With a love and passion for one too many things, Elisa Marshall, a Toronto native who calls NYC home, couldn’t find enough hours in the day to do all the things she loved, nor could she find that “perfect” job or café, so alongside her fiancé, Ben Sormonte (previously a corporate lawyer), she invented it – Maman. Quickly embraced by SoHo locals and international visitors, the café, restaurant, and event space has flourished with multiple locations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Toronto and international popups in Paris and St Barths.
Growing up, Elisa never had that single what do you want to be when you grow up epiphany; rather, her passions were always a mixture of many things: fashion designer, baker, event planner, branding and marketing, interior designer, or the next Martha Stewart. Always with a love for the kitchen in the background, she began her career wearing many hats in the fashion industry before settling into PR and events. With her creativity naturally flowing from branded popups to private shindigs, Elisa loved planning more intimate occasions and celebrating people as opposed to “things.”
In her mid-20’s, juggling a 9-5 fashion PR job, planning weddings and events during the evening and weekends, and co-founding a business baking wedding cakes and making sweets into the wee hours, things got too chaotic. She mindfully refocused on what she loved most and decided to open a restaurant in Spain with her French native partner-in-life, Ben. She also co-founded Sweet Expressions, a Montreal-based cupcake and candy bar catering company. After three years in Spain, New York called them home.
In love with the coffee culture of NYC, Elisa and Ben often worked from various cafés while planning the next season’s events and weddings, and quickly realized there was nothing out there that embodied the love they knew from those fondest young memories in their mother’s kitchens. Both yearned for a beautiful, homey place where they could savor a delicious home baked cookie, yet gather with friends for a lively brunch as if in their own living room.
In 2014, Elisa and Ben opened Maman (French for mother) in SoHo, a beautiful, welcoming place to eat, drink, and gather amidst all the things we love and those we love. Over the last five years, they’ve opened over ten locations, with more on the way. Bringing to life childhood favorites, both savory and sweet from the south of France and North America, dishes focus on the highest quality, locally sourced ingredients and highlight twists on classic French technique. Maman has collaborated with brands in a variety of sectors from home goods to lifestyle to culinary, including Paper Source, Anthropologie, Samsung, Sonos, West Elm, Elmhurst, Vita Coco, Birchbox, Fora Foods, Erin McKenna, and more. Maman’s famous nutty chocolate chip cookie was named one of Oprah’s“ Favorite Things” and one of NYC’s best chocolate chip cookies in New York Magazine. Elisa has also contributed for MarthaStewart.com and will be launching her first-ever cookbook, “Maman: The Cookbook, All Day Recipes to Warm Your Heart,” in Fall of 2021.
Episode #1600 Elisa Marshall: Beauty as a Compass
Every detail matters to Elisa Marshall — The tiny chips that give plates their character, the story behind every chair surrounding her 14-person dinner table, and the feeling evoking questions she asks gathered around it, like: What made you smile today?
Driven to find the beauty in every day, Elisa lives by Elsie de Wolfe’s wisdom: “I’m going to make everything around me beautiful, and that will be my life.” She began by asking - What do I love to do? Who do I love to do it with? - to combine all of her passions into the creation of her global cafes, Maman, and embodies this intentionality in every aspect of her life. We see the world through her creative lens as she shares how symbolic objects enliven the soul of a space and multi-sensory experiences “stimulate our being.”
Elisa and her husband and co-founder, Ben, are also the authors of Maman: The Cookbook: All-Day Recipes to Warm Your Heart. We delve into the importance of togetherness in the kitchen and the moments that become lifelong memories. Whether through sharing a meal or a lively cooking competition, they all center around “devoted time to sit down and really enjoy each other’s company.”
*Editor’s note: We experienced a few sound fluctuations recording this episode remotely. Thank you for listening and understanding!