Elisa Lyew, MC ’07, was born in Panama, the child of immigrants, and moved to the United States to attend Marymount College of Fordham University, where she earned a degree in theater and media in 2007. She worked for two years in public relations before becoming a pastry chef. In 2014, after stints at several New York City restaurants, she launched her own company online: Elisa’s Love Bites. This past May, Lyew expanded her business, opening a location in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

What inspired you to change careers?
Baking had always been a passion of mine, but originally I had no intention of turning it into my profession. My first job after graduation was as a publicist. Then the economy crashed in 2008, and when everybody was getting laid off, I lost my job. I looked at my options and decided to take a risk: I made baking my career.

How did you get your first job in a restaurant?
The restaurant industry is fairly easy to enter from the ground up, even without previous experience, as long as you have talent and a strong work ethic. My first pastry job was a combination of my ability to sell my talent, a chef who liked me and had an immediate need for a pastry cook, and being at the right place at the right time.

Elisa Lyew's Black Hearts
Black Hearts, one of Lyew’s most popular desserts

What made you decide to start your own bakery?
When you’re working in a restaurant, you’re part of a team, and there are so many channels that everything has to go through. It’s not only about creating a menu you like and putting it out there; you have to please your executive chef, your managers, and the owner. Everything has to be cost effective, and that means you can’t always serve the things that you would want to serve. And because I’ve always really liked healthy food, I felt a little bit guilty about that. That’s why I decided that I needed my own space.

What was it like starting your own business?
It’s a long process. When you start, you have all of these ideals and these dreams. And then once you actually begin work, you realize it’s not that easy. You realize that nobody cares about this business more than you do. So it’s a lot of work, but you learn a lot as you go. I’m so grateful because my education has been the greatest gift my parents have given to me. And my time at Marymount prepared me for this challenge.

Did you face any particular challenges as a young female entrepreneur?
There is a perception that people have of me because of my age and because of my gender. So it was hard at first; I had a lot of meetings that didn’t end well. But you do learn a lot from every meeting. It’s not exclusive to the food industry, but there are still a lot of men who think that you just don’t belong. Now I’m seeing more women in managerial positions, and more female chefs and female owners, so that’s definitely a good thing. But it’s still not enough, not yet.

The desserts you create are gluten free, and you use natural, organic, and local ingredients. Why did you make that choice?
I took the plunge into health-conscious baking partly because I knew there was a market for it now—especially here in Brooklyn. There are a lot of people into the gluten-free diet and the vegan diet, but they still want to have cake, and they still want to have cookies and desserts that taste good. But it’s also because that’s how I personally eat, and because of my experience at previous restaurants. I do cheat sometimes, but I try to eat healthy and wheat-free most of the time. So that’s why my bakery has more of a health-conscious vibe. It’s all real food, real ingredients, healthy portions, and healthier sweeteners. I wanted to make my favorite desserts and allow other people to enjoy them too.

What’s next for you?
Well, the store is only five-and-a-half months old, so I’m still here all the time. Once I get to the point where everything is running smoothly and I don’t have to be here as much, and once we have enough financing, I would love to open another location. Maybe in Brooklyn, maybe in Manhattan, but for right now we’re just trying to reach as many people as we can online, through UberEats, and at this store. I wanted to build this bakery—this was my dream—and so for now, I’m living my dream.

Some of Elisa Lyew's desserts
A selection of Lyew’s sweet treats

—Emily Mendez