French food retailer Marie Eiffel is in her Shelter Island, New York office. She is introducing a new range of must-own T-shirts for summer 2022. This story is about how she got to where she is now and what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning. Eiffel has fed everyone from Anne Hathaway to Bradley Cooper, and people around the world covet her cuisine.
Eiffel started her company back in 2013 with zero capital and zero knowledge of the industry. However, she did have an abundance of energy, a legacy from France, and a purpose: To give Americans real food the French way, for a better life with joie de vivre. And it was her purpose, which she credits as helping her through the pandemic, much like a rudder on a sailing boat in a windy storm.
“My purpose was strong. And if you don’t have a strong purpose to bring your vision to reality, you won’t make it. Your life and your work are one and the same,” she says. “Don’t get into the arena if you’re not ready to die for what you believe. You need to be a gladiator.”
Eiffel spent her early years in France. Her grandfather loved wine and he ate in some of the most inspiring restaurants in Paris. He was a bon vivant and knew everyone in the restaurant scene. She was raised with a distinctive perception of taste, a sense of noticing flavors in food. In Paris she trained as a classical musician and then became a successful actress on stage and on television. Then, she decided to move to New York City to study at the Actor’s Studio.
While her decision to move to New York was one of the best she says she’s made, Eiffel also realized that acting wasn’t her calling. One thing led to another and she saw an opportunity to start a gourmet food store in the Hamptons. “I woke up one morning and decided I was going to give this a shot and moreover, make it work. What I love the most is growing and contributing. Today I received two texts from difficult customers who said my vongole was amazing. It just made my day.”
One thing she quickly realized is there was a market for delicious natural French food even in a small bohemian island community in the Hamptons, which is frequented by artists, actors, and creative types: “I am all about creating a lifestyle. One that affords you the freedom to eat well without gaining the kind of excess weight you get at restaurants or when eating poor quality cuisine.”
American eating culture has changed and today there is a greater demand for better, more delicious food. “To deliver my purpose, my food is made healthy. No cream, no butter, no gluten,” she says.
Eiffel’s success comes as a surprise to her. “If anyone had said I would build a business based on gourmet food, I would have laughed. I remember when I opened the business, a lawyer I wanted to hire wasn’t sure he wanted to work for me. He said, ‘Are you ready to lose $1 million?’ I answered, “Isn’t that the name of the game?’ He responded, ‘Good, let’s get to work.'”
Continues Eiffel, “There have been many days where I said to myself, ‘What was I thinking?’ Especially during Covid when I saw the proverbial cliff and my business falling off it. But there have been many more days where I felt extremely fortunate to be doing something that I love so much, and growing every day.”
Her business model has shifted from exclusively fresh food to some frozen items, which her clients in the Hamptons increasingly want: “They want to have delicious gourmet pizza on hand and place them into the oven for 15 minutes…. And boom, ready to serve.”
Today, her and her partner, Jason’s 2,000-square foot waterfront store makes homemade fresh food like Marseille-style bouillabaisse, lamb stew, fresh croissants, fresh pastries (like tarte tatin), and baguettes made with French flour — plus a growing online nationwide frozen products delivery service.
The joy of it all helps deflect the challenges of stewarding her own business through the past three years. “It has really been a daily struggle, if I am 100 percent honest,” says Eiffel. “It took me a few years and only now am I experiencing a well-rounded life. Work has been my whole life and it’s kept me passionate and stressed. It has also let me live a life with great joy. My father was from Normandy where fresh cream was part of most dishes. We called him the bear. When I moved out early, I asked myself: How can I create a relationship with him? I had just a tiny kitchen, but I learned how to make a tarte tatin and to serve it with fresh cream. I perfected the dish. To the point that my father would come on a regular basis to eat some. And we started to communicate. This is the power of cuisine. I cherish the memory of him lovingly eating, and putting a big spoon of the tarte covered with cream in his mouth. And his eyes could tell me how happy and satisfied he was.
“We have a lot of young people working for us, all of them incredibly talented. When they ask me, I tell them that regret is far worse than never having tried, and worse than failure. When it comes to starting a company, you just get started. In the end, it will be what you make of it.”
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