby food. Michelin star chef organic, canned, amazing, baby food, would be very cool. We have a lot of creative visions and plans for expansion. It's just, what's feasible, and how many hours a night I get to sleep."
ON SAYING YES
"I'm open for a lot of opportunities and experiences, and I take whatever life throws at me. I think my mom was also a big inspiration for that, because she's the most positive human being you'll ever meet. She'll say yes to everything, and the sun's always shining, and even on a cloudy, rainy day, it's the most beautiful day to her. I think it's your outlook and being open to experiences, and being a positive person all around, and yes is automatically the easiest, most positive answer you can do. You just figure the rest out later."
"It’s about the people in my life, and carrying on traditions — extending memories form there. I think those are the things that are cherished, and that are often lost, and was the core root reason why we started Maman. We have pictures of family, friends, food, recipes in the washrooms. There's so many little things, that come together that are very rewarding for me.
For example, my grandma gave us her cookie recipe, and then it was published in InStyle magazine. They did a feature on it. That was something so special, and meant so much to her, and it meant so much to my mom. So for me, it’s about carrying on the memories of family traditions, and creating something together. Then, it'll be Ben and I creating something together, and I hope we can tell the stories of how we created this together, to our children."