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This couple turned their dream of a quaint cafe into a multimillion-dollar business

What started as a small cafe, brought in sales worth $47.2 million across 34 locations last year.
PUBLISHED JUN 23, 2024
Cover Image Source: Enjoying coffee at a cafe | Unsplash | Photo by Nathan Dumlao
Cover Image Source: Enjoying coffee at a cafe | Unsplash | Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Benjamin Sormonte and Elisa Marshall, who dreamed of owning a small cozy coffee shop, are now owners of a $47 million business. Since the couple launched “Maman” in 2014, its products have been cheered by food magazines and celebrities including Oprah Winfrey who mentioned Maman’s nutty chocolate chip cookies in the 2017 list of her favorite things. Getting nationwide recognition and a global presence came with a fair share of sacrifices, the couple recently told CNBC Make It.



 

When the couple met in 2011, Sormonte was a corporate M&A lawyer and Marshall had a full-time job in marketing and side gigs in planning and interior design. In 2012, the couple moved to New York to launch a restaurant of their own.

Taking inspiration from their mother’s kitchen, the couple set out to open their small café, Maman (mother in French). As they were inexperienced, Sormonte and Marshall didn’t know how much it would cost to open a small cafe in New York and they put in $250,000. They emptied their savings, took money from family and friends and went all in with the idea. “It was one of the biggest financial risks we could ever take,” Marshall said.

They worked with Michelin-starred chef Armand Arnal, who was a friend of Sormonte’s to create French classics from their childhoods. The menu included items like quiche and tartine, and family recipes like Marshall’s chocolate chip cookies. The couple along with their family members helped construct the first Maman location. They painted the walls and installed the equipment putting in “a lot of sweat and tears and love,” as Sormonte puts it.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by maman (@_mamannyc_)


 

The cafe opened in 2014, and the couple put all their time and energy into running it. They worked long days from 6 am to 8 pm, baking pastries and other items. They worked 80 hours a week, with no days off and no paychecks “for a while,” as per Sormonte.

 “When you start, you want to be here every single hour of the day,” Sormonte says. “It made it special by doing it together,” he added.

Within a month of opening, Maman started getting rave reviews from customers. They got featured in an article in New York Magazine’s food blog, Grub Street. The article lauded the café for selling “NYC’s most impressive new chocolate-chip cookie.” The praise and the publicity brought in waves of customers and Maman raked in $2 million in revenue in its very first year.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Frisson (@frissonmaison)


 

In 2015, the couple hired additional staff and brought investors on board. They got $1.5 million from Sormonte’s brother Julien, who worked as a managing partner of a Paris-based hotel group.

By 2020, Maman opened locations across New York and Canada. They also struck a deal with private equity firm TriSpan for between $10 million and $20 million in funding. This helped them add more cafes in Florida, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Today, Maman has become a fast-growing chain of cafe-bakeries. The business did sales worth $47.2 million across 34 locations last year, as per documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by maman (@_mamantoronto_)


 

Apart from the café, Sormonte and Marshall also sell a Maman cookbook, apparel, and children’s clothing which has a partnership with baby apparel brand Lalo. In the report, a company spokesperson mentioned that it hopes to bring in $65 million in total revenue this year.

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