We had the good fortune of connecting with Maya Zellman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maya, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Prior to starting my business I was working as a professional dancer and teaching artist. I was basically living out my biggest childhood dreams. When I had the idea to start Maya’s Brigadeiro Brazilian Sweets, it was really out of left field. I had no experience in the culinary arts, and I had no experience running a business, I had never even worked in any business/corporate setting in my life, I was an artist from the moment I graduated college. I had the idea to start Maya’s Brigadeiro on one of my annual trips to visit my family in Brazil, as well as to officiate a friend’s wedding. I introduced some of the Americans who came for the wedding to my favorite Brazilian sweet, BRIGADEIRO, and they all fell in love as much as I did when I started eating it as a young child. Something just clicked, I knew I had to bring Brigadeiro to Los Angeles, and to the greater United States. My thought process was really driven by passion. Outside of dance, I had never had anything I felt as strongly and passionately about. Brigadeiro was a way to connect to my family and my culture in Brazil, I felt so inherently linked to the product and incredibly driven and passionate to share it with everyone. I didn’t have a business plan, but just like my career in dance, I knew that if I was passionate enough, driven enough, and willing to put in hard work, things were going to work themselves out. And almost 8 years later, I’m proud to say they have.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
In a city with the cultural and culinary diversity like Los Angeles, I couldn’t understand how my favorite Brazilian dessert wasn’t represented, so with Maya’s Brigadeiro Brazilian Sweets, I set out to fix that . My company specializes in Brigadeiro [pronounced bree-gah-dey-roh], a traditional Brazilian sweet with a unique texture that really sets it apart from anything you have tried before. Brigadeiro can best be described as a cross between a caramel and a truffle. My goal has been to create an experience that celebrates bringing my culture to the states, by always choosing the finest ingredients, creating unique flavors, and hand making every Brigadeiro….with lots of amor! Maya’s Brigadeiro has gotten to the point where it is today by a lot of trial and error and of course help form YouTube and Google. I didn’t have a clue how to start my business when I first had the inspiration, and 7 years in, I’m still continuing to learn every day. We live in the age of information, if you want to grow in something, the resources are out there, you just have to be committed to looking and taking action. I’ve also learned not to compare my journey with my business with anyone else’s. It’s easy to get discouraged when looking at what seems to be speedy progress of those around you, and sometimes you loose sight of everything you have accomplished yourself. It’s important to set your own personal business goals and just move along checking those off, rather than trying to compare your progress to others. As a child of a Brazilian immigrant, I am proud to bring the heart of my Brazilian culture and my connection to my family to the city where my heart lives, right here in Los Angeles. I want people to appreciate the sweetness in diversity. This country is made up of such a beautiful mixture of cultures and people, and I feel when we have a tangible experience with another person’s culture, like eating their food, we all get a little closer to understanding and appreciating one another.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Hiking the back trails of Fryman Canyon Venice Canals Jitlada in Thai Town The Perch in Downtown LA Smorgasburg LA (when it starts back up again)
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
So many people deserve credit and recognition in my story. First I need to acknowledge my friends, who have all been incredibly supportive, especially in the beginning of getting my business off the ground. Friends were quick and willing to help me with selling at craft fairs, rolling Briagdeiro in my studio apartment kitchen, and packaging orders. In the first year of my process, when I was really trying to figure out the ropes through trial and error, I wouldn’t have survived without the support of my friendship circle. I feel so grateful to have have community of people who believed in my vision from the get go and were willing to get their hands dirty (as volunteers!) to help me launch. Next I need to recognize my countless team members over the years who do the nitty-gritty work of cooking and rolling the Brigadeiro every day. Having a team of people you can depend on who are reliable, responsible, hard working, and believe in their work is absolutely priceless when running a business. A special shout out to Shanda Quinones ,who has been my right hand woman for over three years. I would like to thank Sharon Graves of BLVD Kitchen. BLVD Kitchen is where Maya’s Brigadeiro has been operating, producing and selling our product for coming up on three years. I love working out of a female-owned facility that cultivates a supportive environment aimed at giving small businesses a place to grow. Lastly, I would need to recognize my father, Dean Zellman, of Mr. Stitch Embroidery. My father is the primary example I have of running small business, and he is always there to give me advice and words of wisdom when I need it.
Photography Credits: Lynora Valdez Sarah Hansen Ricky Reyes Kevin Bennylee