4 ways one couple turned their café into a nearly $50 million business

4 ways one couple turned their café into a nearly  million business
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Maman cafe in New York
Exterior of a Maman cafe in New York in 2021.

  • Owners of the popular cafe chain Maman brought in about $50 million last year
  • They risked everything — including all their savings — to do it
  • In a recent CNBC article, the couple explained how they did it 

What was once a pipe dream of opening a café has become a multimillion-dollar business and brand for a New York couple.

Maman — a café touted for its pastries, French-style dishes, and Instagram-worthy aesthetics — has opened 34 locations across the US and Canada since opening its first Manhattan location in 2014.

“It was a small little dream that we had to open one cute, quaint, cozy coffee shop and café,” owner Elisa Marshall told CNBC.

According to CNBC, Maman made about $47.2 million in sales last year and hopes to bring in $65 million in total revenue by the end of 2024. But it wasn’t an easy start — from draining their savings to expanding the brand, co-founders Marshall and her husband, Benjamin Sormonte, gave up a lot to get the business where it is today.

In an interview with CNBC Make It, they described how they spent the last decade making their Parisian fantasy into a lucrative reality.

Big sacrifices at the onset

As with many small businesses, starting up was not easy. Marshall and Sormonte gave up a lot — including money, jobs, and sleep — to pursue their dream of running a successful café in New York.

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Even before opening, they took their first leap of faith by uprooting their lives to relocate. Marshall and Sormonte moved to New York in 2012 from Spain after running a beach club in Ibiza. Before that, they had corporate jobs in law and marketing.

When it came time to bring the cafe to life physically, Sormonte and Marshall became not only business owners but also painters, bakers, and waiters. When Maman opened its doors in October 2014, they spent upwards of 80 hours a week working at the downtown Manhattan spot.

It was “a lot of sacrifice,” Sormonte told CNBC, and “a lot of sweat and tears and love.”

The couple burned about $250,000 to open, including emptying their savings accounts and turning to friends and family to pitch in.

“It was one of the biggest financial risks we could ever take,” said Marshall to CNBC. “We really took quite a risk in pouring not only all of our money into it but also all of our time and energy.”

Finding their ‘it’ factor

Coffee shops are a dime a dozen these days — one 2023 report said there are now more than 40,000 in the US. But Maman and its owners have made it a standout by honing in on a few distinct factors.

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Inspiration for Maman — the French word for “mother” — and its menu was born from the foods they ate as kids. Sormonte grew up in Southern France and Marshall in Toronto.

Marshall told CNBC that they chose the name with the intent to create “the feeling of warmth and home.”

“When we asked ourselves, ‘Who is your favorite chef?’ We both said “Maman,” in the sense that we both grew up in a kitchen with our mom,” Sormonte said.

The aesthetic inside its locations matches, with its blue and white china, country wood furniture, and floral touches.

“You’re coming here for the ambiance [and] for the vibe, for the beauty of the space,” she said, adding: “Good food and coffee is easy to find in a lot of places. So you need that little something more.”

Maman Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookie
A nutty chocolate chip cookie from Maman.

A standout menu item

While they had breakfast dishes, coffee drinks, and Instagram-worthy aesthetics down, one item in their pasty case put Maman on the map in its early days: their “nutty chocolate chip cookie.”

In their first month of being open, Maman was featured in a New York Magazine article that said it had “NYC’s most impressive new chocolate-chip cookie.”

The attention catapulted them into the spotlight and spread the word fast about their existence. In its first year, Maman made about $2 million in revenue, according to CNBC.

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Diversifying the brand

By 2015, Sormonte and Marshall were “close to burnout” from their hectic schedules as new business owners. So, CNBC reported, they looked outward for help, hiring more staff members and attracting the attention of outside investors, including a $1.5 million investment from Sormonte’s brother.

They struck a deal in 2020 with a private equity firm for “between $10 million and $20 million,” CNBC reported.

They have also rolled out Maman-themed merchandise and related products for sale. It’s all part of a larger plan to make themselves more than a café.

In 2021, they published a cookbook called “Maman: All Day Recipes to Warm Your Heart.” They also do catering and rent their café spaces for events — which together account for about 20% of Maman’s yearly revenue, Marshall told CNBC. And there are plans for more in the future, like candles and dishware.

“My vision for Maman is much more than just a brick-and-mortar, four-wall restaurant,” Marshall told CNBC. “I really see us turning into a multifaceted lifestyle brand.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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