People 20 December 2018
In a world of fresh and organic, the concept of frozen food seems relatively taboo in the expanding culinary industry, yet still, as a $50 billion industry within the United States, this aisle of the grocery store is actually more relevant than you'd think.
Co-founder of Bantam Bagels, Elyse Oleksak realized this relevancy, while simultaneously recognizing how little development the frozen food sector had in the past ten years. Thus, from a one-off dream her husband had, the couple left Wall Street and pursued the disruption of the frozen food industry.
"Frozen breakfast is brand new to this renaissance in people looking for better food," says Oleksak. “It's an uphill battle fighting against some of the largest brands in the world--the Eggos and Jimmy Deans, but we're bringing that authenticity and uniqueness."
What began four years ago as a small storefront selling mini stuffed bagels on Bleecker Street has since developed into a deal on Shark Tank, a partnership with Starbucks as a national account and the release of their second product, Pancake Balls, to continue the line of frozen breakfast, which Oleksak describes as, “Saturday morning comfort, without feeling too indulgent."
"We thought our strategy would be franchising the shop, but we realized it was less about these little shops and more about creating something that's accessible," says Oleksak. She explains that even though the concept of Bantam Bagels stemmed from the lack of innovation in their hometown of New York City, they realized that there was an untapped market throughout the nation.
So, after only six months into building their brand, the Oleksaks went on Shark Tank to gain national presence, as well as quality guidance.
“We went to Shark Tank for another layer of expertise, and of course, the capital," says Oleksak. “We would quiz each other walking through the park with every question ever asked on Shark Tank. We had eye signals on how we would respond to deals."
Oleksak continued to explain that even though the duo kept an open mind on accepting offers, they entered the show knowing who they wanted to take a deal from, Lori Greiner. And this is exactly what happened.
"The partnership with Lori is incredible," shares Oleksak. “She's with us every step of the way, and I feel so lucky that she is what we hoped and expected her to be." Oleksak also notes how empowering it is to be coached through the company's founding years by another woman, saying, “It's also fascinating to see how females view business as a series of relationships rather than transactions."
From the early days of Bantam Bagels to expanding the brand's product, Oleksak remembers the differences of running the company as a female, even with her husband as a business partner.
“I spent my first pregnancy entirely in the shop," she says. “There came a time when I was at nine months and had to step sideways because no one could get past my belly."
Yet, even as Oleksak reflects on this as one of the challenges of leading as a female entrepreneur, she adds that it's just another layer of the business that helped her create an authentic brand which reflects both her and her husband's similar mindset.
“I'm a doer and a mover, and it was almost easier having something that I was so passionate about; creating a future for the family that we were creating."
It's this mindset that also gives way to Oleksak's theory of existing as a female entrepreneur. For her two boys, she says that “they're seeing me as an equal in a man's world." "The food world is definitely still male dominated but it's what drives me to work so hard. So when they grow up, an imbalance between males and females in the workforce isn't even a thought."
Bantam Bagels celebrated their third product release in July--mini stuffed bagels with egg and sausage in the middle--and their steady growth in more than 16,000 stores nationwide.“For us, developing the authentic brand and developing that connection [with customers] while we blow out and grow our distribution is our main focus," says Oleksak. She notes that each week they may be in a new grocery store, and still will respond personally to emails and social media as part of who they are as founders. “Food is so personal. You have a choice, you can either cook something and make it personal to you, or you can invite an external food into your home—and I think you need to earn that as food brand."
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.