You and your partner, Freya Estreller, are two smart cookies (pun intended). You studied architecture at UC Berkeley and then went on to graduate school at UCLA and Freya studied finance at Cornell. Can you talk about your different strengths and how they have worked together to build your company? Having a different skill set and an aligned vision is everything when it comes to a successful partnership, especially for founders… it means you can cover a lot of territory and also learn from each other. I was able to do the designing of the brand, and I also had some sales and marketing experience. Freya had finance and operations. At first, we were very set in our terrains, but as time went on---I began to absorb (and come to enjoy), more of what Freya had originally covered, and she has become much more creative and visual. I think that’s the sign of a winning partnership.
Coolhaus has some deliciously inventive flavor combinations! In your opinion, what is (or has been) the most badass flavor combo and what was your inspiration for it?
I think one of our all-time top flavor combos in the adventurous category is Fried Chicken & Waffles ice cream with Maple Flapjack cookies. Also, last year we released the ‘Jewish Deli’ line, and we did this Dark Chocolate Marbled Rye cookie with Pastrami (you read that right) ice cream… it worked! It was insanely good; customers literally giggled when they ate it. You have to do the classics well too, though, and our Double Chocolate cookies + Dirty Mint Chip ice cream is phenomenal.
Culture is something that is getting increasing attention these days - tell us a little about your Coolhaus culture?
Culture is everything. Great products last a decade, but great cultures mean a brand will last a century or more. I think there is particular emphasis from Millennials about desirable culture at the office---it’s less these days about ‘work/life balance’ (although that is of course, essential too---it’s just more of an effort to unplug), and more about work being a lifestyle---something that you don’t even want to shut off or avoid, because it’s challenging but incredibly rewarding and fun. As far as how we’ve achieved our particular company culture, here are our pillars: 1. Bohemian, creative atmosphere WITH structure (daily, weekly, monthly and annual reporting) 2. Have transparency with the team, the community and the customer on your product, vision and goals. 3. Listen to what your team and customers have to say (social media is great for this, but not the only way). 4. It’s possible to work hard and have fun---there is no shame in it. Work SHOULD be fun. We have benefits for our team, try to offer perks as much as possible, and reward hard work with bonuses. What are some seemingly small moments that turned out to be meaningful to you?
Freya (other co-founder) and I are married to each other. I remember one day things were really hectic organizing an event, but I wasn’t giving the event the priority it needed. Freya and I had this conversation about how solid our relationship is, and we have this awesome, potentially huge brand on our hands---let’s prioritize to make it everything it can be. Having such a strong foundation from someone you love really has enabled me to take risks and put myself out there even more so than I might have done. In the end, as we and the brand have matured, we have re-achieved that great balance between work and love (work took over for a few years there!). Also, I remember someone I worked for told me that business does not happen from casual conversations… it’s part of a machine where many decisions have to be signed off on. That never sat with me well---and in my own experience, some of my best projects/products have come from the most informal, social, casual of origins… I think I’ve made it a mission of sorts to do things that way.
What is your favorite room in your house and why?
Our bedroom connects to a beautiful enclosed courtyard, so it’s like an awesome, indoor/outdoor suite. Our bedroom has a great energy---really cool art, a gorgeous indoor plant, very clean and bright. The courtyard has a dining set-up for morning coffee and hanging with our two little dogs, Hamilton and TR Scoobs. I feel like it’s paradise!
Professionally you have accomplished so much and were even listed on Forbes magazine's "30 Under 30" for Food & Wine. What advice would you give to young women pursuing their passion and/or careers?
Think big and take your ambitions to the next level. Think also about how you can work on your business, not just in your business (like don’t get lost in the day-to-day). Coolhaus definitely pushes the boundaries of traditional desserts. What are other aspects of your life where you like to push boundaries?
I like to be very open in my relationships with friends and family---not shying from talking about things that are hard to discuss as much as the things that are pleasurable… I think it makes for stronger bonds and more productive interactions. Also, Freya and I are a non-traditional couple in many ways: we are two women, we are of two ethnicities, two religions, etc… but we have all the big stuff in common, the values that matter. Lastly, we like to take big steps that could be seen as risks by two business owners: we own property, and we are about to start a family.
When starting a new business, entrepreneurs are frequently faced with challenges. What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I think being so young starting our business created an additional obstacle for managing my team. I was the same age or younger as many of my employees---so how does one garner the respect needed to lead? We developed strong systems of reporting and accountability, and I learned that no two team members are motivated by the same thing: for some it’s money, some need to be told they are doing an awesome job (when they are), some require you being tougher on them. These kind of insights take time to learn, and I’m still just at the beginning of learning them.
I read that Coolhaus prides itself on being environmentally and socially conscious. Can you tell us more about your on-going efforts and why it’s important to you?
Our edible wrappers are a great example of creative environmentally-focused thinking: when you are done with your sammie, you can eat the packaging… so, no waste! We also use plant-based packaging, stainless steel tasting spoons (not disposable ones), and our trucks are actually incredibly efficient off-the-grid retail units: they can run off a generator and are rehabilitated step vans… it’s much smaller carbon footprint to make something of a recycled car than buy new trucks or in all truth, build new shops. When you aren’t working, what is your favorite way to unwind and relax?
Playing tennis with Freya and friends (doubles), hanging with the dogs in our garden, reading the New Yorker, and riding my bike (with one of the dogs in my bike basket!).
How would you define/explain your daily style? Do you usually go for fashion or comfort?
Probably more fashion… I love playing with the same infrastructure but a million variables of it: hats, wide leg pants, wooden wedge shoes… we also love accent jewelry. Freya and I more or less share a wardrobe, so it’s nice to have double the options!
What is your favorite thing to wear to bed and why?
I have these super comfortable pajama pants with robots on them. Love them! Then, any natural cotton shirt on the top does the trick… something that breathes easy. I also LOVE wearing robes---I have like 5, silk, cotton, velvet and terrycloth.