Liz Gutman & Jen King, Liddabit Sweets, Women Entrepreneurs

Liddabit-1-600I have a soft spot for entrepreneurs in the food space.  All businesses are tough but finding capital for the food business is so hard in the early years.  I have been following (and eating) Liddabit Sweets since they first launched.  The products are delicious.  I really like the brand/packaging and the story is just as sweet.

Let’s start with Liz.  Liz grew up in Costa Mesa, CA.  Her father, a scientist,  was a long time professor at University California Irvine and taught one of the courses that every single medical student who went there had to take.  Her mother did a few things from a parole office in Detroit, to working at CalTech.  She got a degree later at Cal Tech and landed a job at Alliance Bernstein in NYC when Liz got there.  She’s currently the interim staff ombudsman at New School.  She also works for FEMA.

Liz moved to NYC at 17 with dreams of becoming an actress.  She attended NYU where she spent the days doing human training vs acting training majoring in communication pushing her to think on her feet.  It has proved to be a real asset as an entrepreneur.  She had traveled a lot as a kid, her Dad was born n France.  Liz became a Tisch Scholar at NYU which sponsored her to go to Brazil for ten days an immerse herself in art programs.  It was a great ending to her time there.

As a kid, Liz spent many hours in the kitchen.  Both her parents are good cooks and family dinners were part of daily life.  You had to cook or clean.  They also packed their own lunches every day instead of eating the school lunch.  Eating healthy was part of her daily life.

After graduating she pursued the acting life.  She auditioned for awhile, did some voice-over work but realized pretty quickly that this was not her destiny.  She landed a job in a media research company where she watched TV commercials all day and write questions about them.  She thought she was going to lose her mind.  The company eventually got bought out by Neilsen and Liz began to look into culinary school.  She had started cooking again at home and found it tangible and rewarding. She began working for a pastry chef who was insane and abusive but regardless she decided to dip her toe in the water and go to the French Culinary School.

Jen was born in South Korea and was adopted by a Korean mom and came to US at 2 1/2.   Her adopted Mom couldn’t have kids and wanted to raise a Korean child.  She adopted Jen first and then her sister 2 1/2 years after Jen.  Jen grew up in Ann Arbor, MI.  Her father worked in the unions and at one point was President of the United Auto Workers.  Watching her father, who was a social activist, growing up was fascinating.  Her Mom stayed at home raising the kids but was always looking for something else that would make her happier.  Her parents divorced when she was 7.

Jen graduated high school and went to Michigan State where she majored in communications. Both her parents were UM alums but Liz opted to stay in MI but be a bit farther out.  She went through a slightly rebellious stage at that point and struggled in college.  She grew up being pushed to go into medicine even though she spent a lot of time cooking and baking in college.   She decided to take a year off of school and figure it out.  She spent a lot of time that year reading vintage cookbooks and talking to restaurants because her passion was in cooking but she felt guilty about not saving the world.  She returned to school, graduated and moved to CA with a good friend.

Jen landed a temp job at AIG that turned into a full time job.  It was absolutely not what she wanted to do so she moved back to Michigan and worked for John Kerry figuring maybe politics was the career route for her.  Jen worked for the DNC arm in Michigan working for the caucus which wasn’t exactly inspiring for her either.  Yet every day she would bring in home made goodies to the office.  One day she realized the cooking and baking is where her joy was.  She looked online, visited NYC and applied to the French Culinary School.

Liz and Jen met the first day and became partners in the first unit on cookies.  They worked well together and became buddies.  They would travel around Chinatown and other areas of NYC tasting everything.  They graduated school, Jen got her externship at Per Se.  The economy went sour and the pastry chef was fired.  Jen became nervous about the future.  Liz had gone to work at Roni Sue making caramels.  Rondi became a huge support and tremendous mentor to them.

On the side, Liz and Jen found a project to work on together.  Liz had discovered the Brooklyn Flea, a flea market for new food products.  They made caramels and candy bars and sold them there.  They quickly realized that they needed some help and reached out to Joan, who had gone to school with them, is super organized and keeps them on track.  Liz and Jen love making delicious things.  They believe that feeding someone is a way to show them you care by nurturing through food.

They began the Brooklyn Flea in 2009 on weekends.  Then they got into the Holiday Market, a pop-up for the month of December in the old Tower Records space.  They were working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day and then came the point where they realized that Liddabit Sweets was becoming bigger than the 2 of them.  The switch flipped.  They started selling to places such as Marlow and Daughters and built an online shop.  They would take the profits and pour the right back into the company, bootstrapping their growth along the way.

Now they have their own space in Sunset Park.  They make everything from start to finish and the product line has grown.  All their growth has been completely organic.  They even wrote a book.  Everything has been in-bound.  Now it is time to step on the gas.  Impressive women with enthusiasm, great aura and love for what they do.  They found their sweet spot.  Don’t be surprised to see Liddabit Sweets grow a lot in the years to come.