2015 New York Rising Star Concept Artisans Liz Gutman and Jen King of Liddabit Sweets

2015 New York Rising Star Concept Artisans Liz Gutman and Jen King of Liddabit Sweets
February 2015

A New York success story doesn’t necessarily have to start in New York. Witness the rise of Liddabit Sweets, part of the Brooklyn artisanal renaissance which owes its success to a Californian and a Michigander, respectively.

From all appearances, Jen King and Liz Gutman each had a (separate) fire burning from a young age, a passion for something that pushed them beyond their hometowns and comfort levels. For Gutman, it was acting, which drew her all the way from Costa Mesa, California, to New York University’s prestigious acting program. For King, it was politics, which had her campaigning for the Democratic party for an exhilarating, but exhausting, few years. 

Gutman left performing for a two-year stint at a media research company, but she wouldn’t find her passion for pastry until she left that job to work for Will Goldfarb. Fortunately for Liddabit, King embraced a long-stoked passion for cooking (with a 2,000-plus cookbook collection) at around the same time, enrolling in the pastry program at The International Culinary Center and, happily, meeting Gutman.

Fast friends with a shared interest in sustainable, highest grade product, King and Gutman talked one day about starting a business together. That day came sooner than they might have imagined. Liddabit Sweets debuted at Brooklyn Flea in 2009, and has since graduated to its own headquarters and countless candy retails spots. The duo not only put out an International Association of Culinary Professionals award-finalist cookbook (The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook) in 2012, they were co-honorees of the International Culinary Centers’s first-ever Outstanding Alumni Award for Entrepreneurship.

Interview with New York Rising Star Concept Artisans Liz Gutman and Jen King of Liddabit Sweets

Antoinette Bruno: How did you get your start?
Liz Gutman:
We, [Jen and I], first became friends in 2007 while we were in culinary school at the French Culinary Institute. We started making wedding cupcakes while attending school and decided to make candies as a side project for extra cash. It was something to do on the weekends. We opened Liddabit in 2009 and currently have a retail stand at Chelsea Market. We serve lunch for tenants in our building in Brooklyn—a lot of artists, musicians, and artisans have studios in this building. And we sell wholesale to 50 stores, mostly small specialty shops. Joan was our first hire in 2010. Now we have 16 employees and made a little over 600k in revenue in last year.

Initially, we had applied to Brooklyn Flea in May 2009 and then we built up our wholesale base and then we built the online shop in November 2009. In 2013, we opened a retail store in Chelsea Market. We weren't planning on a retail store, but the opportunity came up so we jumped on it. That’s when we changed focus from wholesale to retail. 

AB: Any advice for people who’re just getting started?
Manufacturing in New York is very expensive and difficult. Be prepared for a long ride. Utilize every strength you have and don’t hesitate to ask for help—be okay with asking for help!

AB:  What's the biggest challenge facing your business?
Jen King:
It's such a big undertaking, understanding how business works, especially in New York. It was very daunting. Cash flow is an ongoing issue, especially with balancing the wholesale and retail books. It’s a continuous issue.

AB: What did you find inspiring about the process?
The way other people come to help. There’s a lot of rallying together for ingredients or supplies and solving problems, especially with our caramel cutter. It’s a 100-plus year old machine and we can’t just go to anyone to fix it. We reach out a lot to friends, family, and colleagues and people are always around to help.  
JK: Seeing all the female entrepreneurs coming up in the industry, like The Good Batch and Butter & Scotch. It’s really great to see women doing food and doing things on their terms. In small businesses, stories play a key part. Women are thriving in the entrepreneurial environment because it's on their terms and their schedules. As opposed to restaurants where you're tied down and have to be there all the time.

AB: What have you learned going at it yourself?
LG & JK:
We definitely make more money in retail and are looking to build up and improve on what we have. We want to be more developed in terms of design and set up. Two-hundred and seventy square feet was too big for us! Now we’re in a 100 square foot corner. We make deliveries to Chelsea twice a week. We're limited to what we can sell in Chelsea market, for example we’re not allowed to serve hot drinks or have a coffee program. So we’ve had to adjust around the parameters and restrictions at Chelsea. Now, we do a chocolate ginger tea with Kelvin Natural Slush Co. Going forward, we definitely will ask questions before setting things up.